Thursday, June 5, 2008

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 3 - 'White arrival'

Day 3 – “White arrival”
(26th January 2006, Thursday)

On the morning of India’s Republic day we woke up to the sights of icy trees and frozen crops – we were nearing Kullu. The views opened our eyes completely, sucking out each ounce of sleep. The curving road was lined on one side with tall coniferous trees, each sprinkled with a unique pattern of snow. The other side dropped into the valley where the River Beas gushed. Only if it were also frozen, the scene would have been straight out of Antarctica with trees!

The houses that we passed by were wooden, with sloping roofs. As we neared Kullu, the road narrowed down. We saw several local kids – chinky, fair and rosy- running around and playing apart from getting a sneak peak into the local market and an occasional peak into a house.

Finally at around 8:00 AM we reached Kullu, our next mini halt. We got off the bus in the 10 minute break to stretch our limbs and breath free. We also explored the area, some of the local artifacts and fruits and juices. Boarding the bus we set off towards Manali. This time the bus conductor did not bore us with some random movie, instead he put on video CD with random songs! – Like it was any better. This time instead of cribbing and dozing off, I looked out of the huge window of the Volvo. It offered me a giant view of nature’s white wonder.

Manali and Kullu are about 50-60 Kms apart. The ride wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d expected due to a sudden spurt in traffic and extremely narrow roads. We reached manali at 10:50 AM. The Volvo dropped us off at the bus stop. The roads were slippery due to the melting ice. The sun was partly out-perhaps wondering whether to shine today or not.

Loading our luggage in a 4X4, we trekked to our Base camp in Manali. Our base camp was DMAS (Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports) just about 2.5kms from the Manali bus station. It felt like we owned this land, this nature’s splendor for apart from the occasional vehicle that passed us by, the place was tranquil thanks to the off-season. The weather was perfect, very romantic and lazy!

45 minutes of trekking and we had arrived at the base camp. The camp wasn’t too big. It composed of 4 buildings-one housing the rooms, one the kitchenette-cum-dining area, one housing the museum and the last that had some more rooms and all the trekking and skiing gear. We were all allotted rooms in the main residential building which also housed a small gym. I and Tanya shared room no. 12 on the 1st floor while Pop and Pradhan uncle occupied room no. 16 again on 1st floor. We were relieved to have running water and electricity. Freshening up we ran down the stairs to explore the camp area.

The camp area was again covered with snow. It was hard to walk over so much snow. Just beside the camp was the valley where a river roared. Coniferous trees covered most of the area between the river and the buildings. The Base Camp was home to many dogs, all huge and ready to bite and cats. A brown-cum-dirty grey haired dog had followed us from the bus station to the base camp. His hair was Poofy, and so we named him ‘Poofy!’ But poor Poofy was shooed away by the massive dogs of the base camp.

By then it was time for lunch. We headed back to the town centre on foot to explore the market, eat and chill-out. We lip-snacked a choicest meal at Sher-e-Punjab hotel. (there are two Sher-e-Punjabs in Manali, but this one was the first one on the left when you walk from bus station to Manali chowk) I bought a pair of glares for myself, ate vanilla and black currant 2-in-1 softy (despite fear of catching a cold that very night). We then soaked up the sun at the mini-park that surrounded the Town Chowk.

Since it was 26th January, there was a Republic Day show being put up in the stage at the Town Chowk by the local school kids. We saw most of the show. It was immensely enjoyable, and a colorful welcome to Manali. There were traditional songs (the high-pitch voice one’s), dances in traditional costumes, skits depicting local life and celebrating mountain life. Over all a good experience and a mode to know the locals a little better.

After the show was over, we explored another part of town on foot, ate rum balls and walked back to our Base camp. We had the evening to ourselves. We took a long bath, lazed around and read books. A bell rung at 8:00 PM, it was dinnertime. The dinner was very basic- daal, chawal, roti, sabzi-and very filling. But most fun was the ‘chuhe-billi’ fight we had as we fought to warm our hands at the bukhara (furnace where wood/coal is burnt to keep the room warm).

It was getting cold rapidly. The cold and the snow all around was taking its toll and depleting our energy. 9:30 PM and we were fast sleep.

About DMAS:
Established in 1971, Directorate of Mountaineering and Allied Sports have their Base camp at Aleo, Manali and a permanent Ski camp at Solang valley, Manali. The base camp can accommodate about 300 people. They have dorms as well as double-bed rooms. It opens up into wilderness, coniferous trees, the river Beas and offers plenty of inspiration.

Check out their official website:

SKIING EXTRAVAGANZA - Day 2 - 'Old memories and New!'

Day 2 – “Old memories and New!”
(25th January 2006, Wednesday)

Rajdhani caused us a minor discomfort by reaching 45 minutes late. But we can’t blame the railway authorities, for they were simply sticking to Indian Standard Time!

Reaching Delhi I couldn’t contain my excitement. We got a royal pick-up courtesy Sukul uncle’s car. We dropped dad off at Naval Head Quarters. I got off at SP Marg and headed for Tanwars’ residence while Tanya headed to Arjun Vihar to Sukuls’ residence.

Meeting Sheetal, Aarti and aunty after 10 months was superb! It felt familiar, it felt like old times. Once I settled down, I tried calling up loads of my pals- Neha, Anmol, Shikkar, and Ishan…but no one seemed to be home. It angered me a bit for I had informed them much in advance about my trip. I then called up Sharanya and to my relief she did answer my call. We talked barely for 2 minutes before she cut the call as she was in some class.

My last hope was Aanchal; and she didn’t disappoint me. She promptly answered my call and we talked as if nothing had changed. The phone went dead at the peak of our exciting conversation. I sighed and retorted, ‘great!’ in a sarcastic tone. While I waited for the phone to come back to life, I contemplated whether to go to school-alone-to meet my teachers, now that my friends had ditched me. (I completed my 12th grade in Delhi before moving to Mumbai for college) My contemplation was broken by the ring of the phone. It had resurrected!

I was at it again- making calls-this time with a positive result. I got through to Ishan, only he wasn’t at home but right outside the colony where Tanwars stayed. I rushed to the gate and met both Ishan and Anmol. Boy, were we excited?! For sure- at least I was. We talked for a while, fought as usual, teased each other, remembered old times, caught up with new developments in each others lives and at last-after much debate- concluded that however much we ourselves may think we’ve changed, we hadn’t changed one bit, just the circumstances had.

The three of us then headed to school. I met my Maths teacher, Mr. Ramaswamy who was happily married, Nidhi Soni ma’am who asked me the full form of H.R. College (don’t even ask, its too weird-period), Librarian (How’s the Sweet Valley fan doings?!) and finally Parul Jain (PJ), Vaishali Das (VD) and Nidhi Soni ma’am. They were genuinely pleased and surprised to find me in New Delhi! I shared their surprise for till the very last minute this ski trip was uncertain, mostly because in just 3 months I had my PE-1 exam to appear for. I did not get to talk to all my teachers for more than 10 minutes, but the 10 minutes were fantastic and enough to pay my gratitude.

Heading back to Tanwar’s residence I had lunch and along came a surprise. Anamika and Shefali (we were a trio!) had come over to Tanwars’ house looking for me. Anamika had even left a gift for me – a silver chain with four small stars and one big star in the centre, the typical ‘bling bling stuff’! Adoring the neckpiece, I longed to meet Anamika for she was almost like a sister that I never had. The very next minute she called and I rushed to meet her. Oh! It was just like old times. Thereafter I accompanied by Naveen, went to meet Shefali. She’d thinned down and looked prettier. The day, so far, had been rocking! I relived some old memories and it felt like home!

I headed back to Tanwars’ residence. Taking a long hot water bath I tried to calm my anxious nervous. Skiing, it seemed so alien, almost scary. The meal that followed-gajar ka halwa and some snacks-helped my cause. Getting into my jeans and lots of warm clothes, I was ready for the bus ride from Delhi to Manali.
In the meantime dad collected our bus tickets, brought gloves, scarves and inners to bear the cold up at Solang. Dad, Tanya and I headed to ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus) in our Chauffeur driven car (Sukul uncle again!).

We were booked on the so called luxury Volvo. Taking the name for GOD, we prayed for a safe and exciting journey. The seats were soft and I could drown in them. The push-back gave the feel of a bed that was inclined 20 degree upward from centre on. The comfort and tranquility in the Volvo was broken by the sound of the speakers. The TV screen lit up and to my disgust the movie we’d have to bear for the next 3.5 hours (Yash Raj’s usual!) was Neil & Neil. That’s not all; they ended my ordeal within an hour, simply to make it worse by playing James. (Mohit Mathew’s acting is as cold as he is hot!) I preferred sleeping.

In between my occasional naps, I breathed in the scenery. The landscape varied from flat road to steep climbs and hair-pin bends. On the way, we say a marriage banquet hall dressed up in lights. Even the decoration of fake palm trees was covered with strings of light. It seemed like a magical city. What a treat for the eyes, and imagination!

Our first halt was at 10:30 PM at a place called haveli, somewhere on the highway. We ate some tit-bits and resumed our bus journey. Then we ate some chips and bread pakora and went off to sleep. Despite the comfortable ride, my back and neck were getting strained. I hope I’d wake up and not have a nagging pain.


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