The Traveler’s Totem

9 May, 2010

The wind picked up as we walked onto the platform…Perhaps, a premonition of the journey I was to make…The train trip from Pune to Kalka had been arduous but not without its fair share of excitement. 13 random people travelling sleeper class in a single coach itself tells an intriguing story…one of the characters a married man found an innovative way to enjoy his liquor throughout the journey by disguising it in a water flask. He sat opposite to a lady whom I’m guessing he fancied by the look of it and the lady wasn’t any less flirtatious to say the least…The kabab-mein-haddi was another man who had an RAC seat and seemed equally interested. Above them slept an old man who had had enough of the constant ticket checks and vented his anger on the TT who tried resisting but gave in and walked off in meek resignation…

Stepping out of flashback, I looked towards my fellow traveller, all of 6 feet, 2 inches…a gentle giant of sorts. I was to stay with him at Baddi overnight before making my way to Shimla. On our way there I enquired about the toy train that runs from Kalka to Shimla…the rants of the people I came across led me to believe I would be better off taking the bus. We reached a toll demarcating Haryana and Himachal…and Samwise Gamgee’s words rung through my mind… ”I’ve never been this far away from home…”…to be able to travel to places I’ve never been is exhilarating, scary, confusing and confounding…yet, it’s brilliant! It’s like eating wild berries; not knowing or caring if it’ll turn out sweet, sour or…poisonous…

As we crossed into Himachal, the scenery abruptly changed…hills served as the backdrop and fields set the stage…the world was dominated by the arid hue of the soil and the dull green foliage…apart from red bricks strewn around the kilns, the earth seemed bleak…waiting, maybe for the rain to purify it and restore its vibrancy.
We reached Baddi and it was an enigmatic place…a tangled mesh of a rural town and modern industries. Usually, I’d say that the traffic sense of people in Pune is bad…here, it was unbelievable…zigzag motions were preferred to straight lines and whirring across cars seemed to be in fashion…it didn’t help my impression when I saw a bull charging down the road not unlike the drivers, I thought. Smoke clouded the sky in the distance wherever my eye would care to look and all I did was wonder about their hazardous effects. It’s strange how half our countries pharmaceutical products are manufactured here and the most at risk are its creators. I still liked the place though; it had an eccentric appeal to it…I can’t exactly fathom why…

I stayed overnight at the giant’s house in Baddi and my sleep was heavenly…I dreamt of the distance I still had to cover…and the uncertainty of what my internship would behold..

10 May, 2010

I woke up refreshed and ready to rumble…! Dreams had faded into reality and I made my way to the bus stand which is at a short distance from Baddi…I bid farewell to the giant…and sought a way to reach Pinjore… the price of the jeep ticket till there amazed me…a mere 20 bucks! As I neared the jeep, I understood why…14 people cramped inside 1 jeep with luggage on top… only a person who’s travelled by bullock carts may experience what I experienced…imagine my dismay when the driver left the main road and turned onto a kaccha path…I couldn’t see any semblance of a road for at least a mile…what I did see was a small stream that needed crossing and that too was lined with rocks…I held my heart in my mouth with each lurch…hoping and praying that my suitcase didn’t topple over the open top of the jeep…I wouldn’t deem a cycle fit to tread on those roads…but somehow the jeep managed to stay upright and I reached Pinjore in one piece…

A haggard bus with a big red signboard akin to the colour of my suitcase was the latest vehicle in my journey north…everyone stared at me as I huffed and puffed carrying my suitcase up the buses staircase…I knew then that this wasn’t the bus tourists usually took…The journey to Shimla was uneventful…for a person who’s seen a fair bit of hills; the scenery offers nothing new…The zooming turns the bus took made me nauseous…Yet; with the ascent came the feeling of lightness which mingled with the refreshing coolness of the air and calmed my senses. I reached Shimla by the afternoon and tried to find a way to Kasumpti, the place I was to stay. I lugged my heavy bag for a kilometre, resisting the temptation of paying a coolie to relieve me off the load and reached the local bus stand. I felt weird thinking of trying to fit my luggage into such crowded buses and asked a conductor to help me fit the stuff into the bus’s dickey which he did and once on the bus read my anxiety well enough to not only see me off the bus but also helping me offload the luggage… he left me thoughtful; courtesy a corny yet heartfelt thought…”Insaan hi insaan ka madat karta hein”. I thanked him genuinely though a contrasting thought raged in my mind…”Aur insaan, insaan ko marta bhi hein…” a parallel thougt had crossed my mind on the train at Godhra station…how different was the station then? More names rushed in sync…Panipat, Kurukshetra…now just names to be remembered…nothing to suggest of their bloody past…
Back to lugging my luggage up a hill…I reached, out of breath…and knocked on the door of the guest house…the owner; a sulky man with a very evident belly showed me to the room I was to share with 3 other men…the filth inside repulsed me and I instantly began cleaning it up.

The roommates came in and questioned me…I got negative vibes from them but I answered politely and tried striking a light hearted conversation. Night saw drama unfold with the owner getting into a fight with one of my roommates over a broken window and his smoking habit…
All in all I wasn’t exactly comfortable to say the least…Yet; I had no other option since I was in a foreign place with no help (I cringed as I remembered I had given the same sage’s advice to others while not following it myself). I still had to get in touch with my boss who I’d be working under for the next month who had seemed very helpful till now…I’d do that in the morning…maybe he could help me with this…
I slept fitfully in the dirty covers…wondering for the first time if I had made a mistake coming to Shimla…

11 May, 2010

The windows vibrated as I walked groggily to open the door…my owner stood outside and he was demanding a month’s advance…I tried explaining that I’d be there only for 10 days…so why should I pay the entire months money (Rs. 3600)? “In that case, you pay 300 Rs per day and pay it now”. I said okay…thinking that I’d find something else within the next few days…
I got a call from my boss, Mr. Ravinder Makhaik-a charismatic person who took me out for coffee and showed me around Shimla while explaining what My Himachal, the NGO I’m interning with does and what work I am to undertake during my time here…we parted ways at Mall road, one of the busiest hubs of town. The work assigned to me is to write news articles, features, etc (and maybe even make a documentary if I buy a DSLR) on social issues facing Himachal Pradesh and possibly suggest measures that could help or plans that could be worked upon…
The best part of this internship is that I don’t need to be stationary at any one place…I could fulfil my ambitions of travelling to new and mysterious destinations while doing the work I love! To start off, I thought I’ll write an article on the waterworks in Shimla, so I looked around and thought how to begin.

That’s when I realised that things aren’t going to be as simple here as it was in Pune…I’ve lived by Google Maps, Just Dial and yellow pages as well as the internet to get all the information I require…sadly, most of those options are ruled out here…If you need information, you get it in person…
I made my way to the Municipal Corporation and interviewed the Assistant Engineer in-charge of the waterworks in Shimla…after gathering as much information as possible, I returned back to the guest house where I was in for a shock…the owner told me to either pay the whole month’s rent in advance or leave immediately…I didn’t like his tone one bit and said I’ll leave…”I’m giving you 5 minutes” he said and supervised my exit out of the place as I walked downhill with all my luggage…now, I was in a huge fix…I didn’t have a place to stay and since it was peak tourist season, all the hotels were jam packed and outrageously expensive…

I walked about a kilometre to a cyber cafe and began my quest to find a reasonable hotel. I found one, contacted them and informed that I’m coming over in an hour and to save the room for me. Took a taxi to the place and got on the famous Lift…which is actually a lift on which tourists pay to go up and down a hill. I took another lift to the top floor of the hotel which turned out to be the reception…yup; it takes time getting used to the eccentricities of a hilly region! (Top floors are used as parking lots while ground floors are houses and shops!) I asked the receptionist if I could have the room he had promised me and he replied it’s taken and stalked off…I stood in shock for a second before I retorted how he could give the room to someone else when he had promised me the room…he replied aggressively, “did you pay the advance???” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity…how am I expected to pay the advance over a phone…?

I climbed the stairs with my luggage to the top of the hill…dead tired by the end of it as the adrenaline wore out…I walked I don’t know for how long, calling I don’t know how many hotels before I finally located a hotel that had a room for 700 (Yup, that’s the cheapest)…I begged and pleaded with him narrating my story and he agreed to make it 450…still very steep, but reasonable for the kind of room I was given…I slept once again in luxury…too tired of think of anything else…

12 May, 2010

The bed was too comfortable to relinquish and the morning chill tempted me to snuggle deeper into the blanket, but a lot of work needed to be done…and I woke up with a lot of things on my mind…

There are days when I’m hyperactive due to sheer intrigue or excitement that the future holds. Today, was one such day…I began planning the trips I’d make and the places I’d see…then I stopped dreaming with open eyes…the checkout time of the hotel was 12: 00 and I had to get out of there before…so I started walking up and down hills again searching for something reasonable…not being able to find anything, I settled down for breakfast and tried contacting various people who may be of assistance till at last I called up the number my mom gave me and finally!…thankfully!…found a place to stay. 200 bucks a day’s amazing compared to the tariff the others were charging!

I asked around for directions to my newfound hotel and found out that it’s out of the city and not very well connected. After all I’ve gone through in the past few days, this was just a minor setback and I dragged my luggage along…walked for about half an hour before I came to a taxi stand and got on…the old man driving the taxi seemed very respectable and friendly…I got into a conversation with him and he showed me major bus stops on the way and tried to answer my ambitious queries of getting to the interiors of Himachal…we were cruising on the steep roads when he suddenly stopped and called out to a pretty old woman…suspecting this was more than just a courtesy call by the way he insisted he’d drop her at the top of the hill…I smiled within.

Once, we reached the top, she got off and said…Thank you, Dear…my smile transformed into a grin…before I could say anything though; he said that she was his English lecturer back in 1973 when he was in college and that she was still unmarried…coming to think of it, he repeated unmarried quite frequently! I asked him her age and he replied nonchalantly, 70…wow! She didn’t look a day older than 55…maybe, celibacy helps some people remain young…who knows? And frankly, who cares? I have my whole life to live and the future hasn’t looked brighter before!
I reached my destination…Hotel Greenwood and thanked the old man profusely and started another uphill journey…and this one almost broke my back…the hill leading to the hotel is very steep and took all my effort to just drag the luggage. For the first time I began to wish I hadn’t brought so much stuff…

But it was all worth it…the climb, the distance from the city, the wait…the hotel is nested in a quiet hill and my room is comfortable and looks out onto a plethora of trees…I can’t believe I’ve finally found a place to live and that too at a reasonable price!!! I can finally get to working on the news reports and other things…! Now, there’s only one thing I need to figure out…how to reach the city everyday from such a distance…and how do I work efficiently when I’ve been relying so much on the internet for the slightest information in the past…especially when I have such limited access…

13 May, 2010

Sunlight beamed in harshly through the glass windows and I woke up hurriedly, scared that it was past 11 A.M…I looked at my watch…6 A.M…You’d be lucky to see the sunrise at 6 A.M in Pune!

I’ve started getting ideas for the documentary and I’m bumbling with anticipation…the receptionist was perturbed when I asked him which are the dirtiest areas in town…I’m guessing he’s used to answering tourist’s questions more often…

I’m in a dilemma whether to buy a DSLR which would serve me by as a semi-professional camera as well as being able to record HD videos or to buy a 3 CCD camera which would record better videos…since my primary reason to buy it would be to shoot the documentary…I’m inclined to buying the 3CCD but since I’m also interested in photography…I’m thinking DSLR. Grr…This is going to take a lot of thinking…for now I’m off to find a cyber cafe in the city to figure something out.

I reached the cyber cafe and opened my mail account to see it’s filled with problematic mails…I sort them out 1 by 1 and then I get a forwarded invitation to attend a press conference on GM crops by Mr. Makhaik…may not sound like a big deal…but the feeling of finally getting somewhere is satisfying! I researched up on what would be the better option of cameras and decided on a Nikon…Paid the steep internet bill of 60 bucks and made my way to the Press Club through the crowded streets of Lower Bazaar only to hear that the conference has been postponed and will be held tomorrow morning. A tad disappointed, I made my way towards the Nikon Dealer…the 2 men at the counter were very friendly and I used my newly acquired bargaining skills to lower the price from Rs. 35, 000 to Rs. 33, 500! And this was with the full kit & accessories…if I had bought this from somewhere else it wouldn’t have fallen cheaper than 36-38k. Add to this a brilliant tripod and I was about to complete the 19th hole in one…

I chit-chatted with the dealers and they helped explain everything lucidly and even gave a free Nikon handbook which has already improved my sense of photography if not the images themselves (corny, yes…but true)! One of my dreams was to own a camera one day…finally it has been fulfilled! I didn’t waste time and got to clicking everything around me…the next hour and a half I just walked around Shimla clicking pictures and I have to say that some of them turned out fantastic! (I’ll upload some of them if I’m given that much space!). I returned to the hotel having rediscovered love both outside and inside…the blissful feeling couldn’t be marred by anything…I became a child again playing around with my new toy…unaware of the world around me…

Shimla’s been weird and more so my experiences; I’ve come to believe that places are permanent and it’s your actions that decide how it treats you…there is no such thing as a good or a bad place…there are just good or bad people…I’ve had a fair share of both the worlds but it is these experiences that’ll help me overcome even bigger obstacles in the future…I am thankful…
(To be continued…)

I'm a media student, a writer, a poet, a photographer and an aspiring film maker...experiences are something I treasure and hold close to my heart for with each experience comes the joy of memories and grief of a lesson learnt the hard way...! Oh, and I'm 19 years old for the record...:-)

Join the Conversation

2 Comments

  1. says: sudar

    Mayank. Nice one.. Only very few get to have such experiences, particularly with a heavy luggage. Hope you will enjoy rest of your stay there…

Leave a comment
Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.