While waiting at the ITI Bridge for my AirB&B host to receive me , I notice the river on which the bridge stands is overflowing its banks. A lone egret sits on a large stone trying to see if it can manage any breakfast. It is evident that it has rained all night in Dharamshala. Soon Puneet arrives in his Yezdi motorcycle. We recognise each other instantly as we have been in touch on Whatsapp. He asks me to hop on, and we drive into a narrow road leading to his home. We pass by a stream and wheat fields and arrive at his gate. Ranjana has kept my room ready and asks me to freshen up as she gets me a cup of tea. The place is the same as shown in the photos on the website, except for one thing. The mighty Dhauladhars which are right behind the house are covered in a thick mist. My heart sinks but I try to keep a brave face.
Let me tell you about the Thakur family I am staying with. Puneet and Ranjana live here with Puneet’s parents and his sister. They have a three year old little boy, Addi. Puneet’s sister is married to an army soldier who is posted in Siachen. She stays with her parents with her son Arkit who is six years old and he goes to school in Dharamshala. They are a Himachali family and have been living here for the last 40 years. Puneet’s father is a retired school teacher. His sister teaches history at a nearby school. Puneet and Ranjana run a showroom of Himachali handicrafts in Dari. Renting out a room on AirB&B was Ranjana’s idea. The couple have travelled abroad and stayed at such homestays and decided to register themselves on the site too.
The room is just right for two occupants. A spacious double bed with a comfortable mattress, warm mink blanket and crisp clean sheets occupies central place. There is a small wardrobe into which all my clothes and backpack fit in. A flat screen TV sits on top of it with Tata Sky service. A yoga mat is placed in the little space in front of it. There are enough plug points for phone, camera and mosquito repellent. The washroom is just outside the door and the bathing space is shared, but I do not mind that. Everything is sparkling clean. It costs me Rs. 700 per night, breakfast included (yummy authentic Himachali brekies!!)
The entire family makes me feel welcome and more like one of them. Auntije feeds me the delicious food, Uncleji gives me all the information I need, Paro (Puneet’s sister) and Ranjana chat with me in the mornings, before I leave for my solitary sojourns and they for work. The kids are just adorable and so well mannered. Every morning before I leave, Puneet asks me about my plans for the day and reminds me that if I ever need him, he is just a phone call away. He draws me a map of all the places I intend to visit. What more can one ask for?
The house stands in the middle of a wheat field. The view from the terrace is breathtaking. My window looks out to the garden which is full of vegetables, a walnut tree and beautiful flowers. Ranjana takes me to the terrace and shows me Mcleodganj, up in the hills, covered in mist.
After a much needed nap, I check on Anju to find out if she is ok. I text her on Whatsapp and she replies promptly that all is well. I set off for Mcleodganj for the day. I return to the homestay before dusk, and just in time as it starts raining heavily as soon as I arrive. It rains heavily throughout the night. I leave the main door open and shut just the net screen door. As the heavens pour itself out outside my door, I sit down and meditate. I lose track of time. For some time I experience the peace I am parched for. The rain drenches my soul and I sleep like a baby for the rest of the night.