The Charm of a Himalayan Village
Recovering From the Bus Ride from Hell
Aug 19, 2018
The survival mode
I arrived at Manali, Himachal Pradesh in the early morning Sunday the 19th. The infamous bus ride from hell from McLoed drained all the energy out of my body. Being on survival mode, I still managed to call a rickshaw and handle a conversation with the driver, as well as get on and off the vehicle and walk when he needed less weight on the uphills.
What I desperately needed at this point in time, were a warm cup of tea and stable, firm ground.
I originally met Amrita at Deepika’s Guesthouse in Bhagsu, and we had some good, fruitful conversations at the time. She told me about her spiritual life and her experiences. At the time, she was teaching Kundalini yoga and helping a yoga teacher in town. When her French roomate left, she was ready to move to Manali, deeper in the Himalaya. I stayed in Bhagsu for a little while longer, taking singing and dance classes on a daily basis. We exchanged Whatsapp numbers.
Amrita was the only Indian woman I met traveling by herself. She was backpacking alongside the foreign tourists, using a sleeping bag. Mingling with us travelers, she seemed to enjoy our company. Amrita was very friendly, as well as helpful.
Nonetheless, Amrita is also a vey spiritual person and totally immersed in her traditions. She follows the path of Hare Krishna and observes various fasts and Kirtans as part of her devotions.
Once the rickshaw from the bus station dropped me by the Drifters’ Cafe (an apt name!), I gave Amrita a call. Leaning against the wall, I was waiting for her, watching the passersby. The sounds of Hebrew were all around me, as well as the tapping of the familiar iconic sandals tapping on the pavement…
Amrita arrived within a few minutes and helped me carry my stuff to a close-by place she knew was safe. We left the bags with an Israeli girl who happened to be there at the moment, but she wasn’t there when we came back. Amrita wanted to show me Krishna’s Place before I took a decision. It seemed basic, but alright. We schlepped my “stuff” over there, sharing the burden.
I was so glad I took the right decision to go to Manali and meet Amrita rather than go directly to Vashisht, as some Israelis recommended.
These are the moments in life and travel when you are grateful for having friends. It’s even nicer if she is a native of the land, who speaks with the locals in their language, and knows the ins and outs of things. As a thank you I gave her Maya’s old money belt, which apparently was not easy to get in India, and treated her to noodle soup and coffee. Thank you, Amrita for being there for me.
The roller coaster
On the bus ride I was cursing the moment I came to India. I decided I was not going to come back ever again ever. But once sweet Amrita met me by the Drifters Inn Café, the world and India in it started to brighten up again.
Something similar happened to a cute Israeli girl I kept bumping into in Bhagsu. The first time, she was all enjoying herself and loving India. The second time, she was sick with some stomach bug and wanted to go home right away. The third time she was back in shape, flirting with indian guys and enjoying every minute.
The landlady at the Krishna place gave me purified water and a metal cup. These are ubiquitous here. Curious. Perhaps to save money – they don’t break.
Then I took Amrita out and we had noodle soup.
Things were more expensive in Manali than in Bhagsu, probably due to its location deeper in the mountains, but it was still reasonable. The coffeehouse was a delightful hippie-style place. Restaurants around town had hippie murals on their walls. We sat on a large open porch. A group of Israelis was chatting at the table next to us. Light western pop music was playing. I started to come back to myself…
Krishna's Guesthouse - Warm Family Life in a Cold Country
Aug 20, 2018
The male sphere
I woke up at 4 am after 12 hours of sleep or so. The guesthouse owner got up as early as I did to turn off lights once the sun came up.
In the winter it is beautiful, he told me. Two-meters-high snow. Firewood is collected during the summer and put on ledges, rooftops and hedges. Winter is generally in December, January, but can also continue into February and March. There are less tourists, he told me, but some still come to ski, ride on snow sledges and do other winter sports. He told me that the mountains I could see in the background were about 5000 m high. Manali itself was only 2050 m high, like Bhagsu.
Preparing for the Himalayan winter. Manali, Himachal Pradesh
After our conversation, he went down to exercise climbing up and down on a step. I saw a motorcycle, iron weights and a hanging punching bag in the yard. He was clearly into being in shape.
There were heavy muddy boots by the next door on our third-floor balcony. A sleepy muscular man came out and told me he and his partner were from France, and were doing all the high peaks in the area hiking and climbing. The more he talked, the more inferior and inadequate I felt, knowing I was not going to do any such hikes in the near future. I also felt remorse, of course, for missing so much out…
He was nice and pleasant, and so was his companion who eventually emerged out of the same door, fresh and smiley with a Bon Jour.
The female sphere
Krishna’s Guesthouse had the same nice family vibration as Deepika’s place in Bahgsu. An inner yard. Grandmother bathing in the sun, doing nothing. Daughter or daughter-in-law with babies. Children’s voices rising in the air. The peaceful, cyclical way of the Indian village life.
On another roof, in another building, I could see a beautiful woman in red sari letting down her long black hair…
A mix of sounds
I heard early morning singing from the local Chabad house. On my part, at around 7 o’clock I practiced singing the scales and mantras I learned from Nidhee, my music teacher in Bhagsu, including the Bhagwan song about Krishna’s beautiful flute-playing. My voice failed me. Perhaps all the throwing up on the bus got in the way of the vocal clarity I eventually succeeded to develop over our lessons.
Sounds of grandparents playing with children also rose up in the air. The peaceful family life. How nice.
ATM, gas cylinders and Hippie on Hills
Once I got myself together, I wrote Amrita that I slept until 4 am and would love to meet her for breakfast, then move house. I loved the general atmosphere at Krishna’s Guesthouse, but the room was not to my taste – dark colors, heavy furniture, carpets.
She was OK to meet me at 10, but wanted to first go to an ATM to get money for a kitchen gas cylinder. Although, as I mentioned, she had been traveling like us tourists, at this point it seemed that she wanted to settle in Manali for a while. Having her own proper kitchen, so she could invite family and friends to delicious home-made Indian meals, was a first priority.
The day was going to get sunny. A whole new set of gadgets was needed: sunglasses, sunscreen, hat. Life and travel require non-stop adjustments.
We walked down the road all the way to the edge of Old Manali for the no-charge ATM Amrita recommended. It was no problem getting my ₹10,000 again (the maximum allowed), and it was free…
On the way we passed a store called “Hippie on Hills”, a pun on the famous traveller site Hippie on Heels…
Indian fish and chips
After a local breakfast at a dhaba, Amrita helped me move house, following which she went home to rest and get organized. We scheduled to meet again at 2pm.
By that time I ordered a fish and chips at a more touristic place, which advertised it on their outside menu. They needed to prepare it from stracth, so I went back to the guesthouse to go about my business, and came back 45 minutes later to fetch the fish.
People are honest in India, or at least that had been my general experience. They are committed to their word. A taxi driver who tells you seemingly casually that he will pick you up at 4:30 in the morning, actually shows up! A rickshaw driver who was paid in full in advance (not recommended anywhere), still came back to pick a group of us from the Dharamkott Falls…
The fish and chips cost 280 R… This was my only fish on this India trip. It was cheap, but not very good. I decided I was sticking with vegetarian, the quintessential Indian cuisine.
Tiger's Eye Hotel and Upper Old Manali
My room at the Tiger’s Eye Hotel was the cleanest I had in India so far: a nice white bed, towels, an immaculate wooden parquet floor and a comfortable sitting balcony in front. It was also the first room to feature shelves and hangers. In Dharamsalla my stuff was invaribaly either on the floor or on the empty side of the double bed…
And Amrita got me this marvel of a room for only ₹500! She talked Pushkar, a sweet young guy who was working there, into asking the owners to give me a discount…
It served both of us well, as we were now living closer to each other. Her accomodation was located on the same country path as the Tiger’s Eye, a bit further down the road.
Tiger’s Eye was a hybrid between a hotel and a guesthouse. Run as a family business, it still felt cozy and friendly.
Tiger Eye Hotel, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
The country path
The dirt path on which the hotel was located was a traditional country trail, with cow dung strewn all along it. People, both men and women, were carrying baskets with winter greenery on their backs. Old women were sitting on fences or steps, talking or watching the passersby. There was also a cleared area that doubled as a volleyball field and a motorcycle parking.
Further down still, where Amrita’s place was located, it got even greener and more spacious. I was told it was possible to walk from there to Vashisht, but that seemed too complicated.
Problems in Paradise
An Israeli girl was just in the process of leaving when I arrived at the Tiger’s Eye. She was beautiful with big gorgeous clear eyes and perfect skin, and was also very friendly and down-to-earth.
We had a nice conversation. Originally she traveld alone, and actually landed in Burma. It wasn’t much fun apparently. In her description, everybody was camped on the sidewalks, so in order not to destroy somebody’s “house” she had to walk on the street between the cars. They were all chewing something like Jat (Betel?), destroying their teeth and bleeding red color out of their lips.
I was glad I did not land in Yangon.
She and her Israeli friend were going to a place called “Adam’s Ranch“, an Israeli hangout and workshop hub, where they were going to meet with a group they were traveling with before. However, she was not too ennthusiastic, and expressed jealousy that I was traveling alone and did not have to consider other people’s wishes. It sounded like things were not going great between her and her friend.
Nonetheless, she decided to stick with the group. During the past week she was having stomach problems – alternating diarrhea and constipation. A doctor familiar with western medicine diagnosed her as having amoebas… Feeling too weak and vulnerable, she preferred to stay with the gang.
In the afternoon, me and Amrita went to Manu’s Temple, to which I am dedicating a separate post, then walked further up to the River viewpoint.
Upper Manali and the Waterfalls
In Manali you can see the authentic life of the Indian countryside. This was even more evident when we walked up the mountain toward Manu’s Temple and the waterfalls. Farmers, mostly women, were carrying the grass they cut with machetes for the animals – cows, sheep and goats – in straw baskets tied on their backs.
Villagers carrying winter greenery on their backs, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Laundry was hung, food cooked, dung and straw left to dry in heaps outside. You also saw women idling around the yard with the children and the elderly.
Laundry hanging from balconies, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
Himalaya and Guatemala
Manali reminded me of other northern countries – apples (called “ah-ppels” here), firewood, slanted roofs, often with large shale shingles.
In particular I was struck with the similarity between Old Manali and Guatemalan villages. Mountain life is apparently the same everywhere – similar animals, similar division of labor between the genders. Here, though, the women carry the “stuff” in baskets on their backs; in Guatemala they tie everything from a strap on their foreheads… Everything is carried that way: firewood, greenery, and in Guatemala also pigs and chickens.
Forbidden apples in Paradise
From Manu’s temple Amrita and I walked to the river and then along it. At the end of this walk , we sat on the rocks with a group of elderly locals at the viewpoint.
Amrita with elderly villages sitting at river viewpoint, Manali, Himachal Pradesh
There were apple trees all around the site. They were large and reddish and very appealing, but we were not allowed to pick.
First they said we were allowed to collect those which fell on the ground. I made the due effort and walked down a treacherous little path, at the bottom of which was an apple tree with a beautiful fruit on the ground next to it. But once I brought the apple back up, I was told I should not have taken it.
We decided to ignore. On the way back, we passed by a small fountain coming off the mountainside. Amrita used it to wash the magnificent apple, while I pulled out my Swiss Army knife to cut it. We celberated the apple feast with some photos and – voila – a couple of paradise birds appeared out of nowhere and flew around us…
The end of the day
Equipping Amrita’s kitchen
Once we were back at Manali itself, I took some pictures of workers resting by the roadside after a day’s toil, of farmers walking with their load of greenery on their backs and of Amrita shopping for vegetables and large bags of grains – rice, dahl and barley – the staples of every Indian kitchen.
Workers resting after a long day’s work. Manali, Himachal Pradesh
I am beyond human and also beyond science
As Amrita was shopping I also discovered some surprises on doors and walls of adjecant buildings:
Murals around Upper Manali, Himachal Pradesh.
The French, again
Eventually we both went home to take a rest, then met later in the evening with the intention to go eating, but on the street we met the friendly French couple from Krishna’s Guesthouse, and we all went to the Art Café again, ending up not really eating, and more like snacking and drinking. But the conversation was lively, and there was great live music. The second artist, in particular, was charismatic and effective in getting the crowd engaged.
This was a lot like “going out” for a change. On the way out, two girls gave us a pamphlet about some dancing and yoga opportunities. I wasn’t into yoga at that moment, but dancing sounded good. My companions were not into that either though, and we all ended up going home to sleep…
The next day I went by myself to Vashisht, as Amrita had other plans.