|Our Really Big Adventure|
| I woke up early today
so I could photograph the reflection of the sun as it rose above the magnificent
mountains that surround the valley of Manali. The previous two days had
seen cloudless skies and the sun had played games on the snow covered Himalayas.
Every time it rose and fell the sun turned the mountains in a patchwork
of ever changing gold and contrasting shadows, highlighting even the smallest
Apparently Manali can be a bit overcrowded during the summer, with swarms of rich Indians and backpackers fleeing the heat of the city for the cool of this picturesque hill station. Now it is quiet, especially in the old part of the town where we are the only guests our hotel has had in the last two months. Only the occasional dog barking disturbs our solitude.
Manali lies in an orcharded valley about 600Km north of Delhi in the state of Himachel Pradesh (roughly translated as The Mountainous Province"). Despite its elevation of 1900m the surrounding mountains overwhelm both the skyline and everyone that visits here. It is impossible to truly relay their grandeur, beauty, scale and the sense of wonder, awe and romance that they conjure. I have repeatedly tried to capture them on film, however I am always disappointed by the results. It as if they are more than an image, they have a presence that cannot be portrayed through image and words alone.
The town has a relaxed air about it, touts are almost non-existent and the locals greet us with a smiley Namaste when passing. In terms of dollar turnover, tourism is the main industry here, however, given the ceaseless population, subsistence farming must be the norm for the outlying areas. The small hotels, restaurants and travel/ adventure activity agencies that crowd the town make it abundantly clear that tourism has shaped this town as much as the harsh mountainous backdrop.
As always with paradise, you can only really appreciate it if you have sacrificed something. Paradise doesnt come free. In our case it was the 16-hour bus journey from Delhi, an awful experience that I fear I am going to have to relive - several times. At 7 pm (one hour late), just before we left from the centre of Delhi, the tone for the journey was established. I asked for the nearest toilet (bladder anxiety). The bus driver led the way around the corner, where he promptly began to urinate against the wall. To put this in context, we were right in the centre of Delhi, this would be like going for a wiz on OConnell Street - during rush hour! Five minutes later I managed to get over yet another case of bladder anxiety and return to the bus relieved yet disturbed.
For a seemingly infinite amount of time we travelled past fairly unwelcoming settlement after unwelcoming settlement. This probably isnt true; it is just the way things looked in the dark through the filter of my preconceived notions. I was astounded just how populated everywhere was. If it was possible to live somewhere then somebody was living there and sometimes in places where you would not have thought possible. This continues right into the Himalayas. As I look across at the mountain opposite me, there are houses high, surrounded by snow, where no road or path leads.>
We arrived tired, Barbara in better condition than me due to her champion sleeping ability. Ignoring everyone who wanted to give us tourist information, we headed straight for the old part of town to The Dragon Guesthouse, which was recommended in our guidebook. Despite how much easier and less risky using the likes of The Loney Planet can be, overuse can cause the exploratory part of travelling to be lost. The hotel was charming, if cold, with magnificent views of the mountains.
A large part of the tourism here is adventure activity based, with everything from white water rafting to paragliding catered for, unfortunately most of these are restricted to warmer times of the year. It was with a sense of frustration that I have seen here some of the best rock climbing potential within my limited experience. Every time we pass a corner there is line after line potential routes, the sheer scale and number of them meaning that most must be unclimbed. It would be tempting to hire a house here for a year ($450) and spend the time establishing a route guide for the area.
As much as I was tempted by the rock, the thought
of doing further damage to Barbaras arm and of iced up finger cracks
restrained me. We settled on snow sports. We found an instructor, Himanshu,
who spoke perfect English and inspired us with a sense of confidence.
We would have liked to have gone snowboarding, given that we somewhat
know how to do that, but my feet are just too big and there were no snowboarding
boots that would fit them. So we decided to learn to ski.