“A story about friendship, faith and courage of four friends..” read the back cover of a book, The Four Patriots, I had bought in Haridwar to pass some time. Confining myself to the side upper berth of the Sant Kabir Dham Express to Mumbai, I had finished this book in about 6 hours, a personal best for a two hundred page book. The other three had slept off, one of them trying to battle the “Please adjust” kind of illegal passengers, even on the upper berth. This backpacking trip to the Northwestern corner of India had really been our story- our story of friendship, faith and courage.
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Chandigarh Inter-State Bus Terminal
At about five thirty in the AM, a fine looking gentleman sauntered towards us and offered us a ride in his car upto Shimla. We had just been forced into a drastic change of plans. It had been raining quite heavily in Manali, so we had no option, but to reach Spiti via Kinnaur. It was a blessing in disguise, but we would only realise it then. Sipping on my masala chai, I had been trying to heal a dying throat. It had got bad to a point where I couldn’t speak unless I held two fingers against my Adam’s apple. A lot of factors had snowballed into this condition, and it was an exponential chart, if you had to draw it. The latest rise in the graph had been the butter chicken and naan, and Pal Dhaba’s chefs had been especially generous with the butter. I was struggling with my voice, and the reins of engaging in conversation with the conductors and co-passengers were passed down to Pranav. I made a mental note of all the people around me. A family of four, probably hailing from Kinnaur, a young long haired guy with his blue haired girlfriend (or sister, who am I to say!), an old Hanyanvi speaking couple were the prominent characters who had shared the wait with us ever since ten minutes to four in the morning.
The 4:30 bus never came, and we were still waiting under a board that said “Reckong Peo”, and that’s when the gentleman came to us. We initially declined, but after an internal talk, we agreed to go with him. Pranav ran towards him and asked if the offer still held good. A few minutes later, we were walking towards his sedan. He seemed like a cheerful guy. All four of us had been subverting our parents’ “guidelines” to the trip- ‘don’t go with strangers’, ‘don’t eat what strangers give you’ being the top instructions. But this was a graduation backpacking trip right? We reached Shimla safe and sound, and were dropped by Mr Massey about a kilometre and half from the Interstate Bus Terminal. We walked towards the bus terminal, making multiple stops to photograph the landscapes of the colourful houses of the New Shimla township nestled in the pine cover of the Himalayan slopes. Learning about the last bus to Reckong Peo leaving in the next five minutes, we made a dash one floor up from where the buses depart. The heavy rucksacks were stuffed in the boot of the bus, and I made my way in the bus, and Chinmay, Mayuresh and Pranav went to answer an important call from Mr. Nature. I entered the bus, and saw all the characters from the morning. I was convinced that the impending ten hour bus journey to Peo was going to be a fun one.
The tallish bus started for Peo, and within an hour, our Haryanvi gentleman let off the first of the many streams of “acidic food discharge”. I turned to look at the source of the regurgitation, and saw Chinmay flashing his signature grin and Mayuresh not giving a damn to what was happening, as always, just about when a guy in the seat in front of ours started playing Rashke Qamar on his speaker, and I turned to my right to smile at Pranav and I thought to myself, “This was going to be a rather fun journey.”