Homeless in Himachal During a Storm But Then We Find a Cosy Home in a Monastery—Travel Serendipity in Rewalsar Lake, the Himalayas
12:45 pm, May 25
Let’s see if we find a place in Rewalsar.
7 pm, May 25
Though I said let’s see if we find a space in Rewalsar today morning, I’m already in my room. Once again, travel’s serendipity, the world’s unpredictability, and our obliviousness to the universe’s functioning—all these have brought us to moments when we have stood with our mouths open, amazed, not ready to believe how everything happened.
Today, when I wrote that sentence around 12:45 or 12:50, I had been waiting for my partner Sagar. He had promised to get up from work by 12.30. The plan was to leave our homestay in the Seven Lakes region in Himachal: locally known as Sar ki Dhar to drive to Rewalsar Lake by 12:45. We left at 1 pm.
We put all our luggage in the car, and as we hadn’t found any hotel in Rewalsar, we said to each other, “We’ll see. Maybe we will stop at a highway hotel.” But I had seen Rewalsar Lake, and I knew the place a bit. We will find something. I remembered a Tibetan food place from our previous trip in 2021. We had a delicious lunch of laphing and glass noodles there. A little girl, the daughter of the owners, sat with me and laughed all the time. The restaurant had guest rooms upstairs.
Sagar was even ready to stop at Midway Hotel—where we had tea on our last trip and which was midway from Rewalsar and a popular temple on the top of the hill. He had another homestay on his mind too. But neither of the two places looked good to me, and I didn’t want to stay at any.
As we took to the road, the storm raged again, like last night. The strong wind shook us. Black clouds flew from heaven to earth. Soon, showers began. It was raining hard in a second. Due to the bad weather, all the locals stayed inside. Apart from us, not even one other car was on the road. No pedestrian. Not even a single soul. One Himachal bus was doing its schedule, that is all.
We were laughing at our luck. “How did we end up driving in such a storm?”
Everything comes with good and bad. We made the journey to Rewalsar Lake in about twenty minutes. Perfect for my partner’s work. The road was also good. Though we were a bit sceptical of the route for it was narrow and broken on our onward journey to the Seven Lakes, now we were on a different road.
“We would go to Mandi if we don’t find anything here,” My partner said.
On our Himachal trip in the summer of 2021, we lived in Mandi for about three weeks. We know the city, its hotels, and what to expect. But I don’t drive on the sinewy Himalayan mountain roads yet. And I didn’t want Sagar to drive more on his work day. After all how much can one guy do?
But, first, we were hungry. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day. We parked our car outside the gate of the Rewalsar lake. When the rain slowed down, we got out. My umbrella started flying. The taxi operator’s head came out of his office above the road and shouted that we couldn’t park there. I shouted back, “Even in the rain you aren’t letting us park. Even for half an hour. And we aren’t even from here.” He was mumbling that there was car parking inside. By inside he meant the periphery of the lake.
I didn’t want to tell Sagar to drive inside the gate of the lake—the last time we had arrived at Rewalsar Lake, we had got into a fight. The path around the lake was all dug up and sodden, and he was worried our car would get stuck. The road was a circular bog but people were taking their cars on it. The pathway was so dirty, slimy, and sludgy that walking on it would have been tough. We would have been slathered with sludge. So I was nudging him to go, and he was refusing to move. (Here are three secrets to a happy relationship I am learning slowly.)
The same taxi operator sent us away from the taxi parking that time too. We couldn’t find any parking outside the lake. So Sagar gave up, we drove in through the Rewalsar Lake gate and found a hotel pretty close by. The car was parked inside the hotel.
Now, my partner himself said that maybe the road wouldn’t be so bad this time. He listened to the taxi operator who had suggested we can park the car inside. A large piece of land next to the lake does serve as a car parking, I remembered. So we went inside. The road was all good now. We parked the car.
It was still raining hard though. So we got down in sludge, and holding each other and the umbrella and with my partner’s laptop in a plastic in the Fun bag (we call one of our shoulder bags Fun bag because it holds games, picnic bedspread, and so on) and then the Fun bag inside his rain jacket, we walked. The wind roared like an angry monster. Rain fell at such a sharp angle that we were getting soaked despite the umbrella.
At a cafe where we had been before, we ordered lunch: gobhi, dal, chapatis, and French press coffee. I told Sagar he should have been thankful. Suddenly from being drenched in a storm, he could take out his laptop and work with coffee and good food in his stomach.
“It isn’t a good day to be homeless,” I said, watching the rain fall outside on the street and the monastery in front.
Sagar nodded. “We would go to Mandi if we don’t find anything else.”
But something else apart from finding a home was bothering me too. Two travelers at a table behind us were speaking about the founder of the Art of Living Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in whose ashram one of them had done a course. She still lived and worked in the ashram in Rishikesh.
Guilty of overhearing their conversation, I still couldn’t stop listening. I couldn’t believe my ears.
The traveler was describing that the three-day course in the ashram begins with a happiness course. She told the other foreign tourist, “That as in love when that person is not present you still feel that person, you are not apart, so in the absence of a guru, when he is not physically present, he is still there.” She added, “It is good when you have a guru who can hold your hand, and so you can follow him.”
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has many police cases ongoing against him but this article on Scroll sums it up well in one line, “It is time we recognised the institution of spirituality in India for what it is – a high-tech commercial enterprise – and these gurus for what they are – self-appointed chief executive officers who provide products to the consumer.”
As the follower was promoting the Art of Living to the guy, Sagar said “These things are sold to those people who would buy them and naturally those buyers naturally become the sellers of the idea as well.”
I sat quietly, wondering how easy it is to convince someone in the name of guidance and support. We all need a lighting guide but we forget that that light can only come from within us, not from outside.
Outside, the rain had stopped, and the sun was shining. I was filled with hope. Why don’t I go out and find us a guesthouse? I was not a stranger to the place. I knew my way around. So even though Sagar was promising to take out half an hour to look for a guesthouse, I got up and told him I would go on my own. If together we couldn’t find something in the limited window of thirty minutes, both of us would be frustrated. His work would suffer too. But on my own, without any time restrictions: I could work later into the night or get up early the next day, I can have a look at a few rooms and decide calmly.
The same Art of Living traveler was also telling the guy (who had been living in Midway hotel) that she had been in a monastery room for three days but didn’t know if she could continue to stay. The monastery mentioned a limit of three days. She was asking him for stay options.
With the idea of living in a monastery on my mind—and a faint recollection from the last trip that I had seen a monastery with rooms and I had thought of staying in it— I walked from the cafe in a clockwise direction. Through a lane studded with samosa shops, I got out on the road. Dhabas and fruit shops flanked it. I returned to the circle around the Rewalsar Lake the same way I had gone out, and as I walked further, a monastery with the board on it “Rooms Available, please walk in” was up ahead of me. That message was welcoming, and the girls’ words were fresh on my mind. Let’s try this.
In the monastery—that was right on the bank of the lake—a man from the office showed me two rooms for I had requested two rooms. The prices were low, and separate spaces suit me and my partner when we have to work. The rooms were simple and equipped with chairs, a television, a bed, and a bathroom. The bathrooms weren’t so clean.
“Would you be able to get the bathrooms cleaned please?” I asked the guy.
He went inside the toilet to check and told me he will.
“Are the bedsheets and blankets washed?”
“The bedsheets, blankets, and duvet covers are all fresh.”
I couldn’t believe it. Not even the staff of private hotels promises fresh duvet covers with such confidence. A magical moment in my life!
Though initially trying to question the staff to know if the place was clean and everything was washed and so on was a bit hard, now I find dealing with these things easier. My partner agrees with me, and I don’t feel alone in the mindset that the floor has to be dusted and wiped, the toilets should be clean, and the bedding should be fresh. I have seen that others want the same things, notice the same things, raise issues and staff knows and Sagar knows and wants the same thing—so I won’t be the only one having this conversation with blank walls. We can all do this together manage this together, and so I am at peace. When it comes to it, I won’t be the only one trying to get something unimaginable.
All looked good. Assured Sagar would say yes to the monastery rooms, I called him. “This monastery has simple, clean rooms. 400 rent. We can even see the lake from one room,” I said everything in a breath. He is simple and fuss-free, and if I have looked at a room and approve of it, he would trust me. He said he will bring his laptop bag, and I confirmed the rooms.
“Get hard copies of the IDs. We don’t take soft copies,” The attendant said to me.
Ten minutes later, he made copies of the hard copy of our ID (we had taken out some good quality printouts from our Document bag), and feeling its high-quality soft paper said, “You might need this back.” I nodded and smiled.
He also gave us two towels on the warning that it was not a fancy room. I bought a harpic from a store outside. The lower room became mine and the rooftop room became Sagar’s.
Now I am writing this narrative of ‘going from homeless to home in a matter of a few hours on a stormy day’ from my warm and cosy room.
Sagar’s room on the roof doesn’t have a view but from outside the room, you can see the entire lake. His is bigger than mine but I have the view. From my window, I can see the lake through the window grill and then through the mesh of the balcony.
Suddenly, everything is so good. From homelessness and hunger and cold and wet—we are homed, sheltered, warm in the sun, well-fed, and hopeful for the upcoming days knowing we have a roof above our heads. How things change!
Everything works out. Travel teaches you that. And I learn it again and again, and, perhaps, that is why now I leave more and more on chance, knowing something would work out, or we would keep trying until we find a solution.
Like, today, we were ready to drive to Mandi if nothing worked out here in Rewalsar. But we also knew that we might find a guest-house on the highway, or return to Midway if nothing else.
What a day!
We also ate a samosa and tea at a small food shop. In the morning, the rufous treepies were chattering around the lake. Now on my evening walk around the lake, gorgeous blue-headed sparrows: birds that looked like sparrows but were not sparrows chirped above me in the trees, parrots with red streaks fought mynas for holes in the trees, and fish were eating a dead crow in the pond. A Buddhist lady with the prayer mala was also peering down at the dead crow floating in the lake and a fish or two at its tail, and said to me in English, “Yes it looks like the fish is eating the crow.”
All the Buddhist women who were, I guess, taking their rounds around the sacred lake with prayer malas in their hands, said julleh to me and smiled, welcoming me. Most had white hair and their faces had wrinkled. One said namaste, and I replied, “julleh.” As if they knew I had a hard day and I needed love, and they gave it to me.
The light filtering through the young bamboo, the red-headed yellow birds on it, and the muddy blue lake rippling behind the birds calmed me. If any ounce of anxiety was left that was lost in the glup-glup of the hundreds of fishes swimming in the Rewalsar Lake.
The walk was the perfect end to a day that began at 6:30 am. Hah!
The unfriendliness of the previous stay in the Seven Lakes region where thali was limited, people weren’t friendly, and we had to stand at the door of the family for every little bottle of water was all left behind. Our brave decision of being homeless over compromising under a roof worked out, and we got into a place that offered peace of mind. True we had to pay the price, but we paid happily.
I must thank Sagar for being so patient on his work day.
I would return to the lake to photograph those parrots fighting mynas and to show Sagar other amazing things.
Can you believe all of this happened in a day?
Would you share a moment of serendipity from your own life with me? Please leave a comment.
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