A song of the mountains

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It was a familiar presence,

Yet I knew not whose.

déjà vu! was it ?

The same old keen smell of peace, the same stillness.

I knew my amused muse had awaken,

To the whisper of a song of the mountains.

Winters have always been the ideal poetic choice for painting an image of dullness and lifelessness. In my case the urban maze has grown to become my winter. Trying to escape beyond the stifling spaces that my career choices have put me into, I was at Manali – a small town within the heart of Himalayas – searching for my spring. My first tryst with this place was through a Hindi travel memoir, way back during my years of schooling. The day dream to visit the mountains of Kullu, that once was; is now reality. Soon as I got down from the bus,I could feel that same mysterious  exhilaration that I had listening to my teacher narrate the travel memoir . Ofcourse what followed next was commotion of taxi drivers, busy passengers and honking buses. But as I walked towards my hotel all that chaos got buried within the color of autumn.

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To be lucky enough, I found the famous Hidimba Devi temple within the neighborhood of my hotel. The mythology says,  Hidimba devi was the wife of Bhima, one of the five Pandava brothers. Bhima and Hidimba had a child called Ghatotkacha. Later Hidimba left the place, became spiritual and her disciples built the temple in her respect. Surprisingly this wooden temple distinctly differs from the nagara style of temple architecture, which is otherwise common in North India. I am no architectural connoisseur nor a spiritual soul, hence my interest in temples is minimal. Instead my spiritualism finds its place within the mysticism in nature. Thus the Dhungri Van Vihar behind it was my heaven.

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I had a long walk within the woods, trying to find my magic rabbit to wonderland. Soon did I realize, isn’t life itself all about searching for the wonderland? Free from all encumbrance, away from all the misery and hate? Aren’t we all waiting for the metaphoric magic rabbit to appear? Things come to us eventually but not always in the way we expect. It took me a while but I did find my rabbit. Food was my magic rabbit.

The cuisine of Himachal is a simple fare of dishes, dominated by the use of lentils, rice,pulses and a variety of chutneys to go along with it. Fresh seasonal  vegetables, fruits and local leafy greens can be found in the lower areas of Himachal and as you move higher, meats and grains take over. Perhaps due to its simplicity it hasn’t gained the limelight of commercialization but yet remains an integral part of Pahari culture.

Owing to the presence of the river Beas, the Himalayan Trout fish is found abundantly  in the Kullu district. One can find multiple trout farms on their way to Manali. These farms carry out artificial breeding of this fish to cater the growing demand of the delicacy. Stopping by one of these farms would be a good idea. There are multiple options in Manali where you can try out this fish.Most travel websites recommend The Johnson’s cafe but as I always say – “mainstream is not the ‘marg’ that I follow” and thus I landed at this humble place called Sharma Punjabi Dhaba. That’s like the most cliché name you can think for a Punjabi restaurant. Contradicting it’s ordinary name, the food isn’t ordinary at all. Arey baba! I am not lying. See for yourself.

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 Burp!Burp!Burp! Was I done yet? Obviously not! In case you don’t know, when it comes to food, my stomach turns into a black hole.

Dessert अभी बाकि है मेरे दोस्त !

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The next day was planned for Rohtang pass, Gulaba and Solang Valley. Unfortunately it wasn’t snowing but when it comes to fun,the compromises made are none. We had our own mini trek up to a frozen waterfall in Gulaba. Ofcourse it wasn’t as challenging as my last trek to Triund but we had our fair share of respite within the lap of the mountains. Perhaps the pictures would do more justice.

(Imagine the ‘Rocky’ theme song playing in background)

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 Most of the times, simplicity triumphs over the worldly. I have had rajma chawal a zillion times, yet the rajma chawal at this small shack left an imprint on my memory. Either it was the hunger or the warmth of the Nepali couple. Look out for Annapurna dhaba, on your way to Solang valley.

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 The Mall Road in Manali is the heart of the town, buzzing with tourists,shops and restaurants. Walking past the hustle bustle, the cobblestoned pathways of Mall Road will lead you to the Chopsticks restaurant, a place specialized in Oriental cuisine. I ordered  a Yaki Gyoza-a Japanese pan fried dumpling, Gyathuk – a Chinese noodle soup and a Chicken salad. I doubt if I would claim it among the best oriental meals but a hot bowl of noodle soup on a cold chilly night is pure euphoria.

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It was the last day but before I catch my bus back home I had few hours with me to check out the Vashisht temple and hot springs. A comprehensive review for this place would be the sigh of regret on my face. Yes there is a temple and yes there is a hot spring but hold yourself from painting a picturesque image in your mind. Let me respectfully ruin it for you. Vashisht temple is just an ordinary wooden temple, overcrowded with domestic tourist completely oblivious of its history. The hot spring?! It’s just a pool with fat hairy middle age uncles bathing. Sigh!

Often the worst experiences make the best memories; the reason why the Green garden cafe just besides the temple made it to my memory timeline. The worst food to reach my plate, while in Manali. Do not get deceived by the photographs though.

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It is absurd but surprisingly rivers have both inspired as well as terrorized me. Inspires me with it’s calm flow, with it’s blind eye to the chaotic world. But when it engulfs living souls and settlements , it’s calmness turns into my terror. My internal philosophies were flowing in sync with the flow of the Beas river as I sat there trying to consolidate my thoughts. Needless to say the view of the river from it’s bank was mesmerizing.

I try to assimilate it’s calm but just can’t achieve perfection like the river does. What makes rivers so restful is that we don’t push a river, it flows. It knows there is no hurry, it shall get there someday. My trip had come to an end but plans for new journeys had just begun. I have miles yet to flow.

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