Sarahan to Reckong Peo
With the necessary divine intervention secured, there wasn’t much else to do in the temple precinct so I walked out and asked a villager where I could get a nice view of the mountains that Sarahan is equally famed for. He pointed me to a spot about a kilometer off with the added bonus that I take a route near the apple orchards. This was flowering season and the trees were in bloom – looking very comely indeed.
I walked uphill several hundred meters, then along the side for a half kilometer, and then got off the main road, along a longish spur.
My walk ended at this tin roofed seat – with a rusted top providing a great contrast to the blue sky and the fluffy whites of the floating cotton.
Now, I did get a good view of the surroundings – including the famed Shrikhand Mahadev peak. Still, given the exhaustion from the bus journey and the view of the peaks (they were too far for my liking), I can’t say that I absolutely loved Sarahan. It was turning out to be a good and much needed mid-way stop though.
Moving back towards the temple complex, I turned left from the main road towards the market area and en-route reached a place that looked like the residence of someone important. There was a gathering in the front lawns – about two scores of people were sitting cross legged on the verdant green carpet. I pussyfooted around the premises, a bit wary of attracting attention. In a few minutes, the crowds dispersed and I walked inside via the main driveway.
It was an imposing building that attempted to ape something European with its gabled roof, excellent lattice work in the panels, use of tinted glass and tall doorways. There were a few Nepali laborers to answer questions and they confirmed my suspicion – that this was indeed Srikhand View – the palace and home of the maharaja of bushahr. It was then that I noticed the two, very Indian, tiger statues on either side of the European style door.
I was not allowed to enter the building as the family still uses it as living quarters but I could walk around the lawns as I pleased.
And pleased I indeed was, with the view from the lawns. One could see another gabled, splendid house – which depending on who you believe – is either of the overseer (unlikely) or of the crown prince (a bit more likely). Best of all, I sprawled on the grass and got this view –
Also a view of a snow clad peak behind and the apple blossoms around is quite soothing. There was a single plume of clouds rising from behind the peak – much like a lost kid separated from the herd.
After some more loitering, very hungry (no lunch so far), and the sun going down the horizon, I walked back towards the market area, noticing but unable to photograph an oversized dog. The highlight of the day (apart from the chilling recounting of the method of human sacrifice by the priest), had to be the food served at Soni Bhojanalaya.
A young girl was running the place that time as her farther was away. She was a very good cook and made home style phulkas to go with the dishes. I ate well.
After a good night’s sleep and profuse usage of the hot water next morning, I was ready to go. Breakfast was again at Soni Bhojanalaya – almost all the shopkeepers from the shops around descend at this place for some chai and chat in the mornings.
This time, the girl’s brother was at the counter. After he finished unloading the sliced bread from the delivery van, he explained to me the differences between different regions of himachal based on how the kullu cap (the one he’s wearing) is worn – the position of the upturned flap is distinct in different parts. It was all too much for my little brain and I don’t recall a thing further of what he said.
My plan for the day was to get a bus to Jeori, another to Reckong Peo and the last one from there to Kalpa. From Sarahan to Jeori was no problem and I was down the hill by 11 am. However, the onward bus for Reckong peo didn’t leave until noon from what I recall so I was glad it finally did – whiling away time with a plate of pakodas. This worked well for me, not so much for the pakodas (they were eaten).
The scenery between Jeori and Peo would have been scenic at the time when multiple hydroelectric projects hadn’t made their appearance in the Sutlej valley. Now, at the start of the dry season, the river runs nearly dry and it gets quite dusty for the bus traveler.
To add to my woes, there was construction work at many places along this route – often related to the hydroelectric projects. The scale of these, given the width of the valley appears to be imposing.
Himalayas being young mountains, landslide and the resulting road repair is a perpetual exercise as seen below – captured as we ascended towards reckong peo at the final leg of this journey.
As we climbed higher, I looked down below at what is left behind when such developmental activities are undertaken in the high Himalayas – this bend of the road (at Powari) is now a veritable junkyard – there are broken trucks, dumpsters, empty oil cans, tyres and other assorted waste, just lying there, enclosed by a fence. It was a sad scene.
The ascent to Peo (as the district headquarters are called colloquially) was tricky to say the least, especially once when we had to backtrack on account of a backhoe blocking our way. We were literally inches away from the yellow monster and I must compliment the dexterity of the bus driver to get us up safely given that on the other side, the bus was very near the edge of the road (second shot below).
My lunch was at a small shop in the rekcong peo bus stand, a compact building opposite the post office of the town. A simple repast of rice, daal, kadhi and some beans. It was an indication of things to come. Food was to get progressively simpler over the next several days as I ascended higher, the climate colder, but the people – warmer and more hospitable.
At three thirty I was waiting across the road from Peo bus stand where the mini bus for Kalpa was said to pick up passengers. Clouds gathered and it started drizzling.
For fifteen minutes, nothing happened. A group of school boys walked past and upon inquiry, said, there are no more buses up to kalpa today. I had been told otherwise by the bus stand shop owner. When you’re up in the hills, after five hours in ordinary buses, and the weather closes in and you have nowhere to go, fifteen minutes is a long time.
I saw two people leaving the post office and as I said ‘namaste’ I found a face that seemed trustworthy. Sometimes it happens, you know, in an unknown place, an absolute stranger strikes you as someone who knows what he’s talking about – someone who’s been there longer than the rest, before the surrounding world made rapid strides and dust started rising.
He was clear, ‘you please wait here, there is at-least one more bus at four PM. Anyways, there are hotels down the road. In the worst case, I am here.’
So I waited.