Sunday, August 26, 2012

Diary of a Traveller: My Experiences : Himachal Pradesh: Day 4 Manali

Got up early in the morning ..would define that as 8.00 AM in chronological terms. Early because it was Sunday and we were on vacation. The sound of Beas flowing by was very prominent in that hour and just peaked out of window and  what I saw....
Amazing is a puny word….I picked my CyberShot and clicked as many as I can. My better half was still enjoying her good night sleep snuggled in the cozy blanket. I tried to wake her up but it was in vain So I had to order tea on her behalf. I took my own time trying to capture those moments and sounds in my mind than the Sony CyberShot. No wonder, it has been almost 2 years; but I still remember everything very vividly. Anyways CybeShot is a very handy gadget and thanks Sony for inventing it. It helps me recall those moments. J
You must be fed up of reading about my breakfasts, lunches and dinners (as well as occasional snacks!) I give you an option of skipping this part if you are not interested. But I can’t resist myself from writting about food. Read at discretion….In my earlier pages, I have already mentioned that your hunger tends to be at peak in the mountains. Manali is obviously no exception. Must admit that the staff might have described me as a voracious eater. Started humbly with 4 pieces of toasts with butter and jam on it. Meanwhile ordered for a double decker sandwich stuffed with cheese and veggies. How can I forget my favourite chocos in cold milk..had a bowlful! Also gorged on paranthas with curds and pickle. And just to give a perfect finish, I gulped down a mug of coffee to wash everything away. I am sure either your eyes are popping out (if you are not Adam Richman, Rocky Singh or Mayur Sharma or similar) or your gastric juices must be on fire (if you are Adam Richman, Rocky Singh, Mayur Sharma or similar) J
This was a clear bright day. My itinerary told me that we should be visiting Rohtang Pass today. Rohtang Pass (altitude 13,051 ft (3,978 m)) is a high mountain pass on the eastern Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas some 51 km (32 mi) from Manali. It connects the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti Valleys of Himachal Pradesh, India. I was very very excited to visit this place and luck was on my side…it was opened in the month of August.
Alas…Shib Kumar…I will never forgive you for this little act. Anita is not comfortable traveling to heights and Rohtang Pass altitude is just 13,051 feet. Need I say more? There was a strong resistance from Anita for traveling to Rohtang Pass. We were very much heading towards it and meanwhile were arguing about it. Finally, Anita said that she would prefer to stay back at hotel and we should move on. Shib Kumar was in dual mind state. So he said, “That is very exciting..but really dangerous too!” That was it! Those words were the final nail on the coffin for the plan to go to Rohtang Pass. I was hugely disappointed with the U turn we took from that moment. How could this happen man? I was so near yet so far…. :(
My disappointment was very prominent on my face. Anita tried to speak with me but I didn’t utter a single word. I anyways made a promise to myself. I will surely return and will be travelling that time not only to Rohtang but to Lahaul and Spiti and then Ladakh and I’ll drive myself. Anita and Shib Kumar in the meanwhile started some disaster management program. Shib Kumar said that we will visit Solang Valley, an adventure sports destination which would trigger the adrenaline level but not to the extent of Rohtang Pass visit. (Heard that wind blows at Rohtang so fiercely that it shakes your vehicle, anybody confirming..write to )
 So we finally reached this compensation for Rohtang Pass called Solang Valley. I bet it was not certainly as thrilling as Rohtang would have been but let’s keep Rohtang out of discussion now. Manali has been known to be a tourist destination for many years and you need not get surprised at the unintentional congregation of people during any season at various places in Manali. So Solang being easily accessible was thronged with people. I was delighted to see the options I had in adventure sports- Paragliding and Zorbing. I chose paragliding in a matter of miliseconds and that too an extended version from greater heights. Anita was certainly not ready for this adventure and she decided to stay back at the landing ground to watch me whirling.
My instructor asked me to buy tickets for the gondola ride we had to take to reach the top of the hill. I was really excited about this. The instructor told me that the Solang Valley is covered in thick snow during winters. How amazing! My jealousy for the people residing in Himachal was achieving new heights every day or rather every hour as we were exploring new places. This was my first gondola ride in life (poor soul…you waited for 29 years for a puny thing like this?...I guess some reactions…J) Truly, as our gondola kept on scaling new heights, there was a gradual disconnection from all the crowd (except Anita) as it went out of sight and all that around me was lush greenery and wild flowers and the earthy smell.

After we reached our destination at hilltop, we got off the gondola and started walking towards our take off point for glider. I always sensed that walking down on a tricky path is certainly a difficult task compared to climbing up on the same trail. It puts lot of pressure on the thigh muscles and tests your body balancing. After a five minute tricky walk through the wildflower trails, we reached the take off point. I also had few European counterparts (all girls J) with me for the same mission.
After fitting all safety belts properly around my body from the glider which was laid on the ground, I was the first person facing the valley where the runway ended. My istructor told me to run towards valley without stopping at all so that we can lift the glider in a proper manner. That was an amazing run towards the valley and whoa…as soon as our runway ended, I was gliding in the air, I could see the beautiful landscape and the dangling pair of Woodland shoes. I simply regretted not carrying my camera with me. I could have had few breathtaking pics as well as videos to add to my library. Can’t put them in words, sorry! I was incessantly shouting for first few moments with all joy bursting from my belly. It was a wonderful experience. After gliding for a while we started descending towards the plains.
I must tell you why Anita is a great companion. While I was regretting up in the air for not carrying a camera, Anita at the base level had arranged for a cameraman who was shooting my flight on a camera as well as taking pics. Slowly, we started drifting towards plain and my instructor asked me to keep my legs parallel to surface while we landed. I was happy to know that all that hard work has paid off. We collected our DVDs and headed for the kiosk selling tea. I am not an avid tea drinker but the lovely atmosphere makes you keep on sipping tea whenever possible.
We somehow started a boring ordeal of visiting different temples. The one which distinctly stood different from other temples was the Hidimba Devi Temple. Some people call it as Hadimba Devi Temple. Completely surrounded by Deodar forest this could probably be one of the most scenic holy place I have ever seen. The mythological reference says that Hidimba, wife of Bhima who was originally a rakshasi (demon) attained status of goddess by doing tapasya. Himachali Kings had a very high regard for this goddess and worshipped her religiously. No wonder why! I would have loved to come again and again to this place even if the reason would have been pure worship. When we reached the temple in the afternoon, a Yagya was going on and many locals had gathered over there wearing traditional Himachali attire. (Do I always need to confirm that it was a wonderful scene whenever I describe something in great details?) We also entered into the sanctum sanctorum of the temple even in that bustle and had a better look at the deity.
Contrary to many temples in South India, North Indian (here read as Himachali) temples look pretty liberal as far as the entry of women in sanctum sanctorum of a temple is concerned. I will refer this in description of Jwalamukhi Temple also which we visited later while going towards Dharamsala.
Honestly, I didn’t want to leave that place (and this is the case with almost every place in Himachal) but we had other temples on our agenda. We had to visit the famous Vasisht temple. It is known for its hot water springs. Himalaya has always been a land of sages from historic time and it is obvious to find temples dedicated to these sages in HP. We parked our car at a distance from the temple and walked towards it. We were again confronted by the sellers of famous Chingu (remember the seller at Kufri Fun World?). We politely told them that we are not interested but at every other 10 feet another seller of Chingu was appearing. They are not intimidating though. There is no choice for them. They don’t get a fixed monthly salary and had to be in the business every day especially when the tourist traffic is down in the monsoon.
 As we were about to enter the temple, we saw this extremely luscious rabbit known as Angora Rabbit. Kullu has a breeding centre for these Angora Rabbits which are known for the soft wool.          
Okay…so when we finally entered the Vasisht temple to have a look at those famous hot water springs, we found that the time was over and doors of the temple were closed. Anita was slightly disappointed. We were supposed to wait for another one hour to see the door opening. It was not a good trade off for the limited time we had at our hands (and the energy too since we were wandering since morning and it was 2.30 pm dragging without lunch). We started our vehicle and headed for the most boring place I have come across during this trip – The Club House, Manali.
Club House is a very generic property accommodating few restaurants, shops selling different stuffs, few unnerving rides and tiny adventure experiences on Beas. We completed our stroll across the Club House in exact 15 minutes including few clicks on the bank of Beas. We thought of eating something but thought that River Country (the place where we were residing) should offer us better bet. By 3.45 pm, we reached River Country. It was too late to have lunch (by our standards as well as restaurant’s standards…not to forget the exception…Sher-E-Punjab at Kufri …lunch at 4.30) We decided to satiate our little left hunger by the double decker cheese sandwich J and slept for an hour…ahh what a life!
We probably got up when it was 6 in the evening. The darkness was descending on the Beas river which could be seen from the window and air was getting cold. We decided to go to the Mall Road, the main shopping arena of Manali and spend some time over there. We came downstairs and decided to have a cup of Cappuccino in the lawns of River Country. Umm..well.. it didn’t turn out to be a good decision for the following reasons…
1.      Cappuccino is not something unique to Manali
2.      We had to wait for unexplainable 30 minutes before we could sip it
3.      Sitting in the lawn turned out be a bad idea as mosquitoes and other bugs were on prowl
4.      The coffee didn’t taste that great.. I mean worth waiting 30 minutes.
5.      The quantity was slightly more than what we required
After we had finished our coffee, we started looking for Shib Kumar. Shib Kumar had actually forgotten his mobile at the restaurant in Mandi so I asked the security guard of the hotel to look for him. The guard came back telling us that he is inebriated and may not be able to come. Even Shib Kumar himself came out and asked us to take a rickshaw as the Mall Road was nearby. He had guzzled few mugs of beer I believe. So we told him to continue to enjoy and relax and proceeded towards Mall Road.
 Mall Road is a buzzing place as it is with many North Indian Hill Stations with the central road normally being christened as Mall Road. Not much to describe here. There are many shops selling food stuff, clothes, trek gears (sob..Rohtang!!!), souvenirs, artifacts etc etc. We entered into a shop selling Tibetan stuff. They were nice but somehow, me and Anita just didn’t feel the urge to buy something over there.
Finding no scope the exploit the potential of the surroundings and atmosphere, we decided to head back to our hotel. As we were going towards Rickshaw stand, Anita heard somebody calling her in Kashmiri, “Walyu Mahaara, chai chyevu!” It was Hilaal, a Kashmiri guy owning a shop selling Kashmiri clothes on that bustling Mall Road. He had recognized Anita from her dyej hur, a Kashmiri answer to Mangal Sutra for Rest of India. We couldn’t have said no to such invitation. We followed Hilaal in his shop in the basement. He didn’t expect us to buy anything from him but honestly wanted us to have tea or coffee (it was our choice J) We almost spent an hour chatting with him. And well…I also got a nice leather jacket I was looking for since I had entered Himachal. It was late (by Manali’s standards and not by Mumbai’s). We said “Khuda Haafiz” to Hilaal and promised to visit him whenever we will be coming to Manali. Sometimes I really keep on wondering…God gives us so many reasons to come to the heaven and make our life blissful and we poor mortals always decide to rot in hell!
As I mentioned, it was late and the roads were empty. We came back, had our dinner and went to sleep. We were blessed to spend another whole day in Manali or rather Kullu next day!