Chapter 2 - Day 3 - 16th Aug 2014, Manali.
In my First Chapter - Day 1 & 2 I spoke about the first face of beauty, the patient explorer, that I saw on the first day of my solo trip.
Moving on to the second chapter of my amazing 11 Days in Leh Ladakh – 11 faces of Beauty Journey.
On 16th Aug 2014 in Manali, I woke up with no fixed agenda but just to relax for the night’s tiresome road journey.
During the day, I met some really cool travellers and locals who redefined Indefatigable Wanderers. One common trait among them was, not only were they solo travellers but they had the conviction to try different things alone. They were on their own trip – enjoying life on their own terms. Interestingly, I met all of them via gastronomic route. Yes, nothing brings people closer like food.
An auto rickshaw hitch turned out to be a meeting ground for two never-before-met friends. I saw Lauren, a 26 years old girl, dressed in harem pants and a loose kurta with a stole. She wasn't carrying a camera or any other characteristic tourist symbol but a small diary. My invitation to have the best carrot cake in the town lured her to postpone her yoga classes. We went to Café Amigos, my favourite German bakery. However, as luck would have it, the carrot cake was over. So, we settled in for the café’s renowned coffee cake, apple pie and honey-ginger-lemon drink. Like always, the food was delicious but I was relishing more on Lauren’s fascinating wander-tales. She was a Graphic designer by profession from Richmond but worked as a part-time designer and full-time traveller. A globetrotter with no fixed agenda. Had travelled across North America, Latin America, Europe and South East Asia all by herself. She wasn't awed by the glitz n glamour of a place and that’s why after staying in Brazil for two years, she left the country just before the FIFA world cup began. She loved football but didn’t like the fanaticism it evoked. In her words
What religion is to India, Football is to Brazil.
Another sentence that got etched in my mind is
In the quest to show-off the best holiday pictures, people forget to enjoy the real beauty of the nature. That’s why I stopped carrying a camera. Prefer good memories over photos.
Like many foreigners, she got enamoured by the Osho Ashram, Pune; later followed by her long stays at Leh, Kasol and Manali. She had stayed in India for over four months and her next destination was Dharamshala. She had spent 6 weeks in Leh therefore she knew more than any Indian tourist would know about it. Instead of just talking me through Leh Ladakh travel tales she drew a do's and don't map of Leh. In flat twenty minutes she created a Leh Ladakh guidebook for me. She even told me which room I should stay in for a good view of the valley.
The Leh Ladakh Travel Guidebook hand drawn by Lauren
After spending couple of hours in the café, we ventured out to explore the streets of Manali. We went shop hoping at Manali Mall Road. Somehow we got separated and my bad, I had forgotten to take her number. She wanted to have ‘halwa’ and thinking she could be searching for it, I even went to Manali Sweets. But I had lost her. 🙁
Anyway, I carried on with my solo travel and met many interesting people. One of them being Jimmy.
He might not be a wanderer like Lauren but he is an Indefatigable Wanderer because in spite of being a full-time chef at the Café Amigos for more than ten years he has not given up on his passions. He loves cooking. His desserts, pizzas, pastas, momos, drinks are to die for but that’s not his only love. When he’s not cooking he is drawing. He is a budding artist and you can see his art adorning one of the walls of the café itself. He is really fond of Shiva and the same can be seen in his art. His style of painting is to work with minimal arsenal. He first draws with a ballpoint pen and then colours it. Besides painting, he is a writer too. He writes short stories and was in a process of writing a book. He even showed his WIP book. And that’s not all. He is a guitarist too. You can catch him performing any day after 6 pm in the café. I wonder how many people visiting Café Amigos would know about this side of Jimmy.
And, let me tell you the sweetest thing about Jimmy. When I had gone to Café Amigos they were out of stock of their carrot cake and were not planning to bake it that day. But after knowing my fondness for the cake, Jimmy specially baked it for me. How many people would take that much pain for a stranger? I guess not many. But that’s what separates the Pahadis from the city dwellers. I was already a loyal customer of Café Amigos but now Jimmy is the reason I would go there. After all, no connection is stronger than the human connection.
Titles can be deceptive and Karan reinforced it. A doctor by profession but an Indefatigable Wanderer by heart. When I first saw him, he was busy scribbling something in his pocket diary. He was lost in his own world. His DSLR firmly placed on the coffee table. By the look of the empty coffee mug, it seemed as if he had sat at that place for a while. Since there was no empty table in the café, I asked Karan if I could join him and he happily obliged. He had a beautiful smile, peach complexion, toned body and hazel green eyes. Though I didn’t look around but I can vouch he would be the most handsome guy sitting in that café at that time. I ordered my favourites – carrot cake and honey-ginger-lemon tea. After listening to how my craving for the cake has forced the Chef to specially bake it for me, he couldn’t resist the temptation of having it. And as they say a lot can happen over coffee. And actually a lot happened over coffee. I mean conversations. What did you think? He hailed from Patiala and had done his MBBS from China. For the first time, somebody was telling me such unheard of tales about China, a country that has never caught my attention. For three hours, he was my talking encyclopaedia on China – its culture, people, education, sports, street food, fashion and luxury living, religion, tourism, myths and what not. Some interesting nuggets that held my attention were –
China is an atheist nation where people worship only one thing – Money
China has strict social media policies because Chinese Government doesn't want extremists to invoke religious sentiments
You cannot buy a home in China. You can only get a home on lease.
However, the most interesting piece of information was that he could not date a single Chinese girl in his six-year stay in china not because of language barrier but because they smelled and were cool about it. Chinese eat a lot of garlic and because of which they have unbearable body odour but they don't find it abnormal. In fact somebody wearing a deodorant in China is considered to be abnormal. Interesting. Isn’t it?
We were like a house on fire, discussing our respective travel tales from across the world – Europe, US, Australia, South East Asia. And during our discussion, he planted an idea in my mind for my next travel destination, Cambodia, for the sheer unspoiled beauty of its beaches.
And then I asked him about his travel plan? He baffled me by saying that his plan was to have no plan. He just came to Manali without any travel plan. And that’s when I sold Leh Ladakh to him. He asked if he could join me. Sounded like I finally had found a travel buddy but my bad, that day all the taxis and tempo travellers going to Leh Ladakh were sold out. There was not even a single seat available. 🙁
It was already night and knowing I have a 500 km long Manali-Leh road journey that night, I bid adieu to Karan with a hope that we might bump into each other in Leh Ladakh.
And guess what, I didn't bump into Karan again but I did come face to face with Lauren in Manali. As SRK said in OSO “Kissi cheez ko dil se chaho to saari kaynat tumhe use milane mein lag jaati hai”, I met Lauren again in the night when she was hurrying towards the bus stand to catch her bus to Dharamshala. We hugged each other like kumbh ke mele mein bichhdi do behenen. After saying our customary goodbyes, we embarked on our respective journeys.
Besides meeting the above three Indefatigable Wanderers, I managed to have many heart-to-heart conversations with locals. Mr. Wangdu, the owner of Chopsticks restaurant (Manali’s best Himalayan food joint), told me how one fine day he came to Manali 22 years back and made it his home. The Mall road chaiwala shared his experiences on how the famous and not so famous bonded over a glass of cutting chai. The conversations were never-ending with Manali Sweets owner, Ram Lal Sons Trek shop sales boys, trek guides and many more. But I had to move on to my next destination but not before spending a memorable day in Manali.
For me a travel experience constitutes two things:
- Knowing the real stories of real people – fellow travellers and locals
- Exploring the places – not just sightseeing but exploring the unexplored too
Although, places play an important role in shaping up your travel experiences but I guess it is the human stories that touch the chord. They are the meat of all your future travel tales. I am glad I collected enough fodder.
The third day of my solo trip to Leh Ladakh was dedicated in knowing the real human stories of the real people – the Indefatigable Wanderers.
End of Chapter 2/10
To be continued…
TRAVEL TIPS - TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN MANALI:
Satiate your desire for good food
Try Café Amigos for their deserts and Italian cuisine. Chopsticks for the authentic Himalayan cuisine, Manali Sweets for their Indian snacks - bread pakoda and moong ki daal ka halwa is a must. Johnson’s lodge for their trout fish and Mediterranean cuisine. Café 1947 for Italian cuisine. Khyber for having a cold beer.
Reward your adrenaline rush
Do river crossing or white water rafting in the Beas. Or do para gliding or zorbing in Solang Valley
Get mesmerised by Himalayan beauty. Go hiking
Manali offers some of the most amazing treks ranging from easy to strenuous, depending on your adventure appetite. You can choose from chandrkhani paas trek, Brihgu lake trek, Beas Kund trek, Bijli Mahadev trek, Chandartal trek, Hamta trek, Kheer Ganga trek, Malana trek and Saurkundi Pass
Calm down your nerves
Take a walk in the Van Vihar National Park or just spend your evenings in any of the Old Manali cafes. Live music will jazz up your evening.
Revisit history and culture class
Stay at Naggar castle and do a 10 minute walk in the jungle to find an ancient Hindu temple.
Reconnect with your spiritual side
Visit Hadimba temple, Raghunath Temple, Jamula Temple, Manu Temple, Manikaran Sahib Gurudwara or Tibetan monasteries.
Be the bargain hunter
Go shopping in the Tibetan market and on the mall road for kullu shawls, Tibetan artefacts.
See the nature’s whitewash
Take a day visit to Rohtang pass and marvel at the beauty of snow-capped mountains. Relish the taste of Maggi, bread-omelette and garma garam chai in chilly weather.
And if you want to get stoned
No better place than Kasol or malana. Also, you can get cool tattoos done there
If you have stamina and love cycling than Manali is great place to start your cycle tours.