The local bus from Nagar takes a lovely route along the edge of the Kullu valley to Vashisht. And the onboard entertainment was a video of Kullu folk music (which has no relationship to Bollywood), women in traditional dress singing and line dancing to horns and drums. It was so reminiscent of the Berbers in the High Atlas of Morocco; not only the music, but the dancing and traditional dress was similar.
Vashisht has evolved from a rustic village with hot springs across the Beas river from Manali, to what now seems like a second Rishikesh. Always a hangout of pot heads and would be mountain climbers, today there’s a throng of young people in denim or cotton floral shorts and hiking boots, dreadlocks and tattoos….and still a few aged travelers like ourselves. There’s also more Indian tourists than ever, although most come for the day and retire to Manali at night. The season’s already underway and our hotel from two years ago was full. So were the surrounding hotels, or a too high climb up the mountainside for our liking. After almost two hours traipsing around the narrow lanes, climbing up and down, Gerard finally found us a good replacement, right in the old village. While I had sat comfortably in the sun guarding our baggage. Tough job but somebody has to do it! Four floors up via an external circular staircase, the room has a great view of the mountains, afternoon sun, solar heated water that so far hasn’t let us down, and breakfast on the roof. Some of these new buildings still maintain the custom of livestock on the ground floor, our hotel is no exception. I like to stroke the cow’s forehead on our way out.
This year, our journey around India is less adventurous, returning to our favorite spots, at each location, greeted by a warm welcome. Although this is our third visit to Vashisht, we didn’t expect that to happen here. When we walked up the steep narrow wooden ladder and over the threshold of the Rangoli restaurant, not only the owner, but also his wife and adult son spontaneously greeted us with beaming faces and namaste. Two years had gone by since they’d seen us. Gerard asked him, “You have so many tourists coming in here all the time, how do you remember us? He pointed at me and said, “Your wife, Sir!” Gerard responded, “She’s made an impression on me too!”
The food is even better than before and after nearly a month of repetitive thali, we’re happy to deviate with Mexican enchiladas, Middle Eastern humus, falafel and a roasted eggplant that tastes out of this world! Similar to a Turkish dish, İmam bayıldı (Imam fainted) at a Boston restaurant, so called because the Imam swooned with pleasure at the flavor when presented with this dish by his wife!
There are plenty of walks in the countryside surrounding Vashisht. On a picture perfect sunny day, we retraced a route we’d taken with our American friend, Peter, two years ago. We crossed over the Beas on a rickety wooden bridge and walked up into a small hamlet of old houses where life hasn’t changed.
An old lady sitting on the porch greeted us. She even smiled for a picture and then went into the house, returning with a handful of apples she insisted on us taking. The apples from last year’s harvest looked wizened. I was ready to give them to the cows till we sampled one. It was surprisingly good. Following the river down toward Manali, we stopped for lunch and a little shopping. Among crowded lanes that again were reminiscent of a Moroccan medina we found a friendly grocer who helped us buy spices for an Ayurvedic remedy; then took a rickshaw back up to Vashisht.
After several days of sunshine, snow is melting and waterfalls gushing down the mountainside. Yesterday, we took the 30 minute walk to the largest and most dramatic. The air was so clear, the mountains looked like cut outs pasted on to the blue sky.
Following a lane beside apple orchards and up into a wooded area, we came across a young man from Rajasthan selling unusual colored stones he’s set in necklaces, and other small treasures. After making a purchase, Gerard in his usual fashion got into a long conversation while I watched well dressed traipsed by in their flimsy shoes.
The waterfall is another ten minute climb. Local boys splashed in the cold water and, more fascinating, little birds actually swam and then dove under.
This morning we woke up to a grey sky. Three days of clouds and showers are forecast. We’re not too bothered; we’ve had four perfect days in the mountains. But things have changed. The temperature has dropped 20 degrees (F). Looking down on the houses below our room the color has gone. The wood and stone is grey and cold. The women are still washing clothes at the spring, laughing and chatting as they work – but they’re not laying the colorful fabric out to dry on their roofs. How will they dry their clothes? At the foot of the stairs, heat radiates from the room with the cows. I understand now why the old houses are built with room for livestock to live beneath.
Hurrying down to the German bakery before it starts raining, we drink chai and chat with the other tourists. No one is eager to move. A Russian has just arrived on the night bus from Varanasi with a ridiculously heavy bag of books. He likes art and bought 20 kilos of art books in Varanasi. Plenty of reading for the next four months he plans to stay in Vashisht! Gerard asked if he knew Roerich and of course, he did and has visited Nagar many times to see the paintings. He was slightly chagrined, admitting that the largest collection of Roerich’s paintings are in NYC.
The subject of staying in the present is a repeated topic of conversation for us. Here, amongst the dramatic mountains, it’s a little easier. Their power has a calming effect on the busy mind. It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re shrouded in clouds or crystal clear against the blue sky. We are grateful to be here.