Sunday, October 14, 2012

Diary of a Traveller - Himachal Pradesh - Day 5 - White Water Rafting and Trek to Apple Orchard @ Kullu

Skipping the Rohatang Pass visit on the earlier day provided us the leverage to explore Manali on the 1st day only. We were suddenly open at the prospectus of designing our own itinerary for that day. So we decided that we will spend our day at Kullu which is 40 km away from Manali.

Anita was very keen to visit Trishla Shawls again. She looked like enamored by the shop and she had to cut short her shopping last time since I was tired. Hence, we headed towards Kullu in the morning at around 10 AM. Needless to say it is one of the picturesque drive as Beas accompanies all the way. The water is always gushing, brown and frothy in monsoon increasing the thrill of white water rafting which I was about to experience.

A 40 km drive does eat at least an hour and another hour was spent at Trishla Shawls. So just after 12 noon, we headed towards banks of Beas where the rafting was available. Normally, during monsoons, rafting is avoided; but the old economic theory always works practically in such situation. I had to shell out a premium amount to get into that brown frothy flow of Beas. After a lot of negotiation, we settled for 1400 bucks with overstated commitment of rafting time. Anita, as usual was spearheading the negotiation (like a true investment banker) and I was quiet with a smile on my face.

I put on the rafting gear i.e. life jacket and helmet. We inflated our raft with the help of the pump and lifted it to put it in the water. Anita was constantly asking my guide about the safety measures and he was prompt is responding every query very efficiently.

I was very happy that I was the only guy who had boarded the raft along with the guide. The water however didn’t look challenging at all. At least not for me. The rapids probably belonged to max 2 degree. Finally, I settled in the raft sitting in the front while the guide sat in the back guiding the raft in the proper direction. Honestly, I underestimated the power of this river. I could feel the pace with which water was flowing. Sitting in the front of the raft gave me an amazing view of the river. There was also a twist in the way we were riding. The raft is capable of carrying 8 people and hence there are least chances that the raft going turtle in the mid of the water. The probability here was pretty high with one pillion and one guide. And this was told to me in the mid of the water. I think that further peppered the challenging task. Go turtle, how exciting!

However, nothing like that happened in those 7-8 minutes amidst the flow of Beas. I took a plunge in the ice cold water couple of times as the raft riding on a high wave and then crashing in the water groove. That was fun! So that ride came to end very swiftly as the flow of water. Sometimes I feel that Anita had a better view when I check the videos she had shot while I was on raft. She also had a ride in an open jeep for almost the same time.

By the time, I had got out of the raft, I was fully drenched. What I needed was a quick change and something to eat! We headed for Chandu Thakur’s shop for both purposes. As I have mentioned that on the day we entered Kullu, we had pondered over the possibility of trying an authentic Himachali cuisine. Chandu Thakur looked like an angel with a plate full of Himachali delicacies at that time. I thought that by the time we reached Chandu’s shop, he should have made the arrangements. Needless to say, money was not a big issue here and it was clarified earlier too.

To all my disgust and shock, when I asked Chandu if we are ready for the Himachali treat, he dialed a number and asked,”Aray, aaj ho sakta hain kya?” (Is it possible today?) What the heck? Then what was he doing till this moment? And further opening vent of an inflammable gas, he said “Well, the guy says that you need at least 50 people eating to do cooking” Damn you! So the possibility of Himachali delicacies was written off instantaneously. So yesterday was Rohtang Pass and today was Himachali Cuisine. And it was 1.30 pm and getting back to Manali for food was also not a good idea. Mr. Thakur was generous here. He offered us momos and maggi. We had no choice. Anita entered in the kitchen to have a crash course on preparing momos.

Momos is a staple food in Himachal. The pahadi people are able to digest finely ground wheat flour (maida) preparations on daily basis without any problem. So you get to see momos almost everywhere here being sold like Pani Puri or Chat stalls elsewhere in India. Steamed wheat flour dumplings with assortment of finely grated vegetables inside makes a hearty meal. Most of the labourers working in the apple orchards nearby come to Chandu’s place to have maggi and momos for lunch. We had our momos. Maggi with vegetables plus Chandu Thakur’s secret spices was not something which I liked. It was slightly pungent too. But 40 km away from Manali, on the banks of Beas and without proper studies of available restaurants in Kullu, we ate maggi too. 
After finishing our lunch, we were ready for another mission – a trek to Chandu Thakur’s apple orchards situated atop a hill. The trek started just after crossing the highway in front of Chandu’s Tea Shop. It was 3 in the afternoon however the atmosphere was very pleasant. The Sun was struggling to come out of the clouds and remarkable coolness in the air saved us from sweating a lot. This was further accompanied by beautiful wildflowers, greenery, crystal clear water streams and local village women carrying loads of apple in their backpacks. Chandu was giving us information about specific trees and bushes we came across while doing the trek. I will skip the details here. You may contact me separately for the details of bushes and trees. So, out trek lasted for 40-45 minutes till we reached the top of the hill. We were definitely tired but the view from the hilltop was just mind blowing. I just felt like stretching in that 2 foot high grass and taking a short nap. But was not necessary since I was just living my dream. I thought I should rather be capturing these moments in camera than taking nap.

And well, on the other side, there was on apple orchard in full bloom. Apples everywhere! I had written about it earlier too…but this was up, close and personal. We couldn’t contain our excitement and rushed towards apple trees. Anita was very happy to relive her childhood days plucking apples from the trees itself .

This apple mania blowed a big hole in my pocket but that was by the end of our journey in Amritsar, Punjab. I will provide the details in the chapter related to Amritsar only. For the time being, we were just concentrated on plucking as many apples as possible so that we can take them back to home. Sometimes we behave silly..but how many times do you like it? This was one of them. JJJ

So we spent half an hour plucking apples and enjoying the breathtaking beauty of Kullu. I am not surprised that Kullu-Manali has always been the choicest of the destinations for most of the newly married Indian couples for their honeymoon. By the way, now-a-days, the definition is changing. Especially in metros! Some people find India to be too boring to go for honeymoon. And where do they end up..? Ok, I won’t mention this. It will look like a personal scathing attack on all the honeymooners who have actually ENJOYED their stay abroad. But yes, high disposable income means more access and too much crowd. I take this point. I was fortunate enough to be here in low season, but peak season is something you should always keep yourself off from such places. How ironic! Keep off during peak seasons!

Now, we were ready to go back to our base camp. So we started our descent. I had earlier mentioned while describing paragliding at Solang that descent from the hills is a difficult thing than ascending. Chandu is an everyday guy and he had no problems. But the uncontrollable run on the slope was putting lot of pressure on thigh muscles. On the way down, we came across apricot trees, persimmon (the Japanese apple which looks like tomato) trees and a very unique herb which is used to clean teeth just by chewing and not brushing.

So finally we reached our destination- again Chandu’s famous restaurant cum shop. We got a much deserved cup of refreshingly hot tea. It is heaven! We were slightly nervous also as it was our last day in Manali and next day morning, we would be starting our journey to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. But we decided to live the moment. Shimla was just a start and I had fallen in love with Kullu and Manali. I was serious enough to inquire about the purchase price of an apple orchard and possibly a bungalow in Kullu. I was also in touch with Chandu for quite some time after returning from HP to understand the possible acquisition targets (back to work effect!) But I didn’t pursue it for too long as it was looking unviable to me to maintain it from Mumbai. I must move to HP at some stage of life (that’s a great idea!)

We drove back to Manali. We thought of visiting Mall Road again that evening. But we were too tired. Hence, we gave up and instead preferred to watch television in our cosy room. Most of the visitors in River Country Inn had left by that day and frankly, me and Anita were the only people partaking food in the restaurant. We had to get up early in the morning as this was supposed to be another long day extended by a possible detour to Jwala Ji Temple. We had no option but to go to bed early while listening to Beas flowing alongside.