The next leg of my journey from Delhi to Dharamshala is by a Volvo bus. I had booked my tickets online on a site called RedBus. This was my first time. It was as easy as buying a movie ticket online. But all the information provided with the ticket was my boarding point and time of departure! ISBT Kashmiri Gate is a huge place and hundreds of operators run their buses from there. I had no idea how to find my bus in that chaos! As I stood there looking confused, a kind gentleman informed me that all operators have a counter upstairs, and in my case, I should look for the Himachal Parivahancounter and ask them. With just 5 more minutes to departure time I frantically look for a way up and to my great relief, there is an escalator there!!(And it works!!)
The person at the counter informs me that my bus will arrive at Platform No. 21. So I rush down and quickly find it and wait patiently. Suddenly I am pushed from behind and turn around to see a young girl with a backpack. She immediately apologises and I nod to say that all is well. “Are you going to Dharamshala?’’she asks. I nod and smile. She stands beside me for some time and then proceeds to ask me if I am with anyone. I tell her I am traveling alone. “Is this your first solo trip?”, she asks. I answer in the affirmative and she gives me a high 5. From that moment on, there is unending chatter. Her name is Anju and she is 23. She is an RJ with a famous FM Radio channel and is from Bhopal. Her reasons for taking this trip are a lot like mine. However, there is one major difference. What I am doing at almost 50, Anju is doing at 23. My country is definitely changing!
The bus arrives on time and we manage to sit together and talk about umpteen issues, our lives, our families and ….food! Turns out, Anju is a foodie too and we watch similar cookery channels and follow the same chefs. Soon the bus passes through Murthal and we are reminded of the troubled times during the Jat agitation and the crimes committed there that are still unaddressed.
The bus stops at a roadside eatery at about midnight and we have no idea how so much time has passed by. The eatery is outside a water amusement park and place looks eerie in the night light. We quickly finish our meal and head back to our bus and the journey continues. As we cross Chandigarh and Una, the roads start winding up the hills, taking us to our destination.
Anju has a rough time on those winding roads. My heart goes out to her, but there is nothing much I can do. To get to the lofty Himalayas, we have to take winding, narrow roads. Both of us hardly get any sleep that night.
We arrive early morning at the Dharamshala bus stand. Anju takes the same bus all the way to Mcleodganj. We exchange cellphone numbers and part ways, hoping our paths will cross somewhere in the coming days.
As advised by my host, I ask around for a bus to Dari. A girl who was on the same bus with us from Delhi tells me she is going the same way and while she goes and finds out about our next ride, I can sit and wait. She smiles warmly and tells me her name is Poonam. She works in Delhi and this is her hometown. So I am a guest in her home and this is the least she can do for me. (This is how people are in Himachal!) Soon we find a bus and she sees me off at the ITI bridge in Dari, where my host is supposed to pick me up. Poonam insists on paying my fare. She helps me off the bus and waves goodbye. I will probably never see her again, but I will never forget her lovely face and her kind heart.