When I boarded the bus there were only a few passengers in it. I asked one of them when the bus would start and he said, ‘in ten minutes’ I put my bag on the floor of the bus near my legs. After a few minutes someone outside, perhaps he was the conductor of the bus, blew a whistle and the next moment I saw many hill people rushing towards the bus. The door was pulled opened and ladies, children, old men, young men, young girls – all of them began to enter the bus. They had appeared out of the blue and invaded bus to grab a seat, gently. Suddenly the bus was full of people. All of them, in their traditional attire, ornaments and warm clothes were ready to ride to their respective villages in the hills.
Aut is a small village on the National highway, at the bank of river Beas, at the end of the valley called Tirthan. River Tirthan confluences here with river Beas that flows further to the plains of northern India. Till a few years ago Aut was a sleepy village but in the recent years some signs of development have crawled in resulting into some new shops and arrival of some people from the surrounding areas. At that time, everyone had to cross rive Beas over a bridge to enter Tirthan valley but now a newly built 3 kilometres long tunnel through the mountain has made the journey longer.
People are still arriving and trying to find a place in the bus but all the seats are full now. Some decide to keep standing through out the journey and they hold the iron bar fitted against the ceiling of the bus and take support of the backrests of the seats. They talk to each other in their native language. Most of them are from the same village or from the villages in the vicinity. They understand each other very well and also help each other in every manner. Some even accommodate their friends and relatives on their seats. Where there can only be three people on one long seat, they just move a bit to create space for their friends and four or sometimes even five also get accommodated.
The Bus Moves
The driver enters the bus, occupies his seat and presses the start button. The engine roars and a young boy arrives near the driver’s window and asks him if the bus would go to Kullu. The driver refuses. Another one peeps into the bus to look for a seat and asks the conductor if the bus is going to Bahoo, a small village in the valley. The conductor nods his head, asks him to get in soon and gets busy in adjusting people to create some more space for the new comer.
Another one arrives with a big size sack. He opens the door and places the sack it on the floor of the bus near the gate. This shortens the space and creates some trouble for those who are standing, but they don’t mind. They move a bit and stick to each other.
The bus starts and moves to its destination. It takes the driver some time to drive through the crowded bazaar but soon it comes on a smooth road. I am fascinated by a beautiful Himalayan bell who had asked me to allow her to have the window seat. I did not want to move but her request melted by heart and I move to my left creating space for her. She comes and sits next to me, always looking out and enjoying the view of the valley. The journey on this hilly road is full of adventure. The mild flow of River Tirthan, to the left and narrow & curvy road adds a charm to the journey. Sometime the challenge comes for the driver when some other vehicle comes from the opposite direction. But his expertise in driving on these hilly roads provide immense amount of confidence to the passengers and they are not worried at all. They are curious to know how the driver manages on the narrow part of the road as sometimes, with the help of the conductor he has to reverse the vehicle. The conductor take care of the right side and with the blow of his whistle he keeps informing the driver and the driver looks at the rear view mirror while reversing.
The local songs being played on the record player keep everyone fresh and easy. Sung in a modern style with the modern musical instruments, the songs have much noise than the traditional ones. But they have an enthral effect on the youth of the area. The noise does disturb me and obstructs me from enjoying the view outside but I have no other option. Most of the young girls and boys are busy on their smart phones or they have the ear-speakers attached to their ears and listing the songs.
The valley is known for its Hill architecture. most of the houses, built hundreds of years ago still stand, dominating the area and due to their architectural features reflect on the entire region. Built by all the material, stone and wood, obtained locally, the lower portion of the house generally is used for kettle or as a store for keeping wood & fodder and the upper floor that has more space is for the family to live in. The walls are covered with mud and these days also painted with lime water or different colours available in the bazaar. The style is named as ‘Kathkuny’. Kath – stands for wood and Kuny – carving. They provide a visual delight to the visitor and looking at them is an introduction to the architectural skills of the builders.
Finding Way to Jibhi
I am stuck between the beautiful bell to my right and a wrinkled face village woman to my left. The movement of the bus is like a cradle for her the old women and she starts dozing and leaning on me. This provides me a chance to lean to my right. I pretend as if I am trying to keep myself away from touching the girl but the movement of the bus and the pushes I receive from the old woman drive me closer to her. I am keen to open a conversation with her but she is constantly looking out. Suddenly the bus rolls over a hump on the road and the heavy jerk throws her towards me and I hold her arm.
‘Sorry’ I say.
‘Koi Baat Nahi – Its Ok’ she says with shy eyes.
I do not want to loose this chance and open up, ‘does this bus go to Jalori pass?’ I ask her.
‘No. It will turn right from Jibhi’, she replies.
‘How far is Jibhi?’ I try to behave like a new comer to this area.
‘Twenty Five kilometres’
‘Does the bus turn before Jibhi or after?’
She looks at me and asks with a great confidence,’Have you come here for the first time?’
‘Yes’ a lie, straightaway and trying to be innocent and unknown to the area.
‘Where exactly you have to go to?’
My friend runs a camping resort near Jibhi. I am going to stay with him’.
‘Ok. This bus will terminate at Banjar bus station and from there you have to take another bus to Bahoo. That will take you to Jibhi’.
‘How far is Jibhi from there?’ I still pretend to be anew comer to this area.
‘Five kilometres. After nearly a kilometre from Jibhi the road turns to Bahoo. You get off at the bifurcation and the campsite is there’.
‘Oh ok, thanks you. Are you from Jibhi? I want to continue talking to her.
‘Yes’ she smiles and starts looking away, out of the window.
‘So, will you take the same bus?’
She turn her head to me and looking straight into my eyes says, ‘No’, smiles and again starts looking away.
The bus moves on and takes the final turn to go through the busy street of Banjar Bazaar. The bazaar here is bigger than the Bazaar of Aut. The sudden arrival of new shopping arcades full of new arrivals in the market have brought a dramatic change in the life. Most of the shopkeepers are from outside, the lower parts of the state of Himachal Pradesh and the buyers are from the surrounding villages. The area falls in the vicinity of Great Himalayan National Park and the valley has earned much fame due to this and Trout fish introduced by the British during the Raj. The entire belt is on the tourist trail, for the tourists who are interested in some sort of adventure.
The bus enters the bus station and stops. Once again the hustle begins. People start leaving their seats to head towards the exit gate. The conductor throws a reminder call for the passengers to leave their seats. The old woman with wrinkled face also gets up from the sleep.
I pick up my bag and wait for my turn to find space to move out. The old woman moves and I follow her. The bus station of Banjar as recently been moved to its present location. Originally, where there were handful of busses coming to and going out of Banjar, it used to be in the upper bazaar. A small area, an extended part of the road to its left had been designated as the bus terminus but as the population grew and the need of more busses arose, it was decided to move here. A plum orchard with nearly 500 trees was destroyed to provide space for the bus terminus. Once upon a time the owner of the land used to grow plum fruits on this land. When he was offered a handsome amount by the government, he decided to sell his orchard. Now he owns a big shop in the area where he sells items of daily need and also runs a tea shop. Some of his friends arrive every evening and they have a drinking session in his shop. Due to the fume emerging from buses he has become asthmatic. But he does not care as he has got money and he thinks that he can buy anything with money.
The crowd has dispersed. I look around to find the next bus for Jibhi. It is there in its bay. I look around once again, looking for the young girl and think where has that girl disappeared to? She is not around. Perhaps she has found her next bus to her village. I move towards the bus and enter it. I find that the girl has already grabbed the window seat and placed her bag next to her. On seeing me she picks up the bag and offers me the seat.
‘I knew that you would come so I saved this seat for you’.