THE TREK THAT NEVER WAS
I jumped with joy when my brother Ravindra proposed a trekking trip from Shimla in Himachal Pradesh to Chakrata, in Uttar Pradesh (now in Uttarakhand). Ravindra, whom every one called Robin, an army officer, was posted in Chandigarh. Our eldest sister Manorama, or Nanhi – ‘Little Girl’, as I call her even though she is twelve years my senior – had dropped me at Chandigarh with instructions for Robin to keep tabs on me. She was on her way to Shimla where she was to attend a seminar.
Nanhi, a professor in M.K.P. College and I, a student of law in D.A.V. College lived together in Dehra Dun. I had just written my last exam paper and was looking forward to the two-month-long summer vacation following the end of exams. A jolly time was to be had with friends. Especially with my sister away at Shimla. But Nanhi had other ideas. She said I was not mature enough to stay alone. She did not believe I could be trusted to live alone with no check on me, she said. The last time she had left me on my own a couple of years ago, I had simply locked the house and gone on a trekking trip with four friends. She was not sure I would not do an encore. So, Robin was riding herd on me at Chandigarh while Nanhi was attending her seminar at Shimla.
With Robin busy with his army duties during the day I found myself at loose ends. I was left alone in his bachelors’ accommodation. I had no friends in Chandigarh. TV had not yet come to India and there is only so much one can read. It was extremely difficult for me to remain good for hours on end. Somehow, I managed to stay out of mischief, or so my brother thought. But that is neither here nor there.
Preparations for the trek were made. Trekking shoes, hats to protect us from the sun, raincoats in case of sudden showers (not uncommon in Himalayan hills), sleeping bags, haversacks, and a rope just for the heck of it arranged. With some basic rations thrown in, we were ready for the trek.
One fine day, we boarded a bus and reached Rashtrapati Niwas (formerly known as Viceregal Lodge), Shimla where my sister’s seminar was on. The day’s session over, we met Nanhi, spent some time with her and made off to town. Wandering, we came across Kwality Restaurant and, anticipating a delicious dinner, Robin and I happily entered. What greeted us was not what one should expect from a quality restaurant chain like the Kwality. It was a ramshackle place with tubular steel tables and folding chairs. Our backpacks were heavy and the next few days, beginning in the morning, were going to be tough. So, we did not go elsewhere and ate the gruel that was available in the Kwality.
I spent a sleepless night, not because Robin snored. He did not. I was too excited to sleep. I imagined all sorts of adventures we could face on the trek. In my imagination, I saved Robin from being mauled by a bear. A little later I saved him from falling in a deep precipice. Then the two of us fought our way out of a crowed of ferocious hill people, with me leading and getting hurt. The next I knew, Robin was shaking me. He told me to divest myself of the sleeping bag and prepare for the difficult trek that lay ahead. Well, loaded with our backpacks, we started.
A short distance away, we met a waiting bus ready to go to Jubbal, a town we had planned to stay the first night of our trek. The bus was nearly empty. No more than four or five passengers. Robin, ever mindful of welfare of the downtrodden and with the thought of reducing the operator’s loss a little, decided to trek by bus. It was a rough road resulting in more than a bumpy ride. It was a serpentine, winding hill road and we were swaying left and right all the time. We firmly gripped the backs of seats in front of us for dear life. Yet every other minute our rear end would hit the back of our seats hard. Half way through the journey we changed our seats. Their backs had snapped.
We had more time than we knew what to do with, having reached Jubbal well ahead of schedule. A one-horse town, Jubbal had nothing to offer by way of activity. We passed time roaming through the streets and came upon the ‘palace’, a modest structure as palaces go, of the ex-ruler. Jubbal was a very small state, more like a zamindari.
We resumed our trek the next morning. Not by bus this time. A few kilometres later a couple of nasty looking men started walking with us. Robin engaged them in conversation in an attempt to verify their intent. Not satisfied, he instructed me to keep my hands free from encumbrances. Just in case. Both of us put our trust in God and kept ourselves ready for the worst. All four of us walked another few kilometres till we came upon a jeep, four men sitting on passengers’ seats and a fifth standing outside. We stopped. The two nasties kept walking. The jeep was going to Chakrata and was waiting for two more passengers. Robin decided for us to be the two passengers required. The two vacant seats were in the rear. Robin requested the two front seat passengers to move to the rear. They refused. He then offered to pay their fare if they move. They did not waste another second and moved.
We arrived in Chakrata by late evening. ‘I enjoyed the trip. Did you?’ Robin asked. What do you think a twenty-year old replied to his brother, seven years his senior?