27 July 2009
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Posted By namrata
This MBA is a funny thing.
You begin this arduous journey with only your willpower as your friend. By the time you set up base camp in June-July you are a seasoned player. The onset of the GD/PI season is marked by routine skirmishes with the enemy (read: any and everyone wearing a blazer/saree in that room). If you are lucky, you might be one of the few selected to form the top team that will scale the peak that year. But who will reach the summit first?
Navigating through treacherous passes in the fall season, the winter sorts the men from the boys. Avalanches and storms called relative grading and internships are the instruments of its terror. Some give up on the way. Some realize that they are meant for far more important things than climb a stupid mountain. And some persevere.
Case studies are debated, presentations are made, interviews are given and one fine day it’s all over.
You go back home after two long years a changed person. Life back home seems so… well… soft! The senses seem less sharp due to over sleeping. You are meant for sterner stuff. Mom’s cooking is a welcome change but you miss the midnight walks, the night-canteen. You can’t fall asleep before 2 a.m., the ready stock of movies & music on the DC is absent.
And above all, you miss your compatriots. You re-group.
I felt the same way back in March 2007. Just before I started my first job and before I received my diploma at my graduation ceremony. It was the perfect time to go back-packing and the weather just could not get any better.
A bunch of my friends from college (IIM Indore) … Raj, Paro, Anu, Tanvi, Wayne, Kasturi, Vimal, Anoop, Mahesh, Aneek and I went on a trip from Indore to Himachal.
Indore to Delhi (807 km) was an uneventful journey by train, and so was Delhi to Pathankot (485 km). The Indian Defense forces, having the largest military base in Asia in this city, have a considerable presence at Pathankot. It is also the last city in Punjab on the national highway that connects J&K with the rest of India. On that day, we were greeted by a nearly empty station and slushy roads outside. After tiring walk, dodging potholes and mounds of filth, we reached the muddy bus station. At 8 a.m. the place was buzzing with activity. Men, women, children, porters and livestock waited impatiently to board buses that took them to Jammu, Kashmir or Himachal. As Pathankot is situated at the foothills of Dalhousie, our next stop, we looked forward to a pleasant and short bus ride. What we didn’t anticipate was the large number of people, animals and cargo that the bus hoped to carry over the narrow, winding mountainous roads. School & college students regularly boarded the vehicle, so did farmers and women carrying firewood. Snotty, young children were thrust onto our laps at times, and baskets of live chicken found their way under the seats. The nonchalant attitude of all the passengers showed that in the absence of facilities like trolleys and cable cars that are available in other parts of the world, the humble bus was the lifeline of the people of these hilly regions and a small roadblock or mudslide could cut off rations to a large number of their residents.
At Dalhousie we stayed at the YHAI’s student hostel. Two idyllic days were spent hiking along the leafy green trails that abound this place. The little market and the old, stone, British-era structures made one feel that the Brits haven’t really left the place, and one only had to turn a bend, or walk down to the local post office to bump into one of them. Dalhousie was established in 1854 as a British summer retreat and like all things English; it does have its fair share of spooky tales and ghostly encounters. If you are interested in any of those you could probably drop in at the circuit hose and have a chat with the old chowkidar there. We hired a 4-WD for the next leg of our journey.
Dharamshala was our next stop. After visiting the Tibetan monastery we drove through the McLeodganj market. McLeodganj is named after David McLeod, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab and again, was established in the 1840’s. At first glance, you would think that you have stepped outside India once you are here. People from all over the world – Tibetans, Nepalese, Chinese, Europeans – throng Dharamshala to pray / study at the Tibetan Monastery. This town is the biggest centre of Tibetan culture and religion in India. A hub for the Free-Tibet Movement, it gives the Tibetan people a free and secure shelter to preserve their culture and traditions. Home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, if you are lucky you could attend a discourse or prayer meeting conducted by him.
Manali-Rohtang-Shimla – Our travel to all these places was a blur. Not that we rushed through these due to paucity of time, this was a blur due to the snowfall and rain. All along we travelled in a minivan, without its windshield wiper working. The person sitting next to the driver was responsible for brushing away the snow using a straw broom! Visibility was poor and we had quite a few near-misses on the narrow, winding roads. We experienced snowfall for the first time on this trip at Manali. Setting up camp at the local Youth Hostel here (not as comfortable as the one at Dalhousie), we first visited the Hidimba temple in Manali and Ghatotkatch’s shrine too.
With fresh snow covering the hillside, the climb to this ancient cave temple was quite slippery. The temple is surrounded by Cedar forests and the view once you reach the top is very peaceful and scenic if not for the trigger happy honey mooning couples who make it a point to visit this place if they are in HP. Tourists can For Rs.50 hold a giant wild rabbit, sit on a yak, or take pictures of the old, natives (mostly ladies) decked out in traditional wear lounging in the temple premises.
About 70 metres away from the temple is a shrine dedicated to Goddess Hidimba’s son, Ghatotkacha who was born after she married Bhima. But you might really miss seeing this place as it is located by the roadside near the many fruit juice and fast food stalls, and is quite unremarkable to the tourist eye.
The next day we drove up to Rohtang. The plan for the day included skiing, sliding down snow-slides on a rubber tube - apart from intermittent snow fights and general hooliganism. Happy to say that all these objectives were met.
Observing others who had been too stingy to hire the snow-suits and gum boots from the vendors, by the roadside, a few kilometers back, was a treat. From ladies trudging around in sandals and guys in tennis shoes to fools who thought a mere shawl would be enough, their agony was both real and if I may say so, quite comical. I felt it reflected our quintessential Indian way of thinking, ‘Zara si toh thand hai, extra socks aur shawls le chaleinge,’ ‘Ye sabh hamein ulloo bana rahe hain, 500 rupaih ek snow suit ke liye?!?!, upar chalke dekhenge kitni thand hai, rates bhi kum honge!’.
Needless to say, not only was it freezing up there, but there were no shops hiring out suits or boots. A tip though to fellow travelers, carry your own water and food, prices here seem to be a function of height above sea level and a function of other available options. Carry your sun-glasses and don’t litter! Please!
The last leg of the trip was reserved for Shimla, where we relaxed, walked The Mall multiple times. Spent enough time at the book stores, protected our bags and cameras from the ferocious langurs that terrorized the passers by. Satiated our craving for Barista coffee and Dominos pizza. The youth hostel of Shimala, though not a patch on the Dalhouse one, provided basic facilities, but in our opinion was a little low on the hygiene scale. All Youth Hostels provide lodging and basic meals (varies from place to place), but not to worry, as there are enough dhabas, serving some delicious rajma-chawal, dotting this state.
This trip was a truly memorable one for many reasons. It gave us the opportunity to really relax and soak in the experience without any deadlines or placement anxieties marring these 10 days. We climbed, hiked, slithered, slipped, jumped, walked, ran to our hearts content. Every moment was captured by multiple cameras. Not only to capture Himachal with its beauty and simplicity but to hold every smile – impish, mischievous, honest, naughty and beautiful – for years to come. And above all, we grew closer to the friends we made here in the past two years – for they are friends for life.
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Fresh out of college, we were thrown into the dust bowls of U.P and the jungles of M.P. Sneaky trainees that we were, we took full advantage of the available resources to explore. Whether the pine trees of Almora or the ruins of Khajuraho, a Bhojpuri film shoot or some gun-laden, mustachioed dudes in the Chambal areas of Bhind - our travels always had added flavor!