Dharamshala. Dalai Lama. Tibetan Story. That was my whole pull to visit Himachal Pradesh. Actually it hardly mattered to me that it was Himachal Pradesh. Anyway all these states kind of get blurred when you are on the road. So there I was – unsuspecting I landed at the bus stop at Mandi.
The local buses looked good so I thought I will take those to my next stop Rewalsar. All of a sudden I was swarmed with 2/3 men – “Kahaan Jaa Rahe Ho?” (where do you want to go?) I figured they must be rickshaw or private taxi guys so gave them one of my unfriendly looks. Again they are asking.. so I told them and very surprisingly they all just pointed out the right bus to me and told me to take that. Not just that: One of the fellows then ran ahead and told the bus conductor of that bus “Madam (or sister or something) Rewalsar jaa rahin hain. Unko barabar pahooncha dena” (Madam is going to Rewalsar, see that she reaches properly). Then very helpfully .. sit madam, sit.
This was very weird for me. I was not sure what is going on. Why are they so helpful. I remained very alert to any foul play. Instead of foul play I noticed that the conductor is so helpful even to the local people. If some old lady is waiting for bus then he will get down and help her up.
Whenever the bus stops at a crowded bus stop the conductor will get down, he will shout “Palampur” (or where ever the bus is going). Not just that: He will even go around asking individual groups or if he sees any old person hesitating because the bus is very crowded he will coax them. Telling them “I am there na” just climb up.
Once the bus reaches the destination the conductor helps take the luggage off the racks, especially if it is too heavy.
I sat on a Dharamshala bus. Then I told the conductor I want to go McLeodganj will I get another bus? Pat he replies “Why you are worrying. Once you have sat in this bus, you should think you have reached McLeodganj already” It was amazing so much so that I was getting a serious culture shock.
It was not that they are not busy. As I mentioned these buses are often so crowded. Yet, the involvement and intensity the conductors have was so amazing. He was like family member for all the passengers.
I was trekking up the hill to the Padmasambhava Cave in Rewalsar and the road I took passed through lots of houses. Most of them had small terraced wheat farms. Very picturesque. Couple of times I got confused because I was not sure which road fork to take. From somewhere I heard “Kidhar jaana hain?” (where do you want to go?) I turned and saw one lady peeping at me around her door. I just asked her and she guided me. Another house had kept a pot of water for any passerby to drink. For a moment I considered it might be drugged to kidnap people – because I am from Mumbai!! – anyway I drank it and it was not drugged. It felt really good.
Almost at the top I was so exhausted that I was just ruminating around but one lady from nearby thought I wasn’t sure about the route. So she pointed out the way to me and encouraged me. “Its just a little more!”. So many times I kept thinking that those people would ask me for money after helping me out.. but no one ever did.
So you see… I got culture shock. I have actually traveled in local buses and visited smaller towns in Karnataka/ Tamil Nadu but I have never been pushed so out of my comfort zone by the people. When I finally reached McLeodganj with its very-Tibetan flavor… I found myself missing the Himachali people.
Baffled. Bamboozled. Bludgeoned.