This is long overdue… but I realised that there is no better time to blog about this than now… when boredom is beginning to catch up with me, and when the memories are still so fresh, they almost hurt.
On the 15th of March, 6 ppl took off from IMT Gzb for a trip – a trip that they had little clue would be filled with so much adventure and fun that they swore it would stay with them for the rest of their lives; a trip that meant the last time all of them would be together and care-free; a trip that would span some places that they would visit for the first time, and some that they would come back to much later in their lives; a trip that gave them 2 memorycards full of memories and many that the camera would never capture. Here is what that trip was all about.
The journey frm IMT to Anand Vihar, and thereon to NDLS was very uneventful, so I’ll skip that. NDLS station welcomed us, with all the stench and dirt it had to offer. We found our way to the platform, a weary bunch of travellers – some sleep deprived, some intoxicated, and some just pure tired. We waited till the Sher-E-Punjab (Lion of Punjab) rolled onto the platform, and unlike other animals of the wild, this one was late. But, tired as we were, we waited, boarded it and spent the next 7 hours in various states of half-sleep. Reaching Amritsar, we were greeted by a car and a helpful soul to take us around the city. Reaching the guest house, we needed just a while before we were ready to rock Amritsar.
Stop 1 – Wagah Border. This place has a lot of history, being one of the only places on the India-Pak border that ppl tend to frequent a lot. And the BSF has done a splendid task of marketing it. (The Pak BSF is either busy with other issues, or just doesn’t plain care, cuz we dint see too much enthusiasm on their side of the border, more on that later.) We saw at least a 100, 000 ppl queuing up to see the beating retreat in the evening – a crowd that would ordinarily have been lazing around elsewhere found a spot to display patriotism. The BSF had very splendidly put together a fun show will the beating retreat had been planned – a run to the border with the National Flag in ur hands, a song-n-dance with some patriotic songs. We witnessed what seemed like 50 year old ladies make a dash to the border, the Tiranga (our national flag) flying in their hands – a true show of patriotism. The song-n-dance was purely entertainment, with the crowd dancing to some remixed patriotic songs from Bollywood. Not so long after, the Jawans lined up for what we thought was the ceremony, and our well-trained host read out the rules to us. That we use onli pre-specified slogans during the ceremony (me thinks it is so as not to offend the opposite side, considering that they were such a tiny number). And then, he enthused the crowd with loud cries of “Vande Mataram”, “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Hindustan Zindabad”. (Just a tiny thing I noticed here… whenever our host would yell out “Hindustan”, his Pakistani counterpart would yell out “Pakistan”… as if in an attempt to “steal” our “Zindabad” 😉 But we would go on yelling nehow… they were so little in number, we kinda felt they needed our help on this one…). What followed was an extravagant ceremony of rolling down the flags for the day. It was orchestrated by no more than 8 Jawans, each one with a clear responsibility of what to do, whom to salute, how long to march, how high to kick (almost above their heads!) and so on. The ceremony was interspersed with breath-taking yells from both sides of the border, and tremendous enthusiasm from the crowd. At the end of the ceremony, both the countries’ flags were taken down…as if to say, “we’re the same now, stuck in the middle of nowhere”. What we had witnessed, was a display of patriotism, a display of honour.
We returned, heightened with the feeling of patriotism in our veins, to visit the Golden Temple of Amritsar. This is the most religious place for the followers of Sikhism, it being the resting spot of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book. If u thought some of the churches in the world offered a peaceful spot, u must definitely make a visit to this temple, which oozes an atmosphere of pureness and tranquility. The gateway to the temple is flanked by 2 flagstaffs, which are the holy Nishaan Sahib. What follows is a long walk across the holy lake into the temple of Gold. This temple is flanked on 4 sides, by 4 gigantic gates – each signifying that ppl of ne faith, and ne religion can walk in to find refuge in this temple. The Golden Gurudwara houses the eternal Sikh Guru Granth Sahib, which is on display on the ground floor of the temple. Walk right on to the 1st floor, to get a beautiful view of the holy book, as well as a breath-taking view of the entire temple complex. The roof of the temple is on open display to everyone, as is the gold that adorns this very rich temple. We heard that there is a waiting period to make an offering in this temple, that extends to almost a year… makes u think that ur faith in this temple has to be really strong. After our customary photo session, we settled to get some peace from the place that has been the refuge for ppl of many faiths.
We left the temple, feeling peaceful, and vowing to return in the morning, when the sun would give the entire complex a different look altogether. We left for the famous Kesar Da Dhaba, in the hopes of a sumptuous Punjabi meal. The Dhaba, having been around for almost a 100 years, knows the taste that its patrons prefers, and has set itself menus that cater to it; u can order a-la-carte as well, but the menus are so well-made most ppl dont even bother. Our regular Paranthas, Dal and Sabzi were served to us, with oodles of butter. As I looked in confusion at the sheer amount of calories I was about to consume, I looked around and found that ppl had no qualms whatsoever in consuming food that had not onli been cooked in dollops of butter, but also serve with them! (One patron returned his Roti because there wasn’t enough butter on it!!). After a rather high-calorie meal followed by sweetmeat off the road, we returned to our guest-house.
The night at the guest house was rather uneventful – unless u consider Vini’s attempt at teaching us Malayalam (Meri-ki-Teri = Candle) or Hemali’s claims that “I’m also unwell”. All in all, we went to a bed a tired set of travellers, waiting to take on the next day.
Our next morning started later than expected, but began nonetheless. We decided to make a visit to the Golden Temple in the morning, and have breakfast at the Langarh, a community hall that served food 24 hours a day.
Our next visit to the temple was vastly different from the previous one. It was almost as if the sun brought out the true nature of the Temple, and it dazzled us!! The true glow of the marble and the gold lent the temple a rather important aura, and the kirtans in the background and the soft chants by the fellow worshippers made us realise that the essence of this holy spot was rooted in all that visited it. We skipped on a visit to the temple, owing to the large mass of ppl thronging to get their turn into the temple, and went on instead to the Langarh, for a holy breakfast. After a filling and rather spicy breakfast, we walked back through the temple premises for one last look at this divine creation by man.
We left the city of Amritsar, enlightened by a divine presence in the temple, and hoping to be able to visit it sometime in the future again. As a token of our remembrance of the city, we bought ourselves a Kada from the temple premises, a silver bangle of religious importance. We then took off for Pragpur, a small town, home to India’s first heritage village, or so the website of the Judge’s Court claimed. The route was hilly, and full of ups, downs, curves, and a very nauseous carload of ppl. En route, we made a stop at a temple of the Devi Chintpurni, and continued our hilly journey to the small town of Pragpur.
It took us not more than a few minutes after reaching Pragpur to realise that something on that website was very very wrong – this place did not present itself with any of the regular tourist attractions, and seemed quite a drab place in itself. Nonetheless, we readied ourselves for a visit to the Judges Court, and were treated with the true reflection of Pragpur.
The Judges Court is a small resort-like offering in the middle of nowhere, catered to the tastes of those who do not prefer the noise and crowd of the regular tourist locations. The renovated residence of a retired Judge, it now serves as a beautiful location to for a heritage village. The complex of the residence itself is very large, housing the residence, the heritage village as well as large, splendid lawns to relax in. Having literally gatecrashed the venue, we decided it was onli decent to stay for dinner, and set out to explore the Victorian styled building. Spanning two floors, the building houses the visitors, and is decorated in a most exquisite style. Each room is set in a unique decor, each one more alluring than the previous. As we walked around the house clicking pics, and posing, we realised the grandeur that this villa exhibited was no less than that of a palace, as was made evident by the many chandeliers adorning the place.
As we settled into our spot in the lawns, we were immediately made to feel at home by the hosts, and the tiny bonfire that was now placed beside our stall. The entire setting was perfect, and I pulled out my Hobner, and gave the atmosphere something to sing about. A few songs later, we were all ready for a meal, and made our way to the buffet. A wholesome meal later, we sat back to enjoy the ambience this place offered. We left from the Judges Court, almost 3 hours after we set out for a “walk”, having enjoyed a lovely evening with some very friendly hosts.
As it turns out, Pragpur had nothing else to offer us other than the Judges Court, so we took off the next morning to explore McLeodganj again. En-route we stopped at the Kangra Fort, and found ourselves captivated by not the sights within the fort, but also the Himalayas that loomed on us in the distance. A small field on the way caught our attention, and our driver captured a candid moment in the fields of Himachal Pradesh.
As the familiar sights of the McLeodganj market greeted us, we took a minute off to stare at the Himalayas that looked so close, we could almost jump right onto them.
Main street McLeodganj beckoned to us and we returned to Oogos for some delicious breakfast. A while later, we set off for the Shiva temple nearby, and thereon took a small trek to the much talked-about Shiva Cafe, to chill. The 20-min trek to the Cafe took our gang almost 30 mins, owing to our tendency to stop for photos and hence, run out of break too often. Having reached the Cafe, we settled down in the dingy and dirty interiors, and decided to stay for lunch. Meanwhile, we wandered around the area and discovered that it was very close to the mouth of a mini waterfall, so we made a tiny trip to a cooling location before traipsing back into the shack for lunch. Midway through our meal, we were joined by some other batchmates of ours, who had different plans for making the trip more fun. A late lunch later, we headed back to the Main Street, in an attempt to catch the sunset from a good point.
We then visited the quiet and scenic Church of St. John in the Woods. We spent the rest of the evening exploring places that offered the local Tibetan cuisine and replaced the delicious Italian cuisine frm the morning’s breakfast with rather drab Tibetan food (Thentuk and Thumcha, if I remember ryt) at a rather overrated eatery. A quick visit to the coffee shop where another batchmate was still celebrating his birthday, and we headed back to our hotel – the same place we’d stayed in the last time as well.
Next morning started early with a visit to the Dalai Lama temple. Turns out, we just missed the Lama, cuz he’d left for Delhi just that day. Nonetheless, we visited the temple, and spun some wheels, and then took to the streets to wrap up some very-well deserved shopping. Two of us took off on a smaller trek to another small place in the town, from where we might be able to get some good views of the Himalayas. The entire trek was strewn with beautiful cedar trees on both sides, forming a seemingly scenic wallpaper that I will never get out of my mind. Thereafter, we spent some time in the Market, shopping for some souvenirs of the place that we loved so much that we visited it twice!
The route to Jalandhar was long, and our driver wagered it would not be more than 2.5 hours. So, with quite a margin, we left for the magnificent rock-cut temples. What we dint realise was that our little detour had eaten into quite a bit of our buffer time, and the winding hilly roads had eaten into some more (I think Hemali’s little love story was somewhere on this route). Reaching the small town of Hoshiarpur, we realised that we were cutting it a little too close for comfort. What followed from thereon until we reached Jalandhar Jn. can onli be described as a comic caper in hindsight. I still remember us asking Sugandha’s dad if he could hold the Shatabdi for us at Jalandhar, our anxiety as we realised we were almost surely not going to make the train, the atmosphere of tension that prevailed in the car, and the “Jab We Met” style dash that we made for the train. Reaching the platform, finding out that we JUST made it, and seeing that train roll into the platform was a feeling that none of us will ever forget, and the cries of joy that resounded on the platform also made our relief clear to the other passengers.
Back in the Shatabdi, we were a bunch of weary travellers, having travelled quite a bit in the last 4 days. The Indian Railways did a splendid job of keeping us busy throughout the journey, and ensured that we never spent more than an hour without being fed or watered. As we got off at Delhi, we were well-fed, and needed onli a bed to complete this perfect journey.
This trip was the last one that we took before we graduated and went our own ways. Nonetheless, I feel confident in saying that we will make another trip sometime soon, and add to the many memories that we’ve already gathered.
Here’s to more trips and GREAT friends. 🙂
P.S. Remember to click on the little icon for music… took me a while to pick out some decent sounding tracks.. 😉