Saturday, May 28, 2011

Live to Ride...Ride to Live...Manually

May 24th, 2011

My new German friend Pascal and I decided that we needed to get out and do something. Why not rent a couple of mountain bikes and head out of Old Manali to discover some new countryside?

We asked my friend Pinku at the front desk of our guesthouse (Purnima) and he made a quick phone call and claimed that it would cost us 500 rupees for a bike for the day ($11). What? We rented a motorbike for only 600! We decided to head out on our own and see what we could find. The first and closest spot we went to did indeed want 500. Pascal tried to bargain them down but could only get them to we moved on. He did get a deal of 500 for 2 bikes at the next place and off we went...nice work Pascal!

We headed north from Old Manali along a sometimes paved but mostly gravel road. We passed by a small village and various houses spotted throughout the countryside. The views of the surrounding mountains were fantastic.

Pascal pedaling

The riders:

Gorgeous views:

Looking down at a small village:

On our way out we had to giggle at the fact that we rounded one corner and a man carrying half a dozen bongo drums walking in the other direction asked us whether we wanted one as we rode by...”Oh yeah, a bongo drum, that’s what we’re missing for our bike ride!?!” Then five minutes later, around another bend, a young teenage boy holding a stick with bags of pink cotton candy floss also tried to flog his product...too funny.

"Safe" electrical work going on here...

It was a lovely afternoon with the leg out being more uphill, which was great as we got to coast most of the way back...tired but happy.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Jogni Falls

May 19th, 2011

Around mid afternoon, Charlotte and Pascal suggested that we go and check out some nearby waterfalls, Jogni Falls. We took a rickshaw to Vashisht and I showed them where the hot springs were but we didn’t go in for a dip. We walked along a path through part of the village and then were soon hiking along a hillside. It only took about half an hour to get to the falls and they were quite impressive, very tall with beautiful tree topped rock faces on either side.

En route in the rickshaw:

A random but cool looking house in Vashisht:

Charlotte giving her approval to a cow wandering by:

The path through the forest:

A strange Buddha near the falls:

Jogni Falls:

We hung out for a bit, soaked up the scenery, snapped a few pics and then began our hike back. Our plan was to walk back to Old Manali. As we re-entered the village, we briefly stopped to look at a pickup football (soccer) match happening in a little school yard. Young and old, local and foreigners were all enjoying kicking the ball around. As we started to walk away, the ball came flying over the fence, bounced ten meters down a hill and then unfortunately landed in a small river flowing down the hillside. The ball fell over a couple of small drops but then luckily came to rest, stuck behind a little waterfall. It was retrieved by one teenage Indian, much to the relief of the players and a small round of applause erupted...good entertainment for us passersby.

Me with Pascal and Charlotte...about as close to the falls as we can get:

The hills above:

Pascal and Charlotte crossing a small stream:

Now my turn:

Retrieving the football:

Where it came from:

Anxious footballers:

Pascal getting ideas for his front yard:

Another crazy cricket pitch:

I knew of the pedestrian shortcut down from Vashisht to the river level. Once down there, I mentioned to Pascal and Charlotte about the river crossing we could potentially take. It really was a tourist attraction where you put on a harness and get attached to a rope and use your hands to pull yourself across. Most Indian tourists go half way across, get bounced up and down by the operator on the shore and then get pulled back. We however asked if we could just cross (yes, funny thing to ask at a “River Crossing” I know!). The starting price was 300 rupees but shrewd Charlotte haggled it down to 200 (we probably still overpaid but this was going to save us at least two kilometres of walking).

I went first, followed by Charlotte and then Pascal. I was surprised at how low over the river I was and did get a little bit wet from some of the standing waves but it was super cool. Hanging just a few feet over a rushing, muddy brown mountain river is pretty awesome. It was surprisingly more work than I (and especially Charlotte) thought it would be to get to the other side. My back wasn’t terribly happy with me but it wasn’t too bad (probably good exercise for it).

Crossing the river:

Charlotte's turn:

Nice technique!

Now Pascal:

Disappointed see sawers:

We hiked up to the tree line of the forest that I’ve walked through numerous times before and then back into Old Manali. Nice way to end the afternoon.

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Festival at the Hadimba Temple

May 17th, 2011

After a fairly lazy day, relaxing after the “hard” day’s ride yesterday, late in the afternoon I decided it was time to go for a walk. By chance, there happened to be a two day festival at the Hadimba Temple. Having watched from my balcony a procession of drummers and followers work their way up the hill on the other side of the river towards the temple, I decided it was time to go and check it out.

The stairs approaching the temple were packed with people entering and exiting the festival. The first thing that struck my eyes as I neared the temple I had visited last week was all of the Styrofoam dish plates strewn about on the forest floor and on the stone terrace surrounding the small building. How sad, a place of worship where they are celebrating and yet they can’t figure out some kind of basic garbage collection. Maybe some day...

Some of the refuse:

More garbage:

People, people! After the temple there was the clearing area where I had previously seen vendors and some simple kids’ rides. Now there were some musicians sitting down in the center of the courtyard with dancers forming a semi circle around them. On either side were bleachers with a few hundred people taking in the spectacle. I only watched for a few minutes and in that short a time I sadly could see that the dancers were pretty sad. Many were watching their neighbour for clues as to what dance move came next.

Kids' rides near the temple:

The crowd:

The bad dancers:

The band:

Moving on, I slithered my way through the congested crowd passing many vendors and carnival style games, like the classic: “Knock Down the Tin Cans” and “Ring Toss”. I made my way out to a couple of big rides that they had brought in. One was a small Ferris wheel while the other was one of those big “boats” that pendulums from side to side. Both were operated by noisy diesel engines that were belching out black smoke. I have to admit that I thought the rides looked pretty pathetic but those on them seemed to be having a good time.
The classic "Hit the Can" game:

Snacks for sale...I didn't bother...

Anything and everything for sale:

The "big kids" rides:

The Pirate Boat Ride:

Half an hour or so after arriving I’d had enough. On leaving the park I was greeted by a small parade of drummers coming in the opposite direction. In front of them were four men carrying these massive four foot long brass horns. They would stop every once in a while, turn towards the drummers and bellow out a sound that was tantamount to a herd of elephants trumpeting. The drummers would respond with some pounding and then they would all continue their procession. I was glad with my timing on leaving as this was the highlight for me.

The shrine in the parade:

The parade arriving as I left:

You definitely haven’t “done” India until you’ve been to some sort of festival. Thankfully in this country, where there seems to be a festival almost every week...that’s an easy thing to check off of your list.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Live to Ride, Ride to Live...

March 16th, 2011

Last night I met some new neighbours at the guest house, Pascal and Charlotte, who sound like they are from France but they actually hail from Germany. Pascal’s been on a work term with Siemens in Bangalore (he’s studying engineering) but now has a two week vacation before heading back to wrap things up and head back home. He met Charlotte in Bangalore at a German expat function and she’s about to start her masters in intercultural education and communication.

Pascal mentioned that they were planning on renting a motorbike and asked whether I’d be interested in joining them. I snapped up at the chance as I had been contemplating renting a bike but I’ve only spent one day riding and that was four years ago...however it was in Nepal so my one day’s experience was quite relevant as the road and traffic conditions should be similar. But it’s much more reassuring to go with some other people.

We left Purnima around 9:30am with the goal of finding me a bike as Pascal and Charlotte had already put a deposit on one at a shop just outside Manali. Thankfully we found one for 600 rupees ($13) for the day at the first place just across the bridge from Old Manali. The shop owner or worker, Tinkay, was a big Bob Marley fan and in fact the bike I rented had a Bob Marley silhouette sticker on its headlight, another one on the side of the gas tank and also a Ying & Yang and Chelsea football sticker on the could I not like this bike, “Bob”.

Being a little tentative with a bike, I let Pascal check it out first and then I took it for a little spin. As I filled out the paperwork, Pascal gave Charlotte a lift most of the way to the store at which they rented a bike, thwarted only by a big traffic jam heading to the bridge. He returned and picked me up and I was impressed with his “Indian driving skills”, passing cars on both sides of vehicles and surely doing manoeuvres he wouldn’t perform back in Germany.

We hit the road, gassed up, and cruised along the same road that Manu and I had travelled when we went to the Solang Valley. Four kilometres before reaching the ski resort was the fork in the road and we began our zig zaggy climb up the mountain. Apart from stalling a handful of times when starting out (probably from being in the wrong gear on a few of them), Bob and I were getting along famously. He seemed to know when I wanted to bank around a hairpin corner or gently sweep around a slight curve in the road. Ah, the open road...

Starting our climb...the windy road can be seen near the middle of the picture:

Nice road to cruise:

My riding partners:

I'm looking good on a

A shot while riding:

We stopped a few times on our ascent and one particular break was a bit stinky...but very interesting, well to me at least. As I rounded a corner I spotted three large vultures crowded around a carcass by the side of the road. At first we thought it was a horse but in fact it was a cow. We had arrived just in time to witness one of these massive flying garbage cans pecking away and removing the juicy eyeball. Pascal remarked how it seemed the birds were first going for the easy pickings, anything that can be removed via an orifice, the logical German. Unfortunately between the three of us encroaching and a number of passing cars, the vultures had retreated twenty metres up the hill, tentative about their access to their meal. Charlotte was a bit put off by this whole scene and I don’t think I helped when I approached the dead cow to take a closer inspection. “Peee-uuuu!!!” It was pretty nasty smelling with hundreds of flies buzzing around. I don’t know how the vultures can stand sticking their whole head in their...they must have some strange sense of smell!

Lunch time!

Great mountain views:

Climbing higher and higher:

We reached the snowline on the switchbacks and then we could see in the distance the road continue on a treeless slope with massive rock boulders littering it to the north. I noticed these little white blocks lining the side of the back and forth road and at first thought it was some kind of cement blocks set there to prevent drivers from running off the cliff side of the road. I later found out that Charlotte thought the same. They were quite a bit smaller than the boulders on the mountain face. As we turned a corner we were abruptly stopped by a traffic jam of white tourist vehicles. “Oh, those are cars!”...hundreds of cars lining the switchback road all the way up to where the pass is currently open to (it might be open all the way in a week or two). Yikes, the three of us dismounted our bikes that weren’t even able to navigate the congestion and just shook our heads.

The parking lot on the mountain:

Pascal and I are not impressed:

Pascal and Charlotte:

For many Indians, this would be the first time that they saw snow with their own eyes and were able to touch it. We giggled at the fact that many of them were unnecessarily clad in either gaudy knee length dark blue or purple fake fur coats or in bright neon single piece snowsuits. If you even wondered where all the neon ski gear from the 1980s’s here!

The funny snow gear:

We decided that it wasn’t worth the headache trying to go any further so we turned around and began our descent. Back in the valley we headed back towards Manali but instead of crossing the bridge to go into town, we continued on towards a town of Naggar. We had only stopped for a snack on the way down the mountain so we were all getting a bit peckish (or downright hungry in Pascal’s case). Naggar turned out to be 22 kilometres from Manali and we ended up stopping for a bit to eat before making it there.

Starting our descent:

The view of the valley:

"Bob" trusty steed:

Some prayer flags:

Pascal and I must have been discussing important riding stuff:

Amazingly they are actually riding by at 15-20 km/hr...I was surprised the pic turned out!

Bob and I...and a lovely vista:

One of many snowsuit shops in the valley:

We passed by this flipped SUV and couldn't figure out how he had done it...straight, simple road...go figure:

One of many hazards while riding in India...sheep!

And an even bigger hazard!

Sitting in some restaurant gardens high up on a hillside, there was a nice view of the valley and the mountains on the other side although it was a bit hazy (a new word for Charlotte that she was happy to learn). Next door was a funny little place. We could peer down on this big pool, almost an infinity pool we joked (but not quite), that had two or three paddle boats in it. It looked like you’d hardly get moving in one direction before having to turn around. Another feature of “Excite Wonderland” was a set of chairs facing each other that were suspended by a cable that spanned the length of the “paddle boat lake”. The place was empty apart from one couple. Much to our amusement the guy went across in the chair but I gather his young bride was too afraid to try it.

Excite Wonderland!

The infinity paddle pool:

Ah...happier with some food and drink, and the butt getting a break from sitting on the bike:

Rejuvenated, we hopped back on the bikes and made it to Naggar, which was only another 2-3 kilometres down the road. Our plan was to check out the castle in the village which was originally built by the Sikh rajas of Kullu in 1460 and has played the role as fortress, palace, courthouse and now guesthouse, restaurant and museum (sort was one of the strangest and saddest museums I’ve seen...see the pic below).

Looking up at the castle:

The first courtyard:

The main courtyard:

Looking out from the main courtyard:

Some small temple in the castle:

Knuffle Bunny's been enjoying the day of riding:

One of the strangest "museums" I've been to...this is it! Just a room with a weird variety of props and items (can't really call them artifacts):

A strange temple behind the castle:

We returned back to Manali and having only ridden maybe 100-110 kilometres, I was amazingly exhausted. Fantastic day to ride, ride to live!