Building a relationship - Chapter 1


"Where do you want our honeymoon", asked Rishi
"Manali. It has been my destination ever since I dreamt about honeymoon.", said Sheela.
"Oh ya. I should have guessed. All young South Indians wish to go to Manali and all old go to Kashi", he said with a bit of sarcasm. She wouldn't have seen his expression as they were talking over the phone.
"And you north Indians wish to see Munnar. Right?", she gave it back.
"But I have already been to Manali. Let's go somewhere else where neither of us had been to. I will take you to Manali some other time", he said.

5 months after they got married, Rishi set out the plan to go to Manali on a "second honeymoon". Rishi and Sheela were staying in Delhi at that time. So the idea was to utilize the Easter long weekend and extend it by a day or two. They chose one of the umpteen private tours and travels that ply between Delhi and Manali. The journey starts from Janpath near Connaught Place at 5.30 PM.

Rishi had the habit of being punctual, especially so when he has to catch a train or bus. He would make worst case estimate of the travel time from home to the station and add in another 20 minutes to be comfortable. But today it was a boon for Sheela. They reached Janpath at 4.30 PM. 

"An hour to go! Let's do some shopping", she exclaimed. 

They roamed around the Janpath - famed Janpath - market full of what Rishi calls "Aakri stuff", various kinds of  Indian handicraft and handloom products. This market is designed to showcase a glimpse of Indianness to the foreign tourists who typically stay in this area. And as you would have guessed, everything was overprized, at least by local standards. 

As they walked around, they noticed a bylane bustling with people. Rishi could feel her excitement as Sheela caught his hand and pulled him into the crowded steet. This is the desi part of Janpath market with makeshift shops full of garments. She was kind enough to buy couple of T-shirts for Rishi too, along with 4-5 dresses that she bought for herself. Women! they just love shopping.

The bus from Delhi to Manali started off on time. Though the ticket said "Volvo" and the bus had a "Volvo" sticker on it, the experience was nowhere close to it. This one seemed to a normal AC Deluxe bus with Air suspension. After an hour, once you are out of the Delhi city traffic, you hit the Delhi-Ambala highway. Luckily the highways in this part of the country are maintained in very good condition. So the "so called Volvo" was manageable even when sitting on the seats right top of the rear tyre.

The dinner point was just after Ambala. This place seemed to be a favourite of all private buses. But the dhabha guy was really good in managing the crowd. He had lots of young lads, most probably under the legal age for employment, running around taking orders in their memory, serving them with precision, cleaning up the tables and coming up with the right bill amount. One could see how one learns management skills with experience.

Sheela was thrilled. She had not been to a dhaba for a long time, probably 10 years. Rishi was depressed as his stomach was upset. So their orders were poles apart - Sheela choosing butter naan, paneer makhni and lassi, Rishi settling for roti and daal. With their tummies full and the bus rollicking them like a cradle, both of them went off to sleep, kissing goodnights.

As Rishi woke up and moved the curtains aside, he could see the Beas river flowing parallel to the road. Early morning fog and grey skies engulfed the mountains standing out from the river. The foothills were dotted with rows of small trees, which he later learnt to be Apple and Plums. The whole scene was so romantic with dew drops creating small heart shapes on the window. 

"Wake up and see outside", he shook her out of slumber.
Coming out of the blanket, sleepy eyes, she gave him a sweet little smile as he tickled her. His left brain wanted to kiss her right away but his right brain told him to keep control. 
"Kissing in public is taboo in India", said his logical self
"Everyone is sleeping", said his naughty part, but Rishi let the moment pass.

Sheela turned her eyes towards the window and was awe-struck. This is a scene right from her dreams. Far away peaks capped with snow, the sun gleaming slightly from a slit in the clouds, light fog dispersing the light, the river gushing along (she thought she could hear the sounds of the river despite the rumble of the engine) and a white horse gallopping on the green grass on the other bank. 

"Darling", he said and she could feel a cool touch on her cheeks. 

"Where is the horse?", she  blurted.
"What horse?"
"I saw a white horse there, on the other side of the river", pointed Sheela wondering whether she really saw or was it from the dream.

They got down at the Manali bus stand and took a cab to the hotel. The HPTDC Hadimba was run by the state tourism department. Usually they have the best locations and exotic views from the rooms. Rishi had searched for all the HPTDC ones in Manali but the best ones were sold out due to the long weekend. He chose this one little farther from the downtown to compensate for the room comfort with pristine and calm location.

Dumping their bags in a corner of our room, they jumped onto the bed for a quick nap to unwind from the long journey. All state tourism hotels serve you complimentary breakfast at designated timings. The hotel staff, including the cooks, are all government employees. Needless to say they are least courteous and hardly working, forget about working extra hours. But Rishi and Sheela were in for a hearty surprise. They came down to the dining hall pretty late, to find it completely empty. The hotel manager told that them about the usual breakfast timings and started clicking on his computer, least bothered about the guests. 

Nevertheless they went in to see if there could find at least a coffee. Sheela has a knack (Rishi calls it luck) of getting things done her way. She is outspoken and knows the trick of convincing men. She befriended the butler and managed to get the cook prepare yummy aaloo paranthas and delicious toast and omlet. 

Unlike their first honeymoon, this time they didnt plan anything. There were no list of places to tick off, no sight seeing tour buses to catch and no hurry to stick to an itinerary. Rishi had a confession to make to her on this trip but there were 4 days before they board their bus back to Delhi. Sheela had few questions to be answered and was waiting for the correct opportunity to put them forward. They sat in the lawn, enjoying the warm sun and the cool breeze bringing the scent of the pine trees, unaware of each other's thoughts.


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