It was one of those days when you just have to get off that lazy couch and step out of the safe predictable confines of your home. The most natural and easiest thing for me to do was to pack my rucksack, head out to the Chandralok building at good old Janpath in Connaught place, New Delhi, and catch the overnight bus to Manali, the high-altitude Himalayan town in India’s northern Himachal Pradesh state. I reached at ten in the morning, and without stopping at the resort town, I took a half hour jeep drive up to this heavenly little place called Vashisht. The road ends in the ancient Vashishth temple, with a natural hot sulphur spring inside its complex. Tourists come for a visit. I came to stay.

The Power Trip, Pioneer, April 2002

Renting a room just for a day at Dharma guesthouse for 150 INR a day, I ended up staying for two weeks. Day's routine was to bathe in the sulphur spring of the temple complex in the mornings. Something was amazingly refreshing about this bath. It felt as though layers and layers of stiffness, tension and dirt got washed off every time I took a dip. Though there was a separate enclosure for women, all women (including me) stood shyly gazing at one another. Just then an anglo-Indian woman made a bold entry and whoops! She set the trend of bathing bare. While most others merely watched her enviously, flashed their legs in the water a few times and left, I held the hand of courage and got initiated! I owe to her the freeing experience of seeing my flesh glisten directly under the sun’s warming rays further warming the water. Wish I had asked her name before she glided out as smoothly as she darted in.

After the bath, an easy four five hours were spent at a café (the place swarms with such, doing brisk business with tourists). The terrace of each café is converted into a chic hangout place with colorful umbrellas and a really slow service. One can spend hours here doing nothing (without even having to grab a book on the pretext of reading), where time whisked past whiffing the aromas emanating from the German bakery below. Evenings were reserved for a stroll by river Vyas, and mostly culminated in a thoughtless buying spree of silver and second hand books. Weather was great, cold only at night and promising showers of rain at least once during the day. Gushing non-stop notes of Vyas in the backdrop worked as a sedative, and put all unrest to a sweet sleep.

More than a week went past like this. Time felt ripe for exploration. Rumors and myths of Bhrigu lake, a 2-day trek up from Vashishth, fell on eager ears. Cafés quite obviously became the hot spot for chalking out such plans. Here one bumps into the right type of strangers to travel along with, meet locals who know the way up and can arrange for tents, sleeping bags and grub at short notices and cheap prices. Doling out cash advance for the same, six of us agreed to gather at 4 am the next morning at the narrow trailhead. Few hours into our hike, we noticed a seventh one joining us on the trail! Chicky, the pet village dog had an instinctual urge to accompany all trekkers, and was soon leading.

During our two-day trek and two night halts amidst thick woods, we witnessed the famous Pandava-khets (farms cultivated by the Pandavas during exile), devoured the special flavor of dal-chawal cooked on fire, and sipped tea made from fresh goat milk procured from the villagers. The fire lit up at night to keep wild life at bay. Chicky kept guard. Morning was heralded by oh so many a goat that alighted on the fresh green grass. Attending to nature's call behind a rock, amidst a bush, nearby a stream, or in the protective cover of the hills was indeed an experience. It rained heavily both nights, with sharp biting cold winds, and we stayed put huddled in tents.

The third morning saw us treading on snow, nearing our destination. I surprised myself for having been able to hike some 8 miles with total ease, and now on slippery snow! The pull of Rishi Bhrigu was strong and unrelenting. After a few last steps that extracted the most strength, I spotted the victorious red flag marking the beginning of the lake. The indescribably beautiful round lake bestows many a strange experience to seekers I was told. Sitting humbly by its side and gazing into its (then frozen) waters, I unexpectedly glimpsed many an image, strange yantras and faces emerging from it, and finally what I had keenly desired—Rishi Bhrigu's countenance shining forth.

Receiving his blessings with folded hands, the only motivation to trek back with swollen aching legs limping forth most unwillingly, was the white rice wine our local friends promised to share upon return. Squatting on the creaking wooden floor of my room back at Dharma guesthouse, I caught vagrant thoughts by their tail and penned them down before they drifted away. Each day deepened my intimacy with this stranger--me.

Bhrigu Lake is a lake located at an elevation of around 4,300 metres in Kullu district, Himachal Pradesh, India. It is located to the east of Rohtang Pass and is believed to be the spot where Maharishi Bhrigu one of the seven great sages, did penance.