Sunday, April 26, 2009


Manikaran is another mad little place. but one i will never forget! It was lashing rain the day we left Manali a perfect day for spending on a bus. AND my first bus journey with lifestock! An hour or two into the trip we were joined squashed in the back of the bus with a very unhappy sheep. The poor thing was bouncing up and down we had the bars on the seets infront to hold ourselves down with but the sheep? was funny.

Not a happy fellow

And not long after the sheep arrived the little fella looking down at the sheep that you can see from the picture, started vomiting all over the back of the bus, then the sheep started relieving himself all over the place. Next thing 2 policemen hop on and make a beeline down the back of the bus to us the only two tourists...oh the amount of contraban we must have!!!! He motioned that he wanted to search my backpack. It was a tough squeeze getting the bag out from between my legs, across the vomit and sh*t, over the sheep and around the people. He took one look at the bag approaching him, asked me What Country? I said Ireland, he replied with 'Very good country' handed the bag back and off we go again!

The bus to Manikarin drives down, down, down deep into a valley a little bit claustraphobic compared to open views of the mountains but it felt like we were entering a little hidden village. We arrived pretty late and were so lucky to find the best place ever! Why? Well it had its own PRIVATE hot spring bath!!!!! Oh wow heaven!! I planned to be in there more than out!

Check it out!Snazzy or wha!

The tiles in the room were a dindgy green, and the floor a marble chessboard. You locked the door and basically had the room to yourself. The one window (glassless) was covered meekly by a sheet of grandmother-style cloth that you hoped somebody wouldnt peel back from outside to have a look in at you. The guy changed the water everyday so some days it was roasting...a bit too hot...somebody told me the water naturally is 80 degrees. BUT on 2 occasions the water was just right...just like a little bit too hot bath you would run for yourself at home. When it was like this i spent at least an hour on my back floating, doing little laps of the pool etc etc... so good!

Ok sooo wow. There is a Sikh temple here, which basically means its run by the Sikhs who as part of their religion believe 'if you earn a decent living you should share this with others'. So just as in the Golden Temple in Amritsar the sikhs supply free accomodation and food. That first night we arrived we checked out the temple and what a bizzare place it was! A temple lit up by green and red christmas lights and with steam coming up from underneath it it really did look like something that should be in Disneyland.

Inside was dank, dark marble place underground with little corridors and iron bar gates, leading to the 'hot caves', the hot baths or the eating area. Its hard to exlpain the place! On one side it feels a bit scary, nobody is really talking, its just barely lit enough to see and as its situated on top of the hot spring the place is filled with steam! The hot caves are two rooms that are built around massive rocks that are very warm to touch. You crawl in through a door the size you would find in a childs playhouse and people are huddled in there, mostly in silence soaking up the heat.

There were pools with men everywhere, it was such a labyrinth of corridors that i couldnt find the womens pool but then...well .. sure didnt i have my own private one! Upstairs i heard the clattering of metal plates and we were just peeping in at the people lined up eating when a very friendly old guy escorted us into the place not taking no for an answer.

Oh the food here was the best indian food ive eaten so far AND this place gave out massive cups of chai. Compared to the Golden temple, nobody here spoke a word of english and despite that it felt so personally welcoming! I was tucking into my first meal there scooping the rice and dhal with my hands (ive mastered it im so happy to announce!) when i notice oh everyone is looking at me AND nobody seems to be eating with their hands doh! Well it seemed that everyone looking at me was just the usual and maybe its just the posher sikhs that eat with a spoon i found others eating with the hand too. I really like eating with my hand, scooping sloppy rice in and catching lumps of curry with chappatti, there is something very lovely ive realsied about touching your hand to your mouth to eat rather than with a metal fork. ANYWAY mmm it was delicious. I have been thinking about doing a tour of the Sikh temples next time i come to india! And of course even when you were eating you could hardly see a thing as the place was full of steam...crazy!

We went on another little adventure the next day, an extremly long walk accompanied by a very chilled out dog that didn't bat an eyelid when all the dogs from the villages we walked through came out from hiding to attack him! He just strolled on so cool and calm i never saw a dog like it before!

We walked for ages, through forest and random little villages, a man hearding a really wierd looking cow and the odd car or motorbike going past, apart from that there was just us and the beatiful valley. There was a strange ring around the sun that day we couldnt explain it.

After a few hours we stopped at a tiny little wooden hut in the middle of nowhere asking if he had any food. Inside were two young boys and an old man who couldnt speak. He kind of huffed and puffed and used hand movements to explain things. The walls of this place were covered with news paper i pointed at a picture of the Dali Lama and the guy went mad! I dont know if it was an exciting good story or an adventurous bad one that the dumb guy was trying to tell me about Dali. I though he was going to collapse with the amount of huffing and straining noises he was making, i had no idea what he ment but nodded along anyway while i finished my omlette and chai.

Random Shiva Temple on our walk
The local foliage

We realised we'd walked almost 12 k to the next town Pulga and decided although it was still early there was the whole matter of getting back again! IT was a long, tiring but really lovely peaceful walk, my last one in the mountains in india for now.

Manikarin main (only) street - to the left people are boiling rice in the hot spring water

For the next few days it rained which was fine since we were pretty settled in our nice guesthouse, going to the temple to eat, chilling out at our hot bath and sitting on our balcony watching the river go by with good conversation, a lot of laughs a just a little bit of tripping... I also made the 2nd best purchase of my time in india (the 1st clearly being the yak/rabbit photo!) I bought super cheap speakers for my mp3 so over the noise of the river we could just about hear it. The songs seemed just perfect for the situation and the sights.

Look at this guys hair! this was a holy man bathing across from our balcony

Beautiful sunset from our balcony

We tipped back on the cheap plastic garden furniture chairs and enjoyed the last sunset i'd have in the lovely!It really was time to get going, after almost 2 months in the mountains there wasnt long left on my visa so off to hot, crowded, dirty Delhi for a few days...maybe it wouldn't be so bad! Goodbye mountains!

Friday, April 24, 2009


Manali seems another world there is almost sweat dripping from my eyelashes and im sliding around the seat in an internet cafe in Varanasi...its about 45 is taking a little getting used to! Maaaybe i take it back when i said the desert was hot few months ago...

awww look at those mountains!!

We got up before dawn to board the 10 hour local bus to Manali. I thought by getting the seat beside the entrance at the front of the bus i'd be able to stretch my legs out a bit over the bar in front (no leg room as my dad would say!!!built for little chinese men!!!!) . This however was not comfortable at all!!! With the bumpy road, manic driving and the bus stopping at every turn to pile more people on, it was not until about 8 hours into the journey that i got a seat to myself at the front and stretched the old legs out. As i was stretching i gripped onto something behind me, oh was having the most wonderful stretch when BANG! someone slammed the metal door of the bus closed hard on my fingers....X*&%(#&%.... ouch!!!

Anyway cradeling my brusied and throbbing fingers, sitting on my numb and yeah probably bruised ass i was still thinking that bus journeys...mostly the last hour or two are really still quite very lovely. With the train its the last hour when your arriving to the station thats boring and dull but with the bus wow the place you are arriving to begins to emerge, the excitment begins and apart from wondering whether my fingers were broken or not the uncomfortable journey is forgotten. It was amazing here, the mountains in Dharmsala were lovely but here it all seemed more rustic or something along those lines. The clouds on top of the mountains looked like there was a forest fire without the fire. The rain was just starting as we pulled into Manali bus station so i hopped onto the roof and pulled my bag down before it got too wet as i was too stubburn to pay a guy to do it even though i could hardly use my squashed up fingers.

We were met there by some friends Mel, Julien and Frank, that i had known through Goa or the Bollywood movie. This was the view from our guesthouse..... i know your jealous...its ok....feckin amazing view!

Frank (asleep), Julien, myself and Lydie

It was a little more chilly and torrential rainy here than i had expected so my first night out in the town in manali i was dressed in absolutely ALL of my clothes on at the one time. Voila! Ament i a sight for sore eyes. Well i didnt care at all. Call it survival instinct...

Oh yes and theres my less than 1 Euro, very dodgy cooker on the floor that i made many a hot porridge on!

The place we were staying was in a little village called Vashist a walkable half hour or so from Manali. There were natural hot baths there. My friend Frank was off to the hot baths every 5 miniutes and i really couldnt see what the appeal was except well being hot! They were public hot baths (seperate women and mens areas) so you stripped off outside in the cold first! It wasnt until about my 4th day there when the sun came out that i decided to brave the hot bath.


After that i was totally addicted! Come rain, sun, snow, whatever, i was in there 2 or 3 times a day. I loved sitting on the hard warm stone floor, scooping the scalding water over me, getting a great lather going with the shampoo, one that you just cant get with cold water i'd been happily using the last few months in india. There was a lovely social aspect to the baths too. Women of all ages washing each other, old ladies screaming at their grandkids to wash their backs! The water seemed to warm your blood and cleanse you completly. I was lucky enough to have the place to myself a few times when the rain was utterly torrential. I dont know if i will ever again experience such a cool thing as neck deep in very hot water, lashing rain on my head, the place all to myself, almost totally dark and with the temple bells ringing beside me....heaven.

This is about the best picture i could get, one of the nights i had the place to myself.

I actually became so addicted to the hot baths that i became like an indian instead of asking everyone 'where you from?' i was asking 'have you tried the hot baths!!!'

People washed everything in the baths, the water was so hot i even saw people running the hot water from the baths into pots full of eggs to boil them! this is the mens bath, no way, thank god, would the womens one be so exposed!!!

The weather was quite tempramental. One minute the sun would be shining and the next heavy, torrential rain and quite cold. It seemed to be one day of sunshine to 2 days of rain. Not a bad ratio if you compare to Irish weather but not too good if all you have are clothes for the beach. I splashed out on a yak wool hat, gloves, a 2nd hand jumper and a pair of cheap 'tracking shoes' to replace the ones the dog stole in Dharmsala (im over it now!woo hoo in boiling hot Varanasi the last thing i want is a nice warm pair of shoes)

This place was so lovely, you could just decide, 'ok ill go there' and walk up the mountain beside your house, or along a river for as far as you liked, uninterrupted by traffic or touts. It was very chilled out and anytime there was sunshine i ended up on unexpecdatly long long hikes! The first was when i was walking along a river one day i met a friendly israley girl (jeesus excuse the spellings in this blog!!) . We walked for about an hour up the river and came across a bunch of school kids holding banners, making a little protest.

It was an anti-pollution protest so we happily joined in, marching about the most pristine little indian village ive ever seen and chatting to these boys about it. The villagers where like ' stop walking across my garden!!' I found it funny that the school were trampling about such a lovely clean village with their anti-litter campaign....or maybe it was this pristine little village that was doing the littering elsewhere and thats why it was so clean mmmm. After this my god, myself and the isralie girl took an adventurous route to try and get back to where she was staying in the area of Old Manali. Instead of taking the road we were climbing along the mountain, at one stage the surface was smooth rock and almost vertical down, not such a huge drop but we had to carefully slide across on our ass to get past this bit. We had long run out of water and were so thirsty when we found a lovely little waterfall filled up my bottel and splashed our faces. I love that you can drink the water in the mountains....especially fresh from the waterfall. That was a cool hike i had with this girl and i was happy that i had invested in the cheap 'tracking shoes' (emmm im sure its supposed to be trecking shoes!)

You see mum i would have no problem with my bad spelling in india!

And look who i saw on a pack of mens boxer shorts....none other than our good friend Salman Khan the main guy from the movie we worked on! Wow isnt he a stud.

About a week later i had enough of my mad landlady who kept stealing my food and fed up of shivering myself to sleep every night in my stone room that i decided a change of house was needed! I had met some lovely french folks a few days before who brought me back to the place they were staying. It was called My House and it was excellent! Wooden floor and walls much warmer than concrete, previous owners had made nice and strange drawings on the walls and the best thing was that there was a tandoor cooker (kind of a little stove) in the centre of the room! Oh i had big expectations for this cooker!

Here i am making tea maybe?
This is the dog i adopted while in cute.

The walls were a little bit shoddy as my friend Gerry who was in the room next to me, is kindly demonstrating.

Gerry with the dog Poochie-momo

Here i am cooking away, i have to say the novelty wore off a little when i realised how much time and effort it takes to start and fire and keep it going long enough to cook some porridge! Supercool place to stay though, very shanti shanti as the owner said at every opportunity.

Cute little things beside our guesthouse...i really wanted to keep one

I hopped on the bus one day to visit a little village called Naggar that was supposed to have a nice castle. The bus station in Manali was quite funny, donkeys, staring into space just standing there completly motionless. Unlike the cows who clearly have a lot going on in their mind, these guys had an utterly blank expression. The type im sure i had during many a lecture in college.....

Anyway, Naggar was a nice spot, i passed a sign that said, THE CASTLE, but it looked like a restaurant. I was walking up and around little villages for about 2 and a half hours when suddenly i noticed there was quite a breeze around my legs. To my horror the indian lady style trousers i was wearing had split right from my ass down to my knees on both sides. These are kind of tight trousers and all i had was my bag to conceal myself! Considering showing a bit of shoulder can be seen as erotic i was sure it was going to be an adventure getting back to vashist drawing minimum attention to the situation.

Here i am in Naggar just chilling out wondering the best way to cover up for the long walk, then bus journey, then another bit of a walk before i could be home! Anyway all was fine, indian men can be disasterously immature but compared to the movie shoot in Jaipur this was a breeze getting home! Naggar castle was a bit of a disappointment though..i was expecting some turrets and medievalness...

Another little adventure with a friendly Liverpudlien guy took us to the middle of the forest where we found this nice temple. We had to move fast as there were too many request for 'one snap please'! and we werent really in the mood to have our photos taken.

One very funny and quite entrepreneurial thing i must say thats in manali is that there are groups of women (and the mountain women are a bit mad!) holding fluffy white rabbits. When i arrived first i was sure i was going mad that i'd seen the elderly lady walking around with a white fluffy rabbit. Anyway rumour circulated that the rabbits hair was used to make clothes, that it was a photo opportunity or that yes maybe i was going a bit mad! Well i have to say it was the best 40 rupees i ever spent...along a quite forest path we came across a mad woman with the white fluffy rabbit AND a mad man with a big mountain Yak, freshly washed and brushed ready for one snap!

I felt 'at one' with nature. Actually i really didnt want to give the rabbit back it was very soft and fluffy and extremly passive to the point i wondered were these women feeding the rabbits the local charas...

Here they are lining up with the rabbits waiting to get the photo taken! Its not just me is it? This is quite funny?!
A little bit further on the path we came across an indian fair ground. It was funny and quite cute at the same time.
Next im not sure what the plan was but we ended up in the middle of a valley and we figured if we could just cross the river we'd be able to make it to old Manali then home. A lady in a house in the middle of nowhere in the hill said Yes Yes Possible to cross river!!!! and pointed some direction. So we climbed down a fairly steep valley to get to the river. Wow it was such a cool little treck down to the river. We chilled out first on a rock, looking at how far we'd come and listening the the craawing of a crow who was staring at us before going to cross the river. Well what a surprise, it just wasnt possible to cross the river! The water was moving fast and it was just that little bit too deep to wade accross. Thunder and rain was starting so we decided to head up stream and surely we could find a spot to cross where the river was narrower. There was a lot of climbing, gripping onto bits rocks, clothes getting ripped (and i didnt wear the tracking shoes oh dear!) we were a bit under pressure to cross before it got dark and very stubburn not to climb the whole way up the valley again!
We tried to find a spot, even to wade across holding onto each other with big sticks to support us but it was almost dark and in the end we had to give up and hike all the way up the valley....keeping an eye out for the lady to thank her for the advice about crossing the river....

Anyway as im way behind in writing this blog, thats kind of what my time in Manali was like, one or two sunny days spent on random little adventures and the rainy ones spent not so active at all i could say! Mostly hanging out at our cool little house with the tandoor, or swapping stories with other travellers at the rainbow cafe...or zorbing...that is being pushed down a hill in a big plastic!

I realised i had spent an awful lot of time here in Vashist but i had become awfully attached to the hot baths making it very hard to leave. I managed to sort this dilemma out by heading to a smaller village this time in the bottom of a different valley springs!
I really really love the mountains