"Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow."Jeff Valdez
I have never seen snow before in my entire life till I visited Manali and even though it was the start of the spring thaw at the time, the magic of discovery was not lost on me. I arrived at 4.00 am in the morning from Dharamsala after a cramped 12 hours public bus transit through the mountainous Himachal Pradesh countryside to an unlighted and deserted bus station. The temperature was tottering at a balmy 4 °Celsius and it was the first time my cold-resisting superpowers failed me in the entire trip. I had to break out the groovy biker gloves which I had the foresight to purchase in Amritsar. They weren't very snug, I admit, but at least I'd look cool while I slowly freeze to death.
Imagine a town surrounded by Alpine mountain ranges and you'll have a good idea what it's like to be there. The landscape is so removed from what I'm used to in India that there are moments when I completely forgot where I was. This is another stop I insisted on making against the apathy of the whole group during the planning phase of our trip and damn, I so make the best calls ever. Yet another reason to always pay attention to everything I have to say because I am just smart like that.
Anyhow, talk is pointless so here's some photographs with some captions,
1. Old Manali is less than half an hour's walk away from the newer bit of town and the cabins that the indigenous people live in are really something else - they probably looked very much the same a few centuries ago, I think. That's a peach blossom tree in the middle, by the way. So China, right?
2. We seriously need to cultivate a tropical hybrid and grow them all over Malaysia.
3. I spotted this adorable little girl standing outside one of those cabins and I felt that I just had to get a picture of her. She was so shy that she simply stood frozen on the spot without moving at all, even when Josephine and Dhivya tried to camwhore with her. Just that blank chubby stare throughout. Creepy. But cute. But creepy.
4. This is the roof of an ancient, pagoda-shaped stone and wood mandir dedicated to Hadimba in a clearing of a nearby pine forest and it is reputed to be more than 450 years old. Many devotees were already queuing outside the place when I got there just so they can enter for a few seconds to pay their respect to the deity it was designated to. It took me awhile but I got in too and received a handful of prasad from the priest inside. A massive stone shelf laid over a hollow containing a shrine and an assortment of relics took up most of the room inside leaving only a few feet of standing room for visitors so only two person can enter at a time.
5. This amazing picture is Vincent's pièce de résistance. It was taken in a cedar wood forest set aside as a nature reserve. It's notable that he was using a digital camera so far down on the digital camera evolution tree that any self-respecting amateur photographer would be embarrassed to be seen with it today. This proves once and for all that skills and talent trump expensive hardware any old day.
6. Incidentally, the picture ended up as a two-pages spread in an issue of the Better Photography magazine. Vincent probably masturbates to this now.
7. This is the distinctively oriental Chopsticks restaurant which has a menu which that ranged from Tibetan to Chinese to even Japanese fare! (I'd stick with the Tibetan and Chinese stuff If I'm you though).
8. Manali is a truly ace tourist destination. In our entire trip through northern India, we have yet to come across another place which has eats as good as the ones we got in Manali. I mean, the cuisine in every other part of India seems to be inflexibly Indian. Yeah, I know I'm in India but it's very, very easy to get sick of the ol' beans, lentils, onions, curry and wheat-and-rice stuff routine every meal is built on (and I've already spent more than two years in India, mind you). The top local specialty of Manali is the Himachal Trout (not in picture) which every self-respecting establishment here serves. I'm not a big fan of fishes but I certainly love this one. I had one every dinner.
9. And speaking of local specialties, there's the Himachal fruit wine, made from the bountiful produce of the local orchards, which always merits a try. Flavours ranged from apple to peach to kiwi to even ginger! You can like, have a different one every time you eat! And since the alcohol content is piddling enough that even a particularly strong beer can punch its light out, you can go nuts tasting every flavour. Mine here is pear. Love the bouquet.
10. I also visited a certain Johnson's Bar which happened to be under renovation at the time, so one of their suites have been converted into a temporary dining place. It's so freaking cool. They have like a swanky sofa set, a proper homey dining table, a huge-ass plama TV, a mini bar in the corner with an attending bartender who actually discusses cocktail mixing techniques with this savvy sounding British woman (so you know he gives a shit about how he does his job) and a roaring fireplace. I think Johnson's Bar should just stop bothering about the renovation works and just run with this - I can't recall a better place I've ever eaten in.
11. I found a proper Baskin Robbins tucked away in a corner somewhere. I think the best time to eat ice-cream when the temperature is hovering just about zero because they melt so slowly then, and you can really take your time with them.
12. Then we hit the slopes in Solang Valley. Check out Dhivya in her clown-coloured skiing outfit on the right.
13. Manali is the de facto winter sports capital of India and you can get all the usual suspects; skiing, tobogganing, ice-slides, snowmobile rides - you know the drill - and it's also the home to the weirdest extreme sport in the world. It's called yak-skiing and it involves a skier waiting at the bottom of a slope holding onto a rope attached to pulley system, with the other end attached to a yak at the top. The skier then shake and put down a bucket of nuts, and the yak would then charge downhill to get at them, tugging the skier uphill at a breakneck speed. I guess its invented because they have no ski-lifts here. It sucked that the slope we went to didn't have yak-skiing, but there's still yak-riding though.
14. And there's paragliding too! Only Dhivya and I tried it out because I think the rest are scared shitless at the thought of it, especially since this activity was suspended for several years sometime ago due to the record-breaking
15. There were a lot of lupine-looking dogs lopping about in the snow and they have the sweetest dispositions ever. All they want to do is read their heads on your knees and get a petting from you. It always makes my day when a dog does that. People who doesn't like dogs don't know what they are missing, I tell you. And that goes to people who prefer those annoying yapping rats they pass off as dogs these days too.
Right now, all I can do is sit here in front of my crummy laptop reminiscing about all the good times I had in March. I want to go traveling again! Those people who say that they need a holiday more than ever after their vacations aren't doing it right. I can't wait for August when I get to go to the Southern Indian hill stations with Phoebs. It's going to be grand. I'll infect Phoebe with the travel bug too and maybe then we can spend all our money next time going places instead of having kids.
Love Manali, hate kids,
k0k s3n w4i