I love wilderness and open spaces. Any place which offers a horizon unmarred by buildings and establishments instantly makes me feel at peace with myself. Be it the green farms near Agra, the vast, continuous desert sands of Bikaner under a full moon, the endless snow on the mountains of Himachal and the lush green valleys beneath, the infinite waters of the Bay of Bengal and the virgin beaches at the Vizag coast, the rugged, rocky, thorny hill slopes of the Aravalis around my Ajmer, even the simple two lane road which leads from my home to the dozens of villages nestled in the flat pockets scattered among the nearby Aravali ranges. I love it all.
I’ve come to believe, after years of thinking that ultimately it’s your peace of mind which measures the quality of your life. God rests inside every human, and if a person is at peace with himself, he’s living a good life. The people inhabiting the open (mostly rural) spaces, I am of the opinion, tend to be much at peace with themselves, and as such I have high regards for the rural life. It’s a delight to meet people from the villages, and meeting new people is as essential a part of my trip as sightseeing.
In this series ‘Under the boundless sky’, I’ll bring to light my experiences in the above mentioned kind of places and with the people living there. Credit goes to Mr. Ruskin Bond, whose book ‘Tales of the Open Road’ inspired me to pen down such experiences. They’re noting special, these experiences. Just random pickings about common people from everyday life. But then every human is special, and life itself is a great gift!
As the bus rolled, leaving Kullu behind, I forgot all the miseries I’d endured during the night. The Himachal Tourism buses have wooden seats (I’m not joking). The topography is as would be in the hills, with turns at every 100m or so and each sharp enough to pump your bile right up to your mouth. Not much transport is available in the hills, and so the buses often get a bit too full of the handsome Pahadi people. But what takes the cake is the surface of the roads.
A single lane road, which offers the magnificent view of a several thousand feet deep gorge on one side is expected to have been paved with at least some tar; but that doesn’t often seem to be the case. A jolt would come every few minutes, which even minus the three above mentioned factors, would be strong enough to rouse someone like me from deep slumber.
How I spent the night can easily be imagined. But the story doesn’t just end here. Every time I opened my eyes, my miseries would be further compounded with stark jealousy. I was surrounded by the local Pahadi people on all sides, and wonder of wonders! Despite all the turns, jolts, and human pushes, everyone remained sound asleep. Even those who were standing. Some of those who had the privilege to sit were even snoring.
But as the bus rolled away from the rising sun, I forgot all my miseries. The bus was emptier now, and the sight of the majestic snow covered peaks in the distance shot all my fatigue to the four winds. On one side of the road were the continuous hills, some bare and others lush green, and on the other side was the Parvati river, flowing on a trickle, en route to meeting Beas. Ensconced among the hills were villages, full of pretty houses dotted with colourful flowers.
There was no concept of a bus-stop in the villages. As we would pass through a village, every several dozen meters, someone standing at the side of the road would wave his hand and the driver would dutifully, nonchalantly stop the bus to let him hop aboard. A ‘Ram Ram Bha’ji’ would be exchanged and the bus would move on. Just round the corner would be another fellow waiting for the bus, and the process would repeat. I started comparing it to the Hyderabad buses which give precious little time to their passengers even to board and alight, and that too at designated stops. Life, I realised, was certainly calm and relaxed in Himachal. People had time on their hands and didn’t mind waiting for their fellow beings.
The people in the village where we stayed were laid back and relaxed. I doubt if they were even aware of the concepts of deceit and cheating. Once, a group of 5-6 of us tourists had breakfast at a small dhaba. After the meal, the dhaba owner asked us what we had taken. We told him that we’d had 5 omelettes and 6 chais.
“Theek hai bha’ji, 160 rupaye de deo”, he replied after some calculation.
One of us suddenly realised that the tab had actually been 4 omelettes and 5 chais. So we told him so.
“Achchha achchha bha’ji, aapne 4 omelette aur 5 chai li hai,” came the reply, without any sign of any effort to recall anything. “Theek hai ji, 4 omelette ke 80, aur 5 chai ke 50. 130 rupaye de deo…” concluded the nonchalant reply.
Another such incidence occurred as we were checking out of the hotel. We gave the Hotel wale Sardarji 800 bucks. Then again, one of us remembered that we’d given him 100 bucks in advance while checking in. So we told him ki Sardarji humne aapko 100 rupaye de diye the.
As cool as a cucumber, the old Sardarji replied, “Hein ji, aapne mujhe 100 rupaye dene hein? Toh de deo ji!”
“Nahi nahi sardarji, humne aapko 100 rupaye pehle de diye the, aapne hamein 100 rupaye wapas dene hein”
Without as much as ruffling a single hair of his face, and even cooler than last time, pat replied the Sardarji, “Achchha achcha, meine aapko 100 rupaye dene hein! Toh le leo ji.”. With this he produced a hundred rupee note from his pocket, hailed down a passing bus (it wasn’t the bus stand, of course) and bade us goodbye and asked us to come again some other time.
The trip back to Kullu from Kasol was easily the most beautiful trip of my life. The bus was packed as usual, so the conductor asked us to sit on the roof. As I was climbing up the iron ladder, I noticed an inscription at the rear windshield. It said that travelling on the roof was a criminal offence.
On the left side of us for a height of thousands of feet, were the hills, densely forested and lush green in these parts. On the other side was the Parvati river valley, again several thousand feet deep and equally well-forested. With the Parvati river gushing in full-flow after last night’s heavy rains, and the slight drizzle that was there, the weather was just perfect for a ride atop a bus. I broke into ‘Aadat’, to everyone else’s delight, and did an encore on everyone’s request. Here were 5 leather jacketed, cigarette smoking dudes singing rock songs travelling atop a bus and thinking all the time how macho they were.
The bus stopped at some point (which wasn’t a bus stop, of course), and three very old Pahadi men approached it. One of us sniggered that they all looked exactly alike, and the others broke into laughter. One of the men looked up, saw us laughing, and blissfully ignorant that a racial remark aimed at him had caused the laughter, joined in with a smile.
The bus was packed, and there was no place inside to sit. The old men started climbing the ladder to the roof. Alarmed at the prospect of the old men invading our privacy, the guy sitting near the ladder told the uppermost gentleman, as he was climbing up, that there was no room for them there.
The old man, upon hearing this, without a second’s hesitation, told the one below him that there was no room. The second man automatically repeated this to the third, who unquestioningly obeyed and within 5 seconds all three, back on the road, had resumed their patient wait for another bus.
The uppermost man had been just one step below the top. Anyone would atleast have climbed that extra step to check whether what we were saying was true or not. But not these people. They hadn’t even imagined that something could be wrong; that we could lie to them. Their trust had been impulsive, natural. Lie and deceit had probably never entered their system.
Until we came along.