Pravin Gandhi – Brrrrmaur and a roller-coaster trip: People, places and perceptions
We boarded a bus after a satisfying Rajma-Chawal lunch at a Vaishno dhaba at Chamba in the Himachal Pradesh state of India, to go to Bharmaur, deeper into the Himalayan folds. We had arrived in Chhamba that morning after a 2-day stay in Khajjiar an idyllic resort near the hill station of Dalhousie, which is just an opening in a pine forest, with nothing except fine, leisurely walks in peace and quiet. The next couple of days would be anything but leisurely and quiet.
The journey was exciting and.,.. scary. On one side of the road was a river valley which gained depth as we gained altitude, while on the other side, was hard solid rock of the Himalayas. The road was too narrow for vehicles to cross. The crossing of busses was an elaborate, hair-in-the-mouth affair. One of the busses – sometimes ours – would back up to a bend where there would be just enough room for the bus from the other side to cross.
Arrived at the Bharmaur bus stand, an open square where the local youth and elders hung around all day. The arrival of a bus creates a buzz as passengers troop out, keenly watched by people in the tea stall and by groups of youth hanging around. Little spots of white-washed houses strewn over the mountains appeared like sheep grazing on the slopes, and one wondered with amazement how people lived in such isolation or even travelled to their homes.
We settled down at the PWD guest house, quite a modern building, and immediately looked for someone who would be our guide and assistant, and we hired one from the bus stand and his name was – you guessed it – Raju.
Brrrrrmaur, not Bharmaur!
There is a large, 13th century Shiv temple and we spent the evening in the temple campus, watching the town folk drop in, children playing on the cold black stone floor of the temple campus. The walk back to the guest house was through a busy street lined with little shops. It had started getting cold and the wind was biting our faces. The guest house was equipped with pretty good quilts, but they was barely enough to fight the cold as my entire family clung together in a huddle to keep warm through the night. It was the coldest night that I have ever passed indoors.
Next day, my family and Raju Guide boarded a bus for Hadsar. The bus was packed and my family had the last seat, well behind the rear wheels of the bus. I knew that Hadsar is a dead end, so when we reached Hadsar, the bus started to turn around in a series of expert manoeuvres even as the passengers were getting off. But we were too slow to get off. As the bus backed, the driver brought the rear wheels as close to the edge as it was safe. We were hanging out over the valley. My family gave out a collective wail!
From Hadsar, the trail to ManiMahesh begins. Raju arranged for us to stay at one of the houses as paying guests. We were given a small room in which the family stocked quilts that the womenfolk wove during the confined winter months, and men-folk sold in the lower hills and plains. The room had a solitary, small, square window in the wall which overlook a valley and a roaring Himalayan rapid. Once settled, we went down into the valley with one of the host’s family and frolicked on the rock-strewn banks of the rapid.
It was a great learning experience for my young children about life in the hills as a resident. We had a simple dinner of rice and daal sitting on the floor with the hosts in the light of a kerosene lantern; the head-woman serving from utensils at the earthen stove.
What a day this would turn out to be
Next morning we started on the trek to Mani Mahesh, where an annual trek is made by pilgrims every September. For locals and people in the region, Mani Mahesh is the equivalent of Mount Kailash, the abode of Lord Shiva.
Apart from my family, there was Raju, our host who carried my littlest daughter on his shoulders and the village dog. The company was making very slow progress, and my little daughter was feeling very cold, despite riding on someone’s shoulder. I was removing one warm clothing after another for her, but it was not helping. She was crying, and the others in the troupe were not enjoying it either. After two hours I called it off, and we turned back to Hadsar.
Hadsar –> Bharmaur: Upon reaching Hadsar, we saw a tempo (delivery van) getting ready to go back to Bharmaur after making delivery of provisions. We quickly paid and thanked our host and his family, picked up our kit and boarded the tempo, sitting in the open trolley. We hurtled to Bharmaur at a fair clip. At Bharmaur we came to know of an evening service to Chamba. Do we want to travel this road in the bus in the dark? I asked family, remembering the hair-raising journey on our way here, particularly the crossing of busses. But the family preferred that to another night in Brrrmaur and so we were off to Chamba. Plans were changing too rapidly. We thanked and tipped Raju who asked us to get him a job in Bombay, he was bored of hanging around at the bus stop.
Bharmaur –> Chamba: It was so cold that all windows in the bus were shut. Fortunately we had enough people in the bus who kept us interested and our minds diverted from the road. We kept our faith in the expertise of the driver to negotiate the road in the dark. One of the passengers was a paan-chewing trader from Kanpur in the business of jaddi-butti (Himalayan herbal remedies) who described how he hired porters and mules and went up the mountains to pick medicinal roots. Another helped by telling us to take a connecting bus from Chamba to Kangra.
Chamba –> Kangra: Thus, we had late night dinner at the Vaishno Dhaba at the busy Chamba bus depot and boarded the bus to Kangra. Fellow travellers in that bus advised us to stay at a particular boarding house just a few houses down the bus depot at Kangra. The bus depot at 2 am was a busy hive of activity. It was safe enough to let family have tea and biscuits at the tea stall while I walked down to the recommended lodging, banged on the doors, woke up the sleepy caretaker who opened up a room till dawn after which he would give two very large rooms. I walked back to the bus depot to bring family and backpacks.
Whew,. All in a day!
Hadsar –> aborted Mani Mahesh trek –>Hadsar –> Bhaurmar –> Chamba –> Kangra ending when we all crashed into bed at 3 am.
Regretfully, we couldn’t make it to ManiMahesh, but it was an exciting roller-coaster trip anyway.
We were now on the other side of the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas as Chamba and Bharmaur. Next day would start the next leg of the trip covering Kangra, Palampur, Jwalamukhi, Dharamsala and McLeodganj, the residence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugee settlement.
Pravin Gandhi, author, “One at a time – short stories to muse by”