Me: I need a bus that can take me to Manali
Him: When? How many people ?
M: Today evening. Just one !
H: All we have is air conditioned Volvo, 1000 rupees please.
M: Well since its the height of winter I don't think I need a Volvo. Don't you have anything that's semi decent, not infested with roddens or bed bugs but with good seats?
H: Sorry bhaiya, only Volvo. But for you special price, 800/-. smooth ride, nice springs !
M: OK dude so long then !
M makes a calculated half turn of the body with intense disinterest and contempt for Volvo written all over face.
H: Wait wait. What is your budget?
H chokes on his paan and starts laughing.
M turns and walk out of the door.
H comes out of the door and literally shouts.
H: I give you for 550.
M: I know, I'm just going to the ATM for the cash.
Sandwiched between honeymooners whispering sweet nothings I feel left out, big time. The Volvo is definitely comfortable the only minus point being a Bollywood slapstick playing that nobody seems to be interested in watching. When I open my eyes in the morning everything's white. 6 feet of snow in 2 days, the heaviest this winter in Manali, I learn later. Good news for skiing but not so for road transport. The bus drops everyone off 6 km before Manali from where we pay exorbitant rates to taxi wallas to get to Manali. En route there's a landslide and I am forced to trek 6 km to the mountaineering institute.
My Nike football boots have behaved reasonably well in the snow. Just as i am sniggering at the poor bastards with heavy winter boots, I am suddenly contemplating the magnifecence of the azure blue sky. I have just had the most perfect bum fall ever. Apart from a couple of local teenage girls giggling and a man as usual shouting to be careful after the incident, its not been a major embarrassment.
I'm the first one to arrive at the mountaineering institute. There has been no electricity for 3 days and there will be no heating in the building during the day time, I'm told. But I'm upbeat. I've had a dog follow me all the way in Manali, a scene identical to my departure from here 2 years back.
I take it as a very good omen. I just love the snow although it's bone chillingly cold inside the institute. The next day we are to be transported to our destination 12 km uphill. There are 20 of us for the starter course. At dinner i meet a Japanese guy and after just a few minutes i can sense he's a traveller. It's a gut feeling that ive seldom been wrong about. I find him interesting and soon we're chatting away like two good friends meeting after a long time. His English is surprisingly good for a Japanese guy. Our conversation is soon interrupted.
'Are you Japanese ?'
Various people at different places have thought me to be from India, Portugal, Sri Lanka, Brazil but never from Japan. Has the cold flattened my features a bit? The questioner is undoubtedly pretty wearing a baseball cap and track suit.
I recover quickly from the shock of a never before asked question and unexpectedly seeing a woman in a room full of men.
'Yes im from Osaka', i say in all seriousness.
She takes a moment to digest that along with her roti but is soon on her way.
The transport that was promised the next day did not materialize. So we set off on foot carrying 20 kg rucksacks. The pace was fast and there was little time to admire the scenery. The snow and the distance meant that my Nike just couldn't do it anymore ! Boy was i ill prepared for this trip ! With wet socks and layers of clothes soaked in perspiration I literally crawl into the skiing center.