Trivandrum to Manali – A small step in the journey of a lifetime
Leh, a mystical place that I set my dreams on fire. A place shrouded in mystery and beauty. A place I wanted to visit since 2012. The Pangong Lake, Khardung La, Tanglang La, etc were etched in my memory from reading many articles and forums. I was working as a Software Engineer and never could get a couple of weeks of vacation to visit Leh. Every year, I used to make plans and every year it got postponed much to my chagrin. Since bread and butter trumps dreams of a middle-class guy, dreams stayed dreams however beautiful they are. But all was set to change in 2016.
The year 2016 saw a great many changes in my life. “And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it. – Paulo Coelho”, this was exactly what happened. A long repressed dream of higher education came to fruition and I was all set to quit my job. A friend of mine called out of the blue telling me that he was in Manali and to come visit him. Everything clicked into place. A trip to Leh via Manali and back. I planned the initial parts of the journey, like to get to Manali from Trivandrum. The plan was to wing it from there. Now I had to confront the elephant in the room, to get the necessary leaves from my office. Otherwise all the planning would go down the drain. I requested two weeks vacation and the immediate question was “Are you getting married?”. It was nice to see the wide gamut of expressions of my colleagues when I told them that I planned to go to Leh. Most were shocked, some stared at me like I was a mad person. But I simply shrugged it off and booked my to and fro tickets to Delhi and a red bus ticket to Manali. Since I love to be prepared, I booked a zostel in Manali too. “Amat Victoria Curam” as the saying goes.
The D-Day arrived and I was super thrilled. During the journey, I saw one of the most beautiful sunrises from the airplane. The first leg to Delhi went without a hitch. The plan was to visit Akshardham and the Qutb Minar. Dhanush, another friend of mine was in Delhi that day so planned to meet up. Although initially confusing, I soon got the hang of Delhi Metro( Pardon me, it was my first time in a metro) and proceeded to Akshardham. I am wary of the autorickshaw drivers and taxis at unfamiliar places and therefore I download the maps of all places I usually go. But this time, outside the Akshardham station, the offline maps simply refused to work and I had to get an autorickshaw. They were asking twenty rupees, and I was like how much can they swindle me more. So I got into an autorickshaw. He went straight, took a U-turn then went back around another 500 metres and took another U-turn where I saw the metro station and Akshardham side by side. I was like :O and asked the autorickshaw driver whether that building was the metro station. He said yes grinning ear to ear. After alighting, I was laughing for a minute, imagining how the autorickshaw driver swindled me. It was a week day and there weren’t many people so I sauntered along. The security check made me think of the US Airports. No electronic items including flash drives, mobile phones etc. They even checked my shoes and belt.
By the time my sightseeing tour at Akshardham was over, I proceeded towards Qutb Minar. I planned to meet Dhanush there and have lunch. We met and he showed me around. After taking some cursory photographs, we proceeded to have lunch and then, a quick visit to xBhp headquarters. Dhanush was preparing for the Raid de Himalaya and he was also coming to Manali after a couple of days. I went to the bus station and waited for my bus. In the bus, I met a girl going to Manali too. She was from Uttar Pradesh and preparing for her GATE exam. It really surprised me and also made me happy to see a girl travelling alone in India. After about thirty minutes, the bus conductor came along handing every one small plastic bags. I had heard that the twisty roads to Manali will cause nausea and hence the plastic bag. We stopped for dinner somewhere around Chandigarh. I decided to skip dinner as I knew a full stomach would make me nauseous. I was surprised to see people having a heavy dinner at the restaurant. Maybe they were familiar with the journey and nothing would make them sick or so I thought. And, soon we were on our way to Manali.
Half an hour passed, and the sound of retching began. It was really horrible being trapped in an air-conditioned bus with people retching all around you. Somehow I fell asleep around midnight despite the bumpy ride and gross sounds all around me. Around 3 a.m, I was jolted awake by a person retching like his life depended on it. It was so awful that it made me sick too, and I followed suit. Since I did not eat anything, I was better off and thankfully, everything was peaceful soon. But unfortunately, sleep had left me. I spent the time staring out into the darkness. The sleep deprived me also hungry soon. The rumbling in my stomach seemed to grow louder with every passing minute. Even though I had food with me, I was afraid to eat it. I kept pushing my hunger away with the thoughts of a delicious meal at Manali.
The person sitting next to me was a tour operator and he was talking about how he organized trips and the places to visit around Manali. He was really helpful and also it kept my mind off food and hunger. I listened to him intently and gleaned a lot of information. Being a good listener really helps during travel. He also advised me on places to visit and how to travel around Manali. We were traversing the mountains after Shimla and the early morning view was just gorgeous. Around 7 a.m., my tummy was rumbling and thankfully, we stopped for breakfast. It was a small restaurant by the banks of a river. The whole view was so picturesque. Maybe it was my bad photography skills or or some other factor, the photos I took couldn’t even hold a candle to the actual view and I ended up deleting the pictures I took. Even though I was famished, I decided to have only a cup of tea. The others compensated for the lost food by ordering a big breakfast. I was in for a rough ride again, since the appalling sounds returned. It was the stuff from nightmares. People simply don’t learn. 😦 . Around 10 a.m, I reached Manali and there, my friend was waiting for me. Soon, I reached his hotel room and had a sumptuous meal. The food at Manali, and oh boy, that is a whole other story.