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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Manali to Rishikesh

INDIA | Wednesday, 10 November 2010 | Views [2177]

Wednesday 27th October - Had to get up at 5am to catch the 7am bus to Shimla from the bus stand in lower Manali. What we were hoping for was some transport down there, but there was nothing. All in the dark and closed up, so we had to walk a fair part of the way. Luckily a van passed and took us the rest of the way. We arrived a few minutes before 6am, and as it happened, were dropped right in front of the Shimla bus. Despite asking if it was the 7am bus and feeling confident that it was, we loaded our luggage. To our surprise, at 6am the driver got in and the bus pulled out of the station. Puzzled looks...mmmm? We showed the conductor our ticket and he seemed happy for us to be on the early bus. We had planned to stock up with food for the journey and go to the chemist, but this gave us no chance at all.

The first stop was at Kullu at 7:20, departing at 7:45am. A little time to get some drinks and snacks.

Some other passengers boarded and claimed we were in their seats. True, as we were on the earlier bus than our ticket. Turned out that we were on a deluxe bus instead of a semi-deluxe and had to pay another Rs250 for the two of us or get off and catch the original bus when it arrived later. I paid the difference as it was likely to be more comfortable and had video too.

As mentioned in my last journal, I have been ill with what I now feel is the onset of a chest infection. I have been coughing badly to the point where my brain feels like it is going to burst out of my skull each time I cough. Have been taking some medication from our kit and it isn't that effective, so need some better antibiotics when I reach Shimla. Being bounced around for 10 hours on a bumpy bus journey isn't the best experience, especially after getting up so early. The joys of travel!

The videos they played all contained the famous Shah Rhuk Khan and some equally well known actresses. My favourite Om Shanti Om, brought back memories of when I saw it on the cinema during my last visit to India. The usual electrifying Bollywood musical script flourished with hyperactive dancing every few minutes.

Descending out of the mountains and the temperature climbed noticeably. Had to start peeling layers of clothing off. We arrived at Shimla's bus stand about 5pm. Porters wait to help with luggage up the steep slopes if required. Reasonable at 20 rupee per large item. May as well make life easier and save the strain. Ended up at the Gulomarg hotel in a 'honeymoon' type room. Circular bed with mirrors everywhere, TV and a great view of the valley, for Rs1,230. Shimla isn't the cheapest place, but it is worth it.

One thing is certain about Shimla...there is almost zero flat area. Almost everywhere you go is a climb or decent. Plays havoc with your legs and knees, but it is an amiable place, centered on the wonderfully named Scandal Point, and the open ridge area with lovely views and its commanding church.

You can tell it is a holiday city and that we are now in holiday season. The level of tourists, predominantly Indian, are higher than anywhere else we have been recently.

Seeing as I have just finished Dan Brown's Angels & Daemons book, I bought his latest novel The Lost Symbol. Looking forward to it immensely.


Thursday 28th - A day of recovery after yesterday's long day travelling. I found a nice barber's shop for an all over shave and massage. A bargain at 110 rupees to come out glowing and smooth. Shiera on the other hand had her hair curled, for less of a bargain 1,500 rupees. Why does women's hair cost so much? From a guy's perspective it always seems so over-priced. She looked so prettier and lovelier after having it done, so worth it though.

One thing about Shimla that is a bit tricky is food. We have been going through a bit of a lull with food recently, partly due to the effects of being in the mountains and not getting what we have been after... Comfort food. After a long time of eating in restaurants up to three times a day, we have become very choosy and hard to please. Desperate to cook for ourselves exactly what we want. We love Indian food, but hardly go into an Indian restaurant, preferring pasta or even junk food instead. Why is it that with so much choice available, we always crave for what is not available? Subway came to a partial rescue today. A nice sandwich for a change. Bought plenty of fresh fruit as it is good here. Grapes, the most beautiful locally grown Kiwi fruit I have ever tasted (100 rupees for a box of 20)  and even Persimmon are on offer.

Rambling around Shimla's bazaars can take hours and sees to get steeper and steeper. You must have to be really fit to live here. Being holiday season there are plenty of discounts on offer, and nice merchandise too. Problem is no more luggage space left.


Friday 29th October - Above Shimla's centre sits the Jakhoo temple with its very visible bright orange Hanuman (monkey god) monument. Getting to it is a very steep climb, softened a little by steps, but still tough. The amusing thing is a sign board at the bottom, adjacent to the church declaring average times for age groups and level of fitness. Theoretically, I should have taken an hour, but only took 30 minutes taking into account a drinks stop. Means I have a physical age of under 30. I think the nice people who defined the target times are aiming at a psychological attempt to bolster people’s egos.

We had an awesome dinner at the Café Sol at the Combermere hotel near to the passenger lift. The most we have spent on a meal here, but well worth it.


Saturday 30th October - We booked on to a HPTDC organized tour leaving at 11am and costing Rs250 each. The sights covered were Kufri, Fagu, Naldehra, Mashobra and a Nature Park. Even though the tour was aboard a semi-deluxe bus, for some people they ended up travel sick due to the continuous throwing around and hurtling around bend after bend. The amount of folk throwing up out of the windows got a bit yuk after a while.

After a stop for photos at a valley view point in Fagu, the first main stop was at Kufri where we transferred to horses to climb the rough hill to the top. Not free...Rs250 return. A bit rough at the top too...touts offering photos on a yak, others doing photos in traditional costume. All very touristy and chaotic. There is also an amusement park with a go-kart track, but didn't have the time to go in. One thing amused me...they have a 'Telescope Union'. Old guys sitting there and charging per use of the oldest grottiest telescopes to look at yet more hills. The fact they have a union and monopolise a roped off area is crazy. What next the toilet union, the concrete steps union?

Down at the bottom we were taken to the bus by jeep, where we had lunch first at the Lalit  restaurant, and then went into the Himalayan Nature Park. A 3km track runs around it and we were running late, so literally ran around. The highlight was the beautiful Snow Leopard. They also had brown and black bears, Sambar and Barking deer amongst others. After a stomach churning journey to Narkanda, we did a half hour stop at the Golf course, which is a bit of a waste of time as it is fenced off and you cannot see much anyway, with only a small view over the perimeter fence. This area is also the apple growing centre of the state. Now though, the trees are all bare.

After a tiring day we got back in Shimla at 6pm. To be honest, it is a nice opportunity to see some awesome scenery, but if you came into Shimla by bus, you would have already seen plenty of nice views. The important bits like the nature park weren't given enough time, and at this time of year it is all a bit dry and dusty, so not at its best.


Sunday 31st October - We were due on Train 256 The Toy train 'Himalayan Queen' departing at 10:30am (167 rupees each). We had been given 'wait-listed' tickets, so had to get our seat allocation at the station. Room 14, the ticket master's office. To make life easier we got a porter to carry our luggage from the hotel to the station. Really hard work for the guy and worth it.

The train departed on time and was expected to arrive in Kalka at 16:10. First stop was Summer Hill where the ticket checking was done. The route to Kalka is on narrow gauge track and goes through 103 tunnels and many stops as it slowly crawls its way down hill. Compared to making the journey on a twisting lurching crazy bus on choking noisy roads, I know which method I would sooner choose. Kandaghat was the first stop where we could pick up some chai and pakora for a snack. A large British tour group, all retired age disembarked here. Not sure where they were heading, although we saw them later in the journey when we got off in Kalka. Maybe they jumped on a bus to save some time, or visited somewhere else en-route?

The train crossed the border and entered Punjab state, arriving in Kalka at exactly 4:10pm as per the ticket. No time to waste as needed to get tickets to Chandigarh. The booking office as normal was total anarchy but I am used to it now, so got through and sorted tickets fairly quickly. The 38km journey is a bargain at 20 rupees each and departed at 6:45pm (Train 4795). According to what I had read, the journey was supposed to take 1 hour. Imagine the surprise when 30 minutes later we pulled into Chandigarh station. There was a crazy scrum as we had to scramble for our luggage amidst a surge of people trying to climb on the train and fight for seats. Madness doesn't explain it sufficiently.

As normal the auto-rickshaws were asking for 150 rupees to take us to our hotel. The more sensible and final price was 60! Hotel Satyadeep in sector 22 on Himalaya Marg for 1000 rupees, about half a kilometer from the main bus station and a bit extra to the town centre. I was totally surprised by the size of the shopping centre. Enormous, clean and very well organized. Not like any other Indian city.

Monday 1st November - The main reason for coming to Chandigarh is to visit the unique 'Nek Chand Gardens'. The entrance (Rs10) itself is unusual. A tiny little opening low in a stone wall, which you could easily miss. The gardens cover 25 acres and are a rabbit warren of stone sculptures, waterfalls, ponds and features using reclaimed scrap ranging from broken pots and tiles to electrical pieces to bangles and all type of stone scrap. It has been described as something out of Alice in wonderland, and I have to agree. Tiny archways that you have to stoop to get through lead between one wonder and another. The guy 'Nek Chand' from Pakistan who pioneered it, was an inspector on the construction team who engineered the road system in Chandigarh. His work was found accidentally when a survey team stumbled on some of his work illegally occupying government land. It was recognised to be of cultural importance and he was given additional labour to continue his work. It is said to be the second most visited tourist attraction in India after the Taj Mahal! You have to give him much credit as it is an ingenious labyrinth of different ideas which lift your spirits. There is a large auditorium area which had been used for a festival yesterday, if only we had known. Preparations were underway for a wedding too. It must be one of the most unique places for a celebration.

Chandigarh is a pleasant city which hits you as you ride around it. Laid out on a grid system of tree lined roads by Le Corbusier. It is divided into Sectors, making it easy to navigate. Almost totally flat and clean. The first time in a long while that we have seen road sweepers in operation in India! And traffic lights...that they actually pay attention to! Getting around is by Auto- rickshaw and cycle richshaw.

Expecting not to see chicken for a while, we had lunch before heading to the bus station to catch our bus to Haridwar at 1pm (200 rupees). Expecting the journey to take 6 hours, we were surprised when we arrived in Dehra Dun after 6 1/2hrs to find we had another 2 hrs to go. Apparently, they had to take a 70km diversion due to construction works. It meant that we didn't arrive in Haridwar until very late and got dropped at a juction where we could get an onward bus to Rishikesh. The crazy bus driver was so impatient to get away that he started to pull away before we had got half of our luggage off the bus, so I nearly lost my guitar and backpack! A solo lady traveller had also got dropped at the same location. A Vikram (large rickshaw) driver pulled over and kicked out his passengers to take us all to Rishikesh for 200 rupees. Seemed unfair, but it was better business for him. We asked to be dropped by the Ram Jhula area, which is fairly central to everything. Magically, a cart and driver appeared to carry the luggage over the suspension bridge to the Rajdeep hotel for 50 rupees. It is a little steep in parts, so worth it. 450Rs for a comfortable double room.

Tuesday 2nd November - Oasis café for breakfast which offers a nice range of food. Virtually all of Rishikesh is vegetarian, so even eggs can be hard to find. Luckily, the backpacker areas seem to bypass some of the rules and if you look around you can find eggs and even meat.

One of my favourite eateries is in the Lakshman area, about 2km west of the Ram Jhula area. The Devraj coffee corner across Lakshman Jhula bridge is a nice place to relax and watch the monkeys playing on the suspension bridge and bonking each other. Hardly know which way to look!

Yak cheese and tomato sandwich, Mexican bean and rice, crepe with honey & banana and cappuccino coffee....yummee...

Walked back to Ram Jhula area to watch the Ganga Aarti Pooja at the Parmarth Niketan ashram Ghat, which begins at around 5pm until about 6:30pm. In the crowd was Gurmuhk Kaur Kalsa, a leader of a Yoga foundation in Los Angeles, and very much respected in Yoga circles. She is also one of the teachers at the convention.

After a very atmospheric pooja, we had dinner at one of the unique institutions in India, the 'Chotiwala restaurant' by the Swarg ashram. The Choti wallas sit on raised chairs all day and entice people to the restaurant. Painted faces and spiked hair makes for an interesting mascot and attraction.

We arrived in Rishikesh during the 3rd International Yoga and Music festival (1st to 14th November). Every day there are free yoga, meditation and music sessions. Each evening from 7 - 8pm they have different music presented. The room fills with happy people on a trip of self exploration and discovery. The preceding 'Mantra' session has everyone clapping and chanting the 'Hari Krishna, rama rama, krishna krishna, krishna rama' thing. The lyrics are a bit limited, but easy to follow! All together now...om...shanti...om...

Thursday 4th November - We were relieved today to get rid of nearly 20kg of souvenirs and clothes we had been carrying, and dispatching it away. We had been planning to do it for some time, but it has gotten to be quite a burden to carry.

I have been considering for some time doing a Sitar course, and Rishikesh is an ideal place to do it. As there is the yoga and music convention on right now, Bhuwan Chandra, a leading teacher of Sitar is in town, so I paid him a visit at the music centre and had a brief introduction from him. Costs are Rs200 per hour, and should be able to fit in a few hours during his busy schedule I hope.

We attended a couple of hours Yoga (Yogacharya Kiran from Rishikesh) and meditation (Simon Purtschert from Switzerland) classes today. Stretched, poised and relaxed into a state of pseudo nirvana is what you come to Rishikesh for. I feel enlightened already!

India is full of so much symbology. From the mystic 'Om' symbol meaning 'Peace', to the Rudraksha nut, which is borne out of the tears of Lord Shiva, and bestows luck, health, and keeps evil spirits at bay. Every devotee who walks or crawls needs to offer prassad at every pooja, give donation after donation to the strangest of Sadhus and shrines, and generally succumb to the fears that if they don't, they may not be reincarnated into a better life than the one they have now, on their wish to progress towards enlightenment and nirvana. It seems strange to see so many poor, crippled and altogether unfortunate people, in such a dilemma about their future that continue on this road every day of their lives, amidst foreigners who have more wealth (albeit financial), better health, more freedom, and more personal dignity and yet suffer from much less conviction about any belief system. A paradox of the extremes of belief or lack of! A contentious statement I know.

Tomorrow is Diwali, and festivities are building up. The shops are full of terribly bad stuff to eat, and colourful garlands are appearing everywhere. Incredible India in celebration mode!

Friday 5th November - Today is Diwali, the festival of light. For most it is a family day. A day of cleaning your house and adding some colour. The Pooja began at 5pm at the Parmathan ghat as usual, but tonight was a special occasion and the ceremony was a lot more detailed and colourful. A guest made a nice speech about the history and meaning of Diwali. You can be financially wealthy, but you cannot buy inner peace. How true is that. Later in the evening fireworks erupted around the town, mainly in random bursts and no particular location, so hard to track them down. Plenty of noise, but once again, a bit random.

Saturday 6th November – We were lucky to be eating at the Oasis café, a regular haunt of ours now, and right next door a wedding was happening. The groom appeared on a horse down the narrow alleyway passing the oasis, so we followed and watched him getting prepared in the reception tent. About 45 minutes later the bride appeared. Apparently the actual wedding was not going to happen for some hours, but what we saw was really nice and colourful. The young bride was bejeweled in the ornate jewellery as is normal for an Indian wedding. The groom was wearing a ‘money apron’ as best I can describe it. This wedding as is normal in village circles was an arranged one. A dowry is part of that arrangement, so the wealth is all about demonstrating ability to be a good and financially supportive husband. It looked as though the proceedings were going on all afternoon so we left it to return later. We were told the main ceremony would be around 6pm. When we got there a little after 6:30pm, everything had gone and the marquees had been packed away….all was dark. Must have misunderstood something along the way? Oh well, at least we had another great mea at the Oasis café again!

That's it for now folks...



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