A white start in a Volvo

Me: I need a bus that can take me to Manali 
Him: When? How many people ?
M: Today evening. Just one !

H: All we have is air conditioned Volvo, 1000 rupees please.

M: Well since its the height of winter I don't think I need a Volvo. Don't you have anything that's semi decent, not infested with roddens or bed bugs but with good seats?
H: Sorry bhaiya, only Volvo. But for you special price, 800/-. smooth ride, nice springs !
M: OK dude so long then !

M makes a calculated half turn of the body with intense disinterest and contempt for Volvo written all over face.
H: Wait wait. What is your budget?
M: 500/-
H chokes on his paan and starts laughing.
M turns and walk out of the door.
H comes out of the door and literally shouts.

H: I give you for 550.
M: I know, I'm just going to the ATM for the cash.

Sandwiched between honeymooners whispering sweet nothings I feel left out, big time. The Volvo is definitely comfortable the only minus point being a Bollywood slapstick playing that nobody seems to be interested in watching. When I open my eyes in the morning everything's white. 6 feet of snow in 2 days, the heaviest this winter in Manali, I learn later. Good news for skiing but not so for road transport. The bus drops everyone off 6 km before Manali from where we pay exorbitant rates to taxi wallas to get to Manali. En route there's a landslide and I am forced to trek 6 km to the mountaineering institute.

My Nike football boots have behaved reasonably well in the snow. Just as i am sniggering at the poor bastards with heavy winter boots, I am suddenly contemplating the magnifecence of the azure blue sky. I have just had the most perfect bum fall ever. Apart from a couple of local teenage girls giggling and a man as usual shouting to be careful after the incident, its not been a major embarrassment. 

I'm the first one to arrive at the mountaineering institute. There has been no electricity for 3 days and there will be no heating in the building during the day time, I'm told. But I'm upbeat. I've had a dog follow me all the way in Manali, a scene identical to my departure from here 2 years back.

I take it as a very good omen. I just love the snow although it's bone chillingly cold inside the institute. The next day we are to be transported to our destination 12 km uphill. There are 20 of us for the starter course. At dinner i meet a Japanese guy and after just a few minutes i can sense he's a traveller. It's a gut feeling that ive seldom been wrong about. I find him interesting and soon we're chatting away like two good friends meeting after a long time. His English is surprisingly good for a Japanese guy. Our conversation is soon interrupted.

'Are you Japanese ?'
Various people at different places have thought me to be from India, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Brazil but never from Japan. Has the cold flattened my features a bit? The questioner is undoubtedly pretty wearing a baseball cap and track suit.
I recover quickly from the shock of a never before asked question and unexpectedly  seeing a woman in a room full of men.

'Yes im from Osaka', i say in all seriousness.

She takes a moment to digest that along with her roti but is soon on her way.

The transport that was promised the next day did not materialize. So we set off on foot carrying 20 kg rucksacks. The pace was fast and there was little time to admire the scenery. The snow and the distance meant that my Nike just couldn't do it anymore ! Boy was i ill prepared for this trip ! With wet socks and layers of clothes soaked in perspiration I literally crawl into the skiing center.

Adventure on the Jammu tavi...

The train is spluttering to a stop at Vijayawada station, platform number 7. A full half an hour behind schedule. My head spins endlessly and I can’t see straight. The adventure began in Trivandrum when I arrived at the railway station not to find an ATM in sight. The only evidence of a SBI ATM that remained was the name board. I had around 80 bucks in cash for a 3 day journey. I did not have even toothpaste, talk about meticulous planning! It did not occur to me at the time that I would have to pay for things to eat along the way.

A group of Army jawans(soldiers) were my immediate travel companions. So I got a free unasked crash course on Indian army politics and some amazing revelations that will have to come out in print one day. The second day the hunger hit me, even though I was lying in my bunk most of the day dreaming of snow and sublime yoga poses. One of the jawans matter of factly took out an orderly sheaf of papers containing the train time table that he had printed out. The train would stop at Vijayawada for 25 minutes, according to the printed word. But now that it was already running more than half an hour late, would it still follow the time table?

I would have to leave my luggage behind, go up and down the over bridge and cross all those platforms to the exit at platform no.1. I slowly ascended the steps with the calm steely exterior of a Zen monk but with the palpitations of a lovelorn teenager. After coming out of the station I found 2 ATMs. After swiping the card in the 1st one for 4 expletive filled tries, I moved to the second one. Ah finally the sweet sound of the machine dispensing cash!

I sprint over supine bodies, cows, luggage and other unidentified objects to the entrance. Near the entrance I slow my pace down and casually walk in. I don’t want to be stopped by the police on ‘suspicious’ circumstances. Mangled uncombed hair and beard stubble makes me definitely look shady.

I break out into a run once out of sight of security and every time a train sounds a horn somewhere I imagine my train pulling out of the station. Finally as I dash down the steps to the platform a guy coming up casually says: ‘The train’s pulling out, go fast yaar’. Shit, shit shit, why now at the final stretch?! Before I know it I am on the platform, by the train. The ‘stranger’ bastard had lied to me. The train was still there. I catch my breath and with the snug feeling that only money can evoke, go to buy a vegetable biriyani.

Hello & Goodbye !

I’m setting sail today but the eternal procrastinator that I am, packing is yet to begin. Life slows down when you vagabond. There is seldom a morning plane to catch or a deadline to be honoured. When life assumes an unhurried pace, apart from feeling lazy, you start to hear your inner chatter and longings. Seeing the real you and not the ideas you have created about yourself is probably not a great experience. I got into travel thinking it would be a 24 hour party but unfortunately that’s not been the case so far. Long spells of aloneness broken by the arrival of an uninvited stranger. But I love these periods of aloneness; it makes me who I am. It feels good for my spirit as if I’m delving into myself, almost 24 hour contemplation.

Travel is all about hellos and goodbyes. A realization that all is fleeting. How many people met on the way will you see again? The magnificent impermanence that is life hits you. The year’s just into its second month but strangely I’ve been contemplating about death. I’m thinking of leaving a set of instructions for the D day. Maybe I can carry them around? Here are some not so morbid points:

1. I do not want to die in a hospital.
2. I do not want a doctor pumping my chest and giving electric shocks.
3. I want to breathe my last in nature.
4. I want to die alone (I'm still thinking on this one!)
5. I want to be fully conscious when I go (no morphine!)

    See, now you know what unconventional travel does to a supposedly sane mind. I’m already thinking of death! Bloody hell!

 Looking forward to meet an old friend in Delhi and then onwards march to Manali. I’ll see you folks in Delhi.

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