1st July 2017, Saturday………Day (2) Urla (Jogindernagar) to Shangarh 122 km
Got up at 6am morning at Urla (Jogindernagar).
The sweet babbling sound of River Uhl flowing merrily in the deep valley below was comlelmented by the rhythmic chorus of cheerfully singing birds which was getting broken by the occasional passing of vehicles. Despite being the National Highway, the place was more in harmony with nature than the usual chaos of city life.
As usual, the early morning drive till Mandi was a sheer joy. Since the air conditioner of the car was not working, I kept the windows of the car down letting the cool scented mountain breeze hit the face and body.
Traffic was scant and the landscape around stunning. Weather was clear and Sun was out shining the surroundings with his glow.
Soon I reached Mandi, parked the car on a side and walked on the 1877 built charming Victoria Bridge. River Beas was in full spate and flowing underneath, in full glory.
With the furiously flowing River Beas and glorious morning Sunshine and countless temples in view, Mandi town looked fabulous.
Could not stay in Mandi for long though. Despite the beautiful sparkling landscape, too much traffic and chaos pushed me ahead sooner than I was planning too. Although the road all the way till Aut tunnel was good, the hot Sun, air conditioner not working and the traffic did not let me enjoy the drive.
Crossed the tunnel and withdrew a part of pension (being the 1st day of the month, pension day) from PNB ATM, returned back through the tunnel and turned towards Sainj and Tirthan Valleys.
Did not enjoy meat chawal/meat chapati at Larji as much as I usually do and then turned left on a 26 kilometer road towards Sainj/Neuli and Shangarh. The road to the right goes towards Tirthan Valley/Jalori Pass.
The initial part of the drive ran along the River Sainj and was butter smooth and pleasure to drive. After about 15 kilometers, crossing the busy town Sainj, the road became potholed and bumpy till Ropa.
The last seven kilometers of the road from Ropa to Shangarh was a real test. The road was all gravel, potholed, had loose stones, slippery and full of slush. The steep unpaved kutcha road was opened just six months ago by the Honorable Chief Minister of the state and got deteriorated during the recent rains.
A taxi driver on the return journey from shangarh advised me to return back as there were chances of car stucking in the slush.
I, though, continued hoping to get through and in any case return back if the situation so warranted. The drive became very rough 2 kilometers before Shangarh when my car barely made through the deep slush. I seriously thought of returning back when a roadside worker encouraged me to continue as he felt I would make it.
Somehow I made it to Shangarh, parked the car in the parking near the meadow and went walking into the large grassy ground. The ground was stunningly beautiful as recent rains had left it lush green.
It felt as if Nature had spread lush green carpet in the large ground. Although the mountains around were partially hidden in the clouds, yet I could guess their grandeur.
Nobody was there in the meadow at that time except a couple of fearsome stray dogs. I was eagerly wanting to meet someone to know more about the place, places to stay and eat.
Suddenly I noticing an old man arriving in the meadow, asked him for places to stay and eat. With little hesitation the old man pointed a finger towards a place up in the village which was still under construction.
With some difficulty I drove through the slush to the place up in the village and was gladly greeted by a young man, Ravi, who happened to be my facebook friend and recognised my Lalpari. Ravi called his father Ghoongru Mal, the ex pradhan of the village, who happened to be a very lean and agile young man himself.
I told Ghoongru Mal that I wish to stay inside the car if situation permitted so. He happily offered me to park my car inside the compound of his homestay, use bathroom and toilet of the homestay and anything else if I needed. I requested him to arrange dinner for me in the evening, to which he happily agreed.
After a cup of tea with Ravi and Ghoongru Mal, I drove back to Shangarh meadow, parked the car in the parking especially built for tourist vehicles and went walking in the meadow.
There were few people around in the meadow this time. Besides some locals a few picnickers and tourists were walking and clicking pictures in the meadow. The atmosphere in the meadow was much livelier than the one I saw in the morning.
I was told me that due to recent rains, the road had got damaged, resulting in lower attendance at the meadow otherwise 200-300 people visit the place daily during summers.
I felt very good and decided to have a walk around the meadow. There were three temples in the meadow, first one was near the car parking, the second one near the pedestal path and third, the most beautiful one, at the far end of the meadow.
A specific area was marked with red flags and a sign board hung there warned everyone not to tread on the area earmarked for the devta, otherwise a fine of Rs.10000- will be imposed other than facing the wrath of the devta.
Some local men and women were seated together in the meadow and having nice time chatting while their cattle were grazing in the ground. One of the elder sitting amongst them invited me to sit with them and asked me from where I was and why I was there in Shangarh.
The elderly man, who told me that he was 90 years old, was a very jolly fella. He told me that he was happily married, has some money, land and looking for another ladi (wife) if someone suitable agrees in city.
I told him, yes, why not, there are so many available if he was willing to serve them, cook food for them, take them for shopping and fulfil all their desires. To which the old man jokingly replied, na baba na mai ese hee khush hun (No, no I am happy the way I am).
While the women amongst the group giggled, the old man sang a very famous hindi song;
प्यार किया तो डरना क्या जब प्यार किया तो डरना क्या
प्यार किया कोई चोरी नहीं की प्यार किया…
(When in love, why fear, it’s just love not any theft, so why fear)
It was such fun meeting the old man, he had such an amazing attitude. While most of the men of his age crib about life and everything, he made light of everything around.
The old man advised me to visit the temple in the village. A beautiful path from the ground lead to a small cluster of homes where lied this beautifully carved newly built temple.
The temple was surrounded by number of fruit bearing trees. A small stream ran near the temple. The doors of the temple were closed and a woman nearby told me that the priest had gone somewhere, would come and open the doors after he arrives.
After a while, I returned back to the meadow and rested for some time. It felt so good lying there, in the beautiful carpeted grass, on my back, gazing at the vast partially clouded blue sky.
It was such a joy. I sat there, lost, for over an hour when a group of curious young boys arrived and asked from where I was, why I was there, who told me to be there and why was I solo.
As the day went by, the atmosphere at the ground became livelier and livelier. Everyone around looked so happy and joy filled, men, women, children, young and elderly all alike. The cows, dogs, sheep and even the stray monkeys were enjoying, it was such a jocund atmosphere, hard to find anywhere else.
A group of women became friendly and asked me to click their pictures with their pet calf, cow and sheep. Almost all of them offered me to visit their homes and eat something. It felt so good being among some of the most beautiful hearted people.
The school bell rang and the children of the village came running into the ground. The environment around lit up, even the lazy dogs became agile and started playing with the children.
I stayed there in the ground till late hours, till almost everyone had gone to their homes. Slowly I walked back to where my car was parked and drove back to Ghoongru Mal’s homestay up in the village.
A family in Shangarh had invited devta to his home for some occasion, Ghoongru Mal and his wife had gone there to participate in the program. But before leaving Ghoongru Mal’s wife had cooked meals for me. Ravi lovingly served homely cooked food in the evening, such a good feeling.
Thanked Ravi, brushed, changed clothes and went inside the car parked in the compound of Divine Land Homestay Shangarh and had fabulous sleep, the first in Shangarh………!!!