88 is always ‘Two Fat Ladies’ in Tambola. This fat man was a bit impatient to open his account of the 88th day by getting some fascinating views of the Dhauladhar Range. Adequately dressed to be out in the cold early in the day I waited for the first rays of the sun to wake up the mountains. Even the bare mountains have something to offer when the sun moves over it.
I was a bit apprehensive about getting the washed clothes dried in the cold weather. Nevertheless, I went ahead and hung them out in the open as the sun was out strong and hot. In less than two hours the deed was done. That’s how hot it becomes during the day. I had ventured out in the morning with four layers of clothing, to snoop around a bit and nothing much to do, and went on de-layering as the day wore on. Last evening when I was in the railways station a constable of the RPF told me that the Sobha Singh Gallery and the Neugal Café are worth a look in. The elaborate directions I had noted from him took me to the Gallery with only one stop for direction. “Keep to the right always, beta”, said the elderly gentleman, possibly also giving me the direction to conduct the rest of my life.
Padma Shri Sobha Singh was known as the ‘Saint Artist’. Born in Gurdaspur, he honed his self taught skills in Amritsar, Lahore and Delhi after his employment with the British Army in Iraq. He moved to Andretta (Kangra Valley) from Lahore just prior to the Partition. He lived and worked there for over 38 years and the Gallery now functions from a portion of the house, where his daughter and family lives. The visits of dignitaries to this humble abode of the Master Artist are well documented. His most famous work is the painting of Sohni Mehiwal, but the most duplicated work is that of Guru Nanak Dev with his hand raised in blessing. The SGPC is reported to have printed and sold a half million copies of this painting. The paintings of Omar Khayyam are divine. His prominent works are those of the Sikh Gurus, Punjabi love lores, prominent personalities and Kangra life. What stuck in my mind as I left the Gallery was the caption on a painting: “Art should be to Refine the Swine and Divine the Refine” (paraphrased). A small shop in front of the Gallery sells reprints, painting material and books on the life and work of the Saint Artist.
“First Deserve, Then Desire” was painted in many languages on the wall of a building on my way to the Neugal Café. This is an excellent doctrine to live by and part of the recipe for contentment. The Neugal Café is run by the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department. The location has wonderful close up views of the Himalayan Range. The effect would have been magical with snow on the hills. The chicken fried rice and the chilly chicken (a bit too sweet) went down effortlessly while admiring the hot noon sun beating down mercilessly on the mountain range. One can also get a decent view of the River Beas from near the Café.
I went to the railway station once again and found the place deserted – the train had departed and the next train was not expected soon. I took leave of the Station Master, who is an exceptionally happy person. He, like Harminder who I met at the Sukhna Lake in Chandigarh, believes that meeting people who you gel with is not an accident. They believe that it is destined and that the meeting is to find solace from one another. I believe that each meeting is to understand and appreciate the ‘group of souls’ that travel together.