I was walking uphill by following the westering sun towards Jalori. The afternoon was fading slowly at the faraway horizon, and the sun was radiating a soft saffron hue across the sky. Keeping the silence of the dense Himalayan National Park on my right and the steep, stepped valley on my left, I was walking. After a long time, I hadn’t taken my earbuds with me. I just wanted to listen to the silence. Yes, silence can speak too. As the sun went down, the temperature dropped rapidly. The crisp yet cozy breeze was whispering through the woods. Shoja was still among some lesser-known places with a negligible population, and due to the covid situation, there were minimal tourists. So, I was alone. Most of the time, in my upcoming Shoja days, I would be walking alone towards the westering sun. Little did I know that it would become my daily meditation.
I was wandering, surrendering myself into the endless silence, allowing my mind to dive deeper. My surrounding world back in the city was moving fast even when the world here became a standstill. People were doing well in their careers and lives, flaunting those perfect pictures with families and friends and partners, making tough decisions about their future. And then there was I, freshly heartbroken, with absolutely no clue what I want to do with my life, with a vague idea about myself and my future, out of my home yet to set another voyage to the mountains. And this time without having a particular plan or schedule.
This voyage would be a journey, a story, and most of all, a little bit more progression towards knowing myself. So, welcome you all to my journey.
Chapter 1: The Dilemma & Decision
Comfort zone is a slow killer.
It slowly kills your energy, your tenacity, and your willingness to do things you actually love to do! For me, it started to kill the zeal of traveling. Me, even after being a travel person, was postponing my travel date for trivial reasons! After delaying the bus ticket and hostel reservation twice or thrice, I had enough of myself. This was my dream for so long, to live in the mountains and work from there. To be on the road and leading a nomadic life. Then what was I waiting for? Was it some kind of fear of uncertainty, or was I too reluctant to leave my prolonged six-months home life? But, I didn’t have that much time to dig deeper as I was already running late for my Manali Bus. I was going somewhere I have never been before. The route was not clear, and the situation was unknown. Still, I pulled my backpack up along with my hope and courage and finally stepped outside my cozy nest in Delhi.
Few Weeks Before:
I stopped scrolling and kept my mouse still on this picture of a dormitory room of TheHosteller. The last two weeks were highly puzzling, where I was devoting most of my time to search for a place in the mountains. Any site far from the crowd would work, though I was looking for something where I have never been to. To my disappointment, even after much effort, I was unable to find anything of my kind. The places I liked, either the road transportation was still closed, and hiring private transit from Delhi to that place was beyond my budget. Else I was not getting a suitable place to stay. In a nutshell, something or the other was not adding up, and I changed my searching pattern. Instead of looking out for the venue, I started to search for all the open places for long-stay options and ta-da! My eyes glued on screen with this particular serene room.
The hostel was at a place called Shoja that I had never heard of before. I got a vague idea about the route that I needed to break the journey from Aut but didn’t get any clarity about the way ahead of Aut. The availability of transport from Aut in the lock-unlock situation going on in India was also not mentioned anywhere. Moreover, I was in a dilemma about the internet situation there as that’s the most basic amenity I would need to work on daily. After scratching my head for quite a while, I decided to take a leap of faith, that if everything falls apart, I will come down to Manali, my most known place, and work from there, but I must try this unknown once. As most of the buses were still not operating for Himachal, including the HRTC ones, I booked a private bus offline till Aut, which promised me to cross the border of Himachal and drop me at Aut. Little did I know that something else was waiting in the journey ahead, and it’s going to be an interesting trip to Shoja.
So, finally, I reached Majnu ka Tilla and got on my bus, and secured my window seat. My heartbeat matched my excitement while I exhaled a deep breath of peace. Finally, I was responding to the mountains’ call and up for a new journey ahead.
Chapter 2: The Journey
I was trying to think that if I had factored in the hectic nature of this trip, it would be at a Dhaba near Baddi (a place near Himachal-Punjab border, name of which I got to know later) in the middle of the night, around 2a.m. So, the secret behind the miracle of getting this bus to enter the Himachal when no other options were operating was unfolding. This bus, too, didn’t have the permit to cross the border. Hence we were required to shift to a smaller vehicle to get into Himachal from this place. They called it a ‘Loading-Unloading’ place. I tried to stay calm but eventually was running out of patience as the night was stretching. The anxiety for the rest of the journey was hitting me hard. The sleeplessness, the seating arrangement in a small vehicle without any social distancing norm, the luggage arrangements (though I always travel light) occupied my mind. Thankfully, I met two more solo travelers, both were women, who were going to Manali to stay and work from there for a long time, and so the rest of the waiting time went pretty well. After more than one and a half hours, the tempo travelers arrived. There were two tempo travelers in which they divided the bus crowd along with the luggages. I’m sure the mutant covid viruses were laughing hard after seeing the seating arrangements as it’s impossible to maintain social distance inside a fully loaded tempo traveler. With all wrapped up in a mask and a pair of gloves, I secured a single occupancy seat by the side of a window. And, at last, it started. It was already near dawn.
If I rank my uncomfortable journeys so far, this one surely should have been secured among the top places. The frequent bumping on the roads nearly killed me, and the semi-broken non-adjustable seat was catalyzing the process. I tried hard to focus on the outside, but alas! The sun was still not out, and everything was nearly invisible in the dark and fog. “This too shall pass, and after that, I’ll be on the lap of mountains” telling this to myself is the only way I found to keep me motivated. But as they say, everything has a positive side, and I realized that after the faraway sky started to be light.
The corner of the sky started to glow a soft purple while the earth beneath was still asleep under a greyish-green veil. Slowly the purple began to change into a pale blue hue, and the world below started to unveil itself gradually. The greyish-green was waking up with a great yawn and turning into different shades of green – dark, pale and yellowish. The cool breeze of the spring morning was gently touching my face, and I was losing myself in the gradually lit-up world in front of me. It was like a vast sphere of overlapping mountains where a narrow path had been created at one side of it so that this creature called human could come and explore a tiny bit of its rawness and beauty. I was hardly complaining about the journey then. I was only busy experiencing it.
The tempo traveler dropped me at Aut around 11p.m, and I was the only traveler who got down there. In fact, I was the only person who was a traveler at that bus stop – the rest were all locals. What I was referring to as the bus-stop, was a tiny market-place with a sweet-shop cum restaurant which doubled as a bus-stop for local buses. With no clue how to continue the journey further, I asked the local people about it and got to know about two options. One was to hire a cab till Jibhi/Shoja or else to get the local bus till Banjar and from there to Jibhi, and figure the rest out. Deterred by the uncertainty of the local bus, I tried to hire a cab, but the fare demanded was too high for a single person. So I decided to wait for the bus for what seemed like an eternity to me. The September sun was merciless even in the mountains. Another good time to blame global warming and my whimsical decision for an adventurous trip! After one hour the bus came.
From the outside, the bus looked rickety enough, and once boarded, the crowd inside did nothing to alleviate my concern. Due to lockdown, buses were fewer in number and hence the crowd. But this was the only option as the next bus would have been an hour later and then too there was no guarantee that it would be any less crowded. So, somehow, I squeezed inside the bus with my backpack. My urban outfits screamed “tourist” amidst the other local passengers.There was no seat left for me. I managed a little place to stand, using my legs to support my backpack. And the bus started to move on the meandering road of the mountains, I tried hard to cling to the handrail for dear life while the bus rocked me in all possible directions while traversing hairpin bends every two minutes. After half an hour, I got a seat beside a window and finally could see the view outside.
The journey embarked beside the pristine Tirthan river. Tirthan, which is one of the freshwater resources in the Kumaon Himalayas, has not yet succumbed to any hydropower project. The turquoise hue of the river was as bright as the sun above. The valley through which it gurgled was a patchwork of green and brown.
The bus kept stopping in between at the sign of the raising hands of the people. After nearly one and a half hours, it reached Banjar. Like any other Himachal town, Banjar is a small, picturesque town on the lap of the Himalayas. The bus station was small and almost empty, and a few cabs were queueing right outside the station. By this time I was already fatigued and hungry. So this time I chose not to wait for the other bus but hired a cab till Shoja, which would drop me right in front of my hostel.
The Cab Ride:
After progressing a few minutes towards Shoja, there was a sudden dip in the temperature. There was a nip in the air, and the forest was becoming denser. It’s in the Great Himalayan National Park Region, and the forest is full of verdure, conifer, and deodar trees. The upsurge of the route is quite steep, and the steepness increased after we crossed Jibhi. The entire region is enveloped with knotty high-altitude lush green mountains, which gradually ended up in stepped valleys with vast green carpet. The remoteness of the valley ensured that I heard every surrounding sounds clearly. That whistle when the air touches the mountain peaks and then flows through the dense forest, different kinds of chirps from different types of birds, everything was clearly audible. I placed my head on my folded arms on the windowpane and gaped at this splendid aura with awe. I was secretly hoping that this journey would never end. May my hostel be an unreachable destination, and I continue with this journey, with this forest and mountains forever. But I was sharply called back to reality with the call from my driver pointing to a single standalone grey-yellow building right on the road with nothing in the surroundings. So, this would be my home for the next few weeks. The journey ended, and I moved forward with the next phase.
TheHosteller Shoja~ pic taken by Karandeep Arora
Chapter 3: Slow Life, Connection and a billion Stars: Shoja
It’s a Starry Affair
We three came to the auntie’s shop to have some chicken. Finally, chicken! Our hostel being a hard-core vegetarian and us being enormously nonvegetarian, sometimes it felt like an exile; necessity is the mother of invention! Kavish and I took a nanosecond to nod our head when Aayan broke the news earlier today that auntie prepares chicken on pre-order and sells some old monks too! Auntie’s shop is nothing but a small shop, half a kilometer uphill from our hostel, where you can get all your necessities including eggs in breakfast and non-veg in dinner on pre-order. She was our savior.
So we were at her covered rooftop with the front opening to the vast mountains and valley in front. The outside dark was so dense that the low-powered bulb inside was barely a help. We had to switch on our mobile torch while on the front side. It was cold and the nippy air was squeezing through our jackets and woolen. The front sky was brilliantly star-studded. We could barely find any space between the stars, and amidst that, a clear trail of the milky way went far and above. And the national forest on the mountain below was dancing with the floodlight of that trail. The glittery valley downwards was glowing dimly, and the left side of us was still under the blue darkness. We were in awe. This site wasn’t uncommon for none of us as we all been to mountains for multiple times, yet it seemed all new!
Kaavish taught us the tricks to click the night sky with a mobile camera, and we being his faithful students, followed him. The pictures of the starry sky in this blog are all because of his teaching. We were there outside till we couldn’t feel our fingers any more, and then auntie called us for dinner. With smoking hot chicken and roti on the table, we focused on eating now without wasting any time and polished our plates in a few minutes.
Days after our first encounter with the milky way, with Aayan gone back, and a large group came in and Kaavish had discovered another stargazing spot, which is a little more than a kilometer uphill walk from our hostel; the routine remained the same only the companions were changing!
Days come, days Go:
Days in Shoja were primarily invariable. Waking up earlier than the city (I am not at all an early riser), going for a walk, having breakfast, work, lunch, taking some more walk, work again, walk again, watching the sunset, having good times with the rest of the hostellers(who were significantly low in numbers), stargazing, maybe some bedtime reading and writing and then off to sleep again; same repetitive routine every day. But to my astonishment, it was not that monotonous, and the monotony was delightfully enjoyable! There was something blissful about this prolonged, lazy life. I was discovering little blisses amidst these routine chores.
The central fact of the bliss was, there was a chance of getting instant relief when the work became overwhelming; just take a stroll down or up the road. And yes, of course, there’s no concept of a straight road in Shoja. Either you need to walk uphill or downhill, and the steepness is relatively high. Some days, after lunch, Kavish and I would sit beside the road with our legs dangling towards the stepped valley downwards, talking about life, world, music; Some days, the hostel staff would join us sharing the stories of their lives with us and laughter too;
And, some days, I used to walk alone downhill, with my favorite music on, watching the bright sun glittering all the way above the azure sky and the ray of dust piercing through the woods. It felt cozy.
I would be stopped by my neighbor’s aunties, to whom I was familiar by then. We exchanged talk about our lives. They would ask how I am finding this place without any so-called amenities or cafes, with so much silence and darkness after the sun? And I would reply to them how I am finding all these so fascinating! It seems like all that I wanted from life is here! The peace, the calm, the stars and the mountains; And they would laugh and tell me that I like it because I’m here only for a few days or a month. It would be a lot harder if I would settle down here – the winter is extreme by freezing everything, including the edible water, electricity might get cut off for days when snowfall is heavier. no health convenience nearby, no work opportunities apart from farming.
I would ask, so if it’s that tough, would they be willing to shift to the cities or towns somewhere down?And they would laugh and reply that they’re so happy and content in here, “We don’t like cities. The crowd and the dust”. And it again amuses me! That is how complex yet simple their lives are! Without any luxury, just living on the basics makes their life so content and peaceful that we, the city people, might never achieve.
Connection & Some Shared Moments:
In my initial days in Shoja, to be specific, in the first ten days, Kavish and I were the only steady borders in the hostel. Rarely some guests would come by but wouldn’t stay more than a night. Kavish, a young writer and engineer, left his corporate job after two years to become a full-time writer! It was amazing to meet such a young fellow who had left his comfort zone just to follow his passion! The Mumbai guy was there to finish the book he was writing! He was not a very talkative one, but whenever he spoke, it all made sense.
There was another guy, Aayan, for initial three to four days in the hostel, who was in his early twenties and yet traveled most corners of the Himalayas, that too for multiple times; Aayan is associated with a travel startup which lands him traveling and riding a lot; He got a hell lot of stories in his bucket which is much larger in volume than Kavish and my stories altogether! We three used to sit after our work at the day end to share our stories and laughter. Late at night, we would have parties with the hostel caretakers with some local wine or rum and with games as lame as Jenga. Sometimes Aayan would give Kavish and me a ride alternately through the mountain roads on his giant Himalayan Rider out of his kindness or because of our relentless nagging!
But every day in Shoja would invariably end with stargazing. It was like Oxygen. You don’t negotiate with the amount of Oxygen. You just breathe it because you need it. The night sky in Shoja is just like that. It’s there. As true as Oxygen and as common as breathing it. And people like me, who barely get a chance to see this ‘common scenario’ because of staying in Delhi, have a forever craving for this sight.
So even after day after day of the same sight, I was not tired of walking uphill through the pitch dark road in shivering cold to gaze upon the brilliantly twinkly star-studded sky. It was non-negotiable. So, it didn’t matter if our party ended even after 2 or 3 a.m. We always made sure of getting a glimpse of all the stars and the milky way before we went to bed.
We were creating a movie for us for the future; so that in the future while sitting at a table at home or while getting tired of seeing the cityscape every day, we could resume that movie from where we paused it. A starry mission, the milky way, a dark road, and some young people soaking into all these and sharing the moment together.
Tyranny and Reverberation:
A week had gone by till I came to Shoja, spending my wonderful slow life amidst nature when one night a large group of people checked in the hostel. The group consisted of people of all age groups ranging from eighteen to thirty, and they were from Delhi, Chandigarh, and Mumbai. They were the individual travelers who met on the go in someplace before Shoja and decided to carry on the voyage together since then. The arrival of the group changed the hostel environment immediately. The peaceful corridor filled up with voices and chirps, and most of the time, the cafe was vibrated by the bass of loud Bollywood and Punjabi music.
I wondered before, and I exclaimed again about some big group of people with whom I encounter time to time on the mountains, though this time I was particularly hopeful that I would enjoy some uninterrupted solitude amidst lockdown and Shoja being an off-beat place but my thinking was interrupted. I wonder about the people who eventually turn their time in mountains like any other mere vacation with bold music and party equipment, with loud chatter and boisterous behavior. And the sign of the destruction would be scattered everywhere in the Himachal or Uttarakhand. May it’s a snow point or a tough reef; apart from an entire rugged trek trail, you could locate empty beer bottles and broken bottles of whiskey, tons of empty plastic packets of snacks here and there as the symbol of proud urban culture.
I wonder what a section of people try to pull off by bringing the expensive alcohol from the cities? Do they try to be relevant, or is it just a conscious or subconscious try to draw a line that would establish the age-old intrinsic difference already imprinted in every Indian’s mind. The contrast of village people and the city people; the difference of class; the brimming pride of the semi colonized English speaking generation like us versus the local language speaking simple people of the village!
I would never know if the loudness is only about enjoyment or about drawing the difference that we can do whatever we want to as we’re superior somehow or it’s just a way out that we all search for time to time; an escape from reality, a getaway from our twisted-tangled daily life that we’re fighting for every day. But somehow, the outcomes are exasperating for me, even when I know that sometimes I’m the inconsiderably judgy one!
Most of the time after the group’s arrival, I could be seen escaping my way away from them, slipping away from encountering them and trying to get my own space somehow. The group used to bring different kinds of tyranny from time to time on the hostel staff. One day, around midnight, they demanded a cake to be baked to celebrate one of their members’ birthday! Appreciative as I was by the fact that they cared enough about someone whom they met just a few days ago, at the same time, I was astonished by their ignorance about the absolute remoteness of the place Shoja, where fulfilling this kind of tantrum in the middle of the night is nearly impossible!
One night I went with them for stargazing at our known spot but came back to the hostel infuriated and disappointed as, amid the severely quiet night, they chose to scream, cracking the lamest jokes and chatters. The peaceful village of Shoja surrounded by the dense Himalayan National Park had turned into a college canteen. On returning to my room, I kept wondering about two things. One, that how some people miss the chance to enjoy the calmness of the mountains that is nearly impossible to get in the cities; and majorly about the second fact, that how I am still unable to blend in even after so many years of traveling and interacting with so many people.
I had a quiet teenage life with books and maths puzzles, quieter adulthood with surviving in a new city all alone, and I had always been extremely choosy about my friends’ circle! The age-old problem of non-belongingness still flows every corner of my vein, the feeling of which is highly uncomfortable and bothering. It bothered me how I could not take part in all the fun they’re having, and I was there inside a lonely room. Maybe the problem is in me and not in them! All they were doing was enjoying the time in their way where I couldn’t be a part!
To calm down, I once again went out of the hostel and started walking down the road. The clock was inching towards 3a.m. After five minutes of walking, I again came to the vicinity of the enormous darkness, and the starry sheet was with all glory above me. I was again reverberating with the calm of my surroundings, and all my irk had gone away. I again got the answer that every time I would find myself inside a cauldron of medieval discomfort, more I’ll seek for an eternity, and the answer will be the Mountains always.
After ten days, my roommate came in. I never have had a hostel life, and after leaving my home city and home, I’m so accustomed to staying alone that the thought of sharing space with someone gives me the initial jitters. I mean, while traveling, I did share space with my co-travelers and roommates in the hostel, but those are for a small duration, and most of the time, we used to be out. But here, the scenario was gonna be different. Time is long, and there’s a minimal option of staying out for a long time.
But to my surprise, Debishree, a postgraduate student from Tripura, came as my rescuer and saved me not only from the long lonely evenings but from that group as well. To my surprise, we reciprocate our thinking, and she’s a lover of solitude as much as I am. We shared our thoughts, our love for books and music, and our shared dislikes,which is such bliss as we both speak the same language~Bengali.
Debishree became my evening walk partner. Every evening we used to walk uphill, sit in the chai shop, had our respective tea and coffee while watching the setting sun, and came back into the dark, following the stars. Finally, I could linger some more time out in the dark because I knew that now I have company and I don’t have to return alone in the night.
We became partners in escaping the jamming sessions of the group as we made peace about the fact that we’re apparently dull people who don’t get along quickly. So, one of us had a headache or some other sickness on every alternating day while we were sitting with the group, and thus we used to help each other getaway. In the room, we had our little music session every day where she used to sing with her ukulele, and I used to work while listening or simply listening with the magnificent background behind my glass window. The outside would gradually become somber while inside our room used to fill with the soft music of Dylan playing from a ukulele. Those short days in Shoja Debishree gave me a glimpse of what a hostel life could have been.
A Night Ride:
The freezing cold breeze was cutting through my skin as we were riding towards Jalori. Today was a quarter moon night. The sky above was bathed in the pale white light, and the tiny stars were glooming softly under that veil of the pale glow. Moonlight was flooding the dense forest of the Great Himalayan National park, and there, we are running on Aayan’s Royal Enfield towards Jalori. Silence is all Shoja got, but this time it was felt differently. Some chill down the spine thinking about the nighttime wild animals and the unknown at every dark bend of the upsurging road. The deep cliff on the right side was asleep. Only one roaring bike was running, piercing through the silence with its engine and killing the darkness with its headlight’s cone of light.
After riding half an hour of steep meandering road, we reached Jalori. Aayan parked his bike and we walked up a little and stopped there to take a look at the panorama in front. The frozen peak far away was so bright that it was glittering like a diamond even in the pale white moonlight. The entire valley at the down is enveloped by the imbricate mountain range. Some were clearly visible due to the frozen snow on their peak, and some were hidden inside the grey-navy blue horizon. A navy-blue muslin transparent saree with lots of glitters like a veil was stretched from one corner of the sky to another. The glitter was slightly faded around the dimly glowing moon.
It was freezing cold, and the whistling north wind was bringing some more chill onto the valley. The hollow between the trail that we were standing upon and the surrounding mountains was the steep stepped valley below with the small scattered villages which looked like dimmed fairy lights from the up. The trails of long thin cloud gliding over the valley was the only abruption in the sight which further was making the vista a dreamland; the two travelers were standing there quietly in awe, drenching into this phenomena!!
An hour passed, and we were sitting on the trailside, barely talking to each other and only gazing in front! The mercury was deviating lower, and it was already past midnight, so we got up and headed back towards our hostel along the semi-moonlit route.
It is not at all recommended to travel during the night in the mountains and that too in the forest area but sometimes doing the prohibition gives a lifetime of memories and some important insight. Where the night Jalori imprinted a permanent impact on my mind, the journey towards it reminded me again that this is where I belong, and this is where I would keep coming back again and again through my life. To the Himalayas.
Chapter 4: A lake which always stays Clean
Jalori Again, but in daytime:
The short night expedition to Jalori had such a profound impact on me that I made up my mind to hike till the Serolsar lake beyond the pass. I already scrutinized the detailed route from the hostel staff, and it seemed to be an easy trek trail of around 5km. So, I decided to give it a try on one of the weekends.
On a bright Saturday, I got ready for the trek. I had to take a bus to Jalori. The bus was coming from Banjaar, and it’s destined to RampurBushair. Again, Lucky bhaiya was a savior. He stopped the bus with his raising hand, and I quickly got into it.
This time I managed a window seat moment after I got onto the bus. Even sitting on the seat, I was dangling left and right on every sharp bend of the road as the bus moved toward Jalori. After forty minutes, I got down at the Jalori stop.
It’s again proved how sunlight could be a significant difference-maker in everything. That night, when we came to Jalori, it was so quiet and emerged into the thin pale moon-lit mist, and, today, it was all so bright and of course not so quiet due to the scattered little groups of the travelers.
The 360degree mountain range was standing with all its glory under the pristine blue sky in front of me. I chose to stand for a while at the same place where we stood before that night, and it seemed like a different place!
The overlapping mountain ranges stretched till the faded, distant horizon, and the bright milky peaks were embarking a border to that! The valley underneath was bright green with the scattered huts and surrounded by the dense forest.
It’s incredible how a visibly clear panorama turns into a magical semi-dark mist at night!
Without wasting my time further, I started my journey towards Serolsar Lake.
Harry Potterish Trail:
This hike was going to be a different experience for me as I was going on my own. Before this, I went on a group for any trek or any hike, so it was a different kind of excitement. I was allowed to walk or pause on my wish.
After progressing a bit through the trail, it again all became silent! The travelers’ group’s chatter back in the Jalori bus stop faded away, and all I could hear was the birds chirp!
The journey towards the lake was transcendent amidst the green forest on both sides. It had different kinds of trees, including Deodar and Oaks, and somewhere the trunks of the Oaks took an attractive circular bent shape where the moss was shining in bright green color.
Some of the trees were changing into the Autumn yellowish color and glistening in the sunlight cone! The entire trail was carpeted with crunchy dried brown leaves. The light and shadow game through the thick, lined-up trees with all the mixed-up colors gave it a Harry Potterish look.
Sometimes, there were small meadows in between where I used to take a pause.
The trees had created a half-circular boundary around those brief green pieces of fields, and beyond the trees, you could see the waves of the mountains spread till the horizon, as if they were created just from the top of the lining trees! And the blue space above gradually became lighter at the hints of the fading ranges.
I paused in these places to grab this piece of wonder in my mind and a few in my device!
The last one km was a bit trickier than the rest of the trail but doable! Nearing Jalori, small mud kitchen stalls kept appearing on the side of the tracks. They were selling light snacks like tea and maggie and famous lunch in any north-Indian region- Rajma-Chawl.
After a few meters, there was a staircase that reached straight to the lake, and after taking a few of them, I caught the first glimpse of Serolsar Lake.
After Madhuri Lake in Arunachal, this is the lake I have seen so pristine for the second time in my life (I Haven’t been to Chandratal and Pangong yet).
The color of Serolsar is deep green where the surrounding trees were making such clear reflections that it almost looked like a mirror. The light breeze was creating tiny ripples on the still water surface. The entire region was astoundingly calm as if the lake radiated some of its stillness to the surrounding nature too.
There’re various myths circulated regarding the story of Serolsar in Himachal. It’s said that this lake always stays clean. If sometimes any leaf accidentally falls on the surface, birds would readily clean it up! And, it’s true! I couldn’t find any impurity on the water surface.
A temple of Budhi Nagin (according to Hindu Mythology, mother of sixty nag deities) is just there beside the lake. Visitors were less in number when I was there. I slowly crossed half a circle beside the lake and started to walk uphill.
Green velvety sheets of grass stretched amidst the thinning forest line surrounding the lake was reaching towards the top of the hill. There were scattered two or three Chai-stall with tent arrangements for spending nights.
I passed them and went beyond them at the top. It says that the best view you can get is from the top of a mountain; indeed it’s true!
I went to the top and sat at the slope of the hill.
It was quite some meters above the Serolsar and the top spot of the Banjaar valley and colder from the lake area.
The slope I was sitting on was carpeted with white, yellow wallflowers dangling gently in the mellow breeze.
On my right side, downward soft sunlight was gently bouncing through the forest and meadows, creating patterns on the ground and the stony roofs of the stalls.
On my front, the Budhi Naagin temple seemed so small. It’s like someone implanted it in the middle of the forest and the meadows to establish a little break from the stretched greenery of surroundings. The lake, however, disappeared behind the temple.
I enjoyed a 360 degree view of the green mountain range with The Great Himalayan National Park forest at its foot with a glass of tea, and an hour and a half passed so quickly! Just in gazing!
I stood up hurriedly and began to walk downhill as fast as possible though I had a slight chance to catch the last bus from Jalori, which was at 5 p.m, and my watch was ticking towards 3.40 already.
But the evening was coming down gently over the valley and the autumn forest radiating a golden glow; it’s hard to ignore such a scene. So, I slowed down. The hostel guys told me that hitchhiking is common on this route. “I’ll get a lift from some travelers’ group, or I would call the hostel,” I thought and started getting down at my pace.
Fortunately, I bumped into a group of travelers from Chandigarh on the way down, who came to visit Serolsar and are now heading down towards Jibhi; They offered me a lift to the hostel.
When I reached the hostel, the Shoja sky was gently getting dark and ready for the upcoming star show.
Chapter 5: Goodbye seems harder this time
Goodbyes are never easy!:
My Shoja days were coming to an end, and I couldn’t seem to make up my mind to say goodbye to this place. My next journey was fixed, and it was no less than an exciting one; I got an offer from ‘Homestays of India’ during my stay in Shoja to visit one of its new homestays in Sainj valley and review it. Again, a new place that I have never been to; as my departing day was moving forward, a mixed, increasingly uneasy feeling was tubulated inside me. I was happy to leave for a new place, but at the same time, the thought of leaving Shoja was aching me deeply inside!
The night before my leaving, there was a Bonfire party. Some of the members were leaving too on the following day. Both my roommate and I joined. It was an evening with laughter and music under the veil of stars. But again, both of us are peace seekers, so we left the party early. While returning to the hostel in the pitch dark, with the billions of stars above and the forest on my left, I felt a sudden hollow inside; that from tomorrow, these starry trails will no longer be with me! This endless silence, this losing darkness, the standalone hostel itself won’t be my part of the journey forward! Is it possible to get so attached to a place! Not human, but a place and everything about it?! The sky, the stars, the trees, and the meadows?
The morning next, I woke up early and took a stroll uphill, on my known track; the track I have been to like a thousand times in the last twenty days. The horizon was flooded in a new golden color which was gradually turning into white. It was comfortably cold and cozy. But I didn’t have much time! Host from the homestay would be here any minute now. I returned and said the hardest goodbye to both of my closest friends during my Shoja stay – Kaavish and Debishree. And, with a fuzziness inside, I got into the car that had already arrived and started for my next journey.
The Eternal Loop:
Shoja hostel was diminishing in front of my eyes with every bend of the road downwards, and after a certain point, it vanished altogether. But the trace of the Shoja memory still echoes with great frequency in my heart! It was there constantly while writing this story; I relived every moment; I went through each uncomfortable feeling while putting those into words! Because Shoja will always be a place where I reflected.
While I was leaving, I didn’t know what I would miss most about this stay, and I still don’t have the answer! Is it the journey through the quaint Banjaar valley, is it the deep silence that always enveloped Shoja, or is it my alone time as I during my walks down the hill and back up? Am I going to miss the conversations and the beautiful time spent with the hostel friends and the hostel staff, or am I going to miss my nightly quota of stargazing that I did not miss even once!
I believe the answer is that I would miss the version of myself in the mountains! The real one, the raw one. And this feeling bothered me every time I departed from the mountains. It’s strange and hard to put in words. If you’ve watched the movie ‘Kungfu Panda,’ there’s a time when Master Oogway asks Master Shifu to be calm. Oogway said that our Shifu’s mind is like water; when it’s agitated, it’s difficult to see. But when it’s settled, the answer becomes clear. And mountain for me has that calming effect, which might not have all the answers in one go but helps me resolve many of them.
People say that mountains should always be an escape, an escape from our day-to-day reality. It should be a place where we can run to when we are too overwhelmed in our daily life. Nothing could be far from the truth! When you often travel to the mountains, it becomes your reality. Our day-to-day life is full of diversion indeed, where we can hide our reality quite often with distraction- those piled up work, those worldly pleasures, but mountains show your reality. It is hard to grasp but once gained, it’s like inner peace!
So, every time I return from the Himalayas, I get this ache. The ache of leaving reality behind and getting into some roleplay! And, this is a continuous loop, and the urge to return to the mountains becomes eternal! Shoja just revealed that from now on, I’ll be returning to this call more often than ever! Till then, let this ache be a quiet yet constant reminder of the call of the misty mountains.