22 March 2015

Travelogue- Simla-Manali-Amritsar- Delhi etc.

12 days without watching Arnab Goswami's screeching  theatrics , trying to save the Country- asking tough Questions relentlessly , vowing to follow it up [ but  never doing it- simply because any follow up does not translate into T R P's ] and emphatically emphasizing to   all and sundry that at Times Now- they don't compromise [ lol ]

What a bliss .

But lets return to the important matter at hand

The Mumbai- Delhi Jet Airways flight was uneventful. From Delhi by Bus to Chandigarh ,  took us a better part of 6 hours [ leaving the Delhi metropolis with its traffic, leaves you exasperated] . Came to know from sources that the Indo-Canadian Bus service is allegedly owned by the Badals. This journey was really tiresome. We had to take a night halt here .

The next day morning- 6 th March 2015 , to be precise, began our sojourn to Simla. What a beautiful relaxed drive. Half-way to Simla is Solan- town and district- aha - Mohan_Meakin Breweries- the makers of Old Monk Rum and Solan No. 1 Whiskey- both quality products.I was eager to have Solan No. 1 after so many years , as it is not available in Maharashtra Purchased our stock for the duration and proceeded to Simla.

A very important message for tipplers- Alcohol is very cheap, damn cheap, even cheaper than Goa in Himachal Pradesh [ compared to Maharashtra and other Southern States]. By the way let me add here that in Punjab, there is no M R P- for anything- as the shopkeeper said , when we brought our evening quota- very expensive and no M R P mentioned on it anywhere . Wonder if Punjab is still an integral part of India and if so why this indiscrimination. Chandigarh being Union Territory- the rates are like Goa, but surprisingly Delhi also sells alcohol moderately cheap- affordable certainly. But Himachal is the best.

Apologies for this important aside- back to the task at hand

Despite the enormity , this was the first glimpse of the fragile Himalayas- . There were a few landslides along the way- which then narrowed the road. Reached Simla by 1 o'Clock and had the first surprise of what we were going to eat for the next eight days- Parathas- Parathas and Parathas- or bread and omelette  breakfast- lunch and dinner- no roti- no chapati.

Visited Mall Road in the early evening- the weather was turning to be obstructively cold.There are lifts to ferry people to the Mall Road Here I first encountered the hardships of the Himalayan Mountain people. No car or 2 wheeler is allowed on Mall Road-only police cars, ambulance and Fire Brigade,  even the President of India- if he visits has to walk [ what an exaggeration-Walk ?? ,  has any politician done it ]. The shops on the side of the road have to ferry all their wares from below on foot. The Gurkha and Tibetan people , do this job . charging around Rs. 150 each time to ferry the load. Hence that added to the cost of the goods. Inspite of this there were people, particularly honeymooners making a beeline for the shops .I gathered this information by talking to a few shop-owners, who stayed on the slopes and did not mind the daily grind - up and down. Many houses were perched on the hills around and the people never gave a thought of walking up and down daily- all the time being content and happy. In fact- all through Himachal Pradesh- this is what surprised me. Never met a single person who was not smiling or trying to be helpful  [ I must have interacted with more than 100 people during my stay, other than the hotel employees ] , It was cold- very cold- a sweater -jacket and muffler could not protect us from the cold- thus returned to the hotel room in a hurry

Then got the first hint of the unpredictable weather . At 5.30 in the evening  as we returned to our hotel the Sun was shining brightly and by 5.45, the whole of Simla was shrouded with clouds-nothing was visible- could not see anything from the confines of the hotel room, the mist climbing up and up from the valley below. Zero visibility . The temperatures dipping further. However , again by 6.30, the clouds disappeared- perhaps more closer to the Almighty to await further instructions [ this is just to appease the believers- personally- I am an atheist - but it sounds nice to invoke God sometimes ] .

The next day went to Khufri -a small town  in the vicinity of Simla.It also has a racecourse. Remember Dev Anand's  1971 film- Gambler- the horse race before the iconic - ' Dil aaj shayar , gham aaj nagma hai- shab ye gazal hai sanam- sung by Kishore- We encountered our first snow here- on the sides of the road and the hilltops- on the trees- bereft of leaves.

Met an enterprising- smiling student- Pooja Negi- at a small restaurant in Khufri- who was managing it, in the absence of her father. Found her to be amazingly forthright and focussed . She had set her eyes on joining the  State Civil services ,  after completing her studies. A very committed student. I loved the interaction with her,  along with the tea.

Next day, we were off to Manali- some 270 km ,from Simla- a tough drive, taking us almost 8 hours to reach Manali . On the way saw 2 huge Cement plants [ though there are more ]- Ambuja Cement and A C C.Surprisingly Ambuja Cement employees were on strike and hence all the trucks  ,waiting to ferry the Cement to other parts of the nation had lined up the entire roadside, making navigation more difficult .The driver of our Car had warned us of heavy traffic on this stretch because of the trucks making their presence felt all throughout, but was himself happy for the smooth passage.

From Mandi town-  River Beas follows us on the right, all the way to Manali. The Pandova dam, where the unfortunate students bodies  from Andhra Pradesh were recovered, when water / silt was released from the up stream dam. The bed of the river is strewn with boulders and stones and when the Silt gates are opened- they carry more boulders and silt.The students had no chance of surviving. Since then every few metres  Warning boards are displayed not to venture into bed of the river.

On the other side of the river- were more houses perched on top of the mountains- inaccessible by road .The enterprising village people had erected rope-ways to come to this side of the Beas river, for their daily needs. I was aghast at this primitive way of travel and the lurking danger below. But the people themselves were smiling and unmindful of this hardship.

 I salute them

Along the road- there were landslides bringing down boulders and stones and mud. Huge boulders- blocked the roads- narrowing the passageway of Cars A  road is here today and tomorrow, it has vanished, such  is the state of this fickle/ fragile  mountain terrain. The P W D of Himachal Pradesh is certainly performing an uphill herculean task of maintaining them ,

 Reached Manali by 7 evening- through Mandi- Kullu [ both districts ] . Kullu is the district place with all the schools and colleges and government offices, while Manali is the important tourist destination- with hotels galore. Two days of Parathas had made me wary and thus switched to Omelet and bread.

The next morning dawned , with a  huge surprise- the heater in the hotel room had stopped giving us comfort , sometime in the night , but the comfort of two thick blankets and our attire made us comfortable . As soon as we came out of the blankets, we were seized by the biting cold. Got up to look from the window and could not see anything but the snow- snow and more snow. Entire Apple trees, the roof-tops and mountain tops were covered with snow. The ground had about a feet and a half of snow. The staff informed us  that in such weather, the power is switched off, to avoid any untoward fatal accident. The temperature was minus 12 degrees centigrade . We came out of our room to the hotel lobby, to look around and click some photographs . There was no question of venturing outside the hotel.

The hotel we were booked in was a small one with only 8 rooms and fortunately, we were the only guest. I told the staff, that I was done with eating Parathas and Omelet and asked them to make Upma - ha ha . They said they had never heard of it . So I asked them to get me some Suji and I will prepare breakfast for all of us [ we 2, our driver and the 2 skeleton staff] . The manager said , he would, if the shops opened . Fortunately, the enterprising, hard working Himachal people , including our driver were not lazy . The driver cleared the snow from the car and also the driveway, all the time telling us that he was used to such things and mind it ,  he was only wearing simple slippers.

The shop opened at 9 and the cook got us Suji [ - semolina ] .I cut onions and other ingredients, roasted the Suji and prepared the Upma- oh it tasted so wonderful  and was a welcome change. The driver and the staff too found it very tasty and said so, though they had eaten it for the first time [ maybe they were just polite]. In the afternoon- I said- will prepare simple lunch and thus went on to make the staple diet of many Indians  viz.. Khichadi and Kadhi.

We did visit the Manali  town in the evening for a stroll, but were not comfortable, with the cold threatening to engulf us. hence returned fast to the comfort of our room.

Started early in the morning, the next day to Mcleodgunj , another 260 miles via Mandi town- Jogindarnagar- Baidyanath- Palampur- Kangra Valley-Dharamshala- Mcleodgunj. On the way saw few more landslides as a result of the earlier day snow. At two places 2 different vehicles were , totally crashed under the debris. Do not know the fate of the people.

After Palampur - all the way to Mcleodgunj- the  Dholdhara mountain range on our right side kept us company . Enchanting- beautiful- snowcapped mountain range. Am sure it must be Dhawaldhara and not Dholdhara- simply because Dhawal is white and snowcapped mountains look white- Dhawal . But will go with what the locals say.

Reached Mcleodgunj around 6 p m . Harsh terrain, from Dharmasala to Mcleodgunj. Had our hearts in our mouth, as the main road was closed and the detour entailed climbing a road with a high gradient, through narrow streets- traffic jams- screeching breaks- people moving along the narrow stretch with utter disregard for the on coming or going vehicles. However we reached our hotel without an incident.

I told my driver to relax as we had no intention of going anywhere later-after what we encountered- none could think of venturing into the streets. But as is my wont- I did go out- simply to interact with the locals and this is what I found.

None and absolutely no one  welcomed the Tibetans or the Dalai Lama. The life of the locals had become hell ever since the Indian Government gave political Asylum to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans who followed him. The Dalai Lama gets top security- whenever- he is in Dharmasala or goes around there - all roads are closed for the public . He is guarded and protected like the V I P he is. It is alleged by the locals that drugs of all kinds are freely used by the imported and naturalized citizens- in fact they trade in it. There are certain streets in Mcleodgunj, where tourist are  forbidden to go by the travel operators. A very sorry state of affairs. For all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Lama- the locals resent the intrusion by the Dalai Lama and his followers.

The hotel was the best, we encountered till now, the food palatable [ did we have a choice ].

Next morning, we started our so called pilgrimage to Amritsar, via Pathankot. The journey was not long but as we were going downhill now, it was precarious, with twist and turns all along .

At the border at Pathakot- the driver got down to get his entry permit to Punjab. His car being registered in Himachal Pradesh- that was a necessity. I thought it would take some time and got out.

A grotesque- obese policeman was sitting reading newspaper outside the check-post. Tried to converse with him but was met with deaf ears. He displayed a lot of attitude and growled, without looking up.Maybe he thought that I did not merit a second glance. My driver warned me of the inhospitable nature of this DTSO  [ whatever that means ] and told me to beat a hasty retreat.

Entering Punjab was not a welcoming experience. We reached our hotel  around 3 , after having our meals on the roadside dhabha at Batala.

Went out in the evening in search of palatable food- other than Paratha. Found a place on an open ground, where- Idli- Dosa, Bombay Pav-bhaji etc. were available.

That was an Eureka moment- but was in for an disappointment- the Medu-wada was hard & cold, the Idli too as hard as the D T S O at the border . Surely not a thing to fall for.

The next morning- went to Jalianwala Baug first. This was one memorial- I had to pay my obeisance, to the innocent people killed by Dwyer., mercilessly shot for no reason. Why should we not hate the British for this ??

Then to the Golden Temple and the sanctum sanctorum- Harmandir Sahib.

It is beyond description- words fail me and I want to skip describing it.

Roaming around Amritsar- searching for Ahuja Lassi- to just find it quite ordinary after much hype and hoopla created by the anchors Rocky and Mayur in the NDTV Good Times Show- Highway on my plate, which I watch -not for the antics or shenanigans of the anchors but to know about new interesting places to eat

Whatever people might have  said - I did not find the food in Amritsar to be special. Just palatable- period..

Next day back to Chandigarh via the Bhakra Dam- which falls in Punjab, while the Nangal dam -a few miles away falls in Himachal Pradesh. Now when in school ,we had read a lot about the Bhakra Nangal Dam and what wonders it had done to Punjab, also glorifying the achievements of Nehru, for being a visionary to build it.[ [Was he an engineer ]

Talking to people, I got the impression that the Badals are not too popular with the laity. Well elections will decide.

Came to Delhi by Shatabdi Express from Chandigarh. Ever since Lalu Yadav became Railway Minister, he has gone hammer and tongs on reducing the comforts of the travellers by increasing the seating capacity in the trains              [ Earlier the seating arrangement in reserved class was 3 + 2, he made it 3 + 3. In Chair Cars- it was 2 + 2, he made it 3 + 2 . All these politicians from Bihar,have a propensity to ask for the Railways portfolio in minority government- Lalu , Ram Vilas , Nitish are prime examples. And then they tom-tom their achievements at Harvard and other I I M 's .Don't want to get into their  allegedly corrupt practices I pooh pooh them all.

The evening was a pleasant surprise- a tight hug- right outside the house of Prem Prakash Mehtani by him set the mood for the evening. We both being avid tipplers , have exchanged many 'Cheers '  while chatting on f b. The warmest welcome I received so far in Delhi ever. His charming wife Kamla of 50 years and more was a pleasant surprise, After watching closely many friends and neighbours for all my 67 years, I know how nagging and destructive wives are. She was an anathema to all those women. She served us some wonderful wholesome dishes and chatted with us, joined us in singing songs and increased the merriment factor a notch above. I salute this couple and wish them many more years of joint companionship .Prem saab an encore is needed at my house soon.

India Habitat Centre- Wo Din Yaad Karo Group -15 th March 2015
On a simple casual comment by me on a post in the group, a couple of weeks earlier, informing my friend Prem Prakash Mehtani of coming to Delhi and expressing my desire to meet him, Sundeep Pahwa, another group member announced that he will organise a get together of the Group members in and around Delhi. We both became friends then- though we had exchanged comments earlier. But this man gave me the surprise of my life by getting all of us together.

MN Sardana , his brothers Prem Kumar ,Manmohan ,Mahendra and Devendra , Antara , Bakshish Singh, Prem Prakash Mehtani , Mr Ganti , Vivek Kumar ,Anil Goel, my bother in law Sunil Deshpande [ who was accompanying me from Mumbai ] ,  and Of Course Sundeep Pahwa in CAPITA L letters. I know I have missed some names but you can attribute it to the early setting  of Alzheimer's  .

Each one of us introduced ourselves and our interest in the Hindi Film Music. There was lot of new information given by Mool Narain Sardana- who is an encyclopaedia of Hindi Films and more importantly a very humble person .We would have liked him to continue to regale us with his interesting anecdotes- but he had to give way to someone. Am sure if any student decides to do his doctorate in Hindi Films, he can surely appoint MN Sardana as his guide and be sure to defend his thesis successfully . There was another person, very knowledgeable, had written a few books, done a lot of research, a friend of Khayyam, who was on an ego trip of his own . All in all it was a very productive session and I hope we do it frequently.

 Sundeep- you are a gem

At 3.30 , I received a call from my surrogate son-Jacky- who even had his first hair-cut sitting on my lap. He is settled in the U S A and works for their government.. Fortunately at this time he is stationed in Delhi and I was dying to see his daughter Dhruva-a bundle of joy-  all of a year and half and spend some quality time with her. Cutie cute, lovable adorable and still very very innocent.

After proper identification, we went to his house, inside the Consulate campus.
Kristi- his American wife welcomed us. This down to earth American Girl has no hangups- she can mix with anyone  live anywhere and still be at home. I have witnessed  her simplicity on earlier interactions too . When I compare her to the many many ABCD's , who come on visits and throw tantrums and make life hell for the hosts- I am aghast thinking how could there be such stark difference. I was wrong in equating all Americans to these ABCD 's , presuming everyone in America behaves in such a high-handed manner.

Dhruva  was asleep in her room, watched closely on the CCTV camera, installed beside her cot. As soon as she stirred , her mother rushed up and brought her down. No whimpers, no crying, the child came down smiling.

Oh the next hour was a bliss- feeding her, playing with her, running about in her play area, throwing things .She was gaiety personified. There was never do this and don't do that- instructions from the parents- they were both fine with the fun we were having. It being raining that day in Delhi- we did not venture out in the back yard, though she is accustomed and loves to play on the grass.

The time passed in a jiffy and before we knew- it was  6.30. Like a gracious host he dropped us back at the hotel.

Around Delhi
I wanted to visit the Qutab Minar, not for any historical reasons- but just to feel the recording/ shooting  of the song ' Dil ka bhanwar kare pukar , pyar ka raaz suno; from Jab Pyar kisise hota hai- 1961, a very romantic Dev Anand wooing Nutan. What a marvellous backdrop to woo a beloved. Hats off to Vijay Anand. Just went around Delhi- with no particular aim in mind- Parliament , where the Elected create a cacophonous ruckus   everyday to prove to the nation, how they are working hard for the welfare of the Country. Ever since the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha have started broadcasting live- these elected representatives have started playing to the gallery. And there is no exception- all are in it . Hence just had a look from the outside.

Was surprised to see Rajnath Singh's house have more policemen than that of the  Prime Minister. Perhaps he may be perceived to be more in danger than the Prime Minister.

Soon was fed up of driving around Lutyens Delhi.There is a stark difference between the people living in Lutyens Delhi and the other parts of Delhi. Would love to interact with these warm- friendly people from the other Delhi, but would not like to extend even a  formal greeting to anyone from Lutyens Delhi.They are just yack.

The next day it was the return plane journey, tired but not disspirited , weary but feeling rejuvenated.

Dilip Apte

March 20 , 2015

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