New Year’s Eve at Raju’s Guesthouse (Gushaini Cottage)
ਸਤਿ ਸ਼੍ਰੀ ਅਕਾਲ Sat Sri Akal,
Too be honest I was not thrilled about spending the holidays in India. Many of the other Fulbright Scholars went back to America for Christmas and New Year’s. I decided to stay in India to avoid spending $1600 on a roundtrip flight to America. However, I am so glad I appeased my spendthrift tendencies. Even though this past holiday season was different from the way I traditionally celebrate, it may have been my best yet.
This year I tried to share the Christmas spirit with my roommates, Pavinder and Pankaj Singh. The media in Northern India forcefully pushes the importance of Christmas to boost consumer spending. India is already the country with the highest number of national holidays in the world (over 20 national holidays), but local shop keepers and government offices are always eager to add more holidays to the roster. Many families in Northern India have either directly experienced Christmas in a foreign country or have observed the Christmas traditions through the media. In the days leading up to Christmas, Parvinder’s little cousin, Kanan, said that she wanted a Christmas tree. Since Parvinder’s family is Hindu, they had never celebrated Christmas before with a Christmas tree. Upon receiving the request, I immediately devised an ingenious plan to build a DIY Christmas tree from recycled cardboard and surprise Kanan with it.
These are my roommates unwrapping presents during their first Christmas ever.
Since I did not travel anywhere for Christmas, I decided to visit the Himalayas for New Year’s. Parvinder and I went to Tirthan Valley which is located about 240 km or 8 hours by bus from Chandigarh. Unfortunately, during the bus ride to Tirthan Valley, Parvinder’s laptop was stolen.
In a town called Bilaspur, the bus driver stopped at a dhaba (restaurant) to let passengers use the restrooms and buy snacks. Parvinder immediately stood up to rush off the bus and stretch his legs. I remained seated.
Parvinder motioned for me to get off the bus, “Come on,” he said.
“No thanks ji, I will stay here and watch our stuff.” I answered.
Determined to get me off the bus, Parvinder laughed, “Pagal, no one will touch our stuff.”
I was still hesitant to get off the bus. Ever since the day I was pick-pocketed while riding a bus in Costa Rica, I have been extra precautious while traveling. However, considering that Parvinder is an Indian man from Himachal Pradesh, I figured he must know what he is talking about. Eventually, I yielded to his request and stood up, but I made sure to bring all of my valuables with me, including my brand new Nikon D5100 SLR camera. We walked around nonchalantly, looking at this and looking at that. Little did we know a thief was lurking in the background and searching for unsuspecting tourists. When we got back on the bus, I fell asleep. It was not until much later that Parvinder realized his laptop was missing, and by that time it was too late to do anything. He called the police but unsurprisingly they were of no help.
Although the journey began on a sour note, it was still one of the best trips of my life. I had made arrangements for Parvinder and I to stay at a very famous guesthouse located in the Himalayas called the Gushaini Cottage, or better known by the locals as Raju’s Guesthouse. This guesthouse is so famous, that too ensure availability it must be booked three or four months in advance. Upon getting off the bus in Aut, Himachal Pradesh, Raju himself picked us up in his Bolero. We drove an additional 40 km north to the remote location of his house. The sun was setting but we could still see beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks in the far distance. Raju’s Guesthouse is situated on 20 acres near a small village called Sai Ropa. The Beas River separates Raju’s Guesthouse from the village, so to get to his house you have to cross the river in a type of pulley contraption.
I do believe we were provided with the best accommodation available. Our suite had six rooms plus its own fireplace and balcony.
After the long bus ride, Parvinder and I were exhausted. We went to our rooms, turned on the heaters, and freshened up a bit. Within a few moments, a nice Himachali man named Vicky brought us hot chai tea and lit a fire in our fireplace. He told us dinner would be ready at nine, and asked if there was anything else we needed. But I didn’t need anything else. I was completely absorbed in the beauty of the land and by the home Raju’s family had built. All of the structures on the property were almost entirely built from wood. In fact, during the ride to his house, I noticed many houses were built out of wood, which is a stark contrast from Chandigarh which is a concrete jungle. On the first evening, dinner was served buffet style and consisted of trout, chicken, daal, subji, and salad. The fish was delicious.
The next morning I woke up to the soothing sounds of the Beas River flowing from the Himalayas. My room was nice and toasty from the heater kept on full blast all night long. I only realized the temperature had dropped below freezing after leaving my room to use the restroom. The succeeding shower may have been the most extreme shower I have ever taken. The bathroom did not have a heater (for safety precautions) and the electricity went out right after I started showering. Now, you are probably thinking, “well, taking a shower in the dark is not so bad, Demelza.” Unfortunately, the darkness is not what I am referring too. Since the water heaters are so small in India, when the electricity stops working you only have about 1-2 minutes of hot water remaining. Already heavily invested in taking a shower, I could not abort now. I called upon my ancestral dragon strength from deep within my belly and finished my shower with freezing cold water, fresh from the Himalayas.
Breakfast was a delight. I ate more than a fair share of aloo da paranthas, eggs, curd, and toast.
I was soon to regret overeating, because Parvinder and I decided to hike up a local mountain to see an ancient Hindu temple. After twenty minutes of vertical hiking I was gasping for air, and my stomach felt like it was full of rocks. I never knew I was so out of shape! Why didn’t any of you tell me before! I told Parvinder I wanted to take some photos, but I really just wanted to catch my breath.
Even though we had just started walking, I was already thirsty. Unfortunately, Parvinder and I are pretty poor hikers; we forgot to bring any water. Parvinder asked some local villagers in Pahardi (mountain) dialect where we could find water. They explained to him that if we kept hiking up the mountain we should eventually come across a spigot. Sure enough, a few minutes later we found it.
Being from the mountains, Parvinder trekked up the steep incline like a professional climber. On the other hand, I felt like the epitome of a fat American. However, once we reached the top, I knew the whole journey had been worth it.
On the way down, an old woman gave us some apples. She told Parvinder to keep an eye on her while she descended the mountainside just in case she fell.
The apples had a bunch of bruises on them and they looked dirty, but she had presented them to us like an offer of genuine generosity. After an hour of carrying the heavy apples, I was ready to throw them in the woods, but Parvinder insisted that we give them to someone in a type of ‘pay it forward’ notion. After crossing an old iron bridge, Parvinder handed the four golden apples to a little girl and she immediately started eating one with the dirt on it and everything. I thought the little girl’s mother would scold the child for taking food from strangers but her mother greatly thanked Parvinder, and started eating one too. Not sure what to make of the whole transaction but I guess eating dirty apples is better than eating nothing?
We gorged ourselves on Raju’s wife’s delicious fish curry, and homemade momos during dinner time. While eating, the other family staying at Raju’s Guesthouse invited us to visit a local tourist destination the following day called Jalori Pass. Although we had no idea what we were signing up for, we gladly agreed.
The next morning (New Year’s Eve), I opted out of the whole shower routine and simply got ready for our excursion to Jalori Pass. The pass was about two hours north from Raju’s, and since tourists do not visit the Himalayas during winter, we were the only people there . Of course, Parvinder wanted to hike to the top of this mountain too, so I mustered some energy and forced my already fatigued leg muscles to climb. The only difference is that this mountain was covered in snow which made hiking twice as difficult as the day prior. Within five minutes, I had already slipped and landed in mud. Can someone please tell me what I thinking when I decided to wear a white jacket to Jalori Pass? Oh right, I wasn’t thinking. Anyways, on with the story. About three-quarters of the way up, my legs stopped working. I told Parvinder to run his skinny legs up to the top and tell me if the view was worth it. He motioned for me to come but he looked so far away. With a burst of adrenaline, I started running as fast as I could to reach him. The sweetest reward awaited my ascent.
Parvinder and I proceeded to have some fun with the camera.
We came back to Raju’s, and had a quiet New Year’s Eve. The same family that invited us to Jalori Pass, invited us to celebrate the New Year with them. That night we all sat around Raju’s fire pit and told stories. Their family was from Assam which is a state located in the Eastern part of India near Bhutan. They were very nice people, and the father of the family was an incredible storyteller. Eventually they started singing songs which caught Parvinder and me off guard. Unsure of what to do exactly, we eventually ‘took off our cool hats’ and allowed ourselves to enjoy the gayness of the moment. I suppose all of that random and spontaneous singing they do in those Bollywood films really is real after all.
The next day I was sad to go home but the time had finally come. Parvinder and I packed up our belongings, and headed back to Aut to catch our bus home to Chandigarh. I have to admit that although my holidays did not involve partying or drinking, as they typically do in Tampa, they were some of the best I have ever had.
Thanks for reading!!! Last week I collected data in Dhelpur, Punjab, so make sure to check back soon for the scoop on that too! For more photos and extra insights about my experience as a Fulbright researcher, go to www.chandigarhblog.com
Tags: India - Spring 2013
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