Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Himalayan Hill Stations- Manali

I stayed at the Oberoi Delhi and met up with Bicky Oberoi informing him of the opportunity of management rights for the Kayu Aya, Bali. Which subsequently happened and the Oberoi still have the management rights to the hotel to this day of writing, thirty four years later, as I visited the hotel in February 2012.

From Delhi I planned my assault on the Himalayan Hill Stations that i wanted to visit ; Manali, Simla, Dharmsala, Mcleod Gang. Wanting to travel light  and well organised for the cold nights, the first bag to go into the Oberoi cloakroom, was my canvas suitcase with the Sumban Ikats, which were to heavy to lug around. 

I had bought a ceremonial antique shawl from Bhutan in Kathmandu made from raw silk the size of a small blanket, which was light yet very warm in sensational colours of orange,saffron, maroon and red. I had a pair of suede rust coloured calf high hiking boots made in Delhi whilst there. Minimised my pack down to, two pairs of jeans, three t shirts, one flannel overshirt, three pairs sox and u pants camera books passport and money packed into a canvas overnight bag and i was off.

A cab took me out to the general  bus terminal which was huge, chaotic and difficult to find my way around, after what seemed innumerable enquiries on where to find the Manali bus and as many misleading directions. I eventually found the bus to Manali which was nearly choka block already. I secured my seat next to the driver, as my instructions had been that was the spot to secure, the reason was ; that if they went off the road into a a ravine on the mountain roads, as you were closest to the door, you could get out the bus, pronto!!

It was fourteen hours to Manali by public bus, about 500 kms, I purposely wanted this experience,not  by coach, I wanted to travel cheap and in the raw with 'India no frills' I wanted the real picture show, kaleidoscope of  people and the cornucopia of colours, smells, animals in cages. The trip was every bit the exercise in being out of my comfort zone, integrate with the locals on the the buses, an the junctions where they got on and off, eating from the sidewalk hawkers, after my bloodletting in Bali I was well conditioned to Asian food. 

There were the Sikhs with their turbans, so warrior like,the women with their babies slung to their backs in sensational coloured fabrics draped in unusual and different methods around their bodies.The smells, oh ! so overpowering and constantly wafting, from sidewalk cooking to toxic fumes of diesel and the ever constant smell of human shit, to the fragrances of herbs spices and human sweat, which was more prevalent as we drove higher into the mountains as it got colder, and the windows and doors became shut to keep out the cold draughts.

Manali was at the end of the road of Himachal Pradesh the state which shared borders with Kashmir, Tibet, China, renowned for the best hashish in the world and the best ski field in India. What a trip, once we hit the mountains i was so glad to have my door side position, we weaved through valley after valley following huge rivers, one minute high up then the next right beside raging rapids with traffic constant ,with room for only one vehicle to pass.

One scene that has always stayed in my mind - we were at the top of one of the passes, around 10,000 feet, surrounded by peaks and mountain tops with the road only one lane wide, sheer cliff face on one side and a void of hundreds of feet on the other, out in the middle of 'no - where'. Perched on a solitary peak, which appeared straight up from the depths,as the crow flies 100 feet from the road, totally visible, was this Sadu. A holy man, sitting bolt upright, in the freezing cold,  seeming oblivious to all the surrounds, with only a light garment covering one shoulder,most of his body exposed to the elements - in deep meditation. There was no time for stopping, no one to ask questions, we just kept on going though he did cause a stir within the collective audience of the bus. I wonder in amazement at what goes on in his mind,I have heard of these Sadus living to ages of over 
220 years, you say bullshit!! but there is obviously substance to these stories as they are prevalent.                      

I arrived in Manali about midnight, as I got of the bus a young boy about fourteen came up to me and said " welcome to Manali" and held out his hand as if to shake, and handed me a big lump of hashish the size of  half a small fist, then he showed me to a guest house which was a colonial two level building with a veranda around the top level. I stayed there a week trekking into the mountains and through the forests of oaks, fir trees and rhodendrums. Besides hashish and tourism, agriculture is also a big crop, there are many orchards off Apples, Pears and Plums. 

I was walking one of the lane ways after breakfast and i heard this very British female voice from behind a stone wall so I peaked over to be spotted by an elderly lady, who saw me and asked "can I help you" I commenced a conversation and she invited me in for a cup of tea to find out she was a missionary looking after orphans and with that she found me a task and for the rest of the day she had me chopping wood for the winter ahead.I decided I better get out of that task otherwise I would be chopping wood for all winter, so off I headed for Dharmsala and the Tibetans.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Tony,
    Loving your new amazing adventures,to be amongst the locals and experience the sights,sounds,colour and uniqeness is an incredible journey.
    Jenny Fischer