I could hear the rushing, gurgling sound of the fast flowing river as I suddenly woke up. I was woken up by my father very frantically. I wasn’t lost in a dream nor did I panic while opening my eyes to a new day. All I heard was the river flowing faster than anything. Despite the river being close to our hotel, it had that tenacity of being too loud. The river mysteriously whispered to the town that it’s still there. You could hear the river flowing from every nook and cranny of the bustling town of Manali. I slept with a cold in my body the night before but things changed for good in the morning. We were supposed to wake up early so that we could beat the hectic highway traffic. It was exactly 4 am in the morning and nothing but the river could be heard. I just put a jacket on and hung my backpack onto my back and sat on the chair placed in the balcony. My parents were readying everything as I sat there motionless. I wasn’t thinking about anything or feeling something in particular. Only the monumental sound of the flowing river encapsulated my mind. God knows where I was; somewhere in between gigantic valleys greatly above the sea level. And there was this river. Nothing could beat the sound of the flowing river at night and it’s azure richness throughout the day. We checked the room for the last time so as not to lose something in haste. Coming out of the room, everything felt still. The receptionist was sound asleep in his chair and didn’t bother waking up to attend to our departure. There wasn’t any problem because we already cleared our bills the night before. And then, a drastic frost took over my body. I was suddenly feeling a lot colder than I felt before on that trip. I rubbed both my palms in unison and created a warm sensation in parts of my body. The silence was defeaning, even though there was this river signifying it’s rightful presence. I walked slowly to our car, went inside and curled myself in a corner at the back. The driver chanted his prayers and accelerated ahead. The road was awfully empty at that time, just the occasional tourist vehicle driver brushing his teeth and motivating himself to steer through the heart of Himachal Pradesh and beyond. I remember walking with Gaurav on the Shimla mall road, one of the most bustling streets in India two nights before. And now we were driving through the Manali mall road which was more dead than the one in the Shimla that night. There weren’t any stars above. All we saw was the area lit up by our car’s headlights. The outline of the mountains faded in to our visibility ever so slowly. There wasn’t any sound in the car as everybody was completing their sleep cycle. I was texting with Prerana and looking out the window devouring whatever the night had in store for me. I didn’t tell her about the moment I was in. I was silently observing the dawn. I realised that these hours would be the climax to this wonderful trip. The heater in the car was on so as to defeat the chill.
I instinctively paused the music as we were stopped by a highway police patrol. They threw flashlight scatterings in our faces as we sat puzzled. One of the police officers asked our driver about our intentions. Our driver simply told him of our objective to reach Delhi by dusk. They checked our documents and let us go with a few kind words. After this intervention, the car seemed to get livelier. My father sympathised on these policemen and their work even when it’s freezing outside. I drifted away my eyes out to the scenes through the car window. I saw a group of camps on the other side of the river. I saw a man smoking a cigarette, lost in thought at such an hour of the day. And then I thought about myself in that age. One of the major reasons why I want to study in Delhi is the exposure to Northern India. Gaurav and I have planned ‘impromptu’ getaways to remote parts of Himachal Pradesh or Punjab as weekends extend greater possibilities. I thought about how I would camp out there with friends and strangers. I wanted to smoke that very cigarette at that very hour and in that very place. Somehow, the feeling reigned over me greatly. Manali is not very suitable for you to visit as a teenager along with your parents. Enjoying this trip with my friends would’ve felt much better. And after some texting and music, the weakly rising sun demanded me to witness it. The sky was a strange shade of blue, something that I’d never seen before. The atmosphere was invariably subtle. I could feel my bones cracking and my pulses race. Not in a very long time had I felt so alive that too in the morning. At that very moment, I wanted to lean sit by the side of the highway and look at the Sun playing hide and seek with the enormous mountains. I wanted to see the Sun shine the entire area with it’s unmatched power. That morning, that very feeling was the highlight of my trip. I could forget anniversary dates but never the color of the sky that morning. After half an hour or so, we stopped at a minimalist dhaba for breakfast. There weren’t any customers but us. My father ordered parathas, boiled eggs and tea and coffee. As I gazed at the mountains while eating my breakfast, I realised that this journey had morally ended.