Posts Tagged ‘Manali’

North Tour: Manali & Shimla: Driving through the Himalayas

April 19, 2011

Friday, 11 March

RISHIKESH: North India is a pretty big place.

Himachal Pradesh is about as far north as you can get in India, and it’s not an easy state to navigate. It’s beautiful, but like with most things in life, that beauty comes with a price.

In Himachal Pradesh, that price is its roads.

Most roads in India are of the 2-lane variety, but on the way from Manali to Rishikesh yesterday, there were never more than one and a half. Thus as we swerved through the mountains, rarely driving straight for more than a few seconds, our car slowed or stopped every couple minutes to let larger vehicles pass. Already forced to meander given the delicacy with which mountain roads are placed, it didn’t help that the roads were made of gravel and potholes which made our ride a jarring one.

Two eight-hour journeys sandwiched a 90-minute dinner break in Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh (H.P.). Something about the nighttime light and cool mountain air reminded Nikolas and I of Switzerland. It would have been nice to have more time there, but our stop was for no other reason than to satisfy our stomachs. Between two colon-jarring car rides, the brief rest was compulsory.

We slept on the bus to Rishikesh with as much legroom as we could manage. I was lucky enough to acquire two seats in the front, an arrangement that would make coach passengers on airplanes envious.

But aboard an airplane, you don’t have potholes and blinding lights jolting travelers awake at regular intervals. I think it’s safe to say air travel would be much faster, too. One 20-kilometer stretch of the H.P. roads took two hours to traverse.

Unable to do anything more than pull my Cubs hat over my eyes, I attempted to sleep.



North Tour: Manali: Snow day!

April 19, 2011

Wednesday, 9 March

MANALI: I saw snow today.

That, in itself, made my day, but I didn’t just see it. I walked through it, ran through it, sprinted down a mountain of it, picked it up, brushed it off, stepped knee-deep in it, and had a legitimate snowball fight in a bank of it one-meter deep.

Still in India?

Oh yes, and it’s awesome.

Common perception would lead you to believe India’s thermostat is stuck on one temperature: hot. But while my friends report summer has already begun in Nagpur (just three months after “winter” began), here in Manali the mercury flirts with freezing and the acres of snow capping the nearby Himalayas are just now beginning to melt. Manali lies in the thick of the world’s largest mountain range, which takes up most of Himachal Pradesh. India is 1/3 the size of my native land, but on these two tours, I’ve now seen beaches, rivers, jungles, plains, desert, and now mountains.

Even thigh-deep in snow, there was a peculiar heat, a type that felt uniquely Indian. While the others bemoaned my relative lack of clothing, I removed my gloves, hat and jacket, unable to handle the sweltering winter heat. As long as I kept my body moving, I’d stay warm rather than cold.

Where else in the world can you stand in a snowdrift in short sleeves and feel hot?

(Perhaps the better question: who else could?)

Although skiing and paragliding were on my to-do list for today, I did neither due to the unsafe slopes and outrageous prices, respectively. But enjoying the winter weather proved not to be a problem. With shoes that failed to grip the slippery snow, even acute inclines turned into makeshift skating slopes. Anaïs, Jordan and I trudged 200 meters up a hill and either ran, rolled or came sledding down. (The rest preferred to stay dry at its base and sip chai together.) Unable to resist the temptation of firm but pliable snow, several free-for-all snowball fights ensued, accompanied by far more grin than chagrin. Most of us were drenched in melted snow as we bused back into town.

But this was the only snow day we’d be getting all year. Why complain?

Clouds appeared, and removed the luster of the early-afternoon heat. We traveled to a hot spring wherein the contrast of water and air temperature left steam rising high above. Changing clothes in the open winter air caused my exposed hairs to stand on end, but only temporarily, as the steaming mountain water restored my body to its normal temperature. For half an hour, we sat in contented peace, willingly subjecting ourselves to the bubbling steamy warmth.

For probably the last time in India, we enjoyed the heat.


North Tour Preview: Where I’ll be from 28 February to 25 March

February 27, 2011

How many people have the chance to visit the Taj Mahal?

Now how many people who visit the Taj Mahal can claim it may not be the most interesting thing they do in a 26-day stretch?

Once again, I’m incredibly lucky to be on a month long tour of India, and this one looks to be even better than the last. The Taj Mahal in Agra is like The Great Wall of China, The Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa all rolled into one. It’s the first piece of architecture that comes to mind when one thinks of India. It’s one of the wonders of the world.

But I can’t say it’s the most exciting thing I have to look forward to on this tour.

So if not the Taj Mahal, what is?

The Pink City of Jaipur and its monumental palaces? A camel ride through Rajasthan and a nighttime campout in the desert? Dharamsala, a monastery wherein the Dalai Lama resides? Manali, perhaps the only place in India I’m likely to step in snow? White-water rafting in Himachal Pradesh? Delhi, the capital of India and the site of monuments such as the Red Fort, the India Gate, and Lotus Temple? Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities, on the banks of the Ganges River? Darjeeling, which provides a view of the third-highest peak in the world, Mt. Kanchenjunga? Gangtok, where we’ll celebrate Holi at two miles above sea level? Kolkata, the cultural capital of India?

I can’t tell you now.

But four weeks from now, when I’ve completed all that and more, I should be able to.