Stories Revolving Around The Yellow Festival | Tulga, Himachal Pradesh, India
Introduction: Is This For Real?
It was a regular day. I had just reached office, unexcited, and started my PC. Simultaneously, I checked Instagram, as usual. That’s when I came across a random (Instagram) story, which bespoke The Yellow Festival and claimed to include music, yoga, night trek, open-air movie screening and a few more of my favourite things. I was fascinated. But what attracted me the most was the location: Tulga, Himachal Pradesh, which corresponded with my love for the state and off-beat destinations.
I’d just have to figure out how to travel to and fro Delhi from Pune, since the tour began and concluded there. Also, how would I utilize my time in Delhi to do something I couldn’t do during my sightseeing visits to the capital. And by the way, I LOVED planning this.
Being completely unaware about Bin Naqshe Kadam, the tour group which organized the festival, and the other participants, I decided to first call on the number given number and confirm whether this is really true. TBH, everything that was claimed was too good for the budget. I almost didn’t believe it! Once I was assured that it’s real, I registered myself. But my mind was still buzzing with questions.
The next two weeks whizzed by in getting my doubts cleared by Rubhen from BNK, shopping for quirky yellow t-shirts to comply with the rules of the festival and jumping with undying excitement about visiting a place that wasn’t prominent on Google or Maps.
1. The Day of Departure: Adventure Had No Patience
“Flight to Delhi. Google interesting cafes. Take the metro till there. Meet the group at night. Bus to Tulga”, I revised in my mind as I packed my bag. I hadn’t packed earlier because:
- I couldn’t believe I’m going
- It had been pouring at the location, and considering my history with cancelled trips, I wouldn’t have been shocked if this was cancelled too! So, I stopped shopping and jumping two days prior to my departure.
But ta-da! The day was finally here! I WAS GOING.
On the way to the airport, I was stuck in an unexpected traffic jam, which made me abuse my gut out and kick my legs in the auto. Luckily, I had the option of web check-in for the flight, which I tried to avail, but the internet connection was slow. I managed to reach the airport half an hour before the departure, which I knew was too late. I still managed to keep a confident, calm expression.
“But I really need to go to Delhi. It’s very urgent.”’, the lady in front of me at the counter cried to the ground staff.
“I understand, Ma’am, but the gates are closed,” the reply from the other side came in politely.
My heart was in my mouth!
Just then, the lady at the adjacent counter called me. With my limbs numb in disbelief, I had to drag myself to the counter.
“Ma’am, the gates have been closed. We’re sorry!”, I got the answer I was expecting. But I requested her to do something. “Have you checked in from web?”she asked me after inserting my name in her portal.
“I tried to, but I couldn’t reach the last step of the process,” I replied, my eyes twinkling with hope.
“Your ticket has been done, but we can’t let you in because the entry gates have been shut!”
I had just began contemplating other ways to reach Delhi when another staff member called out my name and asked if I am from Symbiosis College. I nodded my head, without letting go of the panic struck look on my face. She told me she was from the same college and had seen me there.
After her monologue, she handed over my boarding pass.
“You have 3 minutes to reach the terminal. Go straight and take a left. Hurry,” she warned.
I ran, elbowed a few people, completed the security checks and reached just in time for the flight!
2. Cafe Hopping in Hauz Khas, Delhi
After spending 25 minutes trying to operate the ticket vending machines at the metro station and simultaneously scanning my “Quirkiest cafes in Hauz Khas” blog, written when I was freelancing as a travel blogger, I took the metro to Hauz Khas to visit Kunzum Travel Cafe. Nestled between restaurants and small business shops, Kunzum overflows with travel related photographs and books. However, the cafe serves only coffee; they don’t have a menu.
Next, I decided to visit the contemporary youth hub, Social, which was just a few feet away. This was in memory of my college educational tour to Delhi, where a few of us had sneaked to Social to experience the cool vibes.
After a scrumptious lunch at Social, I set for The Tea Room, which surpassed my expectations. A wide variety of teas at very affordable rates, and the most elegant white and gold interiors.
The traveller in me woke from rest (and suppressed the foodie in me) as I asked around for directions to Vishwavidyalaya metro station, which I have never heard during any of my three trips to Delhi, but served as the starting point for the trip to Tulga. After successfully finding the gathering point, I was lost because I didn’t know anyone, obviously. But there are good souls in the world. I was greeted by Geetika, a tall, thin, confident girl, who also introduced me to a few others, the sibling duo- Archana and Aishwarya, Ankur and also Natansh.
3. The Beginning: A Day Long Bus Journey
I often fantasize about falling asleep with live soothing music. I was semi-asleep in the bus to Tulga when this fantasy got life. Soft music, old songs and new compositions by the artists truly made the bus journey the best I’ve ever been a part of! Not kidding, not exaggerating.
“Hey! Is anyone sitting here?”, a red-haired, cutesy girl asked me, pointing at the empty seat next to mine, when the bus was about to start.
“No,” I answered, expecting her to call over her friends to sit around so that they could be together during the journey.
“Where are your friends?” I asked, allowing curiosity to win over my assumption.
“Oh I’ve come alone,” she said, making a wave of relief and potential support flow from my mind to my heart.
“Me too!!”I exclaimed, as the wave reached my heart.
She introduced herself as Priyanshi and we got talking.
The bus halted at a dhaba on the Grand Trunk road for dinner, at a location Google maps told me was roughly Sonipat. I’ve been to Trunk road multiple times, but it is always alluring.
While the post dinner music session was in full swing, I drifted into a deep slumber. When I awoke, it was to see the sunrise in the Himalayas and Priyanshi capturing it with concentration. Damn! My words won’t do justice to that mesmerizing moment!
We soon stopped for tea and I followed Priyanshi to a place that looked like the terrace of a building. We sat there in contemplation as we watched the orange sun spreading golden light across the sky, the mountains, the trees, the small houses and us.
Apparently, we were going to reach Bhuntar by evening, then we had to take another bus to Barshaini and then trek! This wasn’t something we were told officially. It was google’s information combined with points from overhead conversations. This partially killed the spirit because everyone was tired. Cherry on the top was being stuck in post-landslide traffic in Kullu. But, the mountains never allow the spirit to die, do they?
On reaching Bhuntar, we hired a local bus to take us to Barshaini, the starting point of our trek. Mesmerized by how the dark night embraced the rugged mountains and the meandering roads in camouflage, I peered out of the window throughout the two hour journey, not missing any chance to get a view of the landscape through the bus’ headlights, despite missing on the make-merry time with the others.
4. The Trek: Getting There By Hook or by Crook
We reached Barshaini at 9:30 PM tentatively. It was pitch dark and we had to use torches to get the luggage sorted and adorn an extra layer of clothing as a protection against the cold. After being greeted warmly by the BNK team, we started our trek. Seemed pretty manageable in the start. Everyone marched forward in tow of their torches’ flashlights, until Poonam from the BNK team asked us to stop and turn off our torches. And what did we see!
Above the tall pine trees was a dark violet sky completely filled with sparkling stars. So many stars! This definitely wasn’t the sky I have grown up seeing. It was new, it was surreal. Almost like the 3D model of the universe in science museums!
The trek took a different mode as we walked further ahead. I couldn’t see much in the dark, but I sensed some strange formations that could have come under the category of after-landslide destruction. The path changed from a wide and smooth road to mucky, one-man-at-a-time lanes. The slope also became steeper as we trekked towards the peak.
The most life threatening part, according to me, was when we had to cross over a two-logs, wobbly bridge over a river. I remember squealing my lungs out and having people to hold me at the beginning and the end of my walk!
Beyond a point, most of us had given up and we decided to rest on the parapet outside a temple. The trek post this break was undertaken merely because we didn’t have an option!
5. Highlights of Tulga: Mesmerizing Moments
The trek concluded two hours later when we reached the beautiful fairy lights-lit stage, surrounded by prayer notes and red and yellow decorations. Everything decorated from scratch by the BNK team. I sat on one edge of the stage and soaked in the moment- the sound of my heavy breaths merging with the clean air.
To top up the serenity, there was an announcement that dal rice is being served. The comfort food was JUST what was needed at that very moment!
Here are some highlights of our stay there:
A. The Location:
Cracked soil, tall pine trees kissing the cloudy sky and the chilly breeze made the most pious location I could have asked for! We were staying at a campsite named Into the Woods, which stood in front of a ravishing stream.
My favourite part of the stay was strolling aimlessly, watching groups of friends laugh about something, listen to jamming sessions here and there, watch the trees whispering to each other and the sky change hues.
B. The Stay
While most people were settled in cottages, few of us had to trek up further for about a minute where we were parked in warm and cosy tents.
C. The Food
Absolutely delicious home cooked food was part of the stay. Cooked with love by the property owners, we were offered traditional Indian food including parathas, aalu puri, dal chawal, rajma chawal, pulao, eggs, tea and of course, maggi!
D. The Yoga Session
A soulfully liberating yoga session was conducted by a supremely talented facilitator, Shipra. I vehemently stood right in the front to cherish the session I knew would be amazing!
Also, the session demanded to get rid of our jackets, which is something I have never done in the cold. But, the intention was well executed as I actually felt closer to nature by doing so.
The best part was when everyone stayed completely silent to listen to the sounds of nature- the swift air, swaying of the trees, the chirping of the birds and soulful songs being sung by the flowing stream. Ah! How wonderful is the earth!
After the session, my mind drifted to the memory of a painfully beautiful poem, Leisure, specifically the line: What is this life if full of care; we have no time to stand and stare…
E. The Music and Poetry Sessions
Never in my life have I seen so many talented people under one roof- the sky. I am completely out of words to describe the heart-stirring performances! Apart from talent, it was wonderful seeing the artists follow their passion and promote it as well. The inspiration I’ve drawn from these sessions is etched in my soul forever!
Sitting in a blanket under the plethora of stars, munching on some chocolate desserts and letting the beautiful words seep into my heart- this is officially going to be my example of ‘surreal’ forever!
I regret not staying back for the open-air movie screening! However, my body had surrendered to the cold.
F. Conversations Around the Bonfire (and even otherwise)
The bonfire and conversational part of the trip was truly the most heart warming! These were informal sessions where people voluntarily shared their stories. I sat quiet and keenly heard all kinds of stories- tragic, adventurous, funny and inspirational.
G. Bhaalu, the Pup
This cute highlight was a fury, black pup, never getting tired of greeting around 150 guests with paw-patting jumps. Also, he ate up my ENTIRE omelette when I wasn’t looking!
6. The Descend: Raw Beauty of Himachal
The last morning in Tulga began with an unofficial plan to visit Kasol, a hill station that lay two hours away. Stuck in the dilemma between not wanting to miss out on a laid back morning in the untouched beauty and simultaneously, not wanting to leave a chance to see a new place, I walked to the cottage Priyanshi was staying in.
“You’re done packing your bag?” I asked her as she sorted her belongings.
“Yes. Everyone’s planning to go to Kasol. Are you going too?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I’m confused. I came to ask you”, I answered honestly.
For the next second, we gazed at each other, with mirrored confused expressions.
“Let’s go!” I exclaimed.
“Let’s go!” she echoed.
After a prolonged period of good-byes and photographs, we set out for the descend, Priyanshi and I being the slowest and having Ankur and Natansh to help us. It was now that we saw astonishing landscapes which were concealed during the hike. Despite the heavy weight of my backpack and micro-stress about being at the farthest end of the mob, I couldn’t stop marvelling at the small hamlets we passed by. A beautiful temple with prominent brown walls, a sharp three tier dome, surrounded by an apple orchard was one picturesque landscape we stumbled upon. The structure of the temple screamed “Himachal”.
Next, we passed by something extremely raw and pious- a young lady taking her cows to graze.
7. Kasol: a Detour
Once we reached Barshaini, everyone excitedly rushed into a general store, not missing the opportunity to binge on junk food after three days of the home stay. It was then that Shefali, the mastermind behind the Kasol detour, announced that we had to wait an hour for the bus. Sheltered in a cafe in Barshaini, we ordered a quick brunch.
“Hash brownies!” “Weed!” These words rang in my ears as most of my fellow travellers exclaimed with joy seeing a weed products’ seller. Soon, the smoking up commenced, making my head heavy. Desperate for a breather, I went outside the cafe, just to see the stoned strangers everywhere. Now, my head began to throb and I decided against going to Kasol if this is what we were going for. Plan B was to take a bus to Bhuntar where our bus to Delhi was scheduled to start that night.
I decided to get clarity on the intention of visiting Kasol, and it was evident that it didn’t match my expectation of ‘fun’. Now, before you judge me, let me clarify that I don’t have a problem with weed or the sort and I have myself tried it, but voluntarily chose to pursue a physically and mentally healthy lifestyle. It is one’s personal choice and right/wrong is very subjective.
Missing the bus and the cab to Kasol, followed by missing the cab to Bhuntar because of lack of space, I waited on ‘Stoned Street’, contemplating my further course of action. It was then that I met a female trio heading towards Bhuntar. I asked them to join me, but they declined my offer because they felt the cab was expensive, and preferred awaiting the next bus. I sat on the steps of a restaurant, clueless. A good ten minutes later, a group from The Yellow Festival walked up to me and asked if I’d like to join them to Kasol. I agreed, but decided to explore the town solo.
My sulky mood in the cab to Kasol was cheered while conversing with a couple from Bangladesh, perched opposite me in the dickey. This enterprising couple had taken a break from their jobs to trek across south-east Asia. They had even trekked the Everest!
This, I thought, was probably the reason I missed multiple transports from Barshaini. I was glad to have met someone new and so dynamic!
Kasol, to be honest, was overall disappointing. I strode past the market where every shopkeeper was stoned. Yet, I managed to buy a few wooden items and my favourite Kangra Green Tea. Also, relished a delicious sandwich and ginger-lemon tea at a cafe overlooking the Parvati river.
8. The Bus to Bhuntar: Possible?
Just when I thought the chaos is over and we could peacefully start our journey home, I was proved wrong. The bus to Bhuntar came in quite late and was overflowing with passengers. While I stood staring at the crowd, unable to board the bus, a few guys had kept all our luggage on top of the vehicle. I had almost decided to ditch the bus for a cab, but Priyanshi aptly reminded me that it will be difficult to get our luggage if we discard it on the bus. Simultaneously, Ankur and Natansh claimed that this will be fun.
The conductor, adorning his invisible superhero cape, asked the passengers standing inside the bus to remove their backpacks and hand them over to him. He then placed even the thinnest backpacks on the roof of the bus, which made place for us to stand on one foot.
I made my way through the bus, falling on one leg, next to Tanvi, a very sweet girl I met at the camp. This time, a look in the mirror cheered up my cranky mood.
“You’re looking in the mirror? Even I want to see!” I exclaimed when I saw Ankur staring at himself in the mirror placed above the door of the bus. He nodded.
I stood on my toes to have a glance at myself in the mirror. I smiled. I was happy.
Precisely fifteen minutes later, I got a seat to sit. Guess where?
On a steel box next to the driver!
At least that’s what I could configure my seat to be, without getting a chance to survey the piece of metal.
I had been sitting for fifteen minutes when Surbhi from the group joined me on the box. An hour later, Ankur and Natansh made their way to the seat opposite the box, and four of us got playing word games.
9. Return to Delhi: The Adventure Was Not Over
About half an hour before we reached Bhuntar, it was announced that the original bus taking us to Delhi had been cancelled. The BNK team had booked us in whichever bus had vacant seats. While everyone was divided into clusters, I was alone from the group to be seated in a bus of strangers. Again, my favourite feeling of resfeber (the restless race of the traveller’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together) creeped in and spread to each cell in my body.
Fortunately, I had an amazing journey. I was seated among a group of friends returning from Manali, smiling ear to ear while discussing the memories they have created. Oh the best part, finally got a plug point to charge my phone after three days!
A moment from this journey etched in my mind is: sipping a hot cup of coffee while strolling alone in Sundernagar at 12:30 am, when the bus had halted for a break.
When I reached Delhi the following morning, I took the metro to Select City Walk Mall, which wasn’t that close from the place I unboarded, but at least there was a direct metro till there. (Decision courtesy: my blog https://www.holidify.com/pages/malls-in-delhi-2128.html).
Bought myself a pair of clean clothes at the mall, changed, ate and set out for the airport.
10. Flight to Pune: Still an Adventure
While checking in at the airport, I overheard a passenger being instructed to remove his power bank from his overhead luggage and keep it in the hand luggage. This reminded me that I had to do the same too. I parked myself in a corner to hunt the power bank from my backpack. Much to my shock, I couldn’t find it despite emptying my bag thrice. Deciding that I have forgotten it in Tulga, I checked in.
Few minutes later, when I was choosing which coffee shop to hit, my name was announced and I had to visit the security checking counter. I guess I knew what it was for.
I stood outside the cabin with three others. We were to go in one by one. The first man went in and came out laughing because a coconut had been found from his bag, which was apparently disallowed. The next two men went in and came out one by one and had similar experiences. I was last and my mouth was dry with fear.
I went in and as expected, I was accused of having a power bank in my bag. I emptied my bag and even the security checkers couldn’t find the power bank in there. One of them then scanned my bag to find the precise location of my battery-savior. He suggested I check inside my bright pink toilet kit. Aha! There it was! My nasty travel companion!
Meanwhile, the weather in Pune was worsening. A heavy downpour had commenced, which got Mom worried, but not me.
I reached safely, finally aware that Bin Naqshe Kadam was a tour group organizing underground trips, etc., known for their suspense, thrill and chilled out vibe. Now, to me, it wasn’t just a tour organizing group; it was a way of life.
It has been a month since I’m back from this trip and I am still experiencing withdrawal symptoms. The tour has left me wanting more. And more. And more.