I realize this is a little overdue, but I wanted to write this one at leisure, and I was a little short of sleep during the week immediately succeeding the Manali trip, so I had to postpone this until the weekend. Now I do not plan to tell a story here, or narrate a minute-by-minute account, just some interesting anecdotes, not necessarily in chronological order.
At the outset of the journey, it was a little doubtful if the bus driver knew the way from Noida to Delhi's Inter State Bus Terminus. Eventually, it became doubtful if he knew the way to Manali, but we'll come to that later. We were supposed to pick up Ashish and Hemant from a point near the ISBT, and I was probably the only one in the bus who knew the way to that place. And so the journey began with Alok declaring me the first lady bus conductor in the city.
We thought that Manali was about twelve hours away by bus. What we didn't know was what our driver had planned for us. He wanted to take us on a joy ride through all sorts of places, including agricultural land, which had all things nice and beautiful, except a road. He took us on a bumpy, twenty hour drive through all sorts of places previously unseen.
Now I tend to be unable to sleep through a commute of any sort. But interestingly, I was able to sleep peacefully for a whole hour through the beginning of the bumpy patch. Now this sort of thing doesn't really count as sleep for me, but some people are able to sleep a little better in buses and tend to feel that a new day has begun after they wake up. Aarti and Ruchi are two such people, who refuse to eat anything until they brush their teeth in the morning. Imagine what happens to such people when their toothbrushes are in their main bags and the boot of the bus refuses to open when they wish to use the brushes. These two did not eat anything until we arrived at our resort in the evening. As for me, I wasn't too worried about anything much. I had a good time, with all the singing going on in the bus, which was primarily being carried out by Aman at one point of time, and with Bhatti and Aman and Alok singing Bol Na Halke Halke in the most non-Halke Halke way possible.
Our travels around Manali were mainly restricted to Solang Valley. For the journey, we rented five bikes, a Pulsar and four Bullets. The Pulsar wasn't in very good shape, as Gauri discovered pretty soon. But he showed an amazing amount of patience with it, given its state and given the fact that I was riding pillion with him. Eventually I switched places with Shalu and rode with Aman, and then suddenly Aman's Bullet started acting up. That was for a very short while though, and later we had a lovely ride, in the biting cold and rain, until the time we went to the city's main market and both of us almost fell off the bike. Hemant was rather disappointed that I escaped unscathed.
Solang Valley was good, with all the snow that had fallen to the ground, and all of it that fell while we were there. We did what people generally do with snow - had a snowball fight and built a snowman.
In our resort, we had cottages with three rooms in each cottage, together with a living room and a kitchen. We did hire a cook for ourselves, but we always had the option of making something for ourselves if we wanted to. Anuranjan wanted me to make some tea. I warned him that I was making it for the second time in my life, at which Ashish insisted that he make the tea instead. Eventually we decided to make it together. Now we didn't have an appropriate utensil for it, so it was between a pressure cooker and a frying pan. I was sure that the cooker was a better choice and it would be easier to pour the tea from the cooker, but once Ashish is convinced of something, I have always found myself unable to talk him into thinking otherwise. This time I did not make futile attempts at it. I let him use the frying pan. He did eventually discover that it was rather difficult to pour the tea from the pan, and used a cup to transfer it from the pan into the kettle, after which we discovered that we were out of milk. So we served six cups of black tea with the juice of half a lemon. This tea had a lot of us awake and talking until close to six in the morning, watching Neha laugh uncontrollably, even at non-laughable matters, and Ashish roll on the floor laughing at all those things.
Speaking of laughter, there was some amount of singing around the bonfire, in the course of which, we heard a really off-key rendition of Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast from Balab and one of Zehreeley Zehreeley from Bhatti which had all of us in splits. Bhatti was actually laughing so hard himself, he could not even get to the words Zehreeley Zehreeley.
We had the first half of the next day to ourselves before we started on our homeward journey. Some of us spent some time in the market, shopping for mementos. Anuranjan asked me to get him a stole. It is still an unsolved mystery whom that stole was intended for. But he told me that he liked it, and that my taste was good. Unlike certain other people, who asked for my help in selecting a poncho and then categorically stated that I had bad taste. When I picked two of the fifteen or so that the salesman had laid out, Hemant claimed that I was confusing him and that I should pick only one. The salesman suggested that he should shortlist four or five and then pick one of those. He picked four or five that he didn't want to buy. Eventually I did pick one of the remaining ten or so which he grudgingly agreed to buy, in spite of my bad taste.
The return journey took us through much better roads, although we were considerably slowed down by dense fog. This time we got to hear some really beautiful songs from Ashish and from Prima. By this time, my throat was in pretty bad shape, but I did manage to sing a bit myself. And I managed to sleep for close to four hours, which probably exceeds the total duration of time that I have slept during all the bus rides I have ever undertaken in my life. At some point during those four hours, I realised that I was wearing only open sandals and no socks, and that my feet were freezing. Even that was not enough to wake me up.
Which brings me to another point. I do not believe too much in warm clothing. I had not worn socks since my school days, when they were part of the uniform. I have never owned a proper jacket. For this trip, I needed that kind of stuff. So there I was, with a jacket and shoes borrowed from my brother (the jacket was really warm. It felt like a quilt when I was sleeping in the bus.), a pair of socks borrowed from my dad, a cap and muffler borrowed from Bhavna (which, by the way, Anuranjan thought I'd been knitting since I was in class six and had finished only recently.), and a pair of gloves that Anuranjan bought for me.
Great trip. Special credit to Hemant, Anuranjan, Alok and Ashish for organising everything so well. To Gauri for showing an incredible amount of patience with the bike and with me, on the bike ride and also the trek to Solang Valley. And of course, to Aman, for being the protective elder brother that he has always been to me on all of our trips. If I'd actually had an elder brother, he would and should have been just like Aman. He's the only one in the team who's always been there on all the trips I've been out for, and I cannot imagine going without him.