Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tour memoirs - Final part

The trip from the hotel to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial was for a good part by horse carts. The poor animals were made to draw carts loaded with 10 of us. Many Kodak moments were captured during the ride and it would simply stay forever in many of our memories. At the memorial, the cumulative energy was palpably on the lower side probably because many of us knew that General Dyer had brutally opened fire on an innocent gathering at that very place. The Amar Jyothi and the well where people had jumped to escape humiliation truly stirred patriotism in our hearts. Mani captured every description on Anand’s mobile with an interest I envied.

Our next visit was to the golden temple and words would simply be unable to convey the beauty of the structure or the calmness/serenity of mind one felt at the place. We tied orange cloths to cover our hair before we stepped in. The structure was so beautiful even in the foggy morning that it seemed to draw all eyes towards it and every one of us made sure that we did not miss looking at it from all possible angles.

From an elderly Sikh gentleman, we learnt that people of all faiths flock to the temple and that their holy book has something valuable for everybody. When we were about to exit, Prashanth shot a video of Meera and a little child. The child’s parents were all smiles and VP as always did a good work...

As we walked back to the carts, we could observe the hustle and bustle of the small city and we really felt part of the diverse Indian society like never before. The young girls were dressed in traditional Punjabi fashion and made the beating of our hearts a little quicker. The ride back was eventful with some good haggling for the amount to be paid for the horse carts.

In the evening, we went to the Wagah border to be part of the flag march that takes place with much pomp and show. Flags, CDS claiming to have the march and numerous other ‘patriotic’ souvenirs priced exorbitantly were sold by young men almost feverishly before the gates opened and we were let in to have a closer look. Boys and girls were meticulously separated at his point.

Across the border, we could catch sight of our Pakistani friends and jawans. The crowd there was not much except for some school children. Emotions ran high and soon shouts were matched by louder shouts and claps by louder claps. Prathiba, Thendral, Kamakshi and JD did us proud by carrying the Indian tricolor. Later, we requested the Jawans to pose for a few photos. Some of them relented while a few didn’t seem to care. We left with the feeling of having been part of a big event.

The night ride to Manali was taxing on all of us. After the supper, we were struggling to get some sleep. VP entertained us and to a large extent, made the night ride possible with a good number of songs from his repertoire. The beauty of his voice coupled with the fresh air and our driver’s passion for a ‘steady’ ride got us through.

In the morning, we stopped for breakfast at a breathtaking place. It was actually a school and everywhere we could see monkeys and small hills. Deepti/the little angel got talking freely that morning. She reeled off anecdotes about her class teachers (actually said, she doesn’t like the face of her maths teacher) and friends (said, she hates a boy who always copies from her during the exams and then tries to act innocent).

The bus resumed and it appeared as if we would keep traveling. We passed a long tunnel and it was a funny feeling to have darkness surround us all of a sudden. The condition of the road progressively worsened as we got closer to Manali. Finally, we reached the hotel by 12’o’ clock and after a good and hearty lunch got some sleep. The view from the hotel – of snow capped mountains and fading sunlight – was of nature at her peak.

In the evening, we went for a walk and it was really chilly. We rented a metal rod that provided some respite from the cold. That night, we made Vichu’s birthday a truly memorable one by literally making his face ‘sweeter’ J

The next day we started after breakfast for snow point. Rohtang pass was closed during that time of the year due to extremely low temperatures and snowfall. We rented fur coats and boots for Rs. 100 and it took us quite a good amount of time before everyone was happy with the size of the coats and boots they got.

With a long stick to support ourselves in the snow, we arrived at snow point. Everywhere we could see ice and the place was straight out of some movie where a hero and his love might sing a romantic duet. We had fun throwing snow balls at each other and some boys even went to the extent of posing bare-chested in that ridiculously low temperature.

I, Muthu and Saranya climbed higher and higher leaving others and stopped just when we decided, we won’t be able to climb any further. Soon enough Vasu and BK joined us and we took snaps of each other.

Then it was time for the yaks to join in the fun. They were patient when we took turns sitting on top of them and a mini photo session was in progress. On coming down, we went to a little shop nearby and had piping hot noodles. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit the Hadimba temple famous for its appearance in a small role in the film ‘Roja’. Small rabbits in the temple premises bowled us over with their cute looks and soon everybody was having one in their hands and smiling into the cameras.

That night would go down in the entire journey as the most memorable one. We had ‘campfire’ in the hotel and it was so cold that many of us were wearing more than 3 layers of clothing and the unavoidable gloves. While it was ‘antakshri’ that started the proceedings, it was Ayyappa who in his inimitable manner got everybody’s attention glued when he started to pick out people among us who had grown close to each other in the course of college life and asked them about the incidents that had brought about such an intimacy.

I remember many interesting responses and this account would be meaningless if I fail to recount some of them.

Raj & Ambi: Attendance blues

Prathiba and nithya: Hostel woes

Thendral and Indu: Joint study

Meera and Usha: Hosur and same cutoff!!

The next day, we visited a Tibetan temple nearby. It was a beautiful one close to the main thoroughfare of Manali with a large statue of Buddha and the prayer bells which are a familiar sight in all Buddhist shrines.

It was then time to drag our luggage down to the bus and bid Manali goodbye. The bus started its journey down slope and we stopped at a roadside temple soon after. I once again observed the subtle differences in the manner in which my friends paid their obeisance and offered prayers. It is one thing that happens always to me at temples – observing people around me praying and their expressions when they try to surrender themselves to the supreme power towering above us all.

That ride to Delhi was the worst experience for me in the whole tour. I was sweating and feeling cold alternately and the sudden increase in the speed of our bus didn’t help matters either. I hardly slept during the whole of that ride and I guess, I was the only person who felt an immense relief when we reached Delhi in the early hours of the morning.

We were let free that day to roam Delhi on our own and I started early by taking a walk in the area surrounding the hotel and brought almost all the English dailies that the closest newspaper vendor had...

I joined Mani, Vasu, Avinash and VP and we boarded the metro to get to Red Fort. The metro stations were amazingly clean and it gave us a sense of being part of some hi-tech movie when the doors opened automatically and people got out. Announcements were made in Hindi and English to help the passengers know which station was approaching. Warnings were made to make sure we stay well clear of doors. When we steeped out on to the road leading to the red Fort, the contrast was sharp. It seemed as if we had gone back in time when Old Delhi met our eyes with its relative poverty and the rickshaw-wallahs struggled to keep alongside CNG buses in the busy traffic.

I did not much admire the Red Fort but liked the immense greenery inside. It was a large park like area for the Delhiites to relax whenever they wished. We spent quite a lot of time needlessly at the fort and it was already close to sunset time when we headed for the Samadhis of the congress leaders. That again was more of a park for young couples to get together after work and over weekends to have long chats.

The ride to the market area by a rickshaw certainly brought out the glaring inequalities prevailing in our society. In the morning, I was marveling at the clean and efficient metro system and in the evening, I was sitting in a rickshaw and a puny old man was pulling it with all his might. How some people resort to such back breaking work to earn their daily wages while a few spend freely without any qualms remains to me a mystery!!

The market did not meet our expectations and soon we were back on the metro to Karol Bagh area. There, again we headed towards the market. We spent a looong time there forgetting our supper and ended up getting very tired. We haggled like it was a profession and in the end, I don’t think we made a bad bargain. A lot of handbags (of course, all for our mothers, sisters, girl-cousins J ), travel bags, winter clothes and shoes were added to our luggage.

Early morning, the next day, it was time for us to bid goodbye to Delhi. We caught the morning fast passenger to Agra and that ride in itself gave us precious time to relax and play games.

At Agra, we had our lunch before leaving for the fort. The fort’s history was given to us by a rather ‘typical’ guide in a rather ‘typical’ fashion which interested us little. We were more interested in where the king was imprisoned and the queen had her bath... The view from the fort of the Mahal was impressive though not very much clear.

The road to the Taj Mahal was out of bounds for polluting vehicles. Camels and battery operated cars were the modes of transport apart from a few rickshaws.

The Taj in itself was to sound cliché grand and I was truly marveled by the structure’s effect on the people around me. We had some unforgettable photos taken inside with Vasu and Avi trying some remarkable air stunts. It was good to walk round and round the Mahal and we really didn’t care about the time... We did some really good speculation on the genuineness of the structure and it threw up more questions than we had expected in the beginning...

Back outside, we did some sweet shoppingJ. With a lot of memories to cherish, we boarded the Grand Trunk express back to Chennai. The return journey was not without its share of events with an army man getting nasty after drinking and a ‘thank you all’ speech by Babu and Ayyaparaj.

Going on long tours with friends gives the experience of getting closer to them in many ways and this one will remain the most pleasurable and memorable.

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