The first chore I chose to do this morning was to visit the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Office to collect some brochures and query a few doubts. Their office near Mandi House showed little signs of welcome. They had neither brochures nor the inclination to clear any doubts. However, two of the office guys hitched a ride with me to their Janpath office, where I was promised succor. To say that I was disappointed is to put it mildly. The gentlemen behind the counter continued reading his newspaper while another yawned and was ready for what he probably comes to office for – to sleep soundly in an AC room! I was reluctantly given a leaflet and a brochure on Kinnaur. They did not have anything on Manali and Shimla. Every time you walk into a government office you come away with the feeling that government should never be in ‘business’. But then, even private businesses are vanishing, aren’t they? I am sharing a just received SMS from a friend – “Once Vijay Mallya had piles of cash. Now the cash is gone and only his piles remain. This condition, in medical parlance is called ‘King Fissure’”.
Indian Railways has rest houses for Officers and Staff at numerous places. The control of the rest houses vests with the Divisional Offices, Zonal HQs and even the Railway Board. Just yesterday I was told that IR has rest houses even at Kasuali and Rudra Prayag, where there are no railway lines. Most of these rest houses are maintained well, particularly north of the Southern Railway! I had requested Sajeesh Kumar, Sr. Divisional Operations Manager Freight of Delhi Division to make the bookings for Delhi, Manali and Shimla. He confirmed all the booking and even went out of his way to get me accommodation in Kinnaur – where there is no railway rest house - through his contacts. This once again serves up the fact that the railway network is strong and one which you can bank on.
The attendant of the Company guest house I was staying in Delhi was to leave for his hometown with his young family in the afternoon. This chap is a raw transplant from a village in Andhra Pradesh. Hence, he is neither conversant with Hindi nor is he enterprising enough to overcome his shortcomings while living in an aggressive environment. Knowing this, an office staff accompanied the family to the railway station, where they reached well in time. The train was to arrive from Dehra Dun at 1440 and depart at 1450 from a particular platform. The staff had to return before the family could be seated in the train. The attendant and his family got into a train that came to the platform at 1400 without checking if that indeed was the train. The mayhem that ensued was the stuff one normally sees in movies. They got down from the train a few stations ahead of Mathura, from where they could neither get a bus nor an auto to reach a junction point for a transport back to Delhi. Finally, a staff was sent by car to get them back to Delhi.
I was to board the bus to Manali from the Inter State Bus Terminal or the ISBT, in short. As its name suggests, all long distance buses depart and terminate at this terminal. The ISBT held a special place in my life in Delhi University, where I was a student from 1978 to 1980. I was used to at least a couple of late night movies every week, with or without company. This was a ‘habit’ acquired from Loyola College, where the practice of bunking from the hostel started as a means to prove that one could successfully break rules! In time it developed as a habit. But in St. Stephens College there were no such strict regulations. Therefore, the ‘fun’ of bunking was hardly a stimulant to go for night shows. Night shows and other minor vices were good as long as one ‘managed’ with the princely monthly allowance of Rs. 150. Most of the English movies used to be in Chanakya, Shiela, Priya, etc, that were a long way off from the University campus, To stretch the allowance till as long as I could for the month I used to walk back to the College hostel from the ISBT after the night shows and cigarettes were replaced by beedies. If I had company a cycle rickshaw used be share-hired. But one routine that never changed was a cup of tea and ‘Mattri’ from the ISBT, particularly in the winter months. But the ISBT of today is vastly different and is in the process of being modernized. It was dirty and dusty all over. I was happy to board the AC bus at 2015 and leave a half hour later.
Another landmark one frequented near the ISBT was the ‘Tibetian Monastry’, referred to simply as Tib Mons. A Sunday afternoon meal at the Tib Mons was a monthly ritual. I was introduced to Thupka, Mo Mos, etc at this eatery. The price was low and the quantity huge. I have marked that place down for a visit to it on my return from the Himachali sojourn. The bus stopped at Gharounda, near Karnal, for dinner at 2245. The Rajindra Vaishno Dhabha had a simple ‘buffet’ of rice, roti, dal, vegetable curry, pickle and salad laid out for Rs. 100. Once the bus left after the dinner stop I reclined on the push back seat to sleep and realized that the train was a more comfortable option; but I did not have one for the destination I was off to.