Trip to Kalpa - Kinnaur
When we came to Simla we had a baby in our arms. Challenge was to raise her in a hill station without easy access to a paediatrician or support of elders. We made friends with families of two of my colleagues, who also had small babies. Asha could now benefit from their experiences. With time our daughter, Gargi, who was a healthy baby began to grow up. A pleasant surprise came in my life when Vinay Joshi joined me. He had similar physics background as mine. He had done his Ph.D. from Duke University and was of my age. He was a pleasant person and happily spent time with us as he was a bachelor then. He shared with us our outdoor interests. We hiked, saw movies, and visited common friends together. It was a pleasant period of our life. Before we realised Gargi grew up. When she became four years old she could be sent to a school. A girls Convent School, an affiliate of Loreto Institutions at Calcutta, was in Simla. It was known as Tara Hall. We decided to admit Gargi in kindergarten of Tara Hall. Now Asha was free in the mornings and was keen to take a teaching job. Before long we saw in a local paper vacancy for teaching economics in St. Bede's College. Asha got the teaching job and managed to teach and take care of her home. At St. Bede's College she made friends with her colleagues. Many new contacts were now added in our life.
We lived in Summer Hill. It was about 6 km from the City Centre. Tara Hall was on one side of the Simla Ridge, St. Bede’s College was on the other side and the Department of Physics was in the Manse Building on stretch of the road between the Grand Hotel and the Ridge. All three of us would leave home after our breakfast and walk up to the Summer Hill Post Office. From there a University Bus was taken by Gargi and Asha as it went around Simla and was availed by children for going to their schools. I either got a transport or walked.
I took lunch either with Sailo Mukherjee at the YMCA, where he stayed, or with Vinay at an eating place near my Department. One day I suggested to Vinay that we should visit Kalpa in Kinnaur. Perhaps, then Kalpa was the district headquarter of Kinnaur. It was at a height of over 8000 feet. It is about 270 km from Simla. Vinay found out that there was a daily bus for Kalpa but it left at 5 am and covered the journey in over 12 hours. However, permission of the State Government was needed for going there as it was in a district close to the China Border. One of Asha’s colleague’s husband was a senior officer of the State Government. He arranged the required permit. We found out that at Kalpa there was a rest house with limited accommodation. We sent a telegram to the controlling officer at Kalpa requesting accommodation of two rooms for two nights over the weekend. We did not get response to our request. As we had already made bookings for the journey by bus, we decided to proceed with our plan. The challenge now was to reach the bus stand before 5 am from Summer Hill and travel by a state transport bus. We had to walk over 6 km in the middle of the night with sleeping bags and other necessities such as food for the journey.
We may not have slept that night but woke up Gargi around 3 am. I had arranged a porter for carrying our luggage to the Simla bus-stand. Gargi was a good hiker. She was used to walking. Occasionally, Asha would take a train from Summer Hill Station and reach the Simla Mall with Gargi. We would stroll on the Mall and after eating dinner walked back to Summer Hill. We kept Gargi engaged by telling her stories and stopped for tea with friends who lived en route. On the day of our journey we walked briskly and reached the bus-stand in time for boarding the bus. Vinay was waiting for us.
The bus left at 5 am and by around 8 am it reached Narkanda. At Narkanda we perhaps took our breakfast. But I distinctly recall that we purchased there most delicious purple cherries. Narkanda is at a height of 9000 feet and a popular hill resort. From Narkanda we could see deep down in the valley the Sutlej River. The major part of the journey was along this river towards its origin in Tibet. River had fast flowing clear water. Around noon we reached Rampur Bushar, an important town of Himachal Pradesh. It was a major stop and perhaps there was a change of the crew of the bus. We had lunch of delicious warm rajama-chawal. Our bus was steadily gaining height with the river and the journey was uneventful except around 5:30 pm it stopped, and its driver said he was unable to proceed further as there was a major landslide en route. From there across the Sutlej River Kalpa was over 10 km by road. We had stopped at a village that offered tea to travellers but there was no place in it for spending the night. We were told that there was a short route to Kalpa but it involved a steep climb of over 3000 feet on a forest path. It was already dark and we had no choice but to take a porter who was familiar with the path. We climbed in darkness. We reached Kalpa around 9 pm but a surprise was waiting for us. All the rooms in the rest house were occupied. We had no choice but to sleep on the floor of the corridor running before the rooms. One of the guests staying in a room saw our predicament and vacated it for Asha, Gargi and me to spend the night. Vinay slept outside.
Next morning Vinay and I decided to hike to a village called Chinni 10 km away. Asha and Gargi opted to spend time at the guest house. We came across several water mills built around fast flowing streams from melting snow of upper reaches. In addition to milling millets these mills also extracted bitter almond oil from apricot kernels. We were told that this oil, called chulli ka teil, was mainly used for cooking in Kinnaur. I bought a bottle of it as I liked its fragrance. We had visited Kalpa in either April or May 1976. Pine nuts and other dry fruits were grown in abundance but were not available in the local market at that time. It was early for Kinnaur apples. We had lunch in a roadside shop and ate aloo paranthas cooked in bitter almond oil.
We came to know that the bus from Simla had stopped next day also at the same place where it had dropped us and was likely to leave early in the morning. Once again we had to travel around 3am to reach in time for our return journey. At night the sky was clear and we saw the Kinnar Kailash Mountain shining in bright moon light. It looked bluish in colour. Its beauty was surreal. Nicholas Roerich, the Russian painter, had captured the beauty of Himalayas in his paintings. Perhaps, he also saw the beauty of Kinnar Kailash and painted it on canvass. The trip to Kalpa was worth this view alone. We reached in time for the bus and ensured our return to Simla. The return journey was uneventful except for my recklessness. There are not many bridges across Sutlej in this stretch. But people lived on both sides of the river. At one place where the bus had stopped I saw a rope bridge for crossing Sutlej by pulling a rope tied from one side to the other side of the river. One could pull oneself back by a return rope. There was no reason for me to try it. All the same I tried it. When I saw fast flowing water below I panicked and managed to slide back safely. I have no other recollection of our return journey.
Vinay and I decided to visit Keylong in Lahul Valley. It required crossing the Rohtang Pass from Manali. Keylong is a small village at the confluence of two rivers, Chandra and Bhagga. There was no guest house there then. Vinay had a two person tent. Vinay went to visit his parents who lived in Delhi. At a party he met a girl from Mizoram and invited her to come to Keylong with him. She took his invitation seriously and sent her confirmation and reached Simla to go with Vinay to Keylong . When Vinay and I went for lunch at our regular place he told me that I might have to sleep in a hammock as he would be sharing the tent with his girlfriend. I backed out of the plan. On his return from Keylong he told me that he planned to marry Jassi, the Mizo girl. His parents were disturbed by this development. Vinay did not invite me to his wedding.
I left Simla in June 1977 and came to Mysore. I came to know that Vinay also left Simla and joined the University at Jammu. I lost contact with Vinay. We perhaps met a few times at physics conferences but were not in regular touch with each other. In September of 1993 I had shifted to New Delhi and was living with my mother. Gargi was living in the girls hostel of the IIT Delhi. One evening on returning home from work I found a letter from Vinay’s father. He wrote to me that Vinay fought bravely his battle with lung cancer and had died. I was shattered to read it. Vinay was a chain smoker. I lacked courage to dissuade him from smoking. I finish my tribute to Vinay by adding another sad development in my life. I had another close friend from the College days. He was Ashok Verma. I have written about Ashok in my book. He was also a chain smoker. He also succumbed to lung cancer when he was in his mid-fifties.