Manali : Rendezvous with Civilization

Manali : Rendezvous with Civilization

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Manali : Rendezvous with Civilization

One typical USP of Manali is its market which is full of shops selling mountaineering gear, since the town is home to one of the oldest mountaineering institute (Western Himalayan mountaineering institute) set up in India in 1961

By Colonel Satish Singh Lalotra

Basic human contact –the meeting of eyes, the exchanging of words is to the psyche what oxygen is to the brain.  In human relationships, distance is not measured in miles but in affection. Two people can be right next to each other, yet miles apart. So stay in touch with those who truly matter to you. Not because it’s convenient but because they’re worth the extra effort. These prophetic words of ‘Martha Beck’  came resounding back when in 1996 on my way to de-induction from ‘OP Meghdoot’  we were found camping at one of the most picturesque transit camp of ‘Palchen’ about 11  kilometers from the main town of Manali.

The year from the fall of 1995 till 1996 was begriming for the entire lot of the unit since it was deployed at sub-zero temperatures living like sub-humans in ice-cave like conditions that needed to be grimed off the soot from their very beings literally.  What better place than the cool and salubrious environs as found by us at the transit camp of Palchen near Manali. Earlier having kicked off from the ‘R-Center’ at Leh a few days back in the third week of September 1996 to our new location in Rupa valley of district Kinnaur we had covered quite a bit of distance over the so called ‘Moonscape’ aka district of Ladakh  as also that of ‘Lahul & Spiti’ via the now famous ‘Leh-Manali’ highway that is more than 4000 meters in its average elevation and its highest elevation point of 5328 meters ( 17,480 ft) .

The mesmerizing yet sometimes scary places like the famous ‘Ghata loops’, Upshi, Sarchu, Tanglang la, Baralacha la, Lungalacha la, behind us the convoy of about 50 0dd stallion 7 tonners for the last one time labored hard to climb the ‘Beas kund’. Taking a small breather at Beas –kund with our YASHICA cameras we hurtled down the highway to a much lower destination at ‘PALCHAN’ transit camp for a well-deserved break from days of back breaking mountainous journey. Incidentally ‘Palchan’ is about 11 kms from the famous tourist resort of Manali all along river Beas flowing in its gay abandon.

Having tied up earlier for our accommodation at the transit camp the entire lot of us loosened ourselves for the day. Earlier while driving to Palchenen route I had suddenly remembered my long time class mate Anand Sharma of Punjab university days who once had casually mentioned to me that his family owned Ibex hotel at Manali. I happen to mention the same to our new CO, Colonel Ajit Donald Samuel in a casual manner during our lunch break before we all hit Palchen transit camp. He immediately planned a small get together of all of us once we were through with our preliminaries at the transit camp. The evening of the first day of our sojourn was therefore on the name of ‘Hotel Ibex’. But the problem over here was that I didn’t know its location in Manali town nor was I aware of its latest contact number since I was out of touch with my class mate for the last few years.

Putting our best foot forward, the entire group  threw their lot in my gingerly held acquaintance with my long lost class mate, and egged me on to bite the bullet. Dressed to kill in our best of attire all of us were ready to mount the gypsy vehicle when out of the blue the old man told that he would like to have a swig or two before we embark on our so called ‘RENDEZVOUS WITH CIVILISATION’ from the quota of refreshments that we were carrying in our vehicle as a standby. Now in the army the last word of the old man is worth not disobeying since the same could be done at one’s own peril. Suddenly a pair of hands appeared from nowhere with the refreshments in the vehicle only. The old man’s eyes suddenly sparkled with a twinkled glee that I have not forgotten till date. When the cat plays, can the mouse be away? All the 2 Vikas brats were up in the arms with their choicest of drinks in the vehicle, when the Pinja driver gave a big horn and let his displeasure known to us by his sudden putting the vehicle in gear for forward movement.

Forward we all went with a lurch glasses still in hands. The cool and crisp mountain air hit our faces making the heady brew of drinks hit our senses hard. Having covered the distance to Manali within few minutes it was not a difficult task for most of us to zero on our objective of the evening –Hotel Ibex that had huge banners hung on its facade with face of a famous  music singer ready for tonight’s show in the hotel. I went to the front desk with full confidence announcing our arrival as also my longtime friendship with the owner of the hotel. My antecedents confirmed, the hotel refused to charge anything from us for whatever we were worth and our consumption over there. Now this was too much for an asking for the entire lot of us.

No amount of cajoling or entreaties with even the management staff could budge the hotel from their stated stand. But then we did arrive at a compromise formula when we told the management staff to let us consume our drinks that we had brought with us and they should charge only the food part. Normally in hotels of repute you cannot bring in your own drinks and start consuming in their premises. The liquor license bought by the hotel that runs unto thousands would otherwise run its course of redundancy if it had consumers like us. But then classmate’s word couldn’t be disregarded and we did combine the fauzire freshment mania with the sumptuous spread of delicacies that came our way kind courtesy HOTEL IBEX.

Coming back to Manali of the mid 1990s, the place was a slightly laid back town rising to its crescendo of celebrations or glory only either in summers or else during the New Year when hordes of party revelers from the North Indian plains would converge upon this hilly joint. But no longer now. The place now teems with a sea of humanity 24×7 may be having  gained prominence with repeated visits of late PM Vajpyee to his second home at ‘Prini’ village in the 1990s that was situated by the banks of gurgling Beas river. Even otherwise Manali has off late hit the headlines with a surfeit of drug mafia who openly have been in this business with active involvement of the local population.

One typical USP of Manali is its market which is full of shops selling mountaineering gear, since the town is home to one of the oldest mountaineering institute (Western Himalayan mountaineering institute) set up in India in 1961 as also forming a base camp for various foreign expeditions to the peaks in western and central Himalayas.  The institute was renamed after the late PM Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2008 as (ABVIMAS) Atal Bihari Vajpayee mountaineering and allied institute. The institute formed an MOU with ‘Swarnim Gujarat Sports University for collaborative training in 2017.Whenever Mr Vajpyee visited Prini village he would call all his close friends from the tribal district of Lahul and Spiti.

The locals of Manali used to say that it was like a ‘mela’ with Mr Vajpayee in Manali with both the BJP and congress leaders queuing up to meet him to pay their respects. The late PM was found of trout fish in food platter during his stay in Prini that once when the ‘Patlikhul’ trout farm nearby developed some problems in fish production, the then congress government sent the officials fishing for snow trouts in the rivers across the state. Since we had just come back from the glacier our memories of the ‘SASE’-Snow and avalanche study establishment’ were still fresh which off and on warned us of our impending moves over that glaciated region. Much as though we wanted to visit this SASE Location at Manali, the idea was nixed by our old man (CO) who wanted to pack certain more off beat places like the ‘Jogni falls’, ‘ArjunGufa’, in our short itinerary of Manali. Interestingly all these things were being discussed at Hotel Ibex when we realized that our time of being a honourable guest was being extended at the expense of the hotel staff who were late by their official working hours.

I gave a ring to my old classmate Anand Sharma who was by that time a reputed lawyer in Chandigarh from his hotel premises with profuse word of thanks for the fantastic arrangements at such a short notice. The swagger of the old man (Col Samuel) had now a lot of resemblance of a man who was thoroughly satiated by the infusion of a shot of civilization in his system. Out we all trooped from the hotel premises having had a good brush with civilization after a very long time marveling at our luck that had all the ingredients of a tangled tale, a CO swaggering with his juniors behind him in a trance savoring the cool climes of Manali as all of us jumped back into the waiting gypsy with a Pinja who too resembled being knocked out by the cool climes of Manali. Or maybe our sensory nerves under the heavy influence of civilizational shot had suspected even sane persons performing a waltz like us.