“This is fleeting human contact.
both of us are lost but for a moment.
We are lost together.
I wonder who you are? – xkcd”
I did feel a touch that made me smile. It seemed that a couple before me or possibly sometime in the recent history had written this on a big rock just before the dhabas at the midpoint to Triund. I have been walking all alone for sometime now. I was feeling a little intimidated by the silence of the mountains but I still kept away from any group that was walking up to the meadows of Triund. I could very easily tag along with some of the tourists walking up but I just wanted to do this alone. The walk seemed a little challenging in phases but not because it was one. It was purely lack of strength in my lungs and legs that made it seem a decent challenge, heightened by my loneliness. Nonetheless it was just a very trivial feeling compared to the beauty and adventure of walking along a mountain path full of small and large rocks going up and down (more up than down), curving along the startlingly innumerable bends that made me wonder just how far my destination was. Time was totally lost between these meandering rock faces and constant flow of cool breeze that seemed to be the only companions that these tall silent warriors have at such heights.
Reaching the midpoint was some sort of an assurance that I was in the right direction which logically was completely unnecessary. Placing my bag on the floor at the Best View Café i tried locating the meadows at the far end. It is always exciting to constantly try and gauge the distance and location of places while on a trek. Trying to follow the path over the next visible bend, I realized how we as people always look to know things before hand. The fear of the unknown is always so large. Somehow I wanted to make up to Triund fast enough. I guess I wanted to prove something to myself. Looking at the time and waiting for my tea I was wondering about the crazy climb upto the Galu Temple from the village of Dharamkot.
Instead of the motorable road I had decided to take the village route which was shorter but turned out to be decently steep at certain places. I was almost stuck with no visible track just as I could see the temple close enough. Somehow scrambling up the last slope I managed to reach the temple. It was baffling just how many foreign tourists were around, most of all to see them pour out from every possible far and near nook and corner of the village downhill. Thinking beyond, the town of McLeodgunj itself wasn’t so bad after all. Compared to a lot of similar hill stations, it at least didn’t have big shops selling branded products and in fact has several quaint and interesting places to eat and shop from.
It took just a little long for the guy at the Best View Café to make the tea but it was ready nonetheless. Even though I stopped there voluntarily, I somehow was quite restless to move on. Finishing my tea, I immediately set to walk. The quiet and lonely walk resumed again. It was almost that the silence was like a tunnel and I was walking through it. Talking to myself all the while, it was funny as well as weird. I would keep asking myself certain questions and answer on my own where I had no knowledge or experience about it. Like the blue coloured strips of some sheer fabric that were tied on to the branches of bushes at regular intervals all along the way. I kept asking and wondering who would have had tied them. Were they the couple who were walking ahead of me or someone else in the past? The path wasn’t confusing so why did anyone need to do this? And it went on, from one thing to another. From wondering if some of the bends were previously waterfalls to what lies on top of the hill to telling myself to keep walking as if it were a race to wondering what may be some of the people passing me by, the other way, must be thinking of me traveling all alone to talking to this dog which suddenly appeared from somewhere and started walking along with me as if it were my own pet. Incidentally, it joined me around the time when I was extremely tired and my calves were getting cramps. Since it decided to give me company for a while, I thought I must give it a name and called it “Doggy”.
Sometimes I did wonder if Doggy was trying to motivate me or tease me as it would slyly take some shortcuts and reach a few steps before me. These shortcuts, mind you, were meant only for four legged creatures and since I had decided to be on two, it didn’t seem very promising. Soon I realized I could let my patience rest as I was almost at the meadows of Triund. I was wet till my hips and tired till the last tendon. As soon as I came up and stood still in front of the giants that the Dhauladhars are, I felt I would loose my balance and tumble. Rising so suddenly off the plains with near vertical slopes of black rock and snowy peaks, the whole range was so overwhelming that I haven’t stopped ranting about its eccentricity till this second. Yes, eccentric! It fits in really well with what I could see in front of my eyes.
At Triund, Sunil runs this small dhaba towards the right hand side of the meadow which seems to escape most of the bunch of tourists who turn up here. It was the most apt place to park myself for the rest of my time there. I changed all the sweaty clothes and sat for lunch. After some time of eavesdropping on the conversations between an Indian family and two German ladies at the stall I finally decided to break my silence once the family decided to go for a walk. Interestingly, these ladies, both possibly some 45-50 years old, live in Auroville and one of them actually works as a tourist guide in the south of India. “No, you don’t need to go with the flow” one of them said. “Just decide what you want and pursue it”. “If you know you don’t need too much of money to live your life then it isn’t so difficult,” said the other. After a long conversation on life and things around they decided to also go for a walk. I also took out my diary to possibly sketch or write something.
Some time passed and some people came and left. In between my hatches I would look at the mountains in front and feel awed and then get back. In the thin flow of tourists to Sunil’s stall compared to the others around, there came a guy, short, fair and who somewhat reminded of Jason Mraz. He immediately struck a conversation with the stall owner and came and sat next to me. It seemed he knew Sunil from before which was later confirmed as he has been to Triund several times before and has lived in Dharamkot also. Seeing me sketch he enquired to see what I was drawing and we started talking. Markos, as he was referred to by Sunil was an Austrian sculptor and artist. Knowing this I also asked him to show me his sketch book which I assumed he must have. It turned out, he basically does a lot of abstract art.
Markus and his friend, a Nepalese guy; now living and working in Australia as a professional trekker, had plans to walk up further to the snowline and come back. The prospect of trekking up to the snowline was extremely tempting but I found myself totally out of strength to really go any further especially trying to do it all in just about two hours, as they suggested they would take. As they left I couldn’t help try and trace their way up the mountain. The whole idea of being even closer to these majestic mountains was somewhat hysterical.
In a while I took my dairy and decided to sit somewhere peacefully and draw the Dhauladhars. I still could not get enough of the near vertical elevation of the mountains in front of me. The lines on it looked so sharp and so rugged from here. It looked so proud and stiff yet so inviting and amiable. After a while that I was into my sketch I had this funny feeling that I am going to fall of the edge. I have no idea whether it was because I am scared of heights or is it may be that staring at the extremity of the Dhauladhars made me feel somewhat dizzy.
At night Sunil made a curry with a locally available vegetable and we all ate it with rotis. When he was preparing for the dish in the evening I could see that the vegetable was really something that I had never seen before except for a similarly looking photograph taken of a plant by Karl Blossfeldt. The head of it was twirled into a small closely rolled spiral.
My plan of sleeping under the open sky on a mountain top was ditched when the sky got cloudy. Eventually, I had to sleep inside Sunil’s tea shop along with him, Markus, the Nepalese friend of his and Johnson, Sunil’s pet dog. The next morning I got out of the stall and it seemed ready to rain. I thought given that there are still less people awake I must quickly find a suitable place for an early morning release. But as not squarely unexpected, I could not make myself sit and thus soon had to give it up. Leaving my bottle of water and soap at the stall I went about for walk. Soon it started to rain and I ran to one of the other stalls there and ordered for a chai. The wind was so strong that I felt it will blow away everything on the meadow. Suddenly I saw a girl coming out of this tent behind Sunil’ stall and take her rucksack and run towards the stall. It seemed there was something wrong. The rain stopped and I rushed to the stall, where I was docked. By then Sunil and the Nepalese friend were up. The girl asked Sunil if she can keep her belongings at his stall which he agreed to. She told him that some of the hooks holding her tent to the ground had possibly come off and this crazy wind seemed to blow the whole tent away. The wind was still too strong. I sat outside enjoying the wind while the Nepalese friend and Sunil started chatting with their new companion. Her name was Dana, knowing which the Nepalese friend started joking around using the Hindi phrase “daana-pani” (food and water). Smoking something called a “Bong” she told the guys that she wants to go to the snowline, especially to some cave that she was told is somewhere close to the line.
By now I was contemplating about starting my walk down the mountain. As the weather was pretty bad I was hoping it would be good enough by the time I need to leave. I asked Sunil for something to eat. Markus woke up and left for a dump. After my breakfast I spent sometime sitting around and chatting up with everyone. Markus also came back and rolled up a joint for him and others. Though I was tempted to try it out but thought I would rather not as I need to walk back alone. I just wasn’t sure. Among all the talks, there ensued a discussion on the right posture for a dump. Markus suggests that the Indian style of lavatories is very natural and good for our bodily systems and despises the western style with the whole tissue paper aspect attached to it.
Finally, I decided to leave as the weather seemed alright. Having spent a major part of the second half of my previous day with Markus and Sunil it felt a little weird to say goodbye to them.
Even though we were not expecting many people to drop in that day due to bad weather, it didn’t really seem to be the case as I passed by several of them on my way down. I had decided to take the motorable road back to Dharamkot, from the Galu temple, this time but was totally bugged by the fact that it seemed too long and I felt too tired due to the heat.
Reaching Dharamkot, I went straight to the Milkyway Café, thinking I would use their toilet to change and possibly take a dump too. I just changed my t-shirt and came out. Ordered my lunch of English breakfast and started sketching. It was around 12.30 in the afternoon and the café was almost full. By now my phone’ battery had discharged totally but the guys at the café were reluctant to let me charge my phone there for a little while. It just made me wonder if I were a white guy then may be they would have easily let me. I didn’t wish to dwell on it and enjoyed my breakfast and decided to move on to McLeodgunj.
I went straight to the Monastery, which even though was quite big, wasn’t really architecturally impressive. I was actually expecting a more tranquil traditional looking structure but it was like any other building around. The thing that struck me was the mass of monks inside around the main chamber. It was like a see of heads swinging back and forth with a constant hum of their chanting. From the monastery I went to this small café cum shop called Rogpa. The place was quite interesting as it was run by a not-for-profit organization by the same name and had volunteers from around the world. That day there was a girl and guy from Korea and a girl from France taking care of the business. It was a nice quaint space with some really cute merchandise and a small homely menu comprising some drinks and refreshments. I would have almost got implicated for a molestation charge by this tourist who thought I tried to touch her back where it turned out that it was actually her friend who had patted her on the back while passing her by. Thanks to the Korean guy, who saw the whole thing, I was saved from a thrashing. After having my usual Cappuccino I left to take a walk around. There was still quite some time till I could leave for the bus stand so I ended up watching 5 minutes of basketball at a local court, doing some window shopping, having another coffee at Café Coffee Day as this was the only place where there was air conditioning and I was actually tired of walking around in the heat with my bag. I also made maximum use of their restroom. Then I had some really awesome chicken momos and decided to buy a pair of floaters as I could not bear the thought of wearing my sweaty shoes throughout the twelve hours long journey back to Delhi.
Finally, it was time to leave. I was feeling a bit odd that just when the weather seemed to get a little cooler I was to leave. Three days were somehow not enough for this place. With a place like Triund to walk up to, nearby village like Dharamkot to stay at and a million different localized cafés and eateries, this place really is a lot of fun. Nonetheless, it was time to get back to my people on the plains. I must come back again and try some more eateries and spend some more time just loitering around among the mountains, watch the trees and enjoy the cool breeze.