Monday, July 25, 2016

Hampta part 5 - Manali, Solang Valley

Link to previous parts

We reached our stay (The Winterfell Lodge) around 4 PM. As we were only 9 members now, we rented 3 rooms and cancelled the fourth one. We kept our bags and ventured out again - for late lunch. We chose an almost empty place, about 5 minutes walk from our stay.

For some reason, I was getting increasingly grumpy since we started back from Jobra - probably mind and soul didn't want to leave the mountains, probably the traffic and all the waiting did it. It didn't help that a person was smoking nearby (not restricted in that place) or that I had to settle for rice sprinkled with lemon, salt and pepper :P Not the first time I wished that my body didn't have an aversion to cheese, butter milk, curd, etc. After more than an hour, we had to wait a bit more as organizers were diligent in catching Rs 1000/- (deliberate?) calculation error in bill.

After going back, we took our time for a pleasing hot water bath. While waiting for our turn, we took to seeing photos, discussions, admiring local kids playing nearby and skilled workers weaving. Some time after 8 PM, we went out for a longish stroll to Manu temple. There was a light drizzle about. Few guys had already gone ahead and met us on the way.

About 150m from the temple, a helpful signboard pointed the way. Which lead to Kirti's master planning of trekking to Solang valley (11 KM from that point) early next morning. Some of us (including yours truly) were up for it.

The temple visit was serene. We sat inside for a while too. After coming out, we got into prolonged discussion with locals. Seemed very nice and answered our queries patiently (the trek plan was vehemently opposed and eventually dropped :P)

We bought bananas on the way (some of us ate a few on the spot) and continued window shopping. Some stopped by to get their first taste of Lychee juice in Manali. It was well past 9 PM by then and the streets started stinking from all the smoke. I couldn't bear the suffocation for long, got our room key from Ishan and left. They gave me the remaining bananas to take to room. I played soothing melodious songs back in room while catching up with notes, falling asleep now and then. Vivek called from the place they were having dinner to ask if I needed parcel, which I declined - because I wasn't that hungry and it was too late already.

Woke up sometime around 5 AM. Got ready and woke up others. We were planning to leave by 6 AM. Got delayed a bit. We checked out, but left our bags with caretakers. Small day bags those who preferred. With my second battery running very low, I left it behind - a day to enjoy without worrying about all the nice photos I might miss :P

We had tea/coffee/snacks at a nearby shop, thankfully open this early in the morning. A dog was doggedly following us. We gave few biscuits, which it lazily ate and then followed us till quite far on our route to Hadimba temple. Lot more crowd here. One of them shamelessly ordered around whomever he could catch to take his photo - this way, that way, different angle and so on.

After taking few pics ourselves, we went on to Gatothkach temple (a huge tree, a bell, some horns and prayer materials). On the way, everybody pitched in with their Mahabharat knowledge to recall Hadimba and Gatothkach stories.

On the way back, we got to see Yaks and spent some time seeing the Manali map. After asking around for directions, we then headed towards Manali bus stand (thanks to Kirpedia for noting we were going wrong way). We walked about 2 KM, seeing Manali at its peaceful rest. And lots of Delhi public school buses.

Mall road was largely empty at this hour. For breakfast, we were lucky to choose this Punjabi Pranthe hotel. It was empty at that hour. We ordered every variety of Pranthe. And when they came, everybody laid their hands and finished in a jiffy. They were quite big, so one of them is enough - but how could we stop eating more of these tasty ones. We also ordered juice and lassi as per preference. All this goodness for very cheap price too (for ex: one Aloo Pranthe for grand total of Rs 30)

Sathesh and Suman joined us at the bus stand. Loaded with green apples and forest plums but not quite ripe yet. Suhash had come too with them to see off. We were just a bit late and missed the only morning bus to Solang valley. So Monisha and Srikanth went to arrange for private transport. While waiting, we saw couple of cyclists on their way to Leh.

Sathesh and Suman hadn't had breakfast yet - I was suggesting Pranthe selling like biscuits near the bus stand entrance. But by then, our transport was ready and we went out. The tempo traveller was right fit for our 11 member group. Quite costly though. About an hour later (couldn't get any game going, just some discussions, playing songs on mobile, etc) we reached Solang.

First up - breakfast stop for those two. They were full of stories on how difficult the climb to village had been, visit to temple, celebrating Sathesh's birthday by distributing sweets to villagers and so on. As he wasn't with us during the night, he got birthday bumps here instead. Too many and painful I suppose. What an odd way to wish someone on his birthday - some fun is okay, not this trend of painful beating :-/ And then we joked that he would have to treat us for lunch later :P

We had dropped the idea of river rafting on Sandeep's information during Hampta trek itself. So, with great expectations we went to see about ropeway and paragliding. So very expensive! Very short paragliding one was Rs 900, the one from up higher and longer duration was Rs 3000. Ropeway was Rs 600. Some of us first timers though didn't want to regret later and so on hopped on to ropeway.

Long queue. And slow moving. The cabins were filled mostly based on groups rather than capacity. So sometimes there were 8-10 going and sometimes just 4. We weren't complaining. Five of (Sathesh, Vivek, Srikanth, Pushkar and yours truly) got one for ourselves. We could take as many pics we wanted, different poses, shouting, etc.

The ropeway itself was boring excepting the engineering aspect. And the wonderful view we got as we went higher. And gave us second thoughts on having rejected the Rs 3000 paragliding - they were just starting and we didn't realize just how high they were jumping off from before seeing it from ropeway.

The tickets were valid for down trip for some long time. There were restaurants at the top. People lazying around. Kids playing. We decided quickly to go see paragliding take off, which was about 5-10 minutes walk. We met the same guy who had informed us of the price at base :P He was the co-ordinator there, communicating with everybody - us potential customers, people just come to watch, people already registered at the counter below, with pilots and so on.

We were informed that we would have to pay Rs 2400 each to have a go. Comes to same price we were told before, counting Rs 600 for ropeway. It didn't take long for us to bite and booked for all five of us. We didn't have cash to pay for all us, but the co-ordinator agreed to be paid at base (where others in our group could lend us). We had to wait as pilots had to be called in from base for us. Few others too joined the fray, succumbing to temptation like us.

Meanwhile we watched others take off. Pilots and their helpers would wait for wind to be favorable and then take off. Usually 2-4 would have lined up at different places near the cliff and go one after the other. Most of the take-offs looked pretty scary. The pilot and customer would take a running start before jumping - the thing is wind would get too strong to have much control on your running. The best take-offs we observed was when customers would just lift their legs asap and let the pilot do all the work! (despite instructions to the contrary)

Our turn finally came. Pushkar went first, carrying all the cash we had. The co-ordinator instructed the pilot to collect the combined fee at base. Came to know later that Pushkar got lucky to get a 10 minute ride :P Sometimes wind forces the pilots to change direction or go higher than planned and results in circuitous return. The other three got their chance as well soon enough. Sathesh (carrying Ishan's camera) and Vivek took video from take-off to landing.

I had to wait some time for a pilot to turn up. My take-off was smooth as I lifted my legs asap like I saw others doing. The initial few moments had that weird feeling similar to what we get during flight take-off. I let out a cry of joy, just for the sake of it :P Soon it was calm, just gliding high above with a bird's eye view. Wind and pilot's maneuver would give 360 degrees view as well. Snow clad mountains in the distance, huge white clouds adorning them, vehicles on winding roads, our companion Beas river, construction activities, the ropeway, etc

Mine was about 5 minutes of airtime only. The quick turns before landing gave that weird feeling again and just like that it was all over. Though it was too costly, I had no regrets. It was worth experiencing paragliding for the first time, especially the high vantage view.

Back at the crowded base, our group had caused few rifts trying to get dressed in traditional outfits. It worked out well eventually. It was getting hot out there, but everybody gamely put on the dresses. And spent awful amount of time taking photos - group pics, individual, this pose, that pose, with wig, dancing about, laughing, photo-bombing and so on. So much fun and laughter therapy. We thanked the local ladies, paid them and started our way back to Manali. On the way back, we five gave our heroic accounts. The two videos taken by Sathesh and Vivek were shared around.

Again traffic jam at old Manali - we just gave up and got down to walk. The first place we tried didn't suit us. The next one offered river view, with lot less of smoke. I quite enjoyed the various veg dishes this time. Adjudging by how much others ate, they were quite liking it too.

We then walked to our lodge, got our bags and freshened up. Thanked the staff, bid goodbye to Renok for everything and were on our way to Manali bus stand again. We walked, our last bit of hiking for the trip. Stopped on the way to buy some dry fruits and sweets. On Mall road, some bought sweet box, in various fruit flavors. We met those two gujjus again and chatted. With time running out to catch the bus, Kirti hurried to buy eggless cake (so that everybody can eat) to celebrate Sathesh's birthday on the way.

Same bus, same conductor, same seats. Except we were starting in evening, four hours earlier than we had started from Delhi. A while after we left Manali, Ishan got his camera out to record video with everybody telling about our trekking experience. It blew to 15 minute 6 seconds video, riddled with some deliberate false statements :P. Monisha and Srikanth decided to follow it up with official feedback, while it was fresh in our minds. At Kullu, we celebrated Sathesh's birthday again with cake cutting. 

Getting carried away with our talk, we were loud enough for other passengers to complain about us. So after feedback had ended (in which I suspect the passengers were interested too) we  stopped talking as whole team. Some talked as quietly as possible with neighbours while some just continued to enjoy the scenery. Those who had missed the big tunnel while arriving (were sleeping) got a surprise to see it now. In some villages/town, fairs were in full swing - too many people, too many shops. That slowed our progress as well.

Around 11 PM, bus finally stopped for dinner. Some of us had been sleeping and didn't bother getting up. Some went ahead to have something to eat, while others just bought water bottles. Early morning we stopped for freshening up. Despite knowing we were on time to reach Delhi by 9 AM, the last few hours seemed to stretch forever.

At ISBT, Monisha gave our certificates back (she had kindly agreed to keep it safely and avoid folds until then). Inside the terminal, we took final group pics and bid goodbye to those catching flight in morning and afternoon (they decided to spend time in airport instead of roaming in Delhi heat)

Rest of us waited a long time for restroom cleaning to finish, only to be told it will take another hour or so and to use the one downstairs instead! Many were waiting in that restroom, so only some found relief (I had stomach trouble, very thankful to get opportunity).

We planned to go visit Akshardham. Got info how to reach and went to metro station just outside. After getting tickets, the remaining used the restroom facilities at the station. The heat was already beginning to show its effect - frequently needed to hydrate and sweating a lot. We had to change twice to reach our destination. Too much crowd in one of the connecting station - but so good to see people lined up in queue and it was easier to get in than expected at first glance.

Outside, it had become quite unbearable for us. After going a short way in wrong direction and taking break in shade, we went the right way. And one of our problems was solved very well - breakfast. There was Haldirams, just under the metro. And we were lucky to reach within happy hours (upto 11:30 AM). Got idli, poori, sandwich, etc cheaply. Dosas and coffee at normal prices were expensive. But everything very tasty and satiating. Air conditioned, sprawling complex, good water (to also fill our bottles), restroom, newspaper, etc. We took our time eating and relaxing a bit after.

Then, back in sweltering heat to reach Akshardham. Could get an idea how big it was from outside. After security check up, we went in to sit inside canteen. Too crowded and long queue to cloak room. Nagur and I were okay to stay back looking after the bags while Srikanth, Vivek, Sathesh and Suman went in. We had to frequently shift our bags closer as people came and went. We weren't tempted by the tasty looking samosas and other eateries - thanks to sumptuous breakfast. We were quite sleepy though.

The four of them came just as we were getting restless. Since phones are not allowed inside, we couldn't call them too. Another 3 different metro rides later, we reached Aerocity. Let go first feeder bus as it was too crowded. The next one took about 20 minutes to start. We were getting a bit nervous now and everybody did a web-check in to save time. Needn't have bothered as we got SMS and calls (after someone had got intimation from Google) that our flight was delayed. Suman, whose flight was scheduled before ours had already been delayed beyond our time.

Again, getting boarding pass and clearing security didn't take much time. My stomach trouble was continuing, so I went to relive again. Others went to enjoy lounge facility (for certain Visa/Mastercard holders) for Rs 2 each. Mine didn't qualify and so I went to wait near boarding gate. Sathesh apparently called my name (didn't hear) and then called my number (couldn't connect). I later found that he had tried to call my other mobile, which was left back at Bengaluru :P

I did have my energy bars still saved up for emergency. I wasn't that hungry, but ate one anyway. The flight had been delayed even further. Finally, around 5:20 PM, we were on our way back. Flight was boring again, except for some turbulent passages. A kid diagonally opposite to us was trying his best to litter and break things. There was no masala/tomato flavored chips this time as well, so Vivek bought the plain salted ones. He had his kindle of course for time pass, while I dwelled on wonderful week gone by.

June 11 to June 18, 2016 will stay for long time in memory. A week is long enough time to build life long friendship. More than the trek and beauty of Himalayas, the little beautiful moments we shared takes the icing on cake.

PS: This little fellow hitched a ride in my bag all the way from Hampta to my room

All in all, my 5+ years old Canon Powershot SX130 IS was good enough to take 1248 pictures with two sets of battery, and juice still left for few more had I needed.

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