Day 13-The road trip was over yesterday. And we still had 2 days left in Manali. We were itching to get back on the road. And Raja had to do paragliding. Thats when Manoj Bhai strikes again. He calls us up and asks us whether we want to accompany him on one more trip to Rohtang. Alongwith that, there was this irresistible offer of paragliding at Solang valley. And so we set on yet again, to Rohtang. The qualis on this day had all the typical ingredients of a tourist vehicle-a guy who blabbers on no end about anything and everything based on his wikipedia knowledge, an old woman and her daughter who were having this little competition among themselves on who vomits the most, another girl who laughs like the 'yakshis' you get to see in C-grade horror soaps, a honeymoon couple where the lady screams at every turn of the vehicle and two misfits(us), who were eagerly waiting for the vehicle to stop somewhere to escape from all this. The wikipedia guy bored Manoj Bhai to death with his gyaan on Himachal, as we coughed hard to hide our laughter. We heaved a sigh of relief when we reached Solang valley.
Solang valley is pretty near to Manali and is known for sports like paragliding, skiing, zorbing etc. There's also a ropeway service which will take you up the mountain and give you a scenic view. As the families proceeded to the ropeway, we started the climb up the hill to realise our dream of flying free. It was a tiring walk up the slightly slushy slopes because of the lack of oxygen. Atlast, we reached a reasonable height and the guys who were accompanying us with the 2 paragliding kits untied it and set it up. I realised to my horror that I am to do it first thus spoiling all my ideas of using Raja as a guinea pig to see how scary is it. As the guy tied the ropes on to me, I was in for the second shock. He said-"You stand in front and run when I say. Dont stop, else we'll both fall down." My heart almost stopped beating for a second and cursed myself for deciding to do this. I said-"why dont you stand in front and run? I'll follow you". By that time he had tied everything tight to me and got himself tied behind me. The next second I heard him say- "RUNNNNN!!!" I ran....and ran. Those 5-10 seconds were the scariest of my life. Here we were running to the edge of a hill with a heavy bag like thing attached to our backs and the man himself had warned that there's a chance of falling down. But 5 seconds later, it was all heaven as we lifted off smoothly near the edge of the hill. The thick cloud cover meant that we couldn't see anything below us for sometime. We glided down the hills, through the clouds, circling the trees. I could see people walking along the hill slopes. I got a taste of how a bird felt and for the first time I understood what 'freebird' literally meant. He experltly manoeuvered it as we gradually began to come towards the ground. As we were nearing, he again screamed "RUN"...Run I did, and we landed safely...One more iteration of the above para and that will be Raja's paragliding experience. Alas, He got a guinea pig in me!
After the customary maggi meal, we were back in the vehicle with the old boring bunch. It was time for the journey up to Rohtang, through that dangerous road yet again which almost gave us all heart attack the first time around. It was raining and the roads were slushier than before. It was terror all over again as the vehicle literally glided on the slush and came precariously close to the edge of the road. The mist didn't help matters either as visibility was next to nill near Rohtang. Atlast, after another arduous journey, we reached Rohtang. Having walked around the first time around, it was a time for chilling out for we two as we sat around in the dhaba with Manoj Bhai. I jumped out to click as I saw several military trucks emerging from the mist and travelling down the road. As I stood there and started clicking, I saw each of the men in uniform driving the trucks giving me a simple salute. I couldn't help but stop clicking and salute them back. A goosebump moment, that! As we walked around, we met an old man at a small shop renting jackets to toursists. He told us about Himachalis being god fearing and that they never ever lie to anybody. We knew its true having experienced it over the last 2 weeks. As dusk approached, we descended and reached Manali by nightfall.
Day 14- The trip was ending atlast. What began as a trip to Ladakh ended up as a trip around Himachal. But we were not complaining because this was much more than what we bargained for. If anybody asks us what was the best part of the trip, we would most probably say, The people. There are many of them who just found a place in our hearts with their warmness and innocence-Our driver Manoj Bhai, his friend Sanu Bhai, Daulat Ram, the prayer flag seller at Lossar, the hotel owners at most places, the kids, the monks and many more. And, of course there was the unparalleled beauty and majesty of the Himalayas which made us gape in wonder on all the 14 days with its sheer variety of geographies. Its these things that will make us come back here many more times in the future. And, when I say this, am sure we'll return...And, it felt great when Sanju Bhai came to see us off.
The journey back to Delhi was a record breaking journey of sorts. The Himalayas didn't seem to like us leaving the place. Yet another landslide happened and we were at the same place from night 9 till morning 7. One more night spent in Himachal, thanks to the Himalayas. I bow before thy might. Day 15 was on the road as we travelled from Himachal through Haryana and Punjab to Delhi. Day 16-Flight to Kerala for Onam...The perfect icing on the best cake we ever got :)...
Thanks to all for bearing with this travelogue for so long...No more words to say..All I've left are some more pics which will be up in my photoblog. And ofcourse the ebook version of the whole travelogue...
your crusader Praveen