Sunday, October 7, 2012

Himachal: Adventures of the Banjaare

Sometimes we get so used to the life of cities, that we tend to forget what materialism is just a drug that keeps us chugging along. Real moments are often discovered leaving the everyday life and moving beyond. If one still equates happiness with success, turnover, asset creation, social status, parties, booze, music & movies; he/she might just be one amongst millions who are captives in their own little worlds. For such souls, Dr. Shubham prescribes the serenity of Himachal. This small state can hardly be called an economic superpower. However, the culture, the people and the magnificent Himalayas make it one of the best places to unwind..
Add to the brewing beauty of Himachal a wonderful company of the elite ‘Banjaare’ and we have a perfect recipe for fun. ‘Swami’ Vivek, Urvashi, Prasad, ‘Kickass’ Aakash, Ann, Smarty Ally (Almas) Pranit Louie, Harsh ‘Hum’ Mohta and the Punjabi lad Chopra made a team that created their own aura no matter where we went.  
The gang had already covered Chandigarh, Shimla & Manikaran and I joined them at Manali.


Having tamed the white waters of Beas the previous day, the Banjaare yearned for something beyond the thrill of rafting.. So today we were to visit the Sohlang valley and try out skiing and other ice sports. The drive was a short one and while 7 of us boarded the loyal Innova, Prasad and I decided to hire a motorcycle. A forty minute picturesque drive got us to our destination and we were greeted with snow slopes hardened by rainfall from the previous evening. Soon enough, we tried everything out: Skiing, ATV ride, snow slides and Zorbing. Mohta, Prasad and Pranit were the only ones to have gained a considerable insight in skiing; the rest of us were falling here n there in-spite of our serious intent. Mohta even has a near death experience to boast about. I feel Skiing like chicken pox, should be caught young. For at my age there seems little scope for mastering it. Surprisingly, water slides was something that everyone enjoyed a lot and zorbing turned to be thrilling as our dear fellow decided to give us a try in a partially inflated ball.. The jerks and bangs were a bit more than what one expects and our dear Swami walked out with a sore neck when he hit the ground head first inside the ball. As the crowd thinned by the evening, some us decided to trek the snow covered slopes and thank God we did that! We were on all fours to make the climb. We could feel the air getting thinner but the collective energy of the bunch kept us going. The breathless souls were treated with a spectacular view near the top (near the top was where we decided to stop as the slope was impossible). Coming down was more fun as the ladies and Swami showed us how to create your own snow slides. I was initially a bit skeptic (too risky, risk of soaking my bottom etc.) about this but soon gave in as I could no longer ignore the fun these people were having.
Paragliding was one sport that eluded us thanks to a lacklustre terrain, a short air-time and an ask price far beyond its true worth. However, we were determined to make up for it later (in Dharamshala).

Without wasting time groping for words to describe this place, let me explain in short: This is a hill station with Goan frame of mind. Now it has the usual of a little hill station- Ice view point, ancient temple, a flea market etc, but what makes it different is the cultural mix. The Tibetans were granted refuge in the 50s and many consider this their home. They have brought with them the teachings of Budhdha, value for peace, the style consciousness of the youth and of course- momos. Jokes apart, it is quite a dynamic place with numerous eating joints, colorful people from all parts of the world and brilliant weather & surroundings. The bunch of us gorged the various cuisines available here and covered the market, temple, a waterfall, the Dalai Lama monestary on foot. The second day was reserved for paragliding. For all the brouhaha that's associated with it, it turned out to be quite an experience!
The first to take off was Louie. To be honest, fear had crept into everyone thanks to the elaborate take off procedure which needed the right wind and initiative from our side to run off a cliff. However, one by one everyone did that: jumping off the cliff part. Some of us even experienced the violent air pockets and the stunts performed by the pilot. The landing was a scary affair. It was hardly an effort  to spot the girls coming down. The ladies had a penetrating kind of scream. Rather like a Sukhoi flying by in the valley.
The fascination of paragliding as a sport depends totally on whether you have taken off or landed safely or not. Our Punjaabi lad took off twice. (The sudden wind decided to take him for a ride when the team was getting ready. Thankfully, the guys caught hold of him and yanked him back to the ground) He also happened to be the only one amongst us to have crash landed. As he neared the landing site, the air currents vanished magically and the chute lost height well before the site. The skilful pilot avoided the cartoony incidents (caught in a tree, ripped off by branches, etc) and managed to land in a wet field. So a wet Chopra was the only damage besides the scary memories in Chopu’s head.
As we departed from this lovely place, we made a pit-stop at the Dharamshala cricket stadium: the highest in the world.


This is one sleepy and dreamy place. Sleepy because there's little scope for loafing around. Dreamy because it is THE place you would imagine yourself to be in. The SBI guest house (courtesy Swami) is far from the cacophony of human habitation. At times, it did seem to be a splendid hang out for ghosts et all but once we settled in it was very warm and homely. We devoured the meals and even got along well with the kids around for cricket. The market and the church is doable in a day. The major attraction of the place is the Khajjiar valley: aptly called 'Switzerland of India'. The drive is an adventurous one and we stooped on the way at 'lakkad bazaar' for a brief snowball fight. The valley is truly a picturesque one and Almas immediately went into overdrive mode with his SLR- clicking away to glory.

The beauty of this state and the warmth of its people is worth taking time off your work and travelling to experience it all. I am totally awed by the beauty of Himachal. And I could also see the fun part of it thanks to the company of the Banjaare..

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