Published: August 17th 2007August 5th 2007
Best Coffee Shop Ever
Once back in Manali after the excitement of touring round Ladakh I went back to Dylan's Coffee Shop to relax with my mates Raj and Riyaz. Dylan's is the best coffee shop I've ever been to. It's run and owned by Rajan, one of the most laid-back and yet hardest-working people I've met, with a great team of assistants:Ramesh, Raju and Chaman (when the Bob Marley song "Jammin" comes on, which is quite often as it's a traveller hang-out, everyone joins in at the chorus "We're Chaman, we're Chaman,we're Chaman, we're Chaman." haha).
Rajan's best mate is Riyaz who owns several businesses in India, and is usually quite busy, so he tells me. In fact, from what he's said, he's an international playboy spending a fair chunk of time travelling the world. Luckily for me, he'd broken his foot crashing his motorbike into an auto-rickshaw and so was "helping" out in the cafe.
The clientel at Dylan's are an international bunch, consisting of a large proportion of Israelies, and a few Brits, Americans and Europeans. The Israelies get some bad press in the area and it's true, they can be a bit
rowdy at night, but then many of them are fresh out of two years' National Service, which can't have been much fun, so you can't blame them for letting off some steam. All the Israelies I met, were lovely people, particularly the couple from whom I almost bought a beautifully restored Enfield.
Batman and Robin - the original tv version.
If coffee shops were superheros then Dylan's, with it's very easy-going philosophy, would be the uptight Starbucks bumbling side-kick. Dylan's is based very loosely on the Starbucks approach, but has thrown out all of the Yanks' unnecessary ideas about customer service.
The Velvet Underground
The song, "Waiting for the Man" by the Velvet Underground could have been written and recorded while Lou Reed waited for an espresso at Dylans. In fact, he could've probably knocked out a couple of albums in the time it takes for an order to be served. As Lou sings, at Dylan's, "the first thing that you learn is that you've always got to wait." When your coffee or food arrives, it could have been so long since you ordered it that you'll have actually forgotten what you'd asked for, especially if
you're an Israelie stoner (but that wouldn't have rhymed, so Lou left it out). However, order-amnesia is a good thing, because the chances of getting what you ordered are slim, especially while Riyaz is taking the orders.
Great coffee, great cookies, confusion.
Despite the service, Dylan's works and the relaxed nature of the repeat customer gives the place a unique atmosphere. On top of that, the fantastic coffee, the delicious home-made chocolate-chip cookies, Rajan's easy-going charm and watching the often confused Ramesh, Raju and Chaman give out the wrong drinks and food to unsuspecting customers makes for an excellent day's entertainment.
A week in a coffee shop? Are you barmy?
It's so much fun, I stayed there for a week. That's right, a week of spending all day in a coffee shop. When do you normally get chance to do that? Well, probably quite often if you work in one, but you know what I mean.
Church? Go on then.
Rajan's quite a religious chap and invited me to go to his church one Sunday. It seemed like an honour to be asked, to I went along, having to hire another Enfield (damn!) to get there as
there were no auto-rickshaws to be found early Sunday morning. Church isn't really my cup of tea, but it was interesting to see Muslims, Christians, Jews and even Buddhists in the same service.
It made sense to me that everyone was in church together, especially as at the time I was reading a controversial but well researched and relevant, at least to my travels, book called "Jesus Lived in India", that I'd picked up in Dharamsala.
Now it's not news that many religions are closely linked and were founded in India, with Buddhism and Hinduism stemming from the ancient Veda texts, but how about this? Jesus was a member of a religious group called the Nazerenes and not "of Nazareth"; there's no evidence he'd even been to Nazareth, it's a mistranslation apparently. The Nazarenes, who dressed in white (like the "angels" outside Jesus's tomb) were heavily influenced by buddhism, in fact, there's evidence to suggest that until the age of 30 Jesus studied buddhism in Ladakh and that through clever use of opium and herbal medicine the crucifixion was an elaborate hoax to fool the Jewish authorities. Once he'd recovered, Christ returned to India and lived there
for many years. Apparently, Jesus's tomb can be found in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir! What's even more surprising, to me anyway, is that this idea is somewhat mirrored in the Koran. Now, I'm no expert, but it certainly got me thinking.
It wasn't all relaxing, coffee and theological study in Manali, there was time for some fun too. I managed to find time to hire the same 500cc Bullet I'd ridden round Ladakh and head to McLeod Ganj, a town above Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan government in exile. On the way, I stopped again at Rewalsar and adjusted the bike's tappets as they sounded a bit lose. Throroughly impressed with myself and feeling like my dad, the next day, I found my way to McLeod Ganj enjoying the mostly well-surfaced mountain roads.
Named after a British general, McLeod Ganj is where the Dalai Lama found refuge from the "liberation" of Tibet by the Chinese. He didn't choose this place for the weather; it chucks it down most of the time. I had a mooch round the Dalai Lama's temple complex and, to be honest, found it all a bit depressing. It's a
far cry from the amazing Potala Palace in Lhasa. Hopefully, one day soon, the Dalai Lama and his followers might be able to make their way home.
Back to Manali, then Delhi and Trivandrum
I didn't hang round in McLeod Ganj and soon headed back to Old Manali for some more coffee. A few days later, I was on a bus, which, thankfully, only crashed once, back to a baking hot Delhi, then a flight to Trivandrum. Trivandrum's on the coast, and it was great to see the sea again after so long in land-locked regions. Unfortunately, it was still a bit chilly for any beach action so I wandered round the town of Trivandrum enjoying the excellent food. It was a different culinary experience from that of the north: the sauces were lighter, there was fish on the menu and I didn't get poisoned.
If Singapore Airport seemed like an oasis of abundance after India and Nepal, you can imagine how I felt when I saw the plethora of shops that lined Orchard Road in the centre of the city. It was a shock to see that the taxi to the hotel had a working speedometer,
Fantastic Open Mic Night
Dylan's Coffee Shop, Old Manali...it was a bit like being in the film "So, I married an axe murderer".
leather seats, four wheels and a driver who didn't tell me my hotel was full and that he knew a better one. It also seemed that the entire world's cuisine was available on every street corner.
Pants and a Singapore Sling
With no daylight making its way into my into my windowless, but small and perfectly formed, hotel room and the over-night travel catching up with me, I slept like a corpse for far too long meaning I didn't have much time to look round. After a trip to M&S for some new pants, it was time to head to Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling.
Raffles All Bar One
Far from being the poshest and coolest bar in town, the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel has much the same ambience as an All Bar One. This was a good thing, as it meant I was allowed in. Once inside the peanut-shell strewn floor, I ordered a legendary Singapore Sling. The first one was a bit sweet, and to check that was how it was supposed to taste, I had a couple more.
Trip to the Clinic
I got chatting to a group of Irish girls in
the bar, and we decided to head to Clark Quay, which was a bit more "happening", as the kids say. We stumbled across an excellent bar called Clinic, where you sit in wheelchairs and drink horribly sweet and fantastically strong, green cocktails from drips. It's hilariously politically incorrect.
Another pharonic sleep in my sarcophagus-like room left me with just an afternoon to fill before leaving Singapore, so I headed to the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Unlike their Birmingham equivalent where there is a hot house, in Singapore, there is a cool house as the whole place is hot enough to support tropical plants, as you'd expect. That probably doesn't mean much to you, but it did to me as I'd spent many a cold afternoon in Birminghams hothouse garden as a kid wondering what it would be like to see these plants in their natural environment. The best part was the orchid garden: bostin!
I could've spent all afternoon at the gardens as there was a lot more to see, but I wanted to get to the zoo, so I left after only a couple of hours. Unfortunately, my taxi driver gave me some duff information and
Riyaz and Natalie
Dylan\'s, Old Manali
I arrived just as the zoo was closing. However, every cloud has a silver lining: the Ben and Jerry's ice-cream shop was still open.
Scooby Do, where are you?
It took a while to get the ice-cream as (1)I was served by a lad wearing a hygenic face-mask(either that or he was robbing the place) and I couldn't understand a word he was saying and (2) he insisted on telling me all the configurations of ice-creem that were available: one scoop in paper cup, two scoops in waffle cone, two scoops in half-waffle cone etc, I think. By the time he'd finished I was longing for the less sophisticated days of raspberry-ripple wafer sandwiches.
We eventually we sorted it out and after wolfing down my own weight in Cherry Garcia, I headed to the Night Safari to sit on a train that took me round the next door zoo in the dark. It was excellent to see lions, leopards and little, furry tree-dwellers with plate-sized eyes out and about doing their nocturnal stuff. The bat section was well spooky, with flying-foxes hanging low out of trees and smaller bats flapping around my head, just like in the opening
credits of Scooby Do (although, then, it's Shaggy's head, not mine).
It was an early start the next day to get back to the gorgeous world of Singapore Airport. Before I knew it, I was going through the security check having most of my newly bought toiletries confiscated (d'oh!) and finding my seat on the flight to Borneo.
There are more photos below