The little temple appears suddenly, there on a sort of saddle point between green valleys. At first sight, the entrance seems almost obscured by an enormous number of trishuls that have been left by visiting pilgrims. When I get up there, I am panting -- not so much from the arduousness of the climb as from the altitude and my abysmal state of fitness.
For a few minutes I am too winded to notice anything. But then I see the enormous half-constructed building off to one side. In this spot? Where every single brick, every single gram of cement, had to have been lugged on someone's back, along the trail we've just followed? What is this unfinished monstrosity anyway?
"Dharamshala", says one of the two men standing by the temple.
But the ugly building is the only odd note. Despite the number of trishuls in this tiny place of worship, it is tidy and spotless. On two sides, the valleys yawn away from us steeply. Somewhere far below, I can see two flocks of -- what? From up here they are just spots moving about, and suddenly we can't see them any more anyway, because a cloud has rolled in.
The two men, in khaki woollen overcoats, are the only other people here, each in front of his little tea stall. We choose one, the other hardly seems to mind. In a few minutes, the man has produced three steaming cups of chai and, of all things, Cadbury's Perk mango-flavoured chocolate bars.
As the mist moves on, as we sip our chai and munch our Perk and listen gratefully to the almost sacred silence, I come around to feeling it all fits. Whimsy down to the Perk bars. Mango-flavoured, of course. What else?
The trail came past an Indian Air Force radio establishment -- we are only a few dozen miles from the border, after all. So in between empty hillsides caressed by the rolling clouds, we get sudden tantalising views of antennae and wires and other incongruous bits of technology. When we round a curve and can no longer see the IAF equipment, we are stopped short by an enormous bull that glares at us from the middle of the trail. Takes a while to gather our courage and take a step -- one mincing step -- forward. Whereupon, Mr Bull shoots off down the unnervingly steep slope, crashing clumsily, noisily and yet so surefootedly through the bushes.
And through it all, perhaps inspired by IAF radio, Sudhir keeps trying to reach a friend back at the house in Dalhousie on a small fluorescent-pink walkie-talkie. "It's only a mile as the crow flies," he says. "Well within the range of this thingie."
Thus: "Geeta, can you hear me? Over." Over and over. Followed every time by static. But Geeta cannot hear.
The crows in this place, I think as I wheeze, must fly kind of strangely.