6. First few days – Part II

“And all your fears regarding Jay, you must know he loves you as a brother,” said Tanya while listening to my story of Mcleodganj during our Tarot reading session in June. 

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The drizzle outside was slowly transforming into a heavy downpour, while we stayed huddled inside that cafe, fighting the cold. 

Nikhil couldn’t stop ordering ginger lemon honey, while me and Jay kept munching on our Pizza while Pallavi took another drag off her joint and asked us to start playing since Jay was carrying his guitar. 

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We sat surrounded by many, who were engaged in conversations, while an Israeli girl just across our table kept smiling at Jay, and this ex-army man from Delhi, whom Chavvi introduced us to a few hours ago, kept bragging about his son’s business. 

Rain kept getting heavier, as Jay slowly strummed his guitar, nudging me to sing the first song as Pallavi rolled another joint and Chavvi screamed in excitement. Conversations around us finally succumbed to the tunes that echoed through main street of Dharamkot that night, midst the pitter-patter of rain drops. 

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Day before, while saving ourselves from bad weather in a restaurant, Chavvi arrived with a lady to our table, who seemed to be in her late 20s. That’s how we met Pallavi for the first time, engaged in conversations over the bowls of steaming hot thukpas, as she told us about her ordeals in Parvati Valley. 

We hit off in the first meeting, and next morning she had shifted next to our guest house in Dharamkot offering to cook lunch for us, to which we readily agreed. It all lead to five of us, we three, Chavvi and Pallavi, to hangout regularly, including that stormy musical night in Dharamkot’s cafe. 

———–

That night we sang till our throats were sore, and later as Jay strummed, the others joined in, turning it into a moment of ecstasy, which set the pace of coming days in Dharamkot when we regularly performed at different locations. 

However, that wasn’t all we did during our first few days in Mcleodganj. We were meeting all sorts of people, interviewing them. While one evening we met an Israeli traveller, who told us about his journeys across India, the other evening we were sitting with a Nepali flutist who narrated his life’s story to us, and then one evening, Jay and Chavvi found themselves being hilariously carried around by a crazy dancer, who went by the name of Snow Lion; and then, while returning to our place one night, we found a Japanese musician, walking down the streets, busking. 

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Mcleodganj was slowly embracing us in all its realms, as we learned to keep up with its pace. And midst all this frenzy, we did a trek to triund, thinking we would strategize in a better way at a place cut off from the civilization. 

All we did was sitting down at the edge of a mountain, watching whole Dhauladhar range lit up on a full moon night and singing songs. Next morning Nikhil left early for Mcleodganj, while we were planning to venture ahead, to the higher parts of mountains.

Jay and I continued with our journey, finding our way midst boulders and mule shit lying on our trail. We were straining our legs, taking longer strides since we had to return before dark, and slippery conditions did make me a bit nervous, prompting us to sing songs to cheer ourselves while staring at rising snow capped peaks, which inspired as much as they scared us. 

Completely unprepared, we walked over snow using our umbrellas as snow sticks, while our feet were getting stuck in the melting snow. It made me wonder if it was the right decision to continue with our journey. There were birds on the trees, chirping, trying to mock me as I faltered about while walking in snow, and Jay did his best to calm me down. 

He slowed down ensuring he was always a few steps away from me, trying to keep my fears at bay while he himself struggled through the snow. Those were the first signs, but Jay’s care towards me was evident in that trek to snowline, when he ensured that I completed the trek to a cafe buried in 15 ft of snow.

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I stood there at snow line cafe, staring at peaks in front of me. They shone with valor, like soldiers braving cold winds, protecting us from an oncoming storm. I stared at Jay, who was standing by my side with a bowl of maggi in his hands, he was like one of those soldiers, protecting me.

All through our trek, I thought about moments when I was slipping in the snow, and Jay was around to ensure I was safe. I wondered whether these two guys, Nikhil and Jay, would save our project as well, if I slipped somewhere. Slowly, I was getting dependent on them, wondering if they too dreamt my dream, in the way I did. But another musical evening on our return made me leave my fears for another day.

———-

In the coming days, we went to a few more places, exploring the region, performing at different locations and then one evening, we were jamming on our guest house’s roof. 

It was then when we met those two French girls, accompanied by an Indian guy. They were musicians as well, who invited us for dinner with them, and plan was to jam over dinner. 

While Jay played and garnered all the attention, I sat quietly in a corner, feeling jealous of him. I didn’t feel great, as I tried to make myself at ease, but every word of praise thrown at him made me even more uncomfortable. It was when the rift first appeared in my head, which kept increasing in the coming days. 

While Nikhil and Jay enjoyed with our newly found friends that night, I felt irritated. And then, one of the French girls started singing in the most melodious voice I had ever heard while I was stepping out of the restaurant. 

Her voice kept haunting me, as I walked through the forest on my way back listening to her sing from far away, while Jay’s guitar accompanied her voice, and my misery. 

———–63

Chavvi and Pallavi departed soon after that; while Pallavi promised to see us soon, Chavvi was on the verge of breaking our door ’cause of some misunderstanding, as Nikhil finally snapped and I had to take matters in my hand, to ensure that she departed without any further troubles. 

Midst all this, I received a message from Nivedita; an online friend from Mumbai, she was coming to Mcleodganj for a month. 

And we never anticipated, how times were about to change with her arrival…

 

 

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5. First few days – Part I

50Roads were scattered with tourists, who roamed aimlessly liked those few patches of clouds in sky that evening.  

Our taxi cut its way through narrow lanes of Mcleodganj, honking at people, who did move aside but didn’t turn their heads to look who we were, nor did we turn our heads to take a notice of them; those faces who were about to become our friends in the coming days.  

However, it was all an everyday affair when we reached Mcleodganj; we arrived in the simplest of the manners, on our most special of the journeys and landed straight in a small room, which barely fit us three.  

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The plan was to find a place as soon as possible, for a long term stay and that room we stayed during our first three days, provided enough motivation to us, to move out and roam on streets for most of the time. It took a bit of exploration, until we found a room in Dharamkot area that suited our plans.  

Standing in my new room’s balcony, I used to look at the expanse of forest with mountains providing the backdrop, and somewhere I knew that we’d be inspired enough to work upon our project, even though we still had to sit down and work out on our strategy. Which we did in the coming days, sometimes sitting in the balcony, or while roaming in that expanse of forest, sometimes we got distracted by a man playing flute somewhere far away, while sometimes by these two gentlemen practicing tai chi.  

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Those Tai-chi practitioners, every time they moved with grace, it made us forget about our purpose, as we searched for a purpose in their eyes, and felt ashamed, as those eyes had more to say than we had about our plans in Mcleodganj. Then there were those days, when we lied down in grass, lost in our thoughts, only to be brought back to reality by Jay’s fingers strumming the guitar, and we tried writing new songs, only to end up playing random tunes that never reached their completion.  

I guess it was us, we left things in between, hoping that we would return to pick them up, thinking that we’d remember where we left them, as we ran far in search of things that shone brightly in front of us. Things, and ideas that weren’t ours, but bright enough to blind us towards what we tried to create, and left behind.  

It was also the time when Chavvi came back to Mcleodganj. However, it wasn’t the Chavvi, me and Jay knew about. She wasn’t the one we met during our previous trip to Mcleodganj, and while on one hand, she cared for us, on the other hand she did end up infuriating us all, especially Nikhil.  

Chavvi stayed in the same guest house as us, and cooked breakfast for us every morning, only in lieu of hanging out with us all the time. It did hamper our progress, as most times we were moving in the directions she chose for us.  

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However, those first few days weren’t only about struggles with our idea, or duality in Chavvi’s behaviour. It was the time when we were about to meet some of our new friends, a time when we were busy searching for an identity…

 

 

4. Three Musketeers

Back in Novemeber 2013, I received a call from Jay saying that he’d be coming to Delhi and wanted to meet me.  

I knew Jay through a common friend, and while we had been interacting for an year or so online, we had never met before. It was the onset of winter when Jay came there, and the morning we met, we were singing songs sitting in the balcony of my flat in Delhi; in between, we also discussed about his disinterest in continuing with the job back in Mumbai, he was searching for a way out.  

That was the first time we talked about the possibility of him leaving his job, and that morning this is what the message said:  

“Hey, talked to my family and they’ve accepted my decision to leave the job. I’ll be leaving Mumbai by the end of this month, let’s do something.”  

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train1

Few months ago, when I started hanging out with a new set of friends in Delhi, I was introduced to this guy who was working in Mumbai, but wanted to do something related to travel.  

I met Nikhil for first time in October, and it was quite evident that he was also on the verge of quitting. We used to discuss this in subsequent months and eventually he resigned in February.  

Then just after my trip to Mcleodganj, Nikhil and I had planned a trip to Khajuraho, during which I asked him if he’d like to join me and Jay; he accepted the offer at once.  

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That’s how it all began, Jay, Nikhil and I decided to travel together, starting from April. We agreed upon Mcleodganj as our first destination, since I wanted to explore the other side of this place, while Jay wanted to continue from his previous Mcleodganj trip.  

During the second half of March, Nikhil somehow convinced his parents. In meantime, Nikhil and Jay finally met each other in Mumbai, while I was busy convincing both of them that we had taken a right decision.  

It was 2nd of April, when I saw both of them standing outside my place in Delhi, with all their luggage. We still hadn’t booked our tickets to Mcleodganj. Jay and I still had to convince our mothers as well, and for that we needed a trip back home.  

It took us four days, but Jay and I had convinced our mothers, and we were back on track for our trip to Mcleodganj.  

On 6th April, we took an evening train to Pathankot from Old Delhi. And as the train rushed past the outskirts of Delhi, I saw all the lighted up offices, malls, housing societies, blurring and slowly merging into one. It felt as if Delhi had transformed into one organism, which was waving at me as I finally left what I called a home for two years.  

That night there was a slight chill in the air, and sleep was far from my eyes. I spent the night chatting with Arathi; she became an integral part of my life during my early days in Mcleodganj, as I started sharing my thoughts, my routines with her. I told her what I felt about the days to come, the journey we all were taking while Jay and Nikhil slept, maybe they were also dreaming about the time we’d be spending in Mcleodganj.  

I wondered, if we’d be walking the same road, somewhere I was sure that we would, that ours would be the same dream.  

When we reached Pathankot next morning, a toy train journey through Kangra valley was waiting for us. It required some courage as we started our journey in that crowded toy train, not to mention that I kept standing, stuck between unknown bodies, which seemed to be continuously merging into one another.

It wasn’t my first time in that toy train, but this time I had my friends along, who were looking out of the window, starry eyed, staring and smiling whenever they saw a bunches of kids waving at them, as the train passed through several villages and tiny stations. At each of those stations, more people poured into our compartment, as we opened the packet of sweets that Jay was carrying. We shared them with our fellow passengers, in lieu of their stories.  

It rained that morning, while we were already soaked in various anecdotes we heard in the train that day, as it slowly jostled towards Kangra railway station passing the narrow gorges and winding through the lower hills of  Kangra valley.  

That toy train slowly moved towards our dreams, to the beautiful times that were there waiting for us; it was a ride towards a million possibilities, towards where we were free to do what we wanted. We had plans in our minds, atleast I had a lot of them, and somewhere I knew they’d join my plans too.  

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Later, stand at Kangra station, with bags loaded on our backs, we saw the train crawl towards its onward journey against the backdrop of towering Dhauladhar mountains that were covered with snow, and there were monkeys playing at a corner of the station, while kids resumed their cricket match on the platform once the train left and lone tea stall’s owner closed the shutter to take a nap, as the next train still had few hours before it arrived.  

I kept  staring at the whole scene, with a smile on my face and ideas bursting in my mind. I had already started planning for the days to come, for our work, I knew I had escaped all my issues in Delhi when I left that city without saying a goodbye to anyone.  
 
And so, there I was, standing alone on the track, while Jay and Nikhil started moving towards the bus stand. Standing there, and thinking about how things would work out the way I wanted. 

Without knowing, what a fool I was.  

3: My Love affair with Mcleodganj – Part II

It took me years to realize that I need to love myself first before I loved someone else.  

It started during February, when with career related uncertainties in my mind, and a broken heart beating in my chest, I left for Mcleodganj to meet Jay after his Tushita’s course. I wanted to be away from Delhi, and from ‘her’ for a dew days. In a way, it’s Ritika whom I should be thankful, for starting this chain reaction.  

Jay’s a great musician, and the plan was to open the guitar case once I reached Mcleodganj, and jam throughout our trip. So, when a setting sun lit up the sky like a golden flame that continually reflected off the snow covered mountains, we sat in the balcony of our room and started.  

setting sun

It was also the evening when we met Amy, our French neighbour, with a strange love for bollywood songs.  

That evening, Jay’s fingers slowly strummed the guitar, as the rain joined in rhythmically while we sang our hearts out and Amy danced in her balcony. This wasn’t the Mcleodganj I knew about;  this Mcleodganj was carefree in its soul, with twinkle in its eyes, with a laughter on its lips and a song in each of its step. It was a Mcleodganj where I wanted to go out on streets, and find people like us, to sing with them, to dance with them, to hear their stories, to share my experiences, I wanted to live with them.  

That evening we played till our throats were sore, and then came the moment, which made me change my outlook towards this place. When, while sitting in a restaurant later that day, a random girl approached us to inquire about Mcleodganj’s live music scene.  

It was my third trip to this town, and I was baffled by her question, since I never considered this place to have any kind of night life. For me, it slept at 9 PM. Though we never saw her again, but her question stayed with me; each of my previous trip felt a bit more incomplete, because there was something I was missing, and this time I was determined to search for this other side of Mcleodganj.  

As luck would have it, we had a chance to perform live at Seed Café the next day, a rather non-descript property off the Jogibara road when you look at it. But I did attend some parties there, it was the place where ‘the crowd’ came together during those winter months to drink, to dance, and to sing. However, that night, audience included just few of our friends. Though it was also the night that led us from performing outside our balcony to performing at different places till Jay left.  

It rained the day when he left, a rain that continued for next three days, while Amy and me, we went out a few times during those three days. Meanwhile, I was also discovering a great friend in Olivia, who became like a second mother to me; a 47-year old woman, who travelled half way across the world, spent time with me practicing her hindi and head wobbling skills. We regularly met at different cafes across the town, discussing our philosophies, our lives and our worries.  

It wasn’t all rosy for me after Jay left, I was back to square one, huddled midst my uncertainties, and a broken heart, which made me keep delaying my departure; and then one night before I left, Amy and I went out for dinner, where she promptly left me to join her friends for the rest of the night, who were at the same restaurant. I was left alone that night, without an escape from my personal issues.  

I did cry that night, sitting next to Olivia in her room; she had asked me to come over that night. She tried cheering me up, but in the meantime she also planted an idea into my mind, about asking Jay if he’d like to travel with me.  

She said that we could’ve done something related to travel and music. The idea didn’t resonate with me at that moment, while I was stuck in my own sadness. I wanted to break free from my life in Delhi, I wanted to travel and write for myself. I wanted to start with everything I kept delaying during past few months, but still the thought of travelling with Jay wasn’t the first thing on my mind. 

—– 

But that night on my way to Delhi, as the bus sped along the highway and Kasauli’s cluster of lights, which seemed to be hanging from the sky in the darkness when seen from the plains, was passing by my left, I was the only one awake.  

Just like that hill station dangling in the darkness, some thoughts flickered inside me midst all the confusion. I had an idea, a small dream I had kept hidden for long, it was about time I stopped running from everything. 

It felt like the perfect moment, or maybe those were just desperate times, and I was actually planning to run far away from Ritika, from Delhi, and from myself. There was a commotion in my head, but the chill in the air slowly seemed to be whispering into my ears that everything would be alright.  

Or was it just another of my imaginations? But before I could ponder more over it, the bus reached Delhi and I received a message from Ritika. However, under that message was one from Jay as well, a message that changed everything. 

2 – My love affair with Mcleodganj – Part I

(The blog will be updated daily, until and unless am out visiting some new places in and around Mcleodganj) 

The green pointy leaves of Chir Pine formed a nice contrast against bluish mountain ranges, which were guarded by snow covered peaks from behind.

chail

It was the morning of 14th February, 2013, when magnificence of those mountains said a snowy hello to me. I asked temple’s priest about this particular mountain range, and there started my love affair with Dhauladhar mountain range.

Within 20 days, I was in Dhauldhar express, standing at  compartment’s door. It sped towards Pathankot through darkness filled plains of Punjab, while I stood there wondering about Mcleodganj, a place I had no idea about till a few weeks before.

That’s how I reached Mcleodganj for the first time, in the first week of March 2013. And I sat in front of the same snow covered peaks providing a perfect backdrop to my breakfast at Lhamo’s Croissant; I spent many of my mornings there having warm chocolate croissants with a glass of cold milk, which I still do, even when those same peaks are devoid of any snow.

However, during my first trip to Mcleodganj, I couldn’t experience much, even though I felt that I did. It was a dismal affair, now when I look back at it, infact both of my 2013’s Mcleodganj trips aren’t much to talk about.

During those trips, my life in Mcleodganj remained confined to the touristy things, and the cafes that internet guides mentioned; when those guides said Pizza of Namgyal was good, I believed it was, when it said, the best cakes are found in the famous restaurants, I believed they were. When they said, the region is bustling with just Tibetan culture, I assumed it was. Though, I did meet a few travellers here, made some friends, added them on facebook and that’s it. That’s what Mcleodganj was for me, until I arrived here in February 2014.

It was Jay, who called me one day back in January, he was going for ‘Introduction to Buddhism’ course in Tushita. We planned to spend some days chilling in Mcleodganj, once he’d be done with his course at the end of February.

That was the trip, which made me explore further parts of Mcleodganj, ones that stay hidden at random cafés’ corners, in homes that have been rented for months, in hidden spots where tourists seldom visit, in Butoh school, or meditating at the edge of some random hill. The people, and ideas they carry within, the part of Mcleodganj that’s much more than what meets one’s eye.

carpe diem

Moreover, once Jay came out of Tushita, he introduced me to his friends. specially Chavvi and Olivia. I spent many afternoons with them after that, mostly with Olivia, in moonpeak espresso’s courtyard, or looking at the snow capped mountains from Carpe Diem. It was then, when I was slowly introduced to that part of Mcleodganj; those people, and their dreams.

The wanderers, musicians, dancers, writers, hippies, lovers, storytellers etc.; those people, brave enough to live…