Different places have different energies and hence give different experiences. This simple line is the whole reason behind travelling. You can come across the most unseen, unthinkable and sometimes life changing experiences while visiting different destinations. Some give the chill, some give the fright, some come with the adrenaline rush and then there are some experiences that are subtle, sweet but deep and remain with you for the rest of your life.
It was the month of February and six of us friends had come to Shimla for the weekend. Before I go further I should inform you that February could feel much colder than December or January in the hills as the snow just starts to melt from the nearby hills causing some bone chilling wind. We did everything that everyone does in Shimla like visiting Naldhera, Mashobra for the Apple orchards and stopping on the way to witness the Green Valley which is nothing but a densely tree populated mountain like millions of other hills nearby.
We also went to ever so ritualistic Kufri to feel the snow and then back to stroll on the ridge with the icing being the coffee at the Coffee House on the mall. The trip was every bit like the all other usual trips but then what is a travel without a story and we got ours the next evening.
We were staying at the circuit house just opposite the Himachal Pradesh`s Chief Minister`s residence. The circuit house was built in the Raj Era and had n`t changed a bit. It was far away from the mall road and was uncannily quiet. Big Airy rooms with wooden floor and a fireplace it looked straight out from the haunted Havelis in Hindi horror movies. We were expecting a bit of a paranormal experience there given the setting but it was not to be. It was somewhere else. After a lazy start to the day because of the late-night binging the previous night we had our lunch at a restaurant on the ridge and decided on our plan to follow. We all zeroed in on the Jakho Temple to visit the Lord Hanuman`s massive idol atop the hill that was visible from all over Shimla. As the plan was to visit the temple, we dropped the non-vegetarian menu just like most North Indians do without calling it a superstition.
Out of all six of us, one guy was particularly excited about visiting Jakho Temple and that was Tarun. He had it in his mind from the start of the day as he bathed early in the morning unlike most of us and gave up his ever so favourite Non Vegetarian food for the whole day just to be pure enough to visit the temple. Jakho is quite a hike from the ridge and as the sign board at the start suggests, a normally fit guy would take 45 minutes to complete the hike while an extremely fit guy would do the same in 30 minutes and the not so fit ones could take their own sweet time.
The signboard was read out loudly and visibly in an uninterested manner but then somewhere inside there was an unsaid target to somehow fall between the extremely fit and normally fit category to avoid being the source of jokes for many years to come. We were all charged up and we started with a bang which by the way was our biggest mistake. We almost were brisk walking if not jogging and it took us not more than 4 minutes and 30 seconds to get exhausted. It was stupid then, funny now and sensible never. We had started with so much intent and we ended up on a bench and the stairs nearby after just five minutes. A few hundred deep breaths later we were up and raring again but the man who was the most excited was also the most exhausted and gave up.
“I will wait here, you guys carry on” said Tarun and so we did carry on. We were having fun, making jokes, especially on Tarun as he was not there and then in between we used to look back down the slope to see him resting right there still on that bench. After a while we reached too far away and he was out of our sight and mind for now. After walking nonstop we made it to the temple (and because it is my story) in less than forty five minutes to be sure, I guess. So we declared ourselves fit and as there was no objection from anyone, we kept the decision intact. Anyways the story was not about our journey to Jakho but something else which happened after we reached there.
We were all excited and tired too but just the sight of the temple was a soothing tonic for us and before going in we all sat down at the stairs for a while to catch our breath back. It might have been a shade over just 5 minutes that we had been there and we heard our names being called. We turned around and saw Tarun reaching towards us. It was a pleasant surprise though but was unbelievable in its own sense too. To be honest our friend was not one of the fittest person going around and out of the total two and a half kilometer hike from the Shimla Ridge to Jakho, he had exhausted himself out after hardly four hundred metres or so. Considering that we saw him resting at that bench from far away and still he reached almost with us, it was an impossible feat for him and hence we all were more shocked than surprised and on top of that he was looking as fresh as dew with no signs of tiredness whatsoever. There had to be something unusual about it as it was just not normal and we wanted to know it. We asked him the same and what he told us was nothing exuberant or extravagant but just pure, plain, simple, subtle and spiritual experience which had changed him probably for life.
This was what he narrated:
“I was resting at the place where you guys left me and I had assumed that you would take at least a couple of hours to come back so I had planned to rest for a while and then maybe go back down to the ridge and spend some time there. I would have called or messaged you the same and we could hence connect once you all were back. I laid down on the bench and started surfing the internet on my phone. It would have been not more than a minute or two when someone patted on my shoulder and asked me to get up. I sat up and looked at him. He was a simple looking middle aged man but looked very familiar. He looked like someone I watch every day but I was not able to figure it out. He called me by my name and asked if I was with those 5 boys who have come from Delhi. I nodded in a yes as I thought you would have met him on the way. That man asked me that why had I stopped behind and not joined you guys towards the temple. I explained him that I get tired easily and could not walk further. On this, the man told me that he was a local from Shimla but worked outside of the town and visited home after every 5-6 months and each time he came back to Shimla, it was a ritual for him to visit the Jakho Temple. I said I too wanted to visit it but I cannot get there now, It is too far away. Hearing this he asked me how far was Delhi from here, I answered about 350 Kilometeres or so. He said that you have covered all this distance and then gave up when you are almost there. He also mentioned that you guys are not too far ahead and will meet me on the way. He talked in a very fatherly manner and asked me to start moving and almost ensured me that I will be there before I know it. He would have been a very spiritual man, his face was almost lightened up and speaking to him filled me up with so much positivity that I did not think twice, thanked him and started to walk upwards. I saw you sitting here and thought you would have visited the temple and would be on the way back. I am myself surprised.”
We were all listening to him in awe. We were shocked at first because we had not met anyone on the way and neither had we told anyone about us being from Delhi and waiting for one of our friend who has stayed back but Tarun was there and we just knew that he was not lying about it. The expression on his face and the smile on his lips were shouting out that he had experienced something very special.
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We were just beneath the 108 feet tall statue of Lord Hanuman and Tarun now felt like he knew who met him on the way. This story had ignited a new energy in most of us because even amongst ourselves there would have been a few who would not have believed him but when has faith been disturbed by those who refuse to have it.
After visiting the temple, saving our sunglasses and sweets from the monkeys, and a few photographs we sat near the feet of the beautiful idol of Lord Hanuman to conclude that it was us that wanted to visit him but it was him that wanted our friend to visit him. Truth really is stranger than fiction.