Plans got a bit messed up and we had to stay in Shimla for another day. Indecisiveness led from one point to the other and finally we had to take a paid tour for the rest of the trip. I am not too sure if it was a good move, but given the situation we were in, nothing else seemed more viable than that. The only worry was the 8 hour long drive we would have to take from Shimla to Manali.
Things did not turn out to be as bad as I thought it would. With occasional breaks in between, the whole journey was fun. It did get a bit irritating when we started moving downhill and got surrounded by the warm summer wind for a couple of hours. Though that wasn't for long. Soon enough we were again gaining altitude and the weather started being soothing once again. The journey ended at a small guest house in The Mall at Manali, at around 9 at night.
Everyone was pretty happy with the rooms that were booked for us by the agent. They were much better than the rooms we had to dwell in at Shimla. All seven of us were too tired to really move around at that time, and soon tugged in. The next day was supposed to be a pretty hectic day too - a visit to Rohtang Pass and some local sight-seeing. Besides, our driver asked us to wake up at 4 in the morning, although all of us knew that was impossible.
We started at around 8 in the morning. Rohtang pass is about 2-3 hours drive from The Mall, with breaks in between. The driver stopped by a local renting store where we were supposed to get fur clothes to tackle the chilling cold waiting for us at an altitude of more than 14000 ft (??). Previous experience prompted me not to get them because its not all that compelling. Moreover, they are heavy and difficult to carry along. Few of my friends took it for themselves; came handy for some photography.
I have been to Rohtang two years back but had to satisfy myself much down below at a snow point. The roads were not safe enough for travel at that time of the year. However this time, we went all the way to the top. Rohtang happened to be a wide open area - o yeah!! I mean it. Better off, atleast we could find a private place to pee, but what about those babes who had to live with an embarassing defeat to nature's call. Unfortunately, the camera was not online to capture the glory.
It did feel chilly for the first couple of minutes but very soon the sun engulfed the whole region and made everything comfortable for us. The crispy white snow had already been discolored with patches of dust and deluged with refuse by human boarders. No one bothered to make use of the garbage bags handed over at the entry, and instead dumped everything over the snow.
I decided to sit atop an "uncovered" rock and watch the people - tube rides on snow slants, photography on romantic snow backdrops, skiing on flat surfaces, rides on an ice bike... There were these kids selling "kesar" and "kasturi", and pretty soon it turned out that there were too many of them. I even started feeling allergic to the very mention of these precious items. The only fun was zooming in and out with the camcorder - the crazy person learning to ski his best, the newly wed couples posing hard to make a realistic skiing appearance on the shot, the teenage girls making the best use of the snow balls, and above all, nice butts to relish!! We left within an hour or so, for there was much more planned for us for the rest of the day.
On our way back from Rohtang, we stopped by a restaurant run by a bengali guy, but for some unknown reasons he didn't like revealing himself as a Bengali. Many a times, we tried conversing with him in Bengali, but he always prefered using Hindi. Perhaps an Indian first, Bengali next!! By this time, we realized that we have been running around a lot and haven't been attending well to the objective of the whole trip - fun. Few of us floated the idea that the remaining part of the trip (Dhramshala and beyond) should be cancelled and the camp be better settled at Manali. Solang valley too was called off for it was more important that we reach the Mall by evening and get to see more of the crowd that gathers around (!!)
Chopsticks and MOC Cafe are the two places I feel like mentioning. Chopsticks, well please do not mind, I wanted to visit to refresh memories; need not mention, the ambience is too good to miss, and the Tibetan delicacies are worth a try. MOC Cafe was a fortunate hit. The restaurant was run by a young guy (sorry, didn't really have the decency to ask his name; forgot rather), seemed to be often visited by his friends from the paragliding club. Out of the blue came their offer for a joint cannabis intake. Who on earth would miss a chance like that? I did, but my friends didn't!! The food took too long to arrive and all I could concentrate on were the smoky architectures in the air. After three hours of hardbound gossip and food, we took the way back to our hotel.
The tour agent agreed on not dropping us at Dharamshala but instead giving us a tour of Manikaran - around 85 kms from Manali. It was a somewhat bumpy ride to the place, with the driver cautioning us about the prevailing unsafe atmosphere. Ariwind-ji, our driver, was one hell of a person too. God knows what devilish ether ran through his veins; our BC/MCs stood no chance against him. He was married and had two kids, but from what he divulged, one would just want to believe that he's still a bachelor. God bless his wife and kids!! On our way, we stopped by a local weaving factory-cum-outlet at Kullu. It was rejuvenating to see young ladies dealing the sale from the other side of the counter...yeah I liked that girl on the black salwar too!!
Manikaran was a shabby place. It was a place of some mythological importance, as well as, the natural hot water springs effusing out of the rocks. The wooden houses surrounding this rocky place looked incapable of holding on for long. We weren't much of a religious party, so there wasn't much to our liking that we could gather from Manikaran. After a meal at a nearby restaurant, we were willing to come back, only to find a big jam put up by the bi-directional traffic. Now who were those "firangi beauties"!!!! They were three of them doping well in tune with their two male counterparts. Hippies are what they are called, and eyes just refused to get away from the shiny white exposed skin. "1 second 100 rupees for fucking me" - if I remember correctly, those were the first few words that flowed into our ears from the other side. She said staring was rude, we thought a view worth popping our eyes onto won't be missed!! The traffic opened up within a couple of minutes of this encouter. Somewhere in between, a huge herd of sheep returning from the graze slowed down the traffic.
The paid tour package ended along with Manikaran. We were free to travel as we like in the remaining two days.