Manali/3: Rain, Trout and the Gods

Next morning when I opened my eyes the outside looked dimmer than usual through the curtain. Did I wake up early by mistake? Given the amount of made in Shimla wine I had gulped down last night that was almost impossible to happen. Then a familiar sound reached my ear. The muffled roaring sound of angry clouds clashing against each other. It was raining outside. I squinted my eyes and tried to think optimistically through grogginess. Rain in the mountain is something you come mentally prepared for. I told myself that this rain would soon.

Sky was completely cleared by afternoon (despite someone’s announcement that google was showing non-stop rain for next seven days) and we headed for our today’s destination – the monastery. Gadhan Thekchhokling Gompa or more popularly known as the Tibetan Monastery of Manali is only a toddler compared to its many other Himalayan counterparts. It was built in 1969 by the Tibetan refugees who came and settled here. It follows the oldest Vajrayana sect of Buddhism, Nyingmapa. The humongous golden idol of Buddha in padmasana reminded me of a similar statue at Ghum monastery in Darjeeling. Not to mention the ambiance was also similar. Touristy and somewhat soulless. An old monk was sitting in the dark interior reciting from old scriptures in a low scale, monotonous tempo. I don’t know what magic those Tibetan chanting does to me; I remained glued to my spot for some time staring at his stooping figure swaying with the rhythm of his own prayer.

Usually any travel guide to Manali will show you this one monastery on your supposed to-do list. But if you have the habit of getting carried away with pre-trip research you will find another not-so-popular monastery only at a stone throwing distance from the first one. A Tibetan guy asked with mild surprise whether we were Buddhist when we asked him about the direction. We understood the general tourist only visits the first one then their interest in Tibetan Buddhism ends. Von Ngari Monastery was a quaint place with a beautifully decorated interior; not to mention blissfully devoid of tourists. The outer wall was proudly depicting the Tibet issue, what the bastard Communist government of China did to a majestic nation.

If old Manali is the best place to buy accessories and artifacts then the Tibetan market on the Gompa Road is another shopper’s paradise. I had promised myself not to buy any winterwear this time which I fortunately managed to keep.

After an hour of shopping we headed to experience the best part of the day. When you come to Manali the one thing you must never skip is trout fish. If the spiritual highlight of this valley is a temple dedicated to a tribal goddess then the gastronomical superstar would be this local variety of fish that even the state tourism would encourage you to savour generously. Every single article in google had told me that Johnson’s Café was the best place to eat trout fish.

We had to walk all the way from Gompa Road till Old Manali as it was transportation strike that day in Manali and the owner of our bike requested not to take his vehicle out for the day. Johnson’s Café is situated just at the start of Old Manali. A vast area of properties all announcing proudly that they belonged to Johnson, whoever he was. Johnson’s Café was looking gorgeous in the golden light of chandeliers under post-shower twilight sky. The wooden interior walls were decorated with retro posters, with a little bookshelf in one corner. We ordered trout fish platter, green salad and red wine (it was happy hour). I was feeling ecstatic under the dim light of the café. It was one of those rarest moments when all those unfulfilled wishes, impending worries, and the bruises seemed to disappear into oblivion. All that remained were two wine glasses, slight chill of May evening, the delightful cacophony of joint laughter and a pair of eyes I could never seem to take my eyes off. What more one can ask from life?

To be continued