Saturday, February 13, 2010


Here I am once again typing in the dark; it seems that blackouts follow me every where I go.

So this blog post is about our recent jaunt to Manali. Manali is a hill station located in the north of India in the central part of Himachal Pradesh. It is located at an altitude of 2050 metres and is spread along the banks of the Beas river.We had planned a 6 day trip and where lucky we actually got home in that time-frame after being snowed in with landslides covering the main route in and out of Manali. So here is a bit of a play by play of our trip....

Eight of us set out at 5am on Thursday morning for the 500km/9hour journey to Manali. Jenni prepared a scavenger hunt to keep us entertained throughout the journey. Some of the more ammusing but not uncommon items on the list included a motorbile with training wheels, a truck on its side an elephant...just the usual sights. The only problem with the game was that it meant that we missed a crucial turnoff which added several kilometres and about 2 hours to the trip. It wasnt all in vain though as we went through some amazing villages and saw some spectacular scenery. Generally I am not a great person for car travel but this drive was amazing; the scenery changed from smoggy dusty delhi to steep mountains covered with pine trees or terraced with crops which appeared as vivid ribbons of green banding the steep slopes.

We also stopped to cross swaying foot bridges that crossed the Beas river which has the most amazing jade/blue water you have ever seen. We did not reach Manali until about 8pm after spending 6 hours saying we had 2 hours to go!

It seems I got my way and we stayed at the Hotel Yak which was very well located by the mall area in the town of Manali. That night we had dinner at the Mountview resteraunt which became our haunt for much of the trip.

After breakfast on out first day in Manali we headed up the mountain to Solang which is the main ski resort (if you could call it that) and guess what... there was no snow...none at all! Instead there was about 100 horses available for trips up the mountain where there was patches of snow. There was paragliding and zorbing available as well. Seeing as we had made the journey we made the most of it and went for a hike up the mountain to where there was enough snow to have a snowball fight and to watch the Beas river forming from the melt water beginning its long trip down the mountain.

It was kind of nice hiking through the snow in just jeans, T-shirt and gumboots.

The rest of the day we spent exploring Manali enjoying amazing food and making plans for our not-skiing holiday.

So on day 2 we planned a mountain bike ride. We biked 40 kilometres taking in the most amazing scenery through apple orchards, pine forests and quaint villages. Many of the wooden huts in the villages where sagging under the weight of thier thick slate roofs. Unlike biking in Sydney we had some rather unusual obstacles such as goats, cows, and donkeys. Halfway through our trip we stopped at a little village for lunch. When we pulled up outside a food stall the guide said we could have dahl and rice; I think we all gagged. We asked if momo's was an option and we ended up heading 100metres further down the road to the most amazing little shack selling the best momos and chowmein in India; I think food tasted better in the mountains.

After lunch we enjoyed a 5 kilometre winding downhill coast before a slow 10 kilometre cimb (in the rain) up to the hot springs. What a way to finish the day.

That night we headed up to Johnson lodge to enjoy cocktails and trout (a local delicacy). It was one of the best meals I have had in India... I so miss fish! While at dinner we had planned to do another bike ride the next day... 50ks with more off road sections. But it was not to be at 10pm it started snowing in Manali. The biggest flakes of snow I had ever seen and the frst snow in Manali in 2 years. By the next morning a foot of snow covered the town of Manali and by that night it was 2 foot deep. So that was the end of our mountain biking and it was supposed to be the start of our skiing/boarding but wouldn't you know it there was too much snow! We could not get anywhere near Solang valley in fact we could not get out of Manali. We were litterely snowed in and blacked out for the next four days. This meant no heating, no lights and most importantly no hot showers! All was not lost we still enjoyed treks through the snow in the Manali nature reserve and we built a huge rolled snowball snowman...I have never done that before :)

The day before we were due to leave Manali there was a break in the weather and the boys had discovered a potential way off the mountain (the main road was closed due to a landslide). We made a snap decision at four o'clock that afternoon to try to get down the mountain to Kullu and head back to Delhi from Kullu the following day. So we all rushed to pack up our cold wet gear as fast as we could before the sunset. While we were packing Sam went up to the local hardware store to buy a shovel. The shovel affectionately named Neville certainly paid for itself on the trip out of Manali...even though it only cost 150 rupees ($3.50). Not long after we headed out of Manali via the snow covered roads Sam and Jake were helping dig cars out of the snow and out of our way; it seemed we were the only ones with enough foresight to think that a shovel might be a necessary tool to get off the mountain.

It took 5 hours to cover the 48 kilometres to Kullu. At one point we were stuck behind a multitude of bogged cars when it started to snow. We spent about an hour just watching the snow cover the windscreen; it was quite mesmerising... a bit like watching a game of Tetris as all the gaps were filled.

By the time we got to Kullu we were cold, hungry and exhausted. Fortunately we had made it before all the hotel receptions closed. We stopped at the first hotel we found and checked in. It was a relatively dodgy rabbit warren of a place but it was super cheap ($10) and a place to sleep.

The drive back home to Delhi was as scenic as all India. The highlight of this part of the trip would have been driving through Punjab and spotting the most amazing coloured turbans worn by the men of the predominantly sikh state.

We stopped for lunch at a buzzing roadside restaurant. In the end we decided to cancel our order after an hour and a half of waiting for our meals and Ray spotting the chefs recycling drinks as he walked into the kitchen to complain. Outside the restaurant there was a samosa and snack stand. Not being a big fan of samosas I opted for a mix of buja, dried peas and moong dhal seasoned with onion and lime juice. It seems that it was a good decision as those who had the samosas started feeling heady and spaced out; I was asked if there was a culinary herb that could have that effect? I suggested that perhaps the herb was the Marijuana that was growing in plague proportions along the roadside.

Our final stop on our journey home was the city of Chandigarh. Once again it was like stepping into another country...or on reflection like arriving in Canberra. Chandigarh is perhaps the most organised city in India. It is the dream city of India's first Prime Minister and was planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier. Chandigarh is known as one of the best experiments in urban planning in India. The streets of Chandigarh are wide and tree lined with the fallen leaves swept into neat piles. The round-abouts are immaculately groomed, some with the only working fountains I have ever seen in all my time in India.

Our one sightseeing stop in Chandigarh was Nek Chand's Rock Garden. Nek Chand was a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. The garden is spread over forty-acres and it is completely built of industrial as well as home waste and thrown-away items. It was discovered by the authorities in 1975, by which time it had grown into a 12-acre garden of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. The sculptures are predominantly decorated with broken porcelain cups, tiles plates and even toilets though there were also 50-100 sculptures of women in saris decorated with thousands of broken glass bangles which are traditionally worn by Indian women. The place was definitely a bit quirky and would be really creepy to wander through at night but it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever passing through Chandigarh.

I have just put together a bit of video footage from our time away...we are not the best at taking the time to capture things on video so I did not have a lot to work with. I will have it up on YouTube shortly and will add a link to the video bar.

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