Beautiful Shimla

You can absorb some amazingly beautiful scenery when travelling to Shimla. But that said, you’ll have to travel by the Kalka-Shimla Railway. There are a lot many options available though – by air, or by the road, but the rail is what I’ll definitely recommend. Anyway, who wouldn’t want to see these awesome landscapes, isn’t it? Hehe, I would warn you though, the rail goes at tortoise’s speed. But hey! I think it’s more a delight when all that’s outside your window is heaven.

It’s actually a 96-km long track from Kalka to Shimla with about 102 tunnels and 988 bridges. Can you believe that??!! And the longest tunnel, more than a kilometre long is at Barog. The never-ending tunnel gave me a delusion, I was travelling through the Black hole ๐Ÿ˜€ Oh by the way, the train conductor looks really handsome, more like an Army-Colonel-with-his-chest-filled-with-medals. I took a picture with him. You can see it here (Maybe you’ll need to log-in with your Facebook account) My friends warned me from uploading it, saying I quite look like a clown, hehe. But, I’ll go ahead and embarrass myself ๐Ÿ˜€ What do you think?

Hopes Doesnโ€™t Fade with Age

I canโ€™t even imagine how it must feel like when you meet people with beautiful souls, one after the other. Really nice! I had met the beautiful spiritual lady hymning her soft prayers which I had mentioned in โ€œThe Silent Whispersโ€. As I left her and came nearer to the Buddhist pagoda, I met another woman.

โ€œMy day starts early around 3 AM when I have to fetch firewood and berries for my grandchildrenโ€ said the 116 year-old lady. โ€œAnd then for the rest of the day, I devote myself to the Pagodaโ€. I waited there for her to complete her prayers as she rotated the Buddhist prayer wheels with one hand, while with the other she counted the beads and softly reverberated the hymns.

I sat there looking at her in awe. She was so dedicated even though her small little steps were shaky. She had hopes. Hopes of a bright, happy future. A dream that her grandchildren will be happy in what they do. Her son had gone far away in search for better work and she hadnโ€™t seen him in 7 years. All she wanted to do was pray. Prayers to protect them from every possible evil.

Two years after I took this photo, this spiritual lady passed away. But whatever it be, her hopes will not fade with age.

The Alchemist

When was the last time you read a story or watched a movie, and after some time you experienced something exactly like that? In other words, when was the last time you had a feeling of Dรฉjร  vu?

And so it happened, that I was travelling from Shimla to Manali in the winters of 2010. Shimla is a beautiful hill-station in India, similar to Manali. In fact, it is the capital of the state of Himachal Pradesh. And hence, it attracts lots of tourists, and you can find the hustle-bustle of the city almost throughout the year. Also, the Englishmen who ruled India during the British rule, made Shimla their summer capital. That’s a reason you will find many ancient cottages and houses of British architecture. But, let’s not talk about Shimla now, because if I start expressing the beauty and colours of this pristine land, am pretty sure the Sun would already be shining again, and Neil Armstrong would have made his second attempt on the Moon ๐Ÿ˜€

In order to reach Manali, we had to take the Indian National Highway – 21 (NH-21). It is my personal preference to normally travel by road or rail because, you get to meet a lot of people in your journey, and that gives you some good opportunities to know the culture better and also to see a lot many things of the locals. True to that, that an air travel is much faster, but that is what it is. Moreover, its costlier too, man! My suggestion to you if you are travelling in India will be to either travel by train or the road (for short distances.) Am pretty sure, you would love to see so many new things. Also, cultures in India change around every 500 kilometers, so it will be that you won’t even have had the time to soak-in a new culture, that another will await you the next 5 minutes ๐Ÿ˜‰ So, while on my road journey, which was about 273 kilometers (170 miles approx.), I came across so many different cultures. It was really hard to soak in all at one time. Somewhere, the women would have these big-big nose-rings, with a heavily coloured cloth on their head, and then only after a 5-minute drive, the rings would exchange places to the ears ๐Ÿ˜€ I was lucky enough that the car driver kept reiterating all the stories of these locales. Suddenly, after about half an hour of round and round travel through  those narrow mountainous roads, I came across this BIG flock of sheep.

It was almost sunset, the Sun was sinking and there was a bit of dust in the air, and guess what …. the car was surrounded by a huge flock of sheep. All that I could hear was the “Baaaa…..baaaa…baaa” …. sheeps bleating all around the car. We were covered all around. Seemed to me that probably the sheeps were telling the car-driver to get out, so that they could drive and give Michael Schumacher a run for his money ๐Ÿ˜€ Hehe, finally I spotted the shepherd a few metres away, and he helped the sheep move back away from the car. As our car stopped, I turned around. Wow! What a view!! It was as if the World stopped in front of me!

The Shepherd and his flock of sheep

The Sun shone high, once again. All that I could think at that moment was of Santiago. All of you who must have read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist  will surely know what I am talking about. I went towards the shepherd, smiled and said a soft hello. We conversed for about 5 minutes. I asked him, where his home was. Everything of what he said, seemed exactly as what I had read in the book. The feeling of Dรฉjร  vu. He had no home. He had only one purpose in his life. Travel. Travelling was all that he knew, and these sheep were all that he had. Maybe he was following his dream. Or, maybe seeking an unearthly treasure. He didn’t talk much, but occasionally smiled. Finally, it was time for me to leave. I waved and said good bye. “Wow!! That surely was an amazing feeling“, I thought to myself. I had met the alchemist. While returning to the car, I saw this wild dog and clicked a few shots.

The mountain dog

Back in the car, the driver told me that these wild dogs are even meaner than wolves. They know only their masters and their only purpose is to protect the sheep and not let them get away. And that they got threatened when any stranger would come near them. “Thank God, I am in one-piece”, I thought ๐Ÿ˜€ I had gone way too close to take a shot. But anyway, c’mon it doesn’t look like a Tiger, ehh? Finally, as the dusk was falling, we sped fast to reach Manali, and in all that time thinking only about one thing — I had met The Alchemist.

The Silent Whispers …

In the December of 2010, I got this wonderful opportunity to visit the ‘beauuuutiful‘ hill-station town of Manali. Manali is a small town in the Northern part of India, in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. It’s a famous tourist place and a hill station with really peaceful and beautiful people. I call them ‘beautiful’ especially because, apart from having very warm hearts, most of the people there have these appealing ‘rosy cheeks’ ๐Ÿ˜€ Don’t get me wrong, but maybe its because of the climate, or their cheeky genes! Or maybe because they chew on a lot of apples all fresh from their orchards there ๐Ÿ˜€ (Would be wrong to make it a generalization, though)ย  And, I am sure everyone will be mesmerized by their helping and down-to-earth attitude.

Talking about climate, I bet you India has a lot of extremes all around. You maybe shivering {or, maybe also on the verge of dying ๐Ÿ˜€ } when you’re in Kashmir. It hits -30 degs below zero sometimes. And, in the same day at the same time your friend down in South India might be ‘sweating’ profusely, like a pig ๐Ÿ˜€ย  And, I am telling you, I have an experience of both. So its always better to do some research before going to places.

Back to Manali now. You will find a lot many Buddhist monasteries, and also some ancient temples. One day, while walking on the street for about an hour, I stopped inside a makeshift restaurant. The chilly wind, did little to keep me warm and so I ordered a cup of Chai. Chai is the Indian name for Tea. I stroke up a conversation with a man sitting across me. I got to know from him that Manali was also known as the ‘Valley of Gods‘. According to Indian mythology, there was a sage named Manu who had stepped from his ship into Manali after whole of the Human race was destroyed due to the Great floods. It was after the sage that this place was named. His story sounded similar to the Hollywood movie 2012. I was pretty confused as to whether this man was mocking me with his own made-up story ๐Ÿ˜€ I couldn’t stop myself from asking him,ย  “Hey man, are you kiddin’ me? You must be talking about the movie, right? and cooking up this story. Also, I believe 2012 has surely inspired you way too much” ๐Ÿ˜€ He gave me a gentle smile, and then said “Son! That’s the story of Manali. We heard it from our fathers and fore-fathers and that’s how it passes from one generation to the next”. He gave this innocent look, and I could do little to not believe him. At times, I really feel so foolish, either Hollywood is making a mockery of the mythological stories or the locals are ๐Ÿ˜€ But, naah I had to agree to what he said. He seemed to be a good man. And thus we chatted for about half an hour more.

Finally, when I thought it was time, and stood up to leave, I could hear the gongs of bells coming from somewhere nearby. I sat again and asked him, what these sounds were. He told me that just 100 metres from here, there was a Buddhist monastery. The smell of the incense sticks livened up the atmosphere. Wow! what more can you expect apart from a cup of hot tea in this chilly atmosphere and the smell of the fresh incense sticks. The feeling was awesome. I thanked him for his time and started walking. I was pretty excited as I could feel the hymns as I came nearer. Finally, I entered the huge gates. Just outside the pagoda, there was a woman sitting alone. I was curious what she was doing.

I went to her and saw her holding a Buddhist Mala or a rosary. A mala or a rosary is used to keep count of the number of times you recite the hymn or the chant, the mantra. The most commonly used mala contains 108 beads made of Tulsi wood, although malas made of many different materials can also be found. Some of the malas also contain more or less beads, but normally are in multiples of 9. I didn’t know why it was only “108”, and so a quick Google search tells me this as the reason . Now, you might be wondering how I know so much about these rosary beads. I have a funny story here.

When I was a really small kid, I was sitting on my mom’s lap in one of the store-rooms. She was delicately cleaning some stuff that she thought, she would put in the living room as ornamental decoration. She opened a box, and inside it were about 7-8 malas that others had gifted her. While she was cleaning, I picked up one with bigger beads and put it in my pocket, without her noticing. I still kept sitting there, and my mom told me how and when these delicate things were used. Earlier the previous day, I had actually lost my ball in the gutter, so I had nothing to play with ๐Ÿ˜‰ Finally, when I was alone, I pulled the mala from my pocket and kept on staring at it for about 5 minutes. The innocent mind in me started thinking, “Wow! I had lost just one ball. Now, I have 108 balls to play with (literally speaking so as to say) ๐Ÿ˜€ And BOOM !! I pulled apart the string, and one by one all the beads started falling. Fact is, after almost 16 years from when it happened, I still have one bead as a prized possession that reminds me of that innocent and naughty childhood, haha PS ~ I just hope my mom isn’t reading this !! ๐Ÿ˜€

Okay, so back to the monastery now. I watched as the lady continued her prayers and then she picked up the rosary bead and started with her soft hymns (which I couldn’t hear BTW!) I walked up to her, and asked her what she was doing. She didn’t reply. At first, I thought I was disturbing her. And so I waited for another 2 minutes. As I slowly grew impatient and irritated that she didn’t answer me for so long, I was about to go. Just at that moment, I found what it really was. There are some Buddhist monks and nuns that take their vows very, very seriously! They don’t speak at all!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ All of you who must have watched the movie “Hangover Part 2” will surely know what I am talking about. Immediately, I turned back and she was smiling. Maybe, I had made the connect, or maybe she did ๐Ÿ˜‰ And it was then that I realized that at times, we humans are so full of our own thoughts that we completely forget, that there’s also another side of the story. I signaled to her that I was taking her picture. She didn’t mind. I clicked. Then, I bowed and thanked her. She smiled. I left this beautiful, spiritual lady in her zen world and felt good that she had taught me a lesson for the day. And then, I walked from there hoping that a new story awaited.