“Why do you go away?
Being a mountain person, rushing back to hills every weekend is something that has now become a regular thing. And every time I return to the Himalayas, it’s more like returning back to myself. It’s a place of solitude for me, an escape from the routine of life that often asks for a little pause, if I may put it like that.
In the last one year, I’ve been to Manali often and every time I had different people accompanying me. I’ve seen all the seasons unfolding in this Himalayan town that’s quite popular among tourists who are looking to find a weekend getaway in the hills, but somehow, my bonding with Manali has been quite unlike the regular rendezvous.
Last summer, I visited Manali with this person who came down all the way from Spain and we both got lost together in the eerie silence of the pine forest.
In autumn, I traveled again to the same place, this time with three friends of whom one equally adores the mountains as I do. It was more of a relaxed vacation where we would sit at Johnson’s and savor the Chicken Satay and whiskey!
Then came the winters, and I witnessed a completely different Manali – one where everything was white, covered in a veil of snow making everything extremely mystical. I was on my way back from a trek when I stopped at Manali for lunch and couldn’t resist a walk through the forest that looked absolutely a place out from the pages of the books… something that you have also read about in the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’.And then it was now when I was going back to my favorite place with a bunch of strangers, to show them the best of Manali that I know. This time, it became less about the place and more about the people I was with, and even before I could realize, their stories had intertwined with mine.
While most of the Indians usually seek shelter in New Manali that has a bustling market and dazzling restaurants, I personally prefer the calmness and laid-back atmosphere of Old Manali. Crossing the Beas, Old Manali has little shacks and a hippie look, with graffiti and wall art, shops selling dream-catchers, tattoo parlors, and cafes that play Dylan’s song throughout the day.
The best thing about this trip was that 8 of us were uniquely mad and we didn’t try to control our craziness! In fact, one was feeding the other’s weirdness to an extent that the rest would burst out laughing.
For me, observing each of them became the game of the hour. Saikat’s obsession with lasagne to celebrating Anirudh’s birthday, dancing till 2 AM at night and waking up at 5.30 AM to start the hike, playing ‘Never have I ever’ to the bumpy bus ride – every single thing about the trip was fantastically unplanned, justifying the name that they go by!
The highlight of the trip was, of course, finding a patch of snow in Solang, that too in the month of May when mercury is shooting up to 45 degrees in Gurgaon! We all became kids, doing nonsense while sliding and falling on the ice! And how can I forget to mention about that butter dripping aloo paranthas we had for breakfast before we started our hike!
I am surely going back to Manali soon, and I’ll keep thinking about this madness gang at every corner where I’ve created memories with them. I don’t know if I’m ever going to meet them again (tripping being a different issue altogether), I know that these people helped me knit one of the most beautiful chapters of my life.