Shanti Manali

Trip Start Jan 27, 2008
Trip End Apr 06, 2009

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The sleepless bus finally arrived close to noon, only three or so hours late. Our seemingly novice driver made a number of attempts to enter the gate of the muddy field that is the private coach bus stand in New manali, hitting the wall and putting fresh dents in the poor bus, which, although probably only a couple of years old, looked as ancient as everything else in this country. Finally I got to disembark, walking through the market, and catching a "ricky" to the old manali bridge.

Down the muddy track through a mostly shut down Old Manali, I walked up the stairs to my old haunt, the Jungle Bungalow. It was here that I hoped to find Dayalu, my friend, and perhaps he could direct me to a guesthouse that wasn't all shut up for the winter, as his was closed down.
Coming up the stairs I called out in Hindi, asking where my friend might be found. "Mata-ji," or "respected mother" smiled a broad Kullu welcome, bade me come up to the second floor to sit in the sun, and went out to find Dayalu after attempts on the cell phone to reach him had failed. A few minutes later he was wandering up the road, and up to the porch table for chai.
Dayalu had been expecting me, and mentioned that he saw me jump out of the rickshaw, but thought, with my black beard and funny hat that I might be an Israeli guy come to look for cheap lodging. Nice to catch up on things that have happened in the intervening time--Old Manali has changed a bit in the short year and a half since I left here, there are a couple of huge new hotels along the strip near the clubhouse, but business in the family-owned places has still been good in the past year. Mata-ji asked if I was hungry, and I had to admit that I was famished. As mentioned in the previous entry, there are reasons that one is hungry when getting off the all-night sleeper bus. Bringing up a pile of home-cooked chapatti/roti and a bowl of delicious dal, Mataji doted over me, watching me eat, bringing more water, and smiling when I finished, asking "now full?" Full indeed.

Of course the dal, though delicious, always gives me thunderous gas in the night, but I cannot refuse hospitality, especially when I'm half starved. I'll deal with the gas. . .
After a good catch-up, Dayalu explained that I would be staying there at the Jungle Bungalow, he cleaned the upper room for me, and made a bucket of hot water for me to bathe with a sketchy looking hot water heater with bare wires immersed in water and plugged directly into 220 volts (see picture). One does not, under any circumstances want to test the water temperature with a finger in the water. Instead, to preclude death by electrocution, one needs to just feel the sides of the bucket. A plastic bucket of course.
After a bathe and a quick nap, I headed down to the new manali side, a nice 2 km walk to internet that actually uploads pictures, then a nasty tasting King Cobra beer, and back to write by candle light before retiring for a peaceful sleep under thick blankets, with the river rushing creating a nice music to dream by. Ahh. Manali.
According to local sources, the snow up here started in mid-january, and continued until about a week ago. Remnants of this never-ending storm are still extant: huge snow-piles, icicles hanging from roofs, and best of all, a carpet of bright white on the higher peaks. The edge of the highest mountain range in the world cuts just north of here, and large peaks are visible in the distance in all directions. At night the wind blows cold out of the high lands, and cools the air about 40 degrees. The sun in the morning warms things up a bit, though it takes until 9:30 or so to come up. I myself seem to be only one of a few westerners staying in this beautiful place--I've only seen 4 others. For this reason most people don't look at me twice, and the rickshaw drivers aren't pushy. Touts also have gone somewhere else, and the prices are down to a good level as well.

I don't want to get stuck here for too long, however, there are some miles to go with Rocinante, who is still running strong, though with a worn-out seat, presumably from riding the whole family off to market on one bike. It is nice to be in a shanti place, but my feet itch, and the cold here that seeps into one's bones makes me long for a warmer clime. Today over chai, Dayalu gave me the keys to Rocinante--I'll be checking the weather in hopes of riding back to Delhi to make repairs on the bike, hang around with Balu and Laura at the Bullet Wallas for a night or so drinking beer and trading motorcycle stories, and then out to the cool deserts of Rajastan. Cool desert at this time of year, but burning hot in a month or two. If there is time, I will revisit the south before I finally have to go home and greet another Boston spring.
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