I must first thank everyone for the resounding success of the idea of not naming the destination, in an earlier blog post.
There is so much positivity in your heart and it was heartening to (a) read the comments, (b) be told in person, (c) sharing views on social media, (d) interested by the enigma. All of you are the reason for me to consider making this a series while keeping the settings intact.
Here it goes : Secret Place Number 2.
After having been on the road for almost 3 days, I wasn’t any closer to this obscure valley. I had first heard about it from a local 2 years ago, when I was spending a bitterly cold winter in a remote region. And I remember, as a well wisher he had refrained from giving me further detail about the same. He may have seen the glint in my eyes and realised about the adventurous streak of madness within me may well cause some damage.
Turns out he wasn’t wrong at all, there have been foreigners visiting this valley since as early as the 80s (If the locals are to be believed.) The fact file on treks here suggests that it is one of the most deadly regions to trek (Oops… Sorry, not allowed to give more details here.)
I am waiting at the bus stand. The bus that is supposed to come at 4 hasn’t come yet. It is already 5. There are only 2 other people waiting for the same bus. I contemplate ‘what if’?What if there is no bus? What if the bus comes but is so late that it reaches in utter darkness? I don’t break my solo travel rules often, but this time it seemed like I had no choice.
Ok, so the bus is finally here at 5:20 pm, filled to the brim. I squeeze inside and buy the ticket. It is excruciating, there is no space to breathe – let alone sit or stand. Also, the driver has gone for a rendezvous with a friend and the bus is stationary. In a moment of anger, I pass my ticket to the bus conductor demanding a return so that I can get off the bus and perhaps try my luck tomorrow.
He laughs and asks two women to make a tiny space for me to try and sit with my bulging backpack. There is little possibility of seeing any sort of landscapes from the elusive windows, but I widen my eyes and gaze endlessly at the beauty on offer. And suddenly my eyes notice that the road is just too small for a bus to really be even plying. Then I remember my decade long sojourns to everywhere in the high Himalayas and convince myself it is ok.
A check post means I have to submit my details while the entire bus waits. The villagers and police guy eye me with suspicious yet loving eyes (?!). The policeman tells me to make sure I register my details when I come back, he says many people go missing in the mountains and then I may also come in that list, although I may be back safely.
A raging nallah flows alongside the road. It is already dark. A school teacher screams the bus to a stop. There is no village, I see. Others tell me that the village lies on the other side of the river/nallah and he will cross it on a pulley. I shudder, the bus roars along. The average speed may not even have been more than 15 kms an hour.
We are on the teetering edge of a road carved from the mountains. The bus steadily loses its passengers in small villages along the way as the cold winds seep in from small spaces in the windows. It is July, and yet it is so chilly that I wonder why I find myself in such crazy places time and again! By the time the bus reaches its stop, apart from the driver and conductor there are only 2 of us left in the bus.
Happily, they walk with me to this home… Within no time, I am playing host to an arak party. Liquor is on the house today, the locals are happy to see an Indian tourist. The driver joins me, apparently the conductor and him don’t get along well together. It is dark and furiously windy, yet a million stars for the welcome when I go out to pee.
There is a different freshness and energy in the air here. It was pin drop silence and I could still hear my heart thump happily. My arak drinking partners were amused when I stood outside for a long time, it was really quite cold! I briefly wondered if someday I could gather the mental strength to spend an entire winter here.
Bottle after bottle of locally made arak flew into everyone’s bellies. I had stopped after 2 glasses. Food was simple vegetables with chapati, dal and rice and tasted heavenly. The vegetables had all been grown in the villages and were very tasty. I really feasted on it and imaginatively thought of myself as a camel who is storing excess food for later!
It was even more fun when I wandered in this secret paradise. Clouds had made it like a fairytale setting and I was happy to just watch it from the window of my room, doing nothing. There is a special joy in having these experiences where you are not particularly looking for anything, yet after a day or two – you invariably end up finding youself.
After having had my fill of nature, it was time to go. To fulfil my wish of slow travel, I walked on the road and even though it was exhausting, had a great time. There was the small pleasure of taking a detour, walking on the green grass amongst trees and coming across an ancient place of worship (Thought to date to approx. 16th Century.)
A small stream ran across the road, I left the road and joined the slender walking path : Not that there were any vehicles coming or going! This was as isolated as it could get, if I allow myself to think I can go as far as to say not more than 100 people visit this place every year. And the number of Indians could be counted on fingertips, as the locals said. Apparently, even the maps of the valley were initially made by some Spanish or Italian tourists!
I walked a lonely long road in bright sunshine and came across some wild roses, a small patch of yellow amongst the green, a snowy peak not enveloped by clouds – and decided to lie down. Alas, I was a solo traveller and there was nobody around to click a photograph for my Facebook profile picture or something.
I hope you won’t mind me not giving names of this one too. I know you want to find the valley exactly like this when you arrive here someday. Thank you.