With a backpack on my shoulder, I stood amidst the road, waiting for someone from whom I could get a ride as I chose not to take any other mode of transportation to reach Manali. I left from Leh in the morning where I spent my time housed by a beautiful Ladhaki family, in a hope of finding someone who could give me a lift. After walking for almost an hour with no sign of success, I started to get disheartened as it was already half past nine. I was tired and exhausted, I thought I might not get a ride and with a heavy heart stopped for a while under the cool shade of a tree trying to figure out my plan B. As I was losing all hope, I saw a truck coming down the road towards me, it was orange in colour and I thought it might be it. I took out my thumb as my only weapon which could have helped me in stopping it and the truck zoomed past me as if I didn’t exist, I looked down in remorse and thought, ‘lets go back, its not my lucky day,’ maybe he saw the disappointment on my face and to my surprise, stopped a few meters away. I ran towards it, stopped beside the window, and said “can I get a lift to wherever you are going” to the man sitting in the driving seat. He just nods his head and smiled in acceptance as I clumsily climbed into the truck for the first time. With a grin on my face, I observed the inside of the truck and asked “where are you going to drop me?” to which he replied with a heavy voice,”Karu.”
Now, I have this habit of staring out of window panes and losing myself in the views they have to offer. Time and again I have been taunted over this habit of mine and people have asked me to not be a too absorbed and talk. After half the ride passed in a haze, I realized I was doing it again and asked the driver his name to break the ice. “Arvind,” he replied in a heavy voice and asked me the reason behind me hitch-hiking. For a minute I couldn’t figure out what to say and how to make him understand the concept of hitchhiking and with a hesitation, I said, “I am out of money”.
He looked at me with a suspicious eye and again I said: ” yes, that’s why I am going back home to Delhi”.
At this point, he started to get worried and asked: ” how are you going to eat and where you going to stay?”
I replied “I suppose I will find someone generous like you who will also give me a lift. As far as food is concerned, I have some money left for it and I am positive I can manage that”.
We almost reached Karu and I thought I am done with this wired conversation and lies.
He said, “I am going to stop here for lunch, Would you like to join?”
I said, “No, Thank you, I already ate in the morning but I suppose I could join you for one cup of tea.”
We got down from the truck and entered a small Dhaba where mostly truck driver stops for a meal. I sat down with him on a table with a pickle and salt kept on it.
The truck driver said to the waiter “We will have two thali’s one for me and one for him.”
Puzzled, I said, “No, I am OK, I don’t think I will eat.”
He said, “Have it, food is really good here.”
Small Dhaba in Karu
Well, to be honest, I was tired of the long walk under the blazing sun and a paratha or two wouldn’t hurt. We had no conversation during the whole time and when he was finished he said: “That’s it, you have to go alone as I have to head to a different direction from here”.
It was almost 11, and most people leave for Manali early in the morning, I thought I won’t get any other ride and decided to spend a night in Karu.
“How much we have to pay?” Arvind asked the waiter.
“300,” he said and while I was searching for my wallet in my now so messed up bag. What the truck diver said next, left me stunned for a while, “Please, you don’t have to pay anything, I insist, that money will help you to reach to your home.”
Looking at him dead in the eye, I fell short of words and finally managed to say after a few seconds, “No, I have money, don’t worry about it, I will pay for my share” and took out money.
I was about to hand it over to the waiter but the truck driver dared him in his heavy voice, “Don’t you dare take any money from this kid.”
He stood up, pat on my shoulder and said “Good luck with rest of your journey” and walked out of the restaurant.
I was left surprised and shocked in that half-empty dhaba and when I looked back to bid him goodbye, he climbed back into his truck, started the engine and waved me goodbye before I could begin to thank him for his courtesy and hospitality. I stood there looking at this generous man with 150 rupees in my hand.
I was again stranded on the road, walking towards Karu. With a full stomach and a fuller heart, I set out on a spree to find my next ride and when I saw a bike coming towards me, I again took out my most reliable weapon and stood to wait for him to see me. He slowed down, stopped just beside me and said “Hop on” in an Israeli accent.