Monday, March 28, 2011

Into Manali and the Mountains

Hi folks, I'm a few days behind because I've had a few busy days and tired nights, so I have a lot of catching up to do.  As usual the last few days have been pretty awesome, so I have a lot to talk about! 

In the morning we met up for breakfast and as usual met someone new to chat with.  His name is Gabriel (err, did I remember that correctly?) and he is from Slovenia.  He has been in India for quite some time and is a practicing Buddhist so it was interesting to talk with him about it all.  We were headed down into the town of Darmsala for the Holi festival, and he decided to join us on our walk.

Holi is one of those iconic Indian festivals for the way it is celebrated: throwing colored powder and water on everyone.  Essentially as you walk down the streets people come up to you shouting and throw colors on you or rub it on your face, it's all great fun. 

Meeting groups of people on the street, all to glad to powder up some foreigners and take pictures.

Unfortunately the town of Daramsala is pretty small and the scope of the festival was pretty limited.  Where as major cities will have multi-block size 'battles' of color and water in the streets, here in town it was limited to a few small groups standing on the street corner.  That said, it was still fun and I am glad to have seen a bit of it.

Once we got past the town Gabriel, Noa and I just kept walking down the road for another hour or so, just chatting.  Eventually we caught a bus back up the hill, I took a very through shower to try and look normal again, before meeting up for dinner.  We ended up going to a cafe/restaurant that is part of the temple complex.  It is a center for training Tibetan refugees and giving them job skills, so it is a good cause as well as probably the best pizza I've had on my trip.  Highly recommended.

The next morning, Noa and I met for breakfast, and headed off on a short walk to a waterfall.  The walk was maybe 45 minutes, taking us into the next town and down a well built path up the hill.  On the way up you see a lot of monks who are washing and drying their cloths at the stream that comes down the mountain. 

The waterfall itself is quite pretty, and both of us were looking forward to a nice place to relax and read our books for a while.

Unfortunately this was far from the case.  The base of the water fall has two little junk food shops, and dozens of loud tourists at a time.  Before I could sit down, I think I ended up having to pose for about 50 pictures with Indian tourists, and then proceeded to watch them write graffiti on the rocks and throw garbage into the pool at the base of the falls.... and yes, goats came by as well.  Once we had climbed up the hillside a bit to escape it all, it was fairly quiet except for the two kids that climbed up begging for money and the spot made for interesting people watching as well as being able to get a bit of reading done.

Just a view of town on the way back that I liked.  That evening I did some more reading as I watched the sun go down, had dinner with friends and went to bed.  A very low key day.

The next morning I woke up early to catch a bus to Manali.  The bus left at 6:30am, and I decided to take the day bus rather than the night bus so I could watch the scenery go by.  I was entering further into the mountains and I wanted to see the change rather than sleep through it. 

It did not disappoint. The ride was one of the more interesting parts of India I've gotten to pass through, and really many more times interesting than anything I saw on the whole train trip, haha.  Driving up the valley towards snow capped mountains along the river really got me excited even more to get into the mountains. 

The whole way I was feeling a bit sick, but in a strange way that is a bit hard to explain.  Anyways, I wasn't feeling very well and didn't eat all day.  I found a room in Old Manali for 200 rupees at a place called Tamana Guest House which was very new and clean and went to bed. 

The next morning I awoke after one of the more restful nights I've had in a while and went out for breakfast.  Dragon Guest House next door had free wifi, so I sat down for breakfast.  (are you listening, other businesses, wifi is a huge selling point!)  I think it was the first free and decently fast connection I've had in all of India.  I ordered a breakfast of eggs, potatoes, toast and tea, and set to work.  I extended my travel insurance, I talked to my credit card company because I couldn't access my online account, and I managed to chat with my mom on Skype for 45 minutes.  Breakfast went down very well and was the first time I'd ever gone 36 hours without food, even when I had my jaw surgery, haha.  I felt pretty good again.

After breakfast I set out to explore the town of Old Manali and headed up the valley.  The area is full of  buildings in this style, with slate roofs and all and I really like the style.  The town really is a cool old place where life is still very old school. 

I followed the trail up as far as it went, and near the top at a water tower I found this group of kids who were playing with their slingshots.  They started saying 'school pens', 'school pens' and luckily I was prepared.  I'd been asked before but never had any to give away, so I bought a dozen.  While I don't give out money to kids I'll gladly pass out pens.

At the very top is this small hill there were not only great views of the valley but this little shrine as well.  Still unsure of my plans in this new town, I set out to walk around and see where I had landed.  I passed between more homes, visited the Manu Temple, and headed back towards the tourist part of Old Manali.

I first went to a travel agency to inquire about buses back to Delhi, which I found were 550 and 900 rupees depending on the bus, and that the options for paragliding and zorbing were not very good.  Those were two of the things I was a bit interested in, so that knocked them off my list. 

I walked a little farther and entered the 'Himalayan Extreme Center'.  There I talked to the owner about the company, the activities they offer and that a three day ski trip was leaving tomorrow.  It was expensive, 2,500 rupees a day but that included gear, porters, food, transportation, everything.  I was a little unsure about it because of the cost, and that it would take up all the rest of my time in Manali which I hadn't even explored yet, so I walked off to think about it.

I returned maybe 45 minutes later and said I wanted to go.  The prospect of skinning up Himalayan snow, skiing back down and camping in the snow for two nights was too much to pass up.  Damn the cost, if I don't do it I'm going to regret it.  I took a taxi to the other shop across the valley in Vashish (sp?) to get fitted for my gear and was very pleased with the quality of gear they had. 

Since I'd be leaving Manali the next morning to ski I needed to see a bit more of it before I left.  The waterfall hike was recommended to me, and I set off to get there before the sun went down.

A view from the trail.  The tallest of those is just over 6000m. 

And even more on the other side of the valley. 

Nearing the waterfall, I finally saw it cascading down the cliff. 

Here is the base of the first major falls.

While I was walking I met a local man on the trail and we began talking.  He was out with his family collecting firewood so naturally I was interested since I do tree work at home.  The operation consisted of cutting down deodar cedar trees up the hill and rolling them down in sections.  At the bottom they are cut in lengths with and old crosscut saw, then split into carry-able sizes using an axe and broken branches as wedges.  Boy, it sure is a lot more work than using my chainsaws and splitting mauls and wedges!

I continued up the trail and after a good steep scramble, reached the highlight of the falls. 

The whole area is damp with mist from the falls, dotted with little purple flowers, and considered a holy area to the local people.  As such, to go behind the falls to a tiny shrine in the wall, you remove your shoes and continue through the mud barefoot.  A very beautiful place indeed.

More cool buildings in town. 

I took a taxi back to Old Manali since I still wasn't feeling 100% and wanted to get as much rest as possible for the days ahead.  On the way back to my room I got this view of the sunset over the mountains.  I like this place, it sure is purrdy.

In preparation for my time on the snow, and the cold nights I expect to have when I get to Nepal, I bought this awesome rabbit fur hat for 300 rupees.  I'd been thinking about getting one for a few days, and the ski trip was just the reason I needed to buy it.  I packed up my bags, had dinner got a bit more work on the computer done (thanks to the wifi again)  and went to bed early.

The next few days will be skiing and camping in the Himalayas, something I'd only dreamed about doing in the past.  Now here I am doing it and I'm really excited!