Monday, June 1, 2009
M for MANALI
After fifteen hours of spiralling trip in a government bus with random stops and a mad co passenger falling over my shoulder throughout the journey and feeling the scent of fresh air, the Sound of Beas River and snow capped mountains at your disposal you know you have reached Manali.
Manali is a gateway for a backpacker, with some really interesting things to offer, provided you know where to look out. It is a point for all the seasoned trekkers, good place to smoke up and swing to the trance beats, very pleasant weather, a transit point to scenic Ladakh Mountains and a great place for all the first time Indian love makers (read honeymoon).
I reached Manali on Friday Afternoon with a pleasant temperature awaiting me at 17-20degree temperature. It was bliss for a person coming from Delhi's sweltering heat. I quietly made my way to a place called Vashishat, which is 3 kms from Manali city for an accommodation. It was a calm place with only cheap backpackers with lot of European travelers. After finding a place to stay at Hotel Valley View and some haggling over the room rent with Chaman the hotel guy for 250 rupees per night. I settled down for a hot shower and set off for lunch.
Meanwhile at a local restaurant I met Rene a Italian traveler and we spoke for sometime and got along really well. After a nice lunch it was time to explore the place. My first stop was at Vashishat temple, where you have hot spring showers through out the year. i didn't take a bath very unlike me but i refrained from taking a dip as it was very small and crowded. I did capture some pictures and left to Manali town. After searching through the lanes i found out a tourist centre where we can take a cab on sharing basis to Rohatang Pass. I negotiated the price for 300 rupees and reserved a seat.
In the evening after walking around Manali town and catching up with hot samosas and hot chai at Manali Sweets centre, i left to vashisht. I caught for dinner with Rene at Rainbow Cafe overlooking the Rohtang Pass Mountains and the alpine trees. It was really nice feeling. We washed our throat with some beer and a nice Nepali thali. We spoke about travelling and backpacking on budget for sometime. It was really cold in the evening with clouds hovering over you. We exchanged our e-mail Id and parted ways.
I returned to room at 9:30 only to find Chaman the hotel guy asking me to join him at World Peace Cafe. The cafe offers you Hollywood movies on big screen with some nice booze and good food. They play only movies nominated for Oscar or any big awards, apparently when we checked in Slum Dog Millionaire had just begun. I watched the foreign travellers closely when they patiently watched the movie. I was bored after sometime and left the place as i had an early day to start the next day. I returned to my place and slept at 11 PM. good night.
I woke up at 5:30 as i had my cab picking me up at 6:15 to Rohatang Pass from Vashisht Chowk. I walked 1.5 kms in the cold to catch the cab, as he wouldn't pick me up from my place. I joined a great Indian family in the cab to travel to Rohatang.
Rohatang Pass is 50 kms from Manali and takes 3 hours to reach the peak. We set off in Tata Sumo enroute we stopped to pick the warm clothing to beat the spine chilling cold. Initially, i relented to pick warm clothing because it would cost 200 rupees, which I felt was ridiculous sum to pay. My driver requested me to pick one and not act like a fool. All thanks to god, my good sense prevailed and some one had said me listen to locals always and it really helps. I picked one set of warm clothing and we left.
Folks, the route to Rohatang Pass is a treat for every traveller. The roads are cuvaceous as Shakira and smooth as butter except for last 10 kms stretch. It is filled with pine trees lush greenery, fresh air, and blue sky and really very picturesque. Teh temperature drops as you inch further up and the roads are really narrow and spiralling and snow scattered all over teh place. Driving through this terrain is an art, which not everyone can master. In midst of this treacherous route there is a point call Bhuri a meadow overlooking the Rohatang valley. Everyone must stop to warm up for the famous Aloo Parantha with a hot chai. I ganged up with some taxi drivers and got a free breakfast. Probably, the hotel folks thought I am also a driver and they didn't charge me. I walked out as a happy man.
The travel continued in our Tat Sumo with the aimless chatter with the Indian family. I was just having some fun. As we inched further to Rohatang Pass the road was filled with silt because the ice melts at a greater speed and becomes water, which in turn falls on road and due to heavy vehicular movement the roads become wet and slushy. This makes all the vehicles a tough job to navigate. To aggravate the condition we had clouds hovering, which led to poor visibility. However, despite all odds our driver knew the terrain and he did a marvellous job of taking us to Rohatang Pass.
The moment i reached Rohatang the first thoughts, which crossed my mind, was ROJA movie. My first memories of snow began with Aravind Swami romancing Madhoo in the song "china china asai". Post 2009 I was in Rohatang Pass watching a snowfall. The weather was 1 degree and it was spine chilling. I wore my warm clothing, which was really helpful. i wandered alone in the valley watching people playing with snow. I walked all through the Pass and was stuck by the snow-capped mountains sitting pretty. For a moment I felt these places are still like this because they are not easily accessible to human inhabitation. Otherwise you all know the consequences. I personally didn't like the Rohatang Pass per se due to lot of tourists crowding the placs and spoiling it but the route to Rohatang is just amazing. Amid the snow fall some amount of ice went in my shoes and my feet was wet. I was feeling numb and I almost had a frost bite. I ran to my taxi but couldn't spot as i was in need of some heating. After some anxiety I found the cab and warmed myself. It was really scary but very memorable.
I returned back by 4PM and rested in my room for some time. I took a hot shower and set off to Old Manali as i was told that true Manali culture lies in old Manali. I walked through the narrow lanes amidst shops selling various sort of things and crowded with only hippie travellers. Old Manali has old houses and the place hasn't changed much unlike its neighbors. It still retains some charm and you feel the change. I had a cup of Mint tea at a local cafe and read Indian Express and just relaxed.
I went searching for a warm wollen cap but ended up picking up 2 jean pants for 1400 rupees at a local store near the bus stand. The last time I shopped was in IIJNM and I really enjoyed the bargaining.
TRANCE PARTY @ YETI:
I attended a trance party at Yeti Restaurant on Chaman's recommendation. Entry to all parties in Manali is subjected to the kind of contacts and setting you have. I had a beer and chilled out. I saw all European tourists doing weed and all sorts of substances. I spent time lazing around the cushions and helping fellow traveller in preparing a joint. The time was late 1:30AM everyone was high and attained nirvana. Suddenly, a fight broke out between two local guys over a firang girl.. .. This was waiting to happen. I saw them fighting and everyone fled from the scene, including me. I returned to my place at 2AM and slept off...
I woke up at 9AM in the morning and freshened up with a nice shave from a local barber and left to Manali town. I had scrambled eggs for breakfast at a local hotel. I got my tickets reserved, which was very painful thing to do. As i wanted to stay for longer time in Manali and chill out. I left Manali at 2:20PM with a heavy heart and reached Delhi at 5.30 morning.