A few moons ago, my mother and I received an invitation from my father, to accompany him on one of his business tours, to the location of an upcoming hydro-electric power project in the state of Himachal Pradesh. The site lay somewhere between the towns of Mandi and Kullu and that was the chief reason for our acceptance. We hoped to go on to Kullu and then to the 'hill-station' town of Manali, where we could do a bit of sight-seeing, while my father finished his work.
So, a taxi was hired and we were off, by road, early one morning. We expected to reach Kullu by late evening. Little did we know, however, that a change of plan was in the offing. Some time after we started, I could sense a bout of gastroenteritis coming on and soon had to get the car stopped every few minutes in order to throw up some of the contents of my stomach. I suppose I vomitted, in several instalments, not only the contents of the previous evening's dinner, but also the previous day's lunch.
The disease being one that I have been highly prone to since my early days, I had the sense to keep up the liquid intake in order to prevent dehydration, which is among the leading causes of fatalities caused by it. That, though, also led the doctor, whom we consulted when we reached Mandi (where we had decided to stay for the night, instead of Kullu, because of my illness, and where my father expected that the chances of availability of suitable medical treatment were quite good), to believe that I was in better shape than I actually was. He sent me away after prescribing a few tablets that he told me to swallow at regular intervals. Later on, as the night progressed, I continued to feel worse and, ultimately, had to go to a nursing home, where I was administered an intra-venous injection that helped stabilise my condition.
The next day, I spent the morning and early afternoon lounging about in bed and watching television, in the hotel room, while my father went off to work and my mother browsed through the shops in the local market. After lunch, by when both my parents had returned, my mother proposed that we should at least visit the Gurdwara at Manikaran, even as a visit to Kullu or Manali was out of the question.
We set off at about 4:30 p.m. and I was not absolutely sure whether it was such a great idea, starting off so late. The sky was cloudy and we encountered intermittent spells of rain and shine en route. A little past half-way, the road narrowed down to such an extent that a vehicle coming from the opposite direction could hardly be passed without slowing down to a crawl. The car had to be driven very carefully also on account of the fact that on one side of the road was a sheer drop of several hundred feet, at times to a river flowing at the bottom of the valley, with the hill-side on the other. Almost all the other vehicles on the road appeared to be going downhill, as we drove uphill. We had to have all windows closed and the air-conditioner turned on, as the exhaust-fumes from buses and trucks (that often included unburnt diesel) caused me to feel nauseous otherwise, even though I continued to sip from a bottle of soft-drink to prevent the contents of my stomach, literally, from boiling over. The scenery all around was picturesque, however, and, despite everything, I managed to enjoy the view immensely, until darkness descended all around.
On the way, we passed the little township of Kasol, which appeared to be some sort of a base for trekking expeditions. I remember that I saw a banner that proclaimed the start of such an expedition organised by the Youth Hostels Association of India, which was to originate from there. I could also see that a number of the local shops stocked the kind of equipment and rations that trekkers might require. There were a lot of foreign tourists, as well, carrying ruck-sacks and the place was dotted with restaurants serving not only continental cuisine, besides Indian, but (and it came as quite a surprise to me) Israeli as well! Since there were a few mechanics running shop there, who claimed to specialise in the repair of motorcycles, I presume that Kasol might even be on a route frequented by motorcycle expeditions, though I am not sure if these are comprised mainly of pilgrims going on to Manikaran or those headed towards other destinations as well.
At Manikaran, we found the Gurdwara to be situated down in the valley, on a river-bank, and we had to leave the main road and drive along a short one that was a lot more winding and a lot narrower than the one we had been driving on thus far. We stayed there only for a rather short period of time. After a brief prayer, we went to have a look at the hot-spring within the premises, where the visitors often have a bath and vessels are lowered into the hot water to cook rice or to make tea or daal (lentil-soup). I found it quite amazing that even as a broad stream of cold water flowed just outside the premises, a bridge over which one had to cross to get to the Gurdwara, a spring of hot water was to be found inside. A Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva was constructed near the spring a few years ago, we discovered, within the boundaries.
Unfortunately, the management of the Gurdwara was not up to the standards that one is used to in Gurdwaras in other parts of North India, which are managed by the SGPC. This one, I learnt, is still operated by a clique of mahants. We could not even get parshaad, as the mahants distribute it only for a few hours every day and the joRhaa-ghar, where one might deposit one's shoes, before washing one's hands and feet and entering the sanctum sanctorum, was also closed. The facilities for washing one's hands and feet were also not available right outside the sanctum sanctorum, as these should be.
The drive on our way back was largely eventless and it was close to midnight, when we returned to the hotel. The next morning, we drove back home.
Later on, I could not help thinking that had the state of Punjab not been trifurcated in 1966, every single place that we drove through or stopped by at, throughout the trip, would still have been a part of Punjab, except for the areas that lay within Delhi.