Manali and the Spiti Valley

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Gabby

After our Beas Kund trek, a dilemma. Of the two villages close to Manali town, Vashisht and Old Manali, where should we base ourselves for the next 4 or 5 days? Old Manali is a bit of a travellers enclave but Vashisht, according to the guide books, is the more atmospheric of the two and with hot springs in the village and a great waterfall an easy walk away, it seemed the better option.
Arriving back from our trek at about 2pm, we ate a delicious fish lunch (I can only take so much Dal) at Johnson's before heading up the very steep hill to Vashisht. As the village is a (largely) traffic free zone we had to drag our bags up the final, steepest part of the hill. We could, of course, have paid some baksheesh to the traffic control policeman, but decided to keep our hands on our rupees.
An hour of looking around filthy rooms, mostly with shared squat toilets - all only 100-200 rupees (about 1.20 - 2.50) we quickly realised this was a place for long term backpackers who had to really watch their rupees and didn't care how disgusting their accommodation was. We hot footed it to Old Manali (on a rickshaw), back down the very steep hill to Manali town and up another very steep hill on the opposite side of the valley. Here we discovered Veer Guest House (pronounced Beer by the locals), an old wooden building with good sized, clean rooms, own bathroom, dressing room, western toilet - we could all squeeze in to one room for just 400 rupees (a fiver). The guest house also had a great garden, a good, comfortable restaurant and was full of social, friendly Irish travellers. It was a great place to hang out and with massage, shops, good restaurants (sadly no wine) and great local walks nearby, it was easy to fill several days. There were great people staying at our guest house - all (just a little bit) younger than us, they were interesting as well as interested in our experiences of travelling with kids. The most frequently asked question: have they been sick? It was probably the most sociable place we have stayed on our entire trip. it would have been easy to stay there and do very little, but after the success of our first trek, we felt compelled to arrange a second one. We were initially going to do this from McLeod Ganj, our next stop, but as the scenery there isn't as high or as stunning, we decided to head to the Spiti Valley. North of the Kullu Valley, Spiti is an area that falls in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, creating a bleak, high altitude desert. We intended to camp at 2 spots, Chhotta Dara at about 3500m (to acclimatise) and Chandra Dal (another sacred lake for the Hindus) at about 4200m, with walks around the latter approaching 5000m.
This trip involved a much longer drive over the Rohtang Pass. This is where Indians converge by their thousands to experience the delights of the year round snow. Driving through the area at the end of June meant the snow was very sparse and very black, but still the Indians were there skiing, riding yaks, tobogganing...... Despite a 7am start we still had to fight our way through traffic on the narrow, winding mountain roads. My vertigo is obviously still very evident as my legs went wobbly every time I looked down the steep precipices to the valley below. With so many cars and busses overtaking on these hair pin bends, I was surprised we didn't see more vehicles career over the side of the mountain. I'm having serious second thoughts about getting the overnight bus to McLeod's a really windy road.
The drive down the Rohtang Pass in to the Spiti Valley was spectacular, although I spent quite a large part of it with my eyes shut - either through fear or tiredness. After the greenness of the Kullu valley, the Spiti was desert like. Our camp at Chhota Dara was devoid of trees, shrubs - anything green with the exception of some grass surrounding the abundance of streams and brooks. Our campsite was on the edge of the raging Chandra River. The area was incredible but bleak, Rudyard Kipling once said of the Spiti, 'Surely the gods live here; this is no place for men'. Not the most picturesque campsites but stunningly desolate. After a walk up the steep valley sites to an amazing viewpoint, we returned to a delicious dinner. However, with no wood to collect there was no campfire, and beaten by the cold, we were all tucked up in our sleeping bags by about 8.30pm.
I woke up at about 1am with a stinking headache and feeling really nauseous. Dave was semi-awake too and feeling the same. I wasn't sure if we had eaten something bad or were suffering from altitude sickness. I did manage to get back to sleep but felt like shit in the morning. We were supposed to be packing up camp and driving for another 2 hours to Chandra Dal, where we were going to walk for about 3 hours. I really didn't feel like doing any walking and certainly didn't want to go any higher. Dave was feeling a bit ropey but seemed better than me. The girls were their usual exuberant selves and were enjoying their amazing Himalayan playground. Our guide, Baggy, suggested I slept for a bit and we review the situation by midday. By 11.30am, Dave and I both felt we should head back to Manali - neither of us were feeling great and definitely didn't need a thin-aired trek!
6 hours and a hairy drive back to Manali, we were both glad to be back in the confines of the Veer Guest House. Dave and I were both still suffering, painful wind with incredibly smelly burps and farts. I'm glad I'm travelling with my husband of 10 years rather than a new boyfriend! It seemed like Giardia, normally requiring antibiotic treatment, however a few days of the right homeopathic remedies and we both seemed as right as rain. With frequent toilet trips, we were incredibly grateful not to have spent a second night in a tent.
The Irish were still there when we arrived back at Veer - they had intended to do a trek but didn't quite make it!. Plenty of new arrivals too, including 2 women who had been cycling and motorbiking their way around Tibet, China and India. I could have spent hours listening to their stories. After a blissful few more days there, we dragged ourselves away to McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama. With his 72nd birthday imminent it's the hottest place to be in Northern India right now. We bade farewell to our new found Irish friends - they were still in Manali, maybe they'll leave tomorrow.

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