Drive to Dharamsala
That was not the first time for me when I travelled on that road, but defiantly that was the first time when I enjoyed that luxury. A car was sent from Dharamsala to pick me. They think that I am important or they are trying to make me feel important.
Shammi, the driver, telephoned me to inform that he was already in shimla and would be reaching me by 10.
‘That’s fine’ I said and waited for Shammi.
I didn’t know that it was going to be a bit of adventurous trip. The first indication of adventure I found was when I saw no seat belts in the car.
‘The clip broke soon so I cut the strap off’ said Shammi.
‘But this is not safe to drive without the belts. What do you do in case of accident?’ I surprised.
‘Well they are still thinking if they should make it necessary for the motorists, in the hills, to wear seatbelt or not. Because in case of accident if the car rolls down the ‘khud’, one cannot jump out of the car, if he is wearing the belt’.
I can see the logic behind it but what about those who collide against the hillside or to the other vehicles.
Shammi drove with his one hand on the steering wheel and other on the gear leaver. His feet worked very well to control the speed. The way he controlled the steering wheel on the winding road kept me encouraging to look at him from the core of my eyes.
‘How long have you been driving, Shammi?’ I asked him to pull his attention. I thought that he would slow down a bit, but keeping his eyes on the road he replied, ‘it is almost three years now’.
‘What? Only three?’
‘Yes’ he nodded with a smile.
‘And you have perfected yourself to drive with one hand?’
‘These modern vehicles are very well designed. They have a good control on them’ he replied with a great confidence.
On the Road
On the bumpy and winding road we passed villages, forests, hamlets, meadows, valleys and a barefooted sadhu heading towards an unknown destination. Sadhu – a man who has said good bye to the world to live his life in solitude and survive only on begging. He forgets his family, his parents, his friends and decides to live away from the materialistic world. They believe that nothing in this world belongs to you. Today it is yours but tomorrow it will go to someone else. So it is important to have no affection to anyone or to anything.
A good way to live – No?
It was fun to see a family of five members – husband as driver his wife with her one child in the middle of her and her husband, another boy sitting behind her and the third one in front of her father, on the fuel tank, none with helmet on. In addition to that they also had travelling bag hanging to the rear of the vehicle. Poor bike had to carry so much of load. It must be coursing its seller. In my mind I appreciated the man who carried his entire family on a two wheeler. Although it was a big risk for all of them but what else better could he do to manage his pocket and still give them a fun ride. Enjoying motorbike as their tiny car.
The immense number of lorries near and around Shalaghat – the cement factory, can be considered as patrolling traffic police party as because of them the traffic on the road remains regulated, but otherwise the eager drivers overtake the vehicles and keep others attentive with their honks. At one place when Shammi tried to overtake a bus, another jeep, behind us tried to overtake us. That made Shammi upset and he pressed the accelerator paddle little more. The jeep driver could not bear the insult and rather sped up. From the opposite side a motorcyclist, who perhaps was more skillful than Shammi and the Jeep driver, rushed through between the two vehicles. Shammi, in order to provide him more space and to save him, moved a bit to the left and the jeep driver found a chance to speed up. A sudden break applied to the car by Shammi threw me forward hitting my head to the dashboard.
Shammi had to slow down and move to the left abusing the motor cyclist.
‘Are you ok?’ asked Shammi.
‘Yes. Weldon’ I replied rubbing my forehead. ‘You must control yourself. You are going very fast’.
‘I controlled myself otherwise that bloody jeep driver had no chance to overtake me’.
‘We are not in hurry and this is not a race course and you are not a jockey’.
After this he controlled himself but still at many other chances Shammi had to exhibit his skills by managing the car when some cattle or a mule came on the road and started walking without caring for the traffic.
On the way to Jukhala, a small village, we noticed no movement on the road and that boosted Shammi’s comfort level of driving. It alerted him when suddenly two mules appeared from the shrubs on the road side and started walking in the middle of the motorway. Their sudden appearance forced Shammi to remove his hand from the gear leaver and hold the steering wheel in a proper manner. He had to press the break paddle and move to the left to escape them. A jerk threw me towards Shammi who was still trying to bring him back to his normal situation with an abuse. I turned around to look at the mules being driven by their owner. All of them, the animals and the man, walked unaware of the puzzle they had given us.
I suggested to stop at ‘Ekant Vatika’ – a lovely dhaba on the roadside, built on a mound, offering the aerial view of the valley. This place is a lovely creation of a villager who perhaps inherited this small piece of land from his father, created a small eating joint for the travellers and found survival for himself and his family. His idea of creating a lovely spot with the basic material such as bamboos and tarpaulin sheets earned him a great success and raised a competition for the other restaurants in the vicinity, claiming to be offering a better quality. Since the area provides a solitude for the rushing drivers and the passengers he named it ‘Ekant Vatika’ – An isolated retreat. The owner does not like any lorry drivers to stop there and neither he likes any regular busses to halt and bring the passengers. Only a few people love to stop there, those who are looking for a simple food and a solitude.
The leaves of eucalyptus trees rattle with the waves of cool breeze here. A few birds, tweet on the trees. The ground around the structure had not artificial cover. Patches of natural grass can be seen covering the soil. At one side they have created toilets for the travelers and on the other side a small area with string cots and lower tables between them has been crated as a dining hall. In this atmosphere, old tunes, being played on a tape-recorder, from Bollywood movies freshen up your mind.
A young boy from the kitchen comes out and asks what you want to have. The order is taken to the kitchen and by the time you sit to be with yourself, the boy arrives with your meal, nicely prepared dal, sabzi, roti some rice, some salad and a cool glass of water, smells like cooked at home. His smile increases your appetite. A cup of masala chai after the meal could be the best option.
At the End
After that delicious meal we set off again. The food made me dozed a bit and when I got up, it It was only a few kilometers before we entered the city of Dharamsala I noticed Shammi struggling with the accelerator paddle and also the steering wheel. I looked at him.
Suddenly, he stopped the car and moved out to open the bonnet. After going through some inspection of the engine he declared to me that the battery is not working and the alma-meter has completed its life. Now the car could not move even an inch.
‘Can I push it? Perhaps it starts’ I suggested.
‘Yes, let us try that’ he said and entered the vehicle to control the steering wheel. It was a gentle downhill slope so was easy for me to push it, but after going through a few meters and a struggle-full push, it failed to start.
Shammi came out of the car and said, ‘I will have to come back here tomorrow morning with the mechanic’
‘Here? But how do we go now?’ I surprised at him.
After a short discussion, both of us decided to move the car to the road side. Shammi locked it, we took our luggage and walked to the nearby bus station to take a public bus to Dharamsala.