Blogs in July 2007

McLeod Ganj

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Dave

Have definitely waited too long to write this blog.
Home now for three weeks and our last week in India seems like it was in another lifetime. Reincarnation aside, write I must.
Manali to Dharmsala. Either a bus trip or another Toyota Qualis. The latter is the best option. It is easier to see your driver falling asleep in the Qualis and therefor safer.
It always takes longer than you would think to get around in India. I have come to expect only about 30kms in every hour and they still manage to make that hair raising.
We are starting our two part Tibetan experience, in India. First we have two nights at Norling House at the Norbulingka Institute. The accom is in a lovely circular building on the complex. At Norbulinka, Tibetan culture is kept alive in a way that is impossible in their homeland. The Tibetans are charming and gentle people. Buddhists of course, which as a religion I find hard to fault.
While there Gabby took the girls to see a Tibetan doctor (that we had met earlier on our travels) primarily to let her have a look at Ella's persistent ankle wart but also to give Florence a once over. Gabby, never short of a topic asked, "Why does Florence seem to have the weight of the world on her shoulders?". They checked her pulse and other vital signs. "She is very mature" was the diagnosis. Oh bless... that explains a lot.
We take an early taxi up to McLeod Ganj to attend a long life Puja for the Dalai Lama. I settle in with the girls, prime position up front while Gabby takes our cameras off premises. You can normally bring a camera into the temple complex but not if his holiness is going to make an appearance we discover. Not long to wait and a very sprightly 71 year old monk speeds by us in the company of his identically robed entourage. Our girls were too busy being respectful and unfortunately did not see which one was the Dalai Lama. We settle down close to the temple as an endless stream of well-wishers bring presents. We are fed handfuls of sweet rice and very weak tea poured from huge metal tea pots which is nice but I am not comfortable (physically) and after half an hour it pleases me that we have all had enough of the chanting and watching people with curiously similar looking presents file through. It was fantastic to get a glimpse of such a great man but needs must and we think we have seen a cafe just up the hill that may do a nice English Breakfast. We like McLeod Ganj a lot and spend our next four nights here at Chonor House. A lovely hotel owned by the Norbulinka Institute and overlooking the Dalai Lamas temple complex. Staying at Chonor is a real treat. We booked it about a month ago.
One wet night I met a monk up a dark lane-way near Chonor. He asks if he can come around for English lessons (and tea on the deck) of a morning. Seems like a good idea to me. Each morning we chat and I hear the story of his walk out of Tibet over the Himalayas. On the Dalai Lama's birthday my girls also chat to some young Tibetan kids preparing to dance at the festivities. (We were backstage of course.) They were carried out of Tibet as three year olds and their parents are all still there. Got the kids out but no chance to escape themselves? Hard to fathom and it's hard to ask. The more we travel the more we learn and the more grateful I am for being born in the right place at the right time. The Chinese walked into Tibet over 50 years ago and the destruction of this unique culture and the persecution of these people continues today.
I don't want to go on about it but some facts just fascinate me. Five of Asia's great rivers have their headwaters in Tibet, including the Mekong, Indus and Brahmaputra, nearly half of the worlds population lives downstream from Tibet.
While In Laos and Vietnam we witnessed peoples distress at China's plans for dams on the Mekong. I would like to see the world come to the aid of Tibet in my life-time. That would make me very happy.
Homeward bound we have just one more scary journey from McLeod Ganj to Delhi to get our flight. We toyed with the idea of a sleeper bus but the sight of a bus carcass being pulled up from a ravine at a hairpin bend just out of town sets us off looking for another Qualis. I know a lot of people travel by bus in India but we just can't face it. We talked to a chap in McLoed Ganj who said that the beds on those sleeper busses are greasy anyway and it was while riding on them that he came to the conclusion that people actually smell like dogs. He supported our decision to take a car.
We do a one night stop over about half way at Vaseela Resort near Chandigarh (Punjab). It is everything we were expecting 'Nature Notes' to be. It is charming and sophisticated. The kids appreciate the first good pool we have seen since Vietnam and the Punjabi museum onsite is very nice. We are just here to sleep but could have stayed a few days easily.
Anyway, that is about it. Airport hotel, easy flight home.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. Very very well treated by Virgin. Red wine from first class, two full bottles of Champagne and other gifts. Photos taken in the cockpit after landing.
Gabby says they simply took a shine to the girls.
I am not so sure .........but thanks anyway.

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We're Coming Home

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Ella

I am sooooooo excited! We're on the aeroplane back home. Florence and I have been hyperactive all morning. I find it hard to believe that we're at the end of an amazing 7 and a half month trip. Mum said I have changed and progressed leaps and bounds on this trip, I know I have. I think that I am a really lucky child because not many people get to walk on glaciers, explore the Himalayas, go sailing, sleep on trains, fly through the jungle on zip lines, eat food from loads of different countries and meet lots of people on just one amazing trip around the world!

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On The Plane

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Florence

We are now on our way home and are soooooooo excited about seeing our friends, our cat and our school. We are hoping that we bring back the sun with us! Ella and I were running around, jumping on the bed at our hotel last night, soooooo excited about getting on the plane and going back to London. I expect Mum and Dad are excited too but in a different way. Mum and Dad said we could have a few friends for a sleep over when we get back to London. It is quite late here and we are all very tired. Ella is just watching the end of her film and Mum and I are just falling asleep..........waiting to get back to London!

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McLeod Ganj and the Dalai Lama

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Ella

After Manali we stayed in the Norling Guest House just outside Dharamsala. Norling is part of an area called the Norbulingka Institute which is trying to help Tibetan culture stay alive. In Norbulingka they have an art shop which sells special Tibetan wall hangings called Thangkas and other things like that. They are all made in Tibetan work rooms. There is also a Tibetan dolls museum and it was all very interesting.
Not far from the Norbulingka Institute is a place called McLeod Ganj. There are lots of Tibetan refugees who live there because the Chinese people invaded Tibet and tried to take over. McLeod Ganj is also home of the Dalai Lama, who is a really special, holy man. Everyone calls him Your Holiness, that's how holy he is.
On 6th July it was the Dalai Lama's birthday and there was a big long life puja for him and we went there. We got a really good position right at the front. It took a while for the Dalai Lama to come out but when he did, he was being rushed along by all the other monks and there were so many people that I didn't see him at all! After the puja we went to the temple cafe for lunch and ordered a Margarita Pizza. When it came out we took our first bites then scoffed it down - it was the best pizza I have ever tasted (by the way I have never been to Italy!).
The following day we left Norling and moved to another hotel in McLeod Ganj called Chonor House. Our room in Chonor House (called the Songtsen Suite) was REALLY nice and had lots of things from the Norbulingka Institute in it. While we were there Dad met a monk and the monk said "Can you give me English lessons?" and Dad said 'Yes, of course". So he did and Florence and I helped - it was good fun. The monk's name was Kunchok. The views from Chonor were amazing. It is set on a hill overlooking McLeod Ganj. Tibetan Prayer Flags hung in the view and the clouds often visited the balcony. We spent 5 days in the Chonor Guest House and then we were off again - this time to Delhi It was a very long car journey so we slept one night at the Vaseela Resort in Chandigarh - it was very nice. The people who worked at Vaseela were very happy to have us in their hotel that they gave us a free dinner and the owner came to chat to us!
We left Vaseela quite early and were soon in Delhi again but this time it wasn't as hot as when we arrived in India a month before. We stayed in a very big hotel called the Radisson near the airport and it had a huge swimming pool! You wouldn't believe how excited I was the next day as that was the day we were heading home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The Dalai Lama

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Florence

After Manali we had a long drive to another part of the Himalayan foothills and stayed at a nice place called Norling Guest House at the Norbulingka Institute. It had a very big garden that fitted a dolls museum and an art gallery! It was a holy place and had a very nice garden with Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels. Because the garden was soooo big we went on a tour around the garden. We saw things like a big Buddha in a temple in the gardens and we saw people making thangkas which are big paintings but with lots of detail put into them - it looked very hard (I expect it is!). Norbulingka was a holy place because the Dalai Lama visits every now and then. The Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan Buddhists. In our guest house, upstairs where our room was, there were lots of pictures of the Dalai Lama during his life from the age of three to now. The Dalai Lama decided to be a monk from the age of three, the Tibetans call him Your Holiness. Ella and I were very excited when we went to the Dalai Lama's puja! We got a good space in the front and waited a very long time until he came. He was very close to us when he walked past and had lots of other monks around him. It was very hard to see him but I got a quick glance.
The next day we moved from Norbulingka to Mcleod Ganj. Mcleod Ganj is the home of many Tibetans because the Chinese invaded Tibet and the Tibetan government moved there. We stayed in a lovely hotel called Chonor House. There were lots of Tibetan prayer flags in the garden and lots of thangkas painted on the walls in our room. While we were there we learnt a lot about Tibet and how China invaded the country. We stayed there for 4 nights but we were really looking forward to going to Delhi to go back to London.
Another mad drive to Delhi THEN HOME!!!!!!!!! Apart from one night's stop over at the Vaseela in Chandigarh (which we spent ages trying to find), we only stopped for the occasional camping wee! The drive was long, but we finally reached our posh hotel, with a swimming pool and big rooms, near the airport in Delhi. We only stayed there for one night - we didn't sleep much because we were soooooo excited about getting home!

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Little Lhasa in Northern India

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Gabby

We never did get the bus from Manali to Dharamsala - the Himalayan Roads are too windy, the Indian driving too bad....... A car with drier was the only option. We lucked out as the travel agent we had booked our treks through had to drive there so we received a hefty discount. Apart from a terrifying incident at the beginning of the journey where the driver nearly fell asleep (apparently on medication that made him drowsy) and, at the end of our journey, a fallen tree across the road, it was a pretty cruisy trip. No vomiting and very little whinging! We had booked in to the Norling Guest House part of the Tibetan Norbulingka Institute about 18km from McLeod Ganj (where the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan Government are based). The Norbulingka promotes the continuation of Tibetan Culture - in the grounds is a great cafe and the lovely guest house itself. We were the only guests in a place full of images of the Dalai Lama at various ages through his life - it was an amazing, peaceful place and somewhere we all learnt a huge amount about Tibetans, their culture and the crisis their country has been going through for the past 50 or so years. With 2 days until the Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations, we discovered there would be a long life puja (prayers, offerings) at 8am next day. As we were 18km away we had a really early start, and arrived at the temple at about 7.30am only to be told we couldn't bring phones or cameras in to the complex. Thankfully, we were booked in to Chonor House from the following day - only 5 minutes up a steep path - so I was able to leave everything there while Dave and the girls went in to the temple to get a good spot. I was so excited at the prospect of getting a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. After a stringent security check, I found Dave and the girls in a prime spot - right next to the area His Holiness would walk. The wait was long and the girls did get a little bored. Fortunately a few nuns distracted them with their keenness to practice their English. A few minutes after an initial flurry where the Karmapa came through surrounded by his entourage, the moment came where the Dalai Lama and his entourage walked through. He was whisked by so quickly, it really was just a fleeting glimpse - the girls, confused by the huge number of red robed monks besieging him hardly managed to see him at all! It was a very special moment for me but one I think the girls will forget very quickly!
The next day we moved into McCloed Ganj itself. Perched on a steep hill above the larger town of Dharamsala, Mcleod is more like being in Tibet than India and is often referred to as the Little Lhasa of Northern India. Chonor House was just beautiful and, with it's views over the Dalai Lama's residence and Buddhist temple complex, oozes a calmness and serenity we had not experienced in any of our other accommodations in India. Our room, the Songtsen suite was lovely. The whole hotel was decorated with Tibetan rugs, thangkas and furniture - it was a great place to escape from the bustling town. Our relaxation was aided by possibly the best massage I have ever received. Two Tibetan Doctors, Dolma and Kalsang, came to our room on at least 3 occasions to give all of us Tibetan massages. McLoed Ganj is also full of great places to do yoga and the classes I did were far better than anything I did in Rishikesh (somewhere I won't be returning to!).
It was a great place to end our month in India but the plight of the Tibetans made us all feel really angry. While China is devastating Tibet, the rest of the world is just looking on. We met so many Tibetan children who escaped to India when they were really young, leaving their parents behind. How desperate must the situation be for parents to send their young children away? I just can't imagine.
We had 5 blissful days there. We did try to book the train to Delhi (from Pathankot - a 4 hour drive from McLeod) but the sleeper had been booked months before. Hearing of another bus that had been driven off the road killing 30 people meant the sleeper bus was NOT an option so, once again, we booked a car and driver.
We stopped enroute in Chandigarh at the Vaseela Resort. We weren't expecting anything special but it was everything Nature Notes wasn't. Sadly, with less than 12 hours there we weren't able to make use of all of it's facilities but the place was lovely and the owners charming.
So, seven and a half months after leaving the UK, we arrived in Delhi for the last night of our incredible trip. The traffic was a nightmare and it took us about 3 hours to cross the city to get to the Radisson hotel at Delhi airport. This was the most expensive accommodation of our whole trip. That's just one of the disparities of India - it's one of the cheapest, yet one of the most expensive places in the world! I was glad to be leaving the country, but I hope I will go back one day soon.......
The girls hardly slept on our last night - they were so excited about getting home. They didn't sleep on the plane either. The flight was practically empty so we all stretched out on 4 seats each. The chief steward, Sam, when she heard we were heading home after such a long time away, plied Dave and I with champagne and gave the girls bags of gifts - it was a great flight home!
An excited Aunty Loo met us at Heathrow & the girls leapt into her arms. We were greeted by a huge 'welcome home' banner when we arrived at Andy and Helen Beales house in London. We are not going home just yet - we're staying there for a couple of weeks before continuing our nomadic lifestyle in the West Country. Why spend the summer in London when the kids aren't at school? It's going to be a slow reintegration in to London life - I think it's the best way to go.........

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Manali and Trek 2

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Dave

We don't as a rule arrive in a town without accommodation already booked but having earlier spent some days in Manali it seems an OK plan. It take two rickshaws to get us and all our bags up to Vashisht. I sit with the girls and the flies while Gabby has a scout around. After an hour we realise that we have definitely come to the wrong side of the river. Lots of accom for 150 rupees..... (dirt and flies, no extra charge). We head back over the river to Old Manali where we find a more than satisfactory lodging at Veer Guest House for 400 rupees (5) per night with great views back across to Vashisht and the waterfall. (I guess the reason I am mentioning these rates is because I am still a little vexed at having paid 6400 per night at Nature Notes.) Old Manali has more character and is perfect for us. The old wooden houses here have slates on their roofs up to 2 inches thick and are built from big timbers to support all this weight. It would have looked amazing here before concrete construction arrived in these hills.
Nine out of ten travellers in Old Manali and Vashisht seem to be Israeli. I have never seen such a concentration of travellers from any one country before! Old Manali however, has the slightly more cosmopolitan feel.
We have a few lazy days here but still manage a few nice walks. Through the forest back into New Manali is lovely and due to the 5rp fee is pretty deserted as well. Up to the waterfall at Vashisht was a good climb but with a rather precarious viewing perch at the end.
We have been talking to High Adventure and would like to do another trek here rather than wait till Dharmsala. The suitable treks for us near Dharmsala are in forest so we decide on a three day trek up to Chandra Tal in the Spiti Valley to the north of here. It is above the tree-line where things become spectacular in this part of the world and we know we can camp in forest elsewhere.
By the time we leave, we have condensed our plans to a two night trek and have a very experienced, level headed guide on board called Baggy. There is a lot of driving on this trek. Our first leg is up over the Rohtang Pass. This is the destination for a thousand Indian tourists every day for some play in a small patch of rather dirty snow. This pass in not accessible for six months of the year (winter) but right now there are lots of things to keep the Indian tourists amused, on what is probably their first visit to the snow. You can have your photo taken in front of a Ganesh snow carving, ride on a Yak or take unorthodox looking horizontal ski lessons. After a stop for breakfast we leave this 'winter wonderland' behind us and wind down into the Spiti Valley. Little rain falls here. There are no trees and the boulder strewn landscape is the most inhospitable I have ever seen.
Five and a half hours after leaving Manali in our 4WD we arrive at Chhota Dara, (houses three, population one). We have with us, in addition to Baggy, our cook Viki and from our last trek, helper Arun. They set our camp as we wonder what might be going on in Chhota Dara tonight. Disco anyone?
The views are imposing. No photograph can or will portray the scale of what surrounds us. We take a walk with Baggy up a small rocky slope. It looks near from the camp but when we reach the ridge and look back, our tents are tiny dots on a postage stamp of green. This is not nearly as pretty as our last trek but we are glad to be here.
There is no wood in the Spiti Valley so no camp fire tonight, much to our dismay. However the occupant of the nearby town is burning something, so I despatch Arun to exchange cash for timber. Alas, no joy, it will have to be an early to bed for us tonight.
We try sleeping in separate tents here, but at 3 a.m. and probably minus 3 degrees the girls come knocking on our tent flap. Nice to see the munshskins. Both Gab and I have a fitful nights sleep and in the morning I am feeling rather ropey but Gabby is worse. She is very ill. Is it altitude sickness or a stomach bug? We can't be sure, but decide that She had better stay in her sleeping bag for a few hours before we decide on the best direction to head. Gabby doesn't want to force the end of trek so I decide for her that a decent to Manali is the sensible option. If this is altitude sickness then going up to Chandra Tal would be wrong and if it is a stomach bug staying in this cold thin air will be uncomfortable. Ella and Florence are in good spirits and seem absolutely fine.
On our drive down I start feeling worse but it is tempered somewhat by the adrenaline ones body produces as a passenger on roads like these. The Indian driving style is hard to explain, it is so diametrically opposed to the Western. After a lot of consideration I have come up with a compact description.


Our driver was worrying me slightly as we traversed these tricky slopes. I had been smelling petrol fumes for quite a while and in the interest of driver precision I called for a stop. I traced the smell to a cardboard box in the back of the car. Typically Indian, they turned the box over so you couldn't see it anymore.
Our driver had many stand-offs in the middle of the road with all sorts of vehicles (even army) but he had a massive disadvantage. His horn had stopped working. He kept a brave face but had to do more than his fair share of reversing.
By the time we arrived in Manali Gabby felt a lot better, but my condition had deteriorated and I spent most of the next 24 hrs in bed at Veer Guest House. So glad I wasn't in a sleeping bag, 100 kms from the nearest flushing toilet.
By day two back in Old Manali things had settled down for me as well so both Gabby and I felt compelled to treat ourselves. I have not had a massage in India since Kerala 18 months ago. I was a bit put off them there, to be honest. Don't want to go into the details. Anyway, we had seen a place nearby called 'Lotus' with two very satisfied men exiting, and they did not look gay. We settled the kids down to some homework in their reception and both had a very good massage. My bliss was dented slightly when I was told by the masseur that at 47 I had the body of a 55 year old! Of course, I have been thinking of doing yoga (to improve my flexibility) for about 5 years now.
I will start tomorrow.

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Trek Two

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Ella

We don't normally get anywhere without booked accommodation but that's what happened when we arrived in Manali after our trek. So we had to go through the annoying stages of looking for a hotel.
We went to Vashisht first. I found it quite annoying having to walk up the hill just to find a hotel when I really thought we should stay in Old Manali. Dad and I sat on a crooked wooden bench outside a lady's shop and watched boys playing with cement. We played Os and Xs while Mum and Florence looked for a hotel.
Soon Mum came back and said "No luck, all the hotels are dirty, full of flies and the toilets are disgusting". Mum set off hotel hunting again, I was with her this time. We intended to go to the Mushroom hotel but never found it. When Mum and I got back to where Dad and Florence were sitting, Mum said "Let's go to Old Manali".
When we arrived in Old Manali, we found a very very nice guest house called Red Dragon. It had lovely big rooms but it was full!! We ended up in a place called Veer guest house. It was very nice because there were lots of people to talk to.
While we were there we met lots of Irish people. They included Brenda who was travelling with her boyfriend, Barry, Enda (who was travelling alone), Claire, Carla, Cara and Roisin (who were travelling together).
We spent 4 days lazing around in Veer guest house, sitting in the TV room, hanging out in our rooms and chatting to the Irish girls and boys (mostly Mum). We were still talking about our 3 day trek and how great it was, then one day Mum suggested that we should do another trek. Florence Dad and I all agreed and decided to do it the next day......
We got up very early and got a rickshaw to New Manali and from there we took a car up the Mountains..... while we were driving up the hills the clouds raced us. They won in the end so we had to drive thought them! Our campsite was in the spiti valley. It hardly ever rains here so that means no trees, no wood, which means there is no campfire. The spiti valley is much colder then our last trek so we NEED a fire! Florence and I searched the area looking for wood but the only plant life here is grass and the odd mountain flower or two. Apart from that, rocks.
"I wish we could burn rocks" I think, as I snuggle down in my sleeping bag trying to keep warm that night. I had a really fitful nights sleep. Flo woke me up in the middle of the night saying "I want to go to the other tent with Mum and Dad... Ella wake up". I flopped my crocs on and stumbled over to the other tent, Flo by my side. Florence shone the torch on the tent and Mum saw it and opened the door. We all slept better when we were sleeping together and didn't wake up once.
When we woke up in the morning Mum and Dad felt quite poorly. Mum more, but Dad was pretty bad. After our chat during breakfast we all decided that we should go back to Manali, instead of going any higher.
On our drive back we ducked down through the clouds and we soon in the town again. We drove up to Old Manali and stayed in Veer Guest House again. We spent another three days in Old Manali before we went on another adventure.

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Manali and the Mountains

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Florence

Instead of looking in New Manali, we decided we wanted to stay somewhere more out of town. So we searched and searched in Vashisht. There were absolutely no good rooms in Vashisht, you had to share toilets or they had squatty toilets and all of them were full of flies! Vashisht was no good so we looked in a bigger village called Old Manali. We looked in a place called the Red Dragon which had big and lovely rooms, I thought it would be a good place to stay. But if there was a better place we would stay there. Just in case we looked just along the road and there was a lovely but small hotel called Veer Guest House. There were some lovely people to chat to and also it was much cheaper than the Red Dragon. It is 400 rupees per night which is about five pounds. Still, if I was an adult I would have stayed at the Red Dragon!
We liked our last trek so much we decided to do another one. This time we went with a different guide called Baggy and our helper was called Arun. We drove over the Rohtang Pass and into the Spiti Valley where we set up camp. It was the same height as our last trek but it seemed higher because there were no trees where we were camping and no wood either so there was no chance of having a fire. We went on a walk up the rocky mountain. We saw a big mountain up there covered in flat thick smooth snow. It is called White Sail Mountain because the snow on it is blown in the shape of a sail.
That night, Ella and I slept in a separate tent from Mum and Dad. We couldn't sleep and we started to get a bit scared. So we secretly crept into Mum and Dad's tent trying not to wake them up but in the end Mum woke up (so did Dad) and got our sleeping bags from our tent. We snuggled up with Mum and Dad but before we went to sleep Mum said "I am not feeling very well"
In the morning Mum still wasn't feeling well so we snuggled up in our tent and ate porridge for breakfast, discussing that if Mum and Dad (but Mum mostly) were feeling ill we shouldn't go much higher. We thought it was altitude sickness so after a long discussion we decided that we would definitely go back to Manali.
We helped pack up the tent. Ella and I were desperately trying to help but the wind was too strong and the tent puffed up like a gigantic balloon!!
We drove back down to Manali but on the way Dad felt even more sick. We arrived in Veer Guest House with Dad extremely sick!
For the next couple of days we didn't do much but we had a lovely time chatting to the people at Veer Guest House.

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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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