Being a 'plain' man, I didn't know that mountains had such a hold on me till I went to the Garhwal in 2006. We treked to Kedartal... didn't know I could do it till I started walking, my breath heavy and legs aching, I trudged along with some friends to witness some of the best things even money can not buy — beauty and in abundance too at an altitude of more than 15,000 feet. That memory, my first visit to the mountains, lingered on and I was longing to have another go, but work kept me at bay.
Thus when my present boss called my up one evening to ask me whether I would be game enough for a bit of adventure, the Raid de Himalaya, I could believe my luck. Having started in this new job for barely a month, this was something unexpected. Saying no was no an option coz I was sure many would like to jump at the chance.
The next few weeks and days flew by till it was time to set sail.
D-day started at 4 in the morning. I couldn't sleep the night before, as I was having one of my regular late night binge at my friend's place. But I wasn't groggy when the cab came to pick me up from my south Delhi residence.
Our first stop was Shimla. The mountains were coming into view as we negotiated the bends, hanging like chandeliers in the distance. But the city itself was disappointing... too congested and heavy with smoke billowing from countless vehicles, both big and small.
Thankfully we didn't stay there for long. We were soon packing our bags and on way to Manali, travelling through the mountains, following the cars and two-wheelers as they whizzed at over 60KMPH through the twisting and turning mountian roads.
It was exhilarating stuff but I was sure there was more of it to come. We stopped at a tiny hamlet called Chhatri, where young and old had come out to witness the rally. it was there that I met Sangli (a three-year-old boy) and Rimjhim. She studies in class seven and walks more than 10km every day to make the trip to his school. Aren't we priviledged in life?
There was more in store on the trip to Manali. Sudenly, as our car was trying to negotiate a bend at a lively pace, the driver cried out in alarm 'sirji, brake nehi lag raha hai.'
I was sitting beside the driver — that's my favourite position coz I would stay wide eyed throughout the journey — but didn't feel any tension. Que sera sera... I was singing. Luckily, we managed to stop quite close to the edge and glancing down you could see a steep fall of more than 10,000 feet. It was pitch dark and the place we rumbled to a stop was called Banzar. Isn't it ironical.
It was very late when we reached Manali. We had to start early the next day... our next stop Rohtang and beyond.
Rohtang pass... at 13,000 plus feet, the view was breathtaking. It was minus four when he crossed it in the morning. I couldn't resist taking pictures... click click it would go, my fingers semed hell bent on capturing those moments for ever despite the fact that I wasn't wearing gloves. I was in no mood to watch the rally, it was the surrounding that hooked me. I wanted to stay there... forever... Grampo was next and with the mountains towering over, it looked like I was in dreamland...
Chattru bridge was our last stop, the bridge seemed to connect my past with my present, my emotions with all its burdens. But there, standing with the water flowing by and the snow-capped peaks shining bright, it seemed that a load had been lifted... I was not answerable to anyone (at least not to those who talked sweet but dumped me at their convinience... friends, relatives et all... people who made tall promises, 'will be in touch' they said when I left Kolkata... but no one does other than your parents).
The mountains... I was desperate to move beyond, into the clouds where they merged as one... but sadly it was time to head back. The weather was breaking and we had to drive fast to get back to Manali.
I stole a last glance at the bridge that connected me to the other world, my past. And I promised myself to be back. 'Soon I told myself' and this time I would go the distance.