Published: July 4th 2008June 10th 2008
About a month ago several bombs went off in Jaipur and on the morning we had planned to get a bus over there to complete our tourist trail of the golden triangle we heard Gujjar protestors were blocking roads and train tracks from Agra. We decided to give Jaipur a wide berth and head back to Delhi and have a re-think.
The new plan was to head straight into Himachal Pradesh and explore the valleys and mountains a few weeks earlier than planned. The dusty bus journey from Chandigarh to Shimla was awful, we had to change buses three times and the drivers seemed intent on getting as quickly to the top as possible around very tight, scary bends on the high mountainous roads.
As soon as we arrived we headed straight for the first hotel we laid our eyes on and were pleased with our choice as the views over Shimla from our room were gorgeous. The weather in Shimla was so refreshing, the only time we broke out in a sweat was going up and down the steep stairways getting to and from the middle bazaar where our hotel was situated. With the cool climate we took
full advantage of the fact that we could buy chocolate bars which were not half melted and bloomed. We got through more than our fair share of Cadbury fruit and nut bars during the five days we were in Shimla. The Mall was the main stretch where all the shops, cafes and restaurants were and it gets really busy after about 11am with people hanging around, lotering and flogging tourist tat.
I wasn't feeling that great the morning of our departure from Shimla so we decided to splash out on our second taxi of the trip to get ourselves to Mandi. The roads in the Himanchal Pradesh are not really roads, they are full of pot holes and are all only one lane wide so any journey be it in a bus or taxi is generally very uncomfortable.
The journey from Shimla to Mandi really didn't do my throat much good and the following morning I found blood and pus deposits around my tonsils so being mindful I was hours away from any decent hospitals I decided it must be Tonsilitus and to go down the route of self-medication. You can buy almost anything over the counter so
I bought several different anti-biotics, pencillins, painkillers and throat sweets. Reading up on the various brands of drugs I had bought didn't fill me with much hope, many of them had failed clinical trials however they were the only solution to my ever expanding throat.
I don't remember much of Kullu as I was taking so many pills and potions but we stopped there a few days enroute to Manali. We stayed in a run-down hotel in town and the price included brekkie. Comically eating turned out to be the highlight of crashing there. I don't know if they get many tourists because the restaurant was always empty except for the one waiter who seemed to do a lot of waiting, we have never felt so under scrutiny while eating.
As the weekend neared we decided to get ourselves up to Manali as there were trained doctors up there just in case my throat totally closed. The crowds along the mall were crazy, so many people in just one space and the pollution from the cars and tuk-tuks made walking along the roads an awful experience. Our one moment of sanctury was walking through the nature park to
Old Manail. Vashisht on the other hand was an oasis of calm and the views of the River Beas from our balcony were brilliant, in fact we loved it so much we stayed six nights.
We had been debating the idea of heading further north to Leh, walking through Manali the amount of signs for shared taxis and buses made it tempting. It would be a two day drive with a stop over half way in some tented accommodation, obviously the toilet was going to be of the bush variety and when up on the high mountain passes it would be behind a rock, if there were any.
For the whole of our trip we have been in rather warm climates and are not kitted out to survive for days on end on snowy mountain passes so while contemplating our forray to Leh we thought it would be a good move to test the water with a day trip up to the Rotang Pass, 50km from Manali. Technically the Manali Leh highway is not open until 15th july however private vehicles can use the road and the Himachal Tourism board do a one day tour up to the
pass daily. We paid the R250 each and got marched round the corner to the waiting bus. To be fair it was a crap looking deluxe bus but what's new there and without exception there were people sitting in our seats, it felt like we had boarded any old shitter for a gruelling public spectical of why oh why have we bothered.
About half an hour later we stopped at a roadside jacket hire stall. We were told the pass was very cold so anyone wearing sari's and flip flops were advised to kit themselves out in a fake fur coat and wellington boats. I picked an old knackered looking coat and No did the same and boarded the bus. The first annoyance of the day was we were told the coats were R50 then they magically turned out to be R100, a bit rude when we saw locals handing over R20. We were slightly pissed off however we're well used to being singled out now and the mood was soon forgotten when the bus came to a halt, switched off its engine and the driver got out of the bus.
No speculated the reason we stopped was
to allow us to get used to the height (all of 3000m) however this idea was soon plopped on when after an hour and a half of sitting there the bus started the engine and drove 100m and stopped again. People were getting out their cars, wandering around and yes unfortunately we all had to use the small thin bushes to urinate around as the jam was a stayer. Having once driven an eighty mile a day communte I can tell when queues are movable and when they are not and this one was awful. A moment of cheer came when we saw the army coming up the road with a great big winch however three hours later the cheer had morfed into feelings of suicside. We persisted with it for five and a half hours, if you can believe, imagining having to sleep on the mountain side soon made us flag down a local bus heading back to Manali.
Annoyed at having not seen the pass but more relieved we actually got out of the traffic jam with our santity we decided to give Leh a miss. The government don't open the road until 15th july for a reason, and we discovered a day later that our delay was due to snow melt and early monsoon which had washed away part of the road. Apparently the road had been like this for days and Himanchal Tourism were still taking people up there on tours knowing this, what arseholes. We didn't get a refund for the trip, not exactly a surprise, money comes first and unfortunately customer service and people's welfare is way down on the list.