The road from Manali to Vashisht forms an esplanade overlooking the river Beas. Standing on it, you can see the river below ripping through acres of open land. The Beas is like a bustling town; noisy, turbulent and self-absorbed. It flows the entire breadth of the valley, then curves around the foot of a gigantic mountain capped with fresh snow.
En route to Vashisht's famous watershed is a small two-storied lodge called Sonam guest house. It is unremarkable, except for a red signboard peeking out from between the rungs of a staircase that reads: "Cinema." Below it is an equally artless slate that reads in white chalk, "Catch a glimpse of world cinema between 10 am to 10 am." You ignore the error, because you're in Vashisht. Who would want to stock a collection of world cinema here? Or why?
I head up the stairs just as a group of weary tourists emerge from a screening of a Kiarostami film. Joy Paul, the owner of the guesthouse, sits in an adjacent room. He's a tall man of average build and long, ash grey locks. He wants to know what kinds of films I like, even before he's got my name right. "Ah, Wong Kar Wai... no I don't like him much. His camera shakes a lot. Tarkovsky, on the other hand..." he says, giving me a list of the movies he's got.
Of great interest
Paul, 49, has lived here for eight years. The room where he holds screenings won't accommodate more than ten people, but you'll be served tea and snacks for Rs 40 a piece and given blankets on a cold day. "I have so many DVDs, and movies that tourists love to see," Paul says, ushering me into another small room with dim yellow lights. That's his studio, where he paints acrylic on canvas.
Two paintings depict a symmetrical abstraction of the Mahavira, and another is an anarchy of vivid hues. It alludes to a higher philosophy, maybe something he's derived from world literature or architecture. Or both. "This is the ancient future," he says, "where everything meets and goes around in circles to happen time after time," he says. "So, both," I say to myself.