Monday, January 4, 2016

Kasol Diaries - Part I, High and dry...

It's been a while. Hi!

I've almost forgotten how it feels to write. I have trouble enough putting thoughts into words as it is, so I reckoned a few bottles of beer could put my melancholy into something more productive. Here goes.

It has been a dark year which shows no promise of relenting. I could speak of my troubles, but I figured, how uncool is that. So what then? Well, it hasn't been all doom and gloom fortunately. Amidst the mass of overbearing clouds and claps of thunder, shines bright a silver lining. A sliver of joy, bright enough to help uphold a facade of sanity, even normalcy perhaps as I tread on mundane, muddy waters far removed from the comforts of home. Well, that completes the abstract introduction, now onto the story then.

Sagnik was harping on about a trip for a while now, although I had my reservations. You see, it wasn't the usual, 'Let's all go get drunk at Goa over the weekend' kind of plan, which is very doable under any circumstance, but he had mooted that we all head off for a little trekking expedition to the Valley Of Flowers deep in the laps of Uttarakhand. Now I say 'little' but do take that with a pinch of salt. It's not the exertion or the prospect of walking along steep mountain roads that fazed me, hardly that, on the contrary I love those sort of things. Pointless rambling has been a bit of a personal favorite ( as the readers of this very post will by now have come to realize ), but I had my doubts over taking a week off work, considering I'd just gotten off training. Those were the days when I still cared a little, and hopes of glorious purpose ( okay, maybe not glorious but still...) , dwindling as they were, were still to be extinguished. However, I had agreed in principle,because the prospect of traveling to far flung exotic places is not something one just says 'no' to very easily.

So tickets were booked and plans were set into motion and with each passing day in June, the chances of those plans fructifying became lesser and lesser. You see, here's a thing about mountains. When it rains on them, they kind of start falling apart, and which each passing day, as news of incessant rainfall up in the north reached us, and more importantly, reached the ears (or eyes, depending on the source) of our folks back at home, our plans, like the mountains in the rain, started crumbling down in a heap.

Now what? Plan off? Well, not quite. By then the leaves were approved, and tickets confirmed, and the initial reluctance on the hope of the aforesaid 'glorious purpose' had completely dwindled, so no point hanging around. “I head Kasol is very beautiful this time of year”, said Sohham one day, about a week or so before we were supposed to be traveling. Kasol, now that was new. Google made the place out to be a marijuana/hash paradise. So, the 'Let's go get drunk in Goa' alternative became, 'Let's go get stoned at Kasol'. Perfect, won't you say? Well, it was, and so much more than that, and this is where this tale really takes off ( Whoa! You're still reading, I'm surprised. You really must have NOTHING better to do. Well, I did write this shit, so I feel your pain. Anyway... ).

The bus ride from Delhi to Bhunter was eventful in many ways. Getting stoned out of my senses at the dinner stop at a roadside dhaba was one of them. Let's not get into the details there( My mother does read these blogs. Hi mum! Disclaimer :- All characters mentioned in this post are purely fictitious and any resemblance to any person living or dead, is purely co-incidental ). But it was the day after that produced one of those many magical moments that completely blow your mind in a way no drug on earth can. It was early morning, and the bus had stopped for a break. Groggy, with heavy heads and heavier feet we trudged down for a wash and a much needed cup of warm tea. The place was on a cliff side overlooking a river, a back balcony opened up to a splendid panoramic view of the mountainside coated in a light shade of mist that descended onto the gushing waters while the surrounding scenery was lightly touched upon by the soft rays of the rising sun. It was tranquil bordering on fantasy, and for the first time in months, I knew, I was happy.

P.S. Yes, I am rather too fond of this picture, can you blame me?

The rest of the journey to Kasol passed by in relative serenity. Made a new friend on the road, who like us, was lured to this little hamlet in the hills for all the 'good times' that it promises (and rarely disappoints, I would believe). Our cab diver rolled up some great hash to make the hour long journey from Bhunter all the more soothing, and of course, as an afterthought, he added that we're likely to encounter police checks on the way. The thrill of a crime eh? Although fortunately, that never came to be (just yet) and the journey by the meandering river, with the mountains towering over them, basking in the pleasant sunlight of a beautiful July morning passed by in quiet, contemplative harmony.

Soul city, no pity

Now coming to Kasol. What can you say about a place so far removed from anything that you can ever imagine. It's like a world far removed, far more advanced in its simple primitiveness from the ones we live and and die in. It draws you in, lures you with it's charm and breathtaking beauty all derived from its meagreness which still offers you so much, and gives you that little glimpse of utopia knowing full well that you can never have it, only cherish it for the fleeting moments that it grants you. The soft gurgle of the river, the little clumps of forests, the many little shacks full of revelers, the streets lined with curio shops, far flung from the commercial hustle and bustle of nearby Manali, and the cold draw of the overbearing snow clad mountains that tower over them all are a feast for the eyes and the soul. 'Soul city, no pity', is the catchphrase that goes around there, and in many ways, it could not be more apt.

Alright, it's getting a little clumsy here with all the photographs, but two words, “show off” should adequately cover the motives behind them, But seriously, it's hard to pick one over the other as I relive those moments. I can almost vividly see what the camera captured in a frame, and it's the big picture behind it (which obviously you can't make out from random stills) that is making my job of picking and choosing very hard.

Anyway, to continue, our day in Kasol was....good! Most of it (understatement really) was spent on a high, which was pretty much a feature of the entire trip and I believe it is not a fact that has much repeat value, so from now on, you'll just have to assume that to be implied and understood, unless explicitly mentioned otherwise (yeah right, like that is going to happen). An evening stroll down the lanes full of Israeli people donning that hippie look to envy inducing perfection, a little side venture following a small brook into forest lands which we were convinced had a marijuana plantation hidden somewhere in it and being told off for straying into private property by two gents who we decided were members of the drug mafia. It was like a Hardy Boys story set in Los Pollos Hermanos (watch Breaking Bad if you don't get this), except better. Adventures done, it was time to hit the famous(infamous?) night scene. To be fair, July isn't the most happening month in the region. Something to do with rains and riverside mountain retreats and boulders trying to turn people to putty and you know, little details like that. But the cafe's were, vibrant, to say the least. The one we went to, I forget the name (reasons implied and understood, remember?) had some of the most amazing psychedelic trance music that I've heard like ever. The music alone is sure to put you into that zone.

Now cafe's in Kasol differ slightly(only just) from the Cafe Coffee Day's we have back at home. We walked in to find dim lights, great music as I mentioned already, low tables with a flickering flame of candlelight dancing over them(not the romantic kind, although depends on taste) and rugs placed around them with cushions for lounging. And lounge we did. Of course all this you notice second. It starts with the pungent whiff of burnt hash that stimulates your olfactory lobes as you walk in through the door, your eyes adjusting to the the dim ceiling lights glimmering amidst a faint haze of smoke, and the warm draw of the flickering flame of burning candles, swaying to the haunting beats, piercing the veil of mist as we looked around for a vacant table.

Now if you are really interested in observing people, really looking into the variety of our own species and their diverse mannerisms, you won't get that sitting in a posh restaurant where everyone is so formal and for want of a better word (twice now this has happened, damn!) behaving themselves. You need to place them in a comfortable, relaxed setting, put on some nice music, among friends, surrounded by like minded individuals with no fear of being judged by those around them and just let them be what they are. Of course it also helps to get them stoned out of their better senses. As that place offered best of both worlds, it was like walking into a summer sale on the opening day. You get the best deals and a lot of variety. So people were sitting up, talking in hushed tones, some lounging and laughing, some in quiet pensive thought, some simply lay down and snored the evening away, some crushed hash, stuffed pipes, rolled joints, some sang songs, some simply dug in to the food, made all the more heavenly in the high that had set in. Sounds, of cutlery clinking, a roll of laughter, serious debate, cut short to draw a puff of the chillum that was on every table, in every hand. Keen eyed storytelling, red eyes, droopy eyes, eyes wide shut, hands flailing, table thumping or the intricate movement of the fingers over the tender strings of the guitar while the smoke cleared the veils off their faces. This place had it all. To top it off, the food was great. One fulfilling human experience later, we walked back to the hotel in a curvy zig-zag gait, high on life.

The following day dawned bright and sunny, and having woken up early(-ish. Alright, 9'o clock), I decided to take a little stroll around town while my industrious pals snoozed away. I followed the road by the river, the noise of the gushing waters swarmed in the air like a resounding symphony, the towering snow clad mountain peaks above, a serene and silent conductor of this grand opera, overlooking its creation in stern pride. Quite a Whiplash moment (haven't watched Whiplash? Do). The route was peaceful, lined with trees where birds sang, barring the occasional car or bus that swept by, nothing stirred. Of course, when they did sweep by one had to chart a very strategically planned route where as to minimize the effect of the splash of muddy water as the tires hit a bad patch on the road. But that was all part of the fun. I was halfway to Manikaran (as the sign post indicated), when I came across a little side route cut into the mountains. It led to a thin rickety bridge that swayed in the wind, and swayed even more when you laid foot on it. Across the bridge was a little camp full of tents pitched on a lawn by the waterside. It seemed like a nice place to catch a cup of tea. So putting my vertigo on the back burner, I stepped onto the little plank that passed for a bridge, over the gushing waters and the maze of rocks underneath (I am naturally making this sound waaay more dramatic than it actually was). Having reached the other side, (not before making a heroic stop midway to click pictures), I half expected applause. Sadly, that was not to be, so tea I had to be content with, except that I realized that I'd left my wallet back at the hotel, so this was all a pointless exercise. Except, it wasn't really very pointless (from my perspective, for you, reading this load of tosh, it would seem to be pretty pointless, yeah. Oh and that 'tosh' thingy was a pun, because that is where we head next. Stay tuned).

So, a little side trip up a steep slope in the woods to catch hash and breakfast at the Jim Morrison Cafe before leaving for Tosh, was a clear indication of how unfit we all were. Huffing and puffing through the door, before flinging ourselves onto the mattresses on the floor after a treacherous 10 minute climb, should have been ample proof of how grossly unready we were for the planned Kheerganga trek that comes a little later on. Some of us took the hint well, while others, well, let's just say we showed more grit and determination than intelligence. More on that later, I'll skip ahead to Tosh with my next post....sometime, soon maybe...