Day 7 : Lapa to Neuli
We get out of the cozy forest guest house at Lapa, by 8 am. We have quite a number of bars of chocolate in our bags and we distribute it to children in Lapa. The trek continues, uneventful, except for spotting a snake that slithered into some bushes before we could identify and a few birds that were spotted on the way. We come across a board waving us ‘THANKS’ as we exit the park two hours later. Beej and Arun are nowhere to be seen. We assume that they are ahead of us, considering that they reached the stream much earlier than we did the day before. The rest of us cross the Sainj Nala again and ascend and then descend (yeah, we are used to it now) to a village near the dam from where we started. Sahastra’s phone rings (yes, we are back in mobile phone range) and it is Beej. He can’t find Arun and he is lost too. We guide him over mobile phone to find the right path and wonder if we need to send someone after Arun. But Arun ambles in a few minutes later, and Beej joins us ten minutes later.
We now join the road, along which the jeep had dropped us, and walk back through a couple of tunnels to reach Neuli. A dog tags along and I drop a piece of the now detested nutribar for him. Arun mutters, “If he eats it, he will bite you”. Thankfully, after swallowing the nutribar the dog limits his protest by giving me a stare of contempt. We treat the porters to a big meal, our last together, at the Tibetan Aunty’s place. We polish off bun-omelettes and fried momos like savages. Charan finds us a jeep and we bid adieu to the porters and him. They wave cheerfully as the jeep takes off.
The jeep driver is too chatty and we are in no shape to chat. He asks us how we find Himachal. We reply it is out of the world or something to that effect in far fewer words. In fact, I think it was just a nod. He asks, “Where are you from?” The correct answer to it would be, “One of us is from UP and settled in Pondicherry, two others are from Kerala and one from TN, all settled in Bangalore, and finally one from Trivandrum.” Instead, we just say, “Bangalore”. He goes on, yak-yak-yak, that his sister-in-law is married to a guy settled in Belgaum and he finds Karnataka very beautiful too and his nephews born and brought up there are very naughty… I doze off and am rudely awakened by a jarring as the rear wheel hits a rut. I open my eyes to find that we are at the guest house in Ropa.
We spend the rest of the day loitering about. And the day after… We photograph some interesting bird life, acquaint ourselves to the local tea shops, and sleep when we get bored of all this. We also spot four families of nesting birds – two brown-fronted woodpeckers, a great barbet couple, a lone blue whistling thrush (Myophonus caeruleus) and a couple of verditer flycatchers (Eumyias thalassinus). The verditer had its nest in the roof of a much-used bus stop’s waiting shed!
Back in the room, there is a mirror in the bathroom, and I manage spend an hour in front of it, to scrape off all the broken skin on my nose and lips. The two baths have started getting me to look human again. Now all I need is a shave, but it would have to wait till we are in Kullu as I didn’t carry a razor.
Day 9 : Neuli to Kullu
Today we board our bus back to Delhi from Kullu. We start early at around 8:45 am, tip the guest house guys who cooked us a couple of lovely dinners, and wait for the bus. The only other option to get to Kullu is by jeep, but that would cost us an arm and a leg.
The bus arrives, rattling along the road beaten up by the trucks and kicking up dust that rises like mist. To our consternation, it is jam-packed. The locals slip into the bus and melt into the crowd. We look at each other and our eyes speak the same words “Jeep?” The bus conductor pokes his head out and asks, “Where to? “ “Kullu”. And within moments we see two guys lifting our huge rucksacks and dumping them unceremoniously atop the bus. Our choice made for us, we mutely squeeze ourselves in.
The flab on me that had taken a pounding over the last ten days is now squeezed to pulp in between the hardened bodies of the mountain folk as I make my way inside the bus. And the bus starts moving, rocking and rolling along the mountain paths. The driver negotiates the bus with the air of someone nonchalantly cycling in a meadow. On the right side, the Sainj Nala flows and later joins Beas. Beej mutters “Hope our luggage doesn’t get thrown out into the river.” “Hope we don’t get thrown in,” I reply. Wherever the bus stops, people continue to flood in. No one seems to be getting out. The driver continues to let rip over the potholes. A few stops later, people climb over the bus and join the luggage with no space left inside the bus. After an eternity we reach Kullu. The clips on my rucksack are both broken, thanks to the rickety ride. I knot the straps up instead.
The wait for the Delhi bus is rather uneventful. We book a small hotel room to store our luggage and go out shopping, only to realize that we would have been better off in Manali had we wanted to shop. There is pretty much nothing that catches our fancy in the small town market. We all shave after a week and half; Andy now sports a French beard. We roam around looking for a decent restaurant for an hour, wolf down some sandwiches at a café almost 15 minutes’ walk from the bus stand, and board the Delhi bus at 6:50.
The sun sets behind the hills, and I muse about the past week and half. Trek abandoned halfway. No ghoral, no Bharals, no bears, no monal photographs, not even a jujurana feather.
Satisfied? Kind of. Tired? Maybe. But had enough? Never. The call of the hills would resume the moment I set my foot in the plains.
Previous: Day 6 – Descent or plummet to Lapa?
- How looking out of the window saved my sanity – a quarantine birdwatching tale - December 28, 2020
- Stargazing on the Appalachian Trail - October 20, 2020
- Comet watching : Neowise aka C/2020 F3 - July 14, 2020