(A different high, friends)
Sorry but the title has no reference to any hill-top. This post belongs to a pre-cellphone era dotted with a lot of communication gaps, when coordinating for a trekking trip involved many a trip between foot and the tip. So, after a lot of efforts, which included borrowing a four-man tent from Wilson John, and packing three jumbo ruck-sacks for my Pindari Glacier trek with Gautam and Rachna in early March 1998 — I realized that the timings to visit Uttaranchal (then UP Himalayas) were not cordial for the roadways traveller. Holi, a festival enjoyed more than Diwali in Uttaranchal, was close by and the buses were packed beyond capacity. It was a tall Rachna and a fair-looking Gautam in baseball caps who saved the day for a brownie me.
Conductor to the Delhi-Haldwani bus who was waiting for the postal bag to arrive, spotted a hassled trio and tried to be helpful to a woman who, to his pahari mind, was a firangi. “Where going, maadam?” he blurted out in a Mulayam Singh-accent. I knew my victim there and then. “Arrey sirji…” I pitched in like a desi guide and in no time ensured that the three of us were inside the bus before the driver turned the ignition key. Rachna's smiling nods sealed my game.
Lucky of course to have boarded the bus, we soon realised that sitting on postal dept bags throughout the stretch was not a smooth sailing. Each sharp bend of the bus sent atleast two of us slipping down to the dirty floor; postcards inside the bags made a slippery post. Relief came at Gajraula, where the bus stopped for a midnight ‘lunch’, and my needy mind became inventive. I approached the conductor once again and asked if we could negotiate the metal ladder behind the bus and cover the rest of our journey at the roof of the bus. Conductor looked most reluctant; for, giving up the chance to get friendly with the firangi lady was not on his menu. But the driver at his side gave an approving look, with an advice, “Just keep your heads down when wires across the road appear on the road. Even better, if you keep it down for good.” Before his sidekick could add a word, we rushed to the top, and laid ourselves like pancakes.
Rucksacks played willing pillows and till Haldwani, with one zipped-out sleepingbag employed as light blanket, the journey was spent in peace — snoring and sneezing. The only loss, I have to tell you, were our trekking-caps which fanned out in the fiery winds within an hour of our boarding the roof. And for once, I was not happy with my army-cut hairdo when the cold winds brushed my temples. Nonetheless, thankfully, I had an Old Monk inside my sack to ward off the virals…
(what happened to us after reaching Bageshwar and en route Pindari trek will appear shortly)