Woke up at 515 am, came out of my bus, looked up. Cloudless, clear sky, with twinkling stars; and as soon as I spotted Ursa Major, it greeted me back, saying, “hello, welcome to Mcleod Ganj”. For someone who’s accustomed to polluted, violetish cloudy pre-dawn Delhi sky, this was indeed an opportunity to thank my lucky stars.
So, sun rose and so did I, out of my cosy blanket in my hotel room. Followed by a heavy breakfast of cornflakes, bread-butter, pancakes, hash brown potatoes, Greek salad and black coffee. And when you are a grand glutton, digestion is only possible when you chart the neighbourhood mountains. Thus, began my friendly photography tour in the by-lanes of the hill station.
1700 meters above the ground. You find really tall trees. Really innocent camera shy people. Stones, lots and lots of stones. Cleaner air. God in small temples; while some have garlanded statues, some are as big as 1.5 sq. ft. and have a red shapeless stone as its deity.
Reached a Monastery. FYI McLeod Ganj is official Tibetan capital in India. And the neighbourhood hill station, Dharamshala is Dalai Lama’s home in India. So, I did what every Indian does when after looking at those tall, round bells. Roll them with your hand and feel like a kid.
But in hills, you don’t need a Monastery to find peace. You find it everywhere. In pine cones. In wind chimes made of aluminium foil. In churches, in graves, in walls. Nothing can clear one’s convoluted head the way nature does.
Next day starts again with a rich breakfast. A staple diet of pumpkin, carrot and banana. So what, if they were in form of a cake; they were still veggies 🙂
Back on the wanderer mode. Back on the twisty curvy hill roads. And it seems finding beauty in every stone, every nook and corner is inevitable.
Took a shared jeep for 10 bucks and reached Dharamshala. Where I found one of the most beautiful cricket stadiums in the world. One big hit and the ball goes out of the stadium, straight into the hills. And imagine the view if the hill caps are covered with snow. (A different kind of player also made an appearance at the venue :P)
Now was the time to pay a visit to some tea gardens, not as grand as one would see in Assam, yet pretea okay.
At night we had dinner with this guy. He was cool, but he was really possessive about his beer bottles for some reason. A pirate who’s a labeorphilist! That was new. Aren’t they supposed to die with a rum bottle in their hands? But whatAYEever.
Next day, we were supposed to trek to Triund, a mountain 2400 meters above sea level, it seemed like an uphill task at first. As everyday you don’t walk on a 45 degree incline to start with. But as our feet kept getting used to the stones and the rough terrain, we kept gaining energy. It was indeed an ultimate test of will power and optimism, as some of you would know I am not a lean, mean, sex machine guy (Ladies, the latter part, I still am, just wrote it because it rhymed).
The sky kept getting bluer. The homes kept getting smaller. The jungle kept getting denser.
After charting 9 kilometers, you find a hint of snow on the highest peak visible, the Moon Peak. And that breathtaking view makes the entire exhaustion worth the effort. And the only thing that can make it better is Maggi noodles, served hot and overpriced in the small blue kiosk.
The last day of my trip had to be exceptional. And to make it so I had to do something I had never done before. So I decided to jump off a cliff. Billing Valley, the world’s second most popular paragliding site is where I found myself. 70 kilometers away from McLeod Ganj and 2800 meters above sea level.
And yes, I jumped with a DSLR camera hanging around my neck.
While I was up in the air, shouting like crazy, gliding like a bird, and clicking like an air-borne photographer. I could see hills in different hues, step farms from the highest ladder, clouds and cloud nine; I realised what freedom truly means. When in air, you have to let go of all your fears, and you just have to count those precious moments when you live the life God intended you to live. Free, liberated, uninhibited, ever smiling and with a twinkle in your eye.
Call it life, a vicious circle or simply the implication of gravity, but those who go up come down eventually. It was time to land on my feet at the landing site.
And as you can see I landed on my butt.