Papa's got a brand new bag. .

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Where I stayed
the jungle Bungalow

Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

I didn't think I would like Manali, from what my friends who had gone before had said, and driving in in the afternoon, I thought that would turn out to be true. In the main town the prices were much too high for noisy guesthouses, i got quoted 750, 500, and 350, so I drove on.
Asking someone where all the cheaper places were, they told me to keep on for 2 km to Old Manali, and there I found the backpacker ghetto I was looking for. Turning right along the river instead of left up the hill, I came to the gates of an Indian tourist "Clubhouse," and had to veer left up a dirt track to check prices. The first man offered 300. Still too much. A couple ten meters up the road, there was a young man sitting on the roof of a half-finished garage-type structure, and he gave me an immediate price of 150. Now, I thought, I'm getting somewhere.
Looking at the room it was huge, with an attached bath, and well-kept. It has it's own balcony from which snow capped mountains can be seen, and the whooshing rush of the river created a peaceful white noise. . Perfect.
The Jungle Bungalow. A funny, almost rhyming name, is run by an Indian, a Nepalese/indian and a Tibetan. All in all the vibe was shanti, and when one travels in India, one hopefully learns to trust the heart in such matters as where to sleep, in addition to the concerns of the wallet. If a place does not feel right, even if it is a good price, I do not stay there. Unless of course it is in a small town and the only lodge is the one. .

Manali is seasonably cool, the road up the mountain from the route to Dharamsala was reminiscent of the famous stretch of I-90 (I-80? my memory aint what it used to be. .)
that goes through the canyon parts along the snake river and winds along like some snake clinging to the cliff wall. The ride was fun, actually, Rocinante and I passing the tourist cars and trucks with ease on the sharp corners, leaning down like a cafe racer on the final lap.
A beautiful and almost luminescent green river flowed coldly down from the mountains, the road tracing it's path. Looking ahead, I saw the familiar grey clouds of a mountain rainstorm, and snow on the higher peaks beyond. . I was then hoping that I could beat the rain.
Not so.
As I grew within 8 km of Manali, the rain started. Lightly at first, then a little harder. I counted the kilometers into town. Funny thing about the rain on a cycle, you can only get so wet, and once you have accepted the puddle by your "family jewels" and that you're soaking in it, you tend to give up and let what will be, well, just "be."

Making the right turn along the river instead of the left up the hill was the best thing I could have done, though I did not know it at the time. The uphill section is a true backpacker ghetto, with tons of fearless yet careless and inexperienced young men, most Israelis, barrelling up the hill at extremely dangerous rates of speed on their rented enfields. Their machismo is unmatched, except by their incompetence, or as one of my acquaintances here, an English fellow and budding philosopher commented, "there's just too many cunts on motorbikes around here." Truer words were never spoken.
Not only is is noisy up there from the bikes, the cars and maruti vans often get stuck and cannot pass on the narrow strip of pavement, and so honk the horns profusely, as if to annoy the street into widening itself in some kind of miraculous sound-produced engineering feat.
Israel must be empty, they are all here. The restaurants, many of them have poorly spelled lettering on their signs and windows advertising such middle eastern delicacies as "homis," "flaffa," "Stinsel," "tabbalay," and the like.
In the morning one can have the "Continal Bork Fat", which presumably comes with Eks, toosat, and jaim. If you are lucky, you might get some Potto fry with it as well. All goes pretty well with Kichap, the red sauce with the familiar taste. I love this country.
Well, as for myself, I call the "continental Breakfast" the "incontinental," as eating the local eggs does not seem to agree with me quite as much as my old favorite Puri Baji, the traditional Indian "nasta" (breakfast). Besides, why would one come to another country just to eat the same old crap they would eat at home? The logic of this escapes me.
So, yes, I am glad to be down in the "indian quarter" of Old Manali. Indians tend to go to sleep a little earlier, the rushing river is a soft lullaby, and I can read and write by candlelight on my own porch. Just like home. well, kind of. . .Well, actually nothing like home, but nonetheless, pretty darn good. There are true-to-life dingy dhabas and chai huts down there, and last night I had a proper Thali, also a bit harder to find in the tourist places. Perhaps they think we all don't like their food, but I can say they are pleasantly surprised when I discard the inevitable fork and spoon and eat with my right hand (Never, never eat with the left), and say "Ahh, you eat like us, is best. . " I tend to agree, as one can be closer to the tactile experience of eating instead of distancing one's self from the bodily functions, which Westerners seem so desirous of doing. (Of course there is the **ahem** "other" bodily functioning that people deem so "gross" and etc., but please refer to the entry entitled "going native" for the answers to this. . )
Just remember, there exists "good hand" (right) and bad "hand" (left). Each is essential, each rules one side or the other of the digestive system. And in truth, the Indian/Nepalese/tibetan way of both is better. I'll never go back to paper, if you know what I mean.

So I came up to Manali to supply up, and it turns out that finding tarps, good gloves, sleeping mats, blankets, and so on is not quite as easy as it seems for one of limited budget, slumming it in India. I did splurge, however, on a pair of leather pants, which were tailored to fit me by a highly skilled Indian leather maker (sheep leather, of course) who took my measurements and had them ready for the next day, all for about 40 us dollars. They fit like a second skin, and for those with any kind of leather fetish, stay away. . With the Indian version of thermal underwear under them, they are warm. Very warm. I should be able to take the cold of the world's second-highest mountain pass, and probably sleep up there, as it may take days to get to Leh, if the weather does not cooperate.
Having done some bit of high wilderness camping in my younger and crazier days (hahahaha, I might have been a little younger, but certainly I am still just as crazy. . ), I do know that lighter is better. I have all I need, pretty much, though certain items will be hard to find, such as a decent air pump if I have a puncture. They are all big foot-style pumps, and are heavy and costly. Another day at the market I guess. Proper gloves for a big-handed type like me are also hard to find. Three days I have been shopping for the right price, the right (though minimal) equipment. I will be able to make dal and rice, chai and coffee if I need to, and perhaps there will be a trout or two for extra protein, as the rivers are meant to be full of them.
Also I am having a custom metal box fitted for the back of Rocinante's rack, to store the extra gear, it will be lockable, and they make them for cheap. I'm adding about 10 kilos to my load, maybe, so it should still be no problem.

I am having a good time here in Manali, probably only because I turned right instead of left. . Life is funny like that, isn't it? Follow your heart and instinct. It will never steer you wrong, so long as you are listening. . . .
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