Saturday, June 28, 2008

Manali, a Winter Vacation Story

"Cats are smarter than dogs. You can't get eight cats to pull a sled through snow."

Jeff Valdez


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Welcome to Manali, India.

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,

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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?

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2. We seriously need to cultivate a tropical hybrid and grow them all over Malaysia.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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12. Then we hit the slopes in Solang Valley. Check out Dhivya in her clown-coloured skiing outfit on the right.

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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.

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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 death accident rate. Besides, paragliding through a narrow mountain valley covered with pointy pine trees isn't exactly a reassuring thought too. When I was at the top of the hill waiting for my turn to take off, I saw several epic wipe outs (and by wipe outs I mean that they hovered for a second and then crashed right into the face of the slope, to the horror of the folks that were going next). It's in the speed of the run, I guess, and I think that most of the tourists chickened out right at the last bit when they approach the edge and slowed down when they were supposed to run even faster. I mean, have you ever try to run off a cliff? It's not easy, okay. I ran like mad and made an almighty leap at the end - and I flew! It's the most glorious sensation ever, being suspended in mid air and gliding through the snow-capped mountains. Every time I made a sharp turn, there's always this short sickening sensation in my stomach fearing that my wings would crumple up and I would fall right out of the sky and plummet right down, killing myself and some poor yak below. But that didn't subtract one whit from the fun and thrill. And I was not suffering in the picture, okay. I was just bracing for the landing impact. No, really.

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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.

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Sigh.



Love Manali, hate kids,
k0k s3n w4i

9 comments:

calvin said...

I never knew that it snows in India. By the way, your first picture was executed to perfection ;)

Love it!

fubi said...

i dun mind *beams* lets! :) *starts packin bags*

Vincent said...

haha... thanks for promoting my photos. for those who are reading this blog, just an information to you that, manali is also the way to kashmir, where we all wish to go but couldn't make it. also, manali also one of the place where we found most number of Nepali during our trip.

fuolornis said...

Manali... the one and only favourite destination of mine. tryly enjoyed the time we had in Manali. I miss Pinewood hotel

senorita.. said...

the lil' girl is sooo cute..

btw,phoebe is not studying in the same place as u?

mrbherng said...

vincent's work rocks.

k0k s3n w4i said...

calvin: I did not take the first picture. i'm just nt as pro xD

fubi: u got cash to travel la now T^T

vincent: there were more in darjeeling, i think. or maybe i'm just counting pretty Nepali girls.

fuolornis: wth dharamsala not good enuf for u issit?

senorita: she studies in Salem, in Tamil Nadu - another state :)

mrbherng: my sifu ok. o course la

Q Funk said...

Manali is a great place!! I've been there twice... but in summers... Nice Blog!! :D

jogi said...

Good information about Manali snow through excellent photography.