Saturday, 20 June 2009

Travel Diary: May 28 - June 1

Day 21 - Thursday - May 28

Old Manali

Woke at 10.00. Had breakfast at Kathmandu Cafe - beans on toast (Rs. 40). Went for a long walk. Took the road out of town that passes the clubhouse. It was around 6 kms through beautiful green scenery. This was my first walk through lush greenery since Ladakh so it was a big difference.

The road was pretty lonely, but towards the end I did come to a little resort town, where I crossed a bridge to the east and came to the highway, where I began walking back to Manali, passing Vashisht, another small town popular with foreign tourists and backpackers. This must have taken another 5 kms.

It was late afternoon now, and while walking up to Old Manali, I cut through the nature park situated between the two towns. Again, it was the first time I'd seen fir trees so I went a bit photo crazy. I really enjoyed the coolness of the forest as well. It tends to get dark among the tall tress, even in the middle of the day.

I rested at the guesthouse from 5 till 8, and then ate dinner at Simpy's restaurant - a chicken tikka & roti (Rs.100). A blackout ensued when I finished my meal and I had to wait at the restaurant for around 10 mins before the power returned, since finding my way back to the guesthouse in the sudden pitch blackness would be risky, the roads being potholed and all. Leh had a lot of blackouts but most of the hotels and guesthouses had generators, at least for some emergency lighting. I hope blackouts aren't too frequent over here.

It's cold at night, but not in an uncomfortable way. I use a sweater and monkey cap when out and about at night and a light blanket while sleeping. This suffices.

Day 22 - Friday - May 29
Old Manali

I had breakfast at a little cafe nearby - a garlic cream cheese mushroom olive sandwich - really large and great value for money at Rs. 40.

Went on a nice pleasant walk to Hadimba temple - walked down to the Beas, crossed the bridge, and walked up the path, through mid range hotels and guesthouses to the temple compound.

The compound has four entrances, I discovered after walking around for a while, and I came in through the quietest one. The others can be noisy affairs, with lots of people trying to sell you stuff - saffron, kesar, pictures of you touching a yak, rabbit or snake, etc.

The temple seems pretty much hidden from view until you really come to it. It has a few interesting animal horns hung around its sides. There's a little forest, leading up from the temple, a nice place for a walk or rest - very similar to the little nature park between Manali and Old Manali.

I checked out some of the posher hotels on my way back to the guesthouse, which I reached around noon. Had lunch at 2.00 at Evergreen Cafe - a Falafel plate (Rs. 90) - which wasn't that good, and then spent time at the internet centre next door from 3.00 to 6.30.

Met P & T for dinner at 8.00 - we went to the Moon Dance Cafe where I had a Bruschetta (Rs. 60). P's food took an extraordinarily long time to arrive, and we were finished by the time it eventually did.

I'll be trekking to the Solang valley tomorrow.

Day 23 - Saturday - May 30
Old Manali/Solang

Woke early today and had breakfast at the same place as yesterday's cafe - another sandwich.

Put on a sweater - it was pretty cold today morning - and began my trek. I walked past Manu temple, and then climbed upwards following a shepherd and his herd of cows to a beautiful open green pasture really high up.

I saw three other people - foreigners. By the time I reached them, to ask for directions, two had already begun descending, and the remaining guy didn't seem to know where Solang was. He then began walking upwards, towards the where the pasture sloped up and the mountain continued upwards. I could also hear techno music coming from somewhere up there.

It was warmer now and a light rain began to fall, so I swapped my sweater for a light raincoat and approached the herder for directions to Solang, but he instructed me to go through the forest, meet up with the road I had walked on two days ago, and continue on that road to Solang. This would take me the rest of the day to accomplish, much longer than the two hours the LP guide had mentioned. I decided to continue with the trek anyway. I hate turning back. When asked about the music, he said something about a party some foreigners were throwing. I decided to investigate.

So I climbed upwards again. This time I didn't have to climb far and it wasn't too tiring. I just followed the music and it kept getting louder as I went up. It was really good techno music. I finally came up over the slope and saw before be a small clearing, where 3 yellow tents were set up, and around 15 Japanese/Korean hippie like people were milling about, some inside the tents, some outside, in the midst of a techno music rave party.

They were all in the zone, swaying to the pulsating repetitive music, some standing around dancing by themselves, some sitting and following the beat, all in their own little worlds. They were high. Some of them didn't even notice me, or didn't care, and seemed to be smoking hash.

The middle tent had a DJ with a laptop. He seemed to be the only truly sober member of the group. I also noticed large speakers with a generator. I can't believe people lugged that equipment all the way up here. They had to do it themselves. There were no roads here. They could have had a pack animal do it though.

I walked back down the slope to the green pasture below, and continued onwards to Solang, following a narrow,sometimes invisible path beside a line of barbed wire for what seemed like forever. This bit was the hardest. I managed to get myself inside the fenced off area at one point but couldn't find any way down to the road below.

I went on. The path took me across a steep little creek to another point in the mountain with a few homes and farms strewn about, where I got directions to the road at the bottom. Climbing down to the road took a long while since I was so high up by this time. After about twenty minutes, I came down to the motorable road I had walked on two days ago, the one following the river north. I continued walking along it, in the direction of Solang, stopping at 12.30 to eat some biscuits for lunch.

I kept on walking, on to the Whispering Woods resort. It was really hot by now, not only because I was out of the mountain forest area, but also because it was mid day. About 4 kms later, I came to a bridge allowing me to cross the river to Palchan. It was another 4 km walk uphill from there, along the road, to Solang.

I finally arrived at Solang at around 4.00 P.M, and rested at the bus stop. I wasn't sure what I'd find here, but a lot of vehicles kept passing me on their way further uphill. It was at this point that I saw paragliders in the air. I walked up the road; it turned out to lead straight to the valley, where a lot of adventure sports take place.

The first thing I saw were cars, so many of them that they were parked on both sides of the road next to the valley. The valley itself was really crowded, with people walking about the huge open ground, paragliders landing in their midst, kicking them in their faces as they landed, people in zorbing bubbles being rolled down one slope of the valley, pony rides, quad biking, tiny open air restaurants selling Maggie noodles and other snacks lining the sides of the valley, etc. There was even a small ski lift that looked like it was under construction.

I took in the whole sight, then walked back to bus stop. Waited for a bus to Manali for a long time but none arrived. A group of us then jumped into a tourist vehicle and paid the driver Rs. 20 each to get us to Manali.

I walked back to Old Manali, my feet a bit sore from all the walking, freshened up at the guesthouse, and ate dinner at the Cnaan restaurant at Sagar guesthouse - a mixed veg tikka & roti (Rs. 90).

Day 24 - Sunday - May 31
Old Manali/Vashisht

Had Muesli for breakfast at Yangkhor Tibetan Cafe. I had never heard of Muesli before but it is on most of the menus here so I finally decided to give it a try. It took a really long time to prepare but it was filling, I'll give it that. It seemed to have everything in it - around twenty different types of nuts and fruits in a bowl and mixed with curd and honey. Tastewise it was O.K, but a bit pricy at Rs. 70. I didn't mind since this was a one time thing. I'm not averse to trying these new types of food when travelling. We don't get stuff like this back in Mumbai so it's good to experiment now and then.

I came back and met P & T at their guesthouse. We had agreed to meet today and go to Vashisht. They hadn't even had breakfast yet. We took a rick to Vashisht, three kms morth of Manali on the east side of the river. It's supposed to be a hot spring town. Vashisht itself is more or less on the highway, like Manali, but it's built in to a hill (like everything else on my travels) so you need to take a steep motorable road right up to the top of the town, which is where the main temple, restaurants, and guesthouses are.

It's actually pretty crowded, what with people constantly visiting the temple and all. They have a few hot spring baths lying around but since it was late morning by the time we arrived there, there didn't seem to be any point in heating ourselves up further.

We waked around a bit, exploring the area around the temple. A few few narrow lanes off the main square lead to village like areas and guesthouses populated by foreigners. Vashisht is a lot larger than Old Manali. Like Old Manali, there just seems to be one main street running through the town, but unlike Old Manali, most of the action seems to take place at the top of the hill. Most of the atmospheric guesthouses and restaurants are located here, though surprisingly, given the town's size, they're not as numerous as the ones in Old Manali.

This town seems to be more of a holy place populated and visited mostly by Indians. This might not be a bad place to stay for a few days if you're looking to just relax, read and do nothing else whole day, but for someone like me, I'm not so sure I could handle it. At least not without company.

We asked around for hot springs and waterfalls and were told that there was one a few minutes walk away from the town centre. The path we were shown initially took us through village like homes. I was reminded of Goa. We then came to a small waterfall, Then a slightly larger one that turned into a little stream at the point where we crossed it, hopping over stepping stones to keep our feet (or shoes in my case) dry. The path took us around the periphery of the hill that Vashisht is built onto, and the views of the surrounding quiet beautiful forest were fantastic.

We finally left the forest area and came into a clearing where we could see the waterfall crashing down below us. This was the real waterfall, tall and strong. It only took us around 15 minutes to walk here form Vashisht town, the first time I've had to walk so little to get to a waterfall. There was a little lookout point built around a Hindu shrine somewhere around the middle of the waterfall, a little lower than the point in the forest from which we emerged. We relaxed there for a bit, and then climbed up, above the shrine to where the waterfall forms a pool of water after it comes crashing down over a precipice in the mountain. This was a really lovely meditative place. I love sitting around waterfall pools. Though deafening, they seem so peaceful.

Being a Sunday, and a popular spot for visitors, we saw quite a few more people come to this spot while we there, though I wouldn't call it crowded. Still, I'd like to come back here on a weekday. We walked back to Vashisht where we ate a late lunch at the World Peace Cafe. I had a mushroom mutter and two rotis (Rs.85). I needed to have something spicy after all the bland/continental food I've been having lately.

We took a rick back to Old Manali. I got off at Manali on the way and hit the ATM. Picked up a quart of rum on the way back to Old Manali and, back at the guesthouse, mixed it into a little-more-than-half full bottle of Pepsi that I carried all the way from Leh. I had bought it during our one and only visit to a bar there. Skipped dinner. Just read a bit and slept.

Day 25 - Monday - June 1
Old Manali

It was raining outside for almost the entire day today, so I got a chance to relax. Had breakfast at the guesthouse - cheese mushroom toast (Rs.50). Yum.

I picked up a book from the guesthouse collection - Avalon - The Return of King Arthur by Stephen R. Lawhead. Pretty crappy but it passed the time. I kept reading till lunch, which I also ate at the guesthouse - a chicken do pyaza with rice (Rs. 100).

I then returned to my book for the rest of the afternoon and evening. Met the guys in the night for dinner. I hung out at their guesthouse for a while, sipping my concoction and getting high while they finished a joint. They seem to have a whole bunch of beer bottles lying around. They really don't do much. I almost finished my rum while I was there and was pretty high by the time we left for dinner.

We went to the Lazy Dog, this really expensive place. I finished the rum I had (was really feeling good) while the guys made and smoked another joint between their beers. And then they smoked a sheesha. I had ordered Japanese food for the first time (another first for me) - a chicken katsu-dom (Rs. 180). It was really bland and not worth its price.

Made it back to the guesthouse in one piece.


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