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Monday, October 18, 2010

Manali Mania II

...And so, we set out on our next leg of our journey..We crossed Palampur and just a little away, we stopped at the Gau mandir which according to legend, fulfills the wishes of devotees who whisper their hopes and wishes into the ear of Shivji's cow. Most devotees did so after they prayed at the temple. Some young boys seeing that I was a non local, muttered amongst themselves as to whether Gau Mata would be able to understand my language!Well, of course she did!!

We headed out into the hills again, the views getting even better. It was a very long drive from Yol to Manali and we were expecting to reach Manali atleast by 5:30 in the evening with not too many stops. We halted at Kullu for lunch and despite sleep setting in, we kept our eyes open on the look out for stole emporiums. The emporiums had beautiful collections of Kullu shawls and stoles with intricate embroideries and lovely bright colours. They had a range of pashminas and though I always associated shawls with Ma, I ended up buying a couple for myself! They were so pretty!!

We arrived at Manali as the sun was setting and a chill set in with the evening breeze. We were putting up at this exclusive holiday hut provided to us by a VIP in the area with one of the best views around. We freaked out! There were numerous apple orchards around with red and green apples in abundance. We were behaving like monkeys, climbing the trees and jumping for apples! The majestic mountains around observed us in silence and sighed as we couldn't get enough of all of it..

The next day, we made a quick recky of the Solang valley where there were a couple of facilities for snow skiing, paragliding and cable car rides. Since time was short and we'd experienced each of those individual thrills elsewhere, we turned around and geared up for the journey back. The Rohtang Pass would have added to my list of passes I'd been to in the Himalayas but I would have to go back for it again as it had recently snowed up there and friends had asked us to avoid it during this trip.
We visited a family friend who'd set up a school in Manali and she regaled us with heart-warming stories from the highlands around. She also told us about how simple the people were, with one parent of a student (who'd recently done well in business and acquired himself good money) asking her for 5 pairs of uniforms for his daughter and who thought why they weren't of different colours and then there was this parent who called her up and asked her which shop he should buy the report cards from!People are very simple around here as most hill people are, and sometimes it is so heartening to interact with them, far from the maddening crowds of materialistic and impolite populace of polluted and commercialized cities and towns.
The Roerich Art Gallery at Naggar near Kullu is a cosy cottage which was owned by the Roerich family which has now been converted into a musuem. The paintings of Nicholas.K. Roerich are on display here which capture the beauty of the Himalayas. There are souvenirs of his paintings that one can pick up as a remembrance of the enchanting Himalayas long after one descends from its grand heights. His younger son Svytoslav married Devika Rani, the first lady of the silver screen in the yesteryears. Kullu, beside its shawls and apples is also famous for its wines and fruit juices and cartons of it are worth a grab..
We stayed the night at Palampur and on our last leg of our quick yet pleasing get away, we visited the Mata ki mandir which is very famous around the area. The idol is placed underground and one must approach it through steps which leads into a cave like structure which can make one feel very claustrophobic. However the darshan always helps one get over such phobias and finally, seeking divine intervention in our lives, we headed to the Dharamshala airport. The staff gave us VVIP tratment with an exclusive lounge. I loved the people here. We covered some other parts of Himachal from air with lovely views from the top and were greeted by the lovely monsoons that weren't ready to let go of Delhi this time around as we prepared to land, ready to fall back in gear for the next day of our daily routines in the city..

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Manali Mania!-I

It was a quick quick getaway.. Spanning over 4 days partly over the weekend, we had this ambitious plan to cover Yol, McLeodganj, Dharamshala, Palampur, Manali and if we could risk it, the Rohtang Pass.
The first leg of the journey was a night train journey from New Delhi to Chakki Bank in Jammu. Though we were travelling first class, the whole night was ruined by bedbugs which was earlier preceded by the most drab vegetarian meal i'd ever had in a long while. This was not to bog us down,( though we hadn't caught a wink) and we soon freshened up, catching quick power naps while the other got dressed. We then set out for Yol by road.
The Kangra valley is a beautiful expanse of hills and fields with women wearing brightly coloured salwar kameezes and chunnis dotting the countryside. The toy train came hooting alonside us bellowing clouds of smoke and then vanishing now and then around mountain sides and grass fields. The beauty of the state of Himachal Pradesh around this region can actually be enjoyed mostly during the long road journeys. Women with their fair skinned and flawless complexions are absolutely fascinating. The mountains tower over alongside as one drives around the lovely sun kissed fields and cosy cottages amongst perfect settings for breathtaking views.


We arrived at Yol at around 12:30 or so after having set out early in the morning. Yol is a sleepy town and an army cantonment, a pretty place with pretty people. Though it was raining in Delhi, we were greeted with warm sunshine and pleasant weather throughout our stay there.



We could hardly wait to dump our bags and get to McLeodganj, the residence of the Dalai Lama. I'm a big fan of his. If everyone could think as simply as him, the world would be a much simpler and better place to live in!Sigh! We made it to the Tibetan school cum muesuem called Norbulingka, just short of McLeodganj in good time and took a tour of it, voluntarily guided by a handsome young Tibetan man. The school was where they taught the exotic art of the tangkha paintings and embroidery! It takes one about 3 years to master the painting techniques and upto 6 years for copper sculpturing of the various gigantic, majestic statues we see in various monasteries around the country. The students, mostly boys were deep in concentration with their piece of artwork. I liked the way they were listening to Tibetan rock(or something similar) on their headphones, not a bit distracted with us going around the room, clicking pictures like Japanese tourists!

A Tibetan poem that can be read in any direction..

The setup is lovely with authentic Tibetan/ Buddhist architecture, water bodies, a monastery, a doll museum and an emporium.


The Church in the woods was our next stop. Amidst a thicket of jungles beyond, it stood out ancient and very British. It was a lovely setting as if out of a children’s fairy tale.. Hansel and Gretel comes to mind. We arrived at McLeodGanj, starving and excited. Hunger got the better of us so the loot in the market had to wait. We were suggested to try Jimmy’s Kitchen for Italian food but we opted for the Tibetan Kitchen. Like they say: ‘When in Rome, Do what the Romans do!’ We ordered noodles, chicken momos,thukpa, a Tibetan patty and chicken soup.  The momos were yummy and very authentic and we generously helped ourselves. Smug and cosy, the kitchen left the same effect on us, so we prepared ourselves for a nice shopping workout while Papa went off for a snooze. It was getting cloudy and the clouds came in quietly, enveloping us snugly while we walked through the streets packed on each side with Tibetan memorabilia and souvenirs inviting us into almost every shop. The shops were tightly squeezed in with clothes, cloth bags for the cause of a Free Tibet, incense, essential oils, tangkhas, prayer wheels, prayer flags, jasmine pants and jewellery.

The scent of Tibetan incense is a heavenly fragrance which surrounds your senses and you can’t ignore tranquillity setting in. Women are very friendly and people love animals around here. Young women were picking up stray puppies to adopt them. I find the Tibetans an exotic group of people headed by the Dalai Lama. He’s one of my surviving idols I have to have to meet besides Queen Rania of Jordan.

The Church in the woods

The shopping spree was not long enough for us to soak in the essence of the place. The real quintessence is to walk around and laze about for a couple of days, discovering the little pizza place which can be accessed on foot, sitting for hours over coffee at German Bakery and maybe waiting outside Dalai Lamas palace to catch a glimpse of him when he’s in town..?   

The day had been quite striking and we yearned to stay on. Yol heralded us in the setting sun and we spent a quiet evening with family friends. The breeze was light and as we prepared to turn in for the day. We slept like heavy logs until the first ray of dawn the next morning..

Dolls at the Doll Muesuem