The strangest thing happened today. I had reached Batal by 9 or so in the morning. The wind hadn’t started yet. The bus from Kaza arrived dutifully at 11. I was in the dhaba doing what I don’t quite remember. The crowd started spilling into the shack and soon it was a chaos curry of aluminum plates, rice, rajma, chutney and chewing. I excused myself and went to my cave across the road.
My room here could be best described thus. It’s a stone square, roofed by plastic sheets that flap maniacally under the pressing wind. A single wooden beam runs across the length to which the sheets are tied and the wire of a non-functional solar bulb hangs from it too; a switch that I merrily clicked whenever I missed a stable light source at night, frustrated by the constant disco of the candle light flicking to the wind that streams in fluently from the entrance.
The first mattress up on entering is my bed. I’m sitting on the edge, pulling at the strings of my dusty boots. This feels no weather for woolen socks. In some time, a guy from the dhaba, who I remembered for his Marijuana love t-shirt, walks into my cave asking for a lighter. He was soon sharing his experience of two and a half months of solo travel. He said he’s spent the last three weeks in Spiti and before that had trekked till Kheerganga and even been to Rajasthan to pursue a lost love interest. He was soon to join Amazon for a high paying job. He still had 20 days of time but because his card was blocked, he has to return.
Soon, his bus was rumbling to leave. We exchanged numbers and he was gone. About an hour or two later, as I lay on the mattress, leaning on the cushion of two blankets, writing or rather reviewing what I have written already, I hear someone walk into my cave.
It took me a moment to place this person in my memory. Where have I seen this guy? Oh, right! He’s back? What happened to his bus ride? Instantly I’m thrilled that I have a travel companion. And instantly a part of me regrets the freedom I’m about to lose.
It’s about 9 in the night now. I’ve stopped checking for time and date. The wind is now dropping, so I know it should be about that time. I’ve spent half a day with this new participant in my journey. Freedom I’ve lost but freedom I’ve gained too. I’ve been to the broken bridge today. Swimming and sliding over a path way of rocks piled over more rocks (I wonder who had the time to set it like that), battling the increasingly malevolent winds of the afternoon (at about 2.30 p.m.) clambered up and sat on the ledge. Staring down at Chandra’s mad grey waters, flinging inconsequential stones and chattering about the world across the hills – where business breeds.
We’ve also walked to the metal bridge about 5 minutes away from the Chandra Dhaba at night (around 6.45 I think, maybe later). Freezing despite 3 layers. The wind seems to stab across the jackets and through the ear warmers. So dark, that if I don’t look too carefully, I might be led by the wind to the broken edge and I might slip through to meet the now only audible river below. I’m always game for morbid ideas such as these. And I suspect I might actually enjoy such ideas. I can’t quite trust myself in these circumstances yet. Not with my balance or my vision at least. I stumble way too often.
But it seems two and a half months of travel hasn’t really given Pratik… how to put it… deeper sensibilities?
He talks too much, listens too little. Pretends too much, justifies too much and worst of all seeks both approval and permissions. He says he’s spent 3 weeks in Spiti but he hasn’t been to most places. He says he’s rote all the names of the villages but doesn’t remember most of them. I have to provide nouns to his fumbling.
Is this the kind of travel partner I want? No. Do I need to go back to Chandratal again so that Pratik can see it? Umm… not really.
But how do I avoid the current predicament? Do I say no to this plan? Or should I choose a limiting companionship over that of the unpredictable hundreds that I could encounter on the road? Besides, this trip would definitely become more expensive if we travel together. A solo traveller gets perks and sympathies. Which a ‘couple’ of people won’t.
Batal has got on my nerves now. There’s nothing I’d like more than leave this place. I’ve been waiting for some form of connectivity to Kaza since 8 in the morning. Now it’s 12.30 or 1 in the afternoon.
It rained all morning. It still is. Though the intensity has reduced and the sun light has broken through, the clouds are so close that the wind keeps sprinkling us with water droplets. I’m really terribly bored.
I told Pratik that I’d like to go on alone. He says he’d have to go back home then. He had thought he’ll have cash transferred to my account in Kaza. But now that I’m changing plans, he’d have to return. After an hour I told him “Fine. Come till Kaza.”
He actually thought, it was appropriate to say that once we are in Kaza everything will be okay and he can ‘take care of me.’
So, now, I’m with company I don’t need and I’m stuck at a place that seems to have no way out. I’m desperate to get ahead.
My phone has lost charge and I finally miss network connection on the fourth day. I miss home. I miss the city. I miss the cats. I miss my friends and my parents. Just would like to hear their voice is all.
I’ve lost the desire to make conversations and be attentive. All my attention is focused on the elusive sound of the bus tires. Where is the damned bus? That lifeline of Spiti Valley. That goddess without who no one can get anywhere here.
PS: No photos or videos because the phone is now switched off. I don’t think I’ll be able to supply any from the road to Kaza either. Also, name of co-traveler changed because I’m afraid I’ve been mean to him.