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Published: March 6th 2010
Now we are spending the night in a small town on the way to Manali. We were supposed to spend the night in Chandigarh in the Punjab, but we got there at 1 in the afternoon and didn't want to stay. It is a modern city, still on the plains, that has been laid out by a Swiss architect so has good town planning, wide roads, etc. and is probably very nice to live in but not so interesting for a tourist with the whole day in front of him.
In spite of that, there were big squatter camps on the way out of town. As it was the time the school children go home for lunch, the area was crowded with well-groomed students, all in their school uniforms, holding hands and laughing as they made their way through the rubbish, mud and muck. Two things struck me: 1) education seems to have reached everybody and 2) How these people always seem to be so good natured and cheerful. (also on the way out of town, I saw six peacocks wandering through a bright yellow mustard field.)
The roads were all new up until then with many tolls --
since Chandigarh they have deteriorated a lot. (on the return journey the road work had nearly been finished and as it was a holiday, there were no trucks -- so within a week, the roads were much improved.) We have a jeep and driver -- he is very cautious and rather slow which is usually a good thing, especially after some of the crazy drivers here. We only had one crazy driver ourselves -- The one from Allepey to Varkala. He drove like a maniac -- hogged the middle of the road, overtook at every opportunity and "played chicken" with every oncoming truck. He even got stopped by the police. He didn't seem bothered -- he was smiling and joking with them -- the fine must have been small. I thought it might slow him down, but it didn't. I had read about the crazy driving in India -- but this was our only personal experience with it. As I said, our present driver is very cautious -- he was supposed to have a little English but I don't think so -- but we are managing with him.
We are spending the night in Bilaspur -- which overlooks a
big river and lake but they are dry -- monsoon was poor, snow was light. We are in Himachal Pradesh and have about another five hour drive to Manali today. Our hotel is quite OK and we had a very good meal in the restaurant last night -- tandoori chicken and vegetable pulao. It is a big hotel so there is a place for the driver to sleep -- otherwise he sleeps in the car. (actually, everywhere we slept for the entire week, the driver had a place to sleep so he didn't have to sleep in the car.)
The valley is filled with mist this morning. Last night was very pretty with the twinkling lights scattered over the hills -- we ate dinner in a little alcove of the dining room surrounded by windows -- nice spot.
We are in Manali now. We will be here 4 days. We havfe a nice room with a big window that looks over the valley and the snow covered mountain in the distance. We had a nice day today. We went to a place 2 kms from here, Vashisht hot water springs. You can bathe there, if you want, in
separate rooms for men and women. The water from the taps was steaming hot in the cold air, with a strong smell of sulphur, women were doing their laundry there.
It is pretty cold at night 0 to -1 degrees. We have a heater but it only warms the space immediately around it. It is my new, best friend. We have plenty of blankets. If I press my face to the window at night, I can see the mountain glowing white in the darkness. There is still many patches of snow on the ground but it is not expected to snow anymore. During the day it's about 14 degrees but if you walk it is very pleasant, the sun comes out and is quite warm.
Today we had quite a long walk to a waterfall. I am not actually sure that we even reached the waterfall -- I think we may have confused it with a smaller one. Anyway, we did walk to a waterfall and climbed a bit above it after the path ended and then continued on to a forest. At that point we turned back and then spent some time in Vashisht town. We really
enjoyed the walk -- we were completely alone -- maybe for the first time in India. The Indian tourists only went as far as the hot water springs. There are very few foreign tourists. Most of the Indian tourists are couples on their honeymoon it has been interesting to watch them. They have money to spend and are buying lots of sourvenirs so the shopping center is quite lively, closed off to traffic and with lots of tasty Indian snacks to try.
The dinner at our hotel wasn't so good yesterday. We are quite a distance from the town and I told the driver we won't need him until the morning. I guess we will eat here again. Breakfast was good -- we sat out on the patio of the hotel with the view laid out before us like a postcard.
I don't think our driver speaks any English at all -- I mean nada. Whenever I say anything to him he looks anxious, his face screwed up with the effort of trying to figure out what it is I want. It is a bit frustrating but it does seem to work -- he drives us to where
we want to go and then waits for us while we go off for a few hours. It's a very comfortable way of doing things.
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