“When my husband died, my daughter was nine and my son was only two years old. I was all alone in this mountain town. I was afraid, what will I eat, how will I live, how will I survive? My husband was a mechanic; he died with almost no savings. I started working as a housekeeper in a local hotel. But I have never left my hope. I firmly believed that we were just an instrument of god. Our future is unknown to us. Only one thing we can do and that is hard work.”
The bad time
I am sure that while reading the first paragraph you have thought that this is a philosophical article. But that is not the case. Let me give you a perspective of this tale. The time was September end. I was about to leave for Leh and Ladakh trip from Manali. But this time luck was not with me. From the day I arrived at Manali; entire Himachal Pradesh was facing massive rainfall. Even at that time Leh was also witnessing heavy rainfall. The river Beas a sweet picturesque blue coloured river had turned to a furious muddy distractive river.
Rain continues for three days. In this time the ‘furious’ Beas had made many serious damages to Manali and surrounding places like Kullu, Manikaran, Chamba etc. Leh Manali highway was completely devastated; in front of my eyes, I have seen collapsing of a bridge. The two-way highway had become one way because one side had washed away by the river. More than ten people had died around the valley. Even the main lifeline the ‘Chandigarh – Manali highway’ was blocked. Manali was then an isolated valley.
“I am actually from Orissa; I have stayed for a few years in Bengal as well. But for last fifteen years, Manali is my hometown”. Kalpana aunty was chatting with me while making a cup of hot milk tea. This is the second day that I am visiting her small shop. You can find many things in her little shop. Though her main business is selling vegetables but many common items starting from chips to carrot, water to washing powder are available in her shop. Her small shop is just a few metres away from the starting point of Leh Manali highway. Like the previous day I came to this place for searching updates of Leh route opening. But I was disappointed; there was no hope left for opening the highway at least for a week.
Aunty again started saying “I took a loan of INR 2000/- from a relative to buy this shop, but I needed more money to buy things. So I again borrowed INR 300/- from a hotel manager and started my shop”. While my travel and trek to Himalaya, I have faced many adverse situations. But this one was different. Entire world had seen how a big Volvo bus was swallowed by the river Beas. Many roads were blocked, bridges damaged. People were stuck in mountains for massive snowfall. Even the temperature of Manali had fallen quite a bit. Surrounding local peaks had turned into snow clad mountains.
According to locals they had not seen such snow clad mountains in the month of September for last many years. Those who have travelled Leh they can understand how much money and preparations are required for Leh travelling. Thus, I was completely heartbroken. Local police office had confirmed that there is no hope to travel Leh Manali highway at least for next 7-10 days. Hence the only option left for me was to ‘retreat’.
“Local people love me; they always buy vegetables from my shop. I know I don’t make much money but I am the owner of my life. When my husband died, my relatives told me to return to my native place. But I did not, as I always wanted to be an independent woman. I am now close to forty. My daughter has completed university study and my son is now studying in a good boarding school. I have seen many ups and downs in my life, but I have never lost my hope.” I had finished my tea. It was really an awesome tea. I requested for another cup.
Time was changing
My mood was completely off before coming here. I was constantly cursing my luck for this awful experience. But after our short chat; I came to reality again. She was correct, I thought – ups and downs are the part of the life. Today Beas is still looking furious and muddy, but after a few days, it will again transform to its own beautiful form. I had finished my second cup. Few locals had entered the shop for buying some vegetables. It was time to return to my hotel.
“Because ultimately nothing belongs to us, one day we all will die leaving everything aside in this beautiful earth.” She was correct the evening sky was looking gorgeous. There was no impression of the previous distraction. I stepped out from her shop. Even after my repeated attempt, she refused to take the price of my tea. I accepted her generous gift.
Even after 36 hours, the electricity was still not restored. But surprisingly Kalpana aunty was not at all worried with this ‘simple’ problem. Slowly the area was slowly engulfed in the darkness of night. I pulled the chain of my jacket and then started walking in the dark…