“I’ll drive you up to Rumsu,” said Manju, the sweet young woman who serves us breakfast every day at the roadside restaurant she runs with her father and sister, and who we’ve known for many years. “If you take us up, we’ll walk back.”
Up the mountain side, Rumsu village soars 7,215 feet into the sky, and is primarily made up of buildings built in the traditional style. Only recently has the jarring effect of modern construction encroached on the pristine village.
After walking around Rumsu, we strolled through the countryside to the next village.
Looking for a landmark temple, we stopped beside a prettily painted house to ask directions. The girl spoke perfect English and directed us. “And how about a chai shop?” I asked, always looking for tea. “Why don’t you come and have tea here?” She didn’t need to repeat herself.
What followed is one of the reasons we love coming to India. As tea was served, her father emerged a gracious man, who’s recently retired and was visiting. We chatted in the garden for over an hour, Mohini is from Bangalore and after ten years at Jetpack (an Internet security co.) she decided to leave the business world, move to mountains and run a guesthouse, with trekking.
On hearing we intended to walk down to Naggar, they insisted dropping us on their way to Manali. Gerard happily accepted! With six of her friends, and her father, we squeezed into the car and bumped down the winding rough road to Naggar. By the time we finally reached the bottom I was glad of Gerard’s decision. How smoothly our visit to Rumsu worked out: we had a ride up and a lift back, saving Gerard from total exhaustion.
The weather forecast predicted several days of rain, making us question if and when we should continue further on to Vashist. Maybe a day trip would help us decide. It’s a wonderful bus ride along the side of the valley As we pulled into Manali, the throng of traffic and people was in sharp contrast to Naggar. The rickshaw drive up to Vashist was slow and tedious, the narrow road clogged with holiday makers.
Where the road ends at the temple, we were met by throngs, taking part in parading the local goddess. We’ve seen this ceremony many times and we still get caught up in the excitement.
We stayed in Vashist long enough to walk out to the waterfall—a beautiful path, winding below the mountains, through woods, and orchards—was so crowded with Indian tourists, we walked almost in a crocodile. That did it! We decided we were not going to stay in Vashist.
Back in town, we had a good meal at the restaurant that has been run forever by a husband and wife team. Gerard had a long conversation with their adult son, discussing the changes in Vashist and his experience during covid. Lockdown was only about a month and there was very little sickness. He attributed this at least in part to the local shaman walking around town chanting a mantra.
With all the walks in and around Naggar—down into the old village, up the mountain side to hidden temples, through forest and apple orchards in bloom—the decision to remain was easy. We have our comfortable room of many visits, with the Balla family and Manju and her sister Neetu serve us very good meals at their Sharma restaurant.
Waking up each day to a view of the snow capped mountains, I feel I could stay her forever. Or did, until the weather intervened and our stay ended with three days of continual rain!
A Russian woman appeared one day at breakfast in the restaurant, and she was more than willing to talk. Since we arrived in India, Gerard has wanted to have a conversation Russians, to get their perspective. But every attempt he made failed; they wouldn’t even make eye contact. Although Olga has lived outside Russia for many years, we were enthralled to listen to her stories of growing up in communist Russia and how people adjusted to the Soviet Union collapse. She admitted that she was not a typical Russian woman.
Soon we’ll be on the overnight bus back to Delhi, starting our return journey home. I thank my tour guide for another particularly good three and half months. The agenda included no new discoveries, but revisiting places we’ve grown to love. Familiarity meant less hassle and being able to maintain our daily meditation schedule, but yet there was always an element of fresh experience. We met old friends, and also made new ones. Four years older, we were both aware of changes in ourselves—physical limitations and contentment to stay put longer in one destination. But the biggest change is in our environment – India’s explosive population growth and related new building construction, traffic congestion and pollution, even in remoter locations. Time will tell if we’ll return.