Are we in Switzerland or Tibet?

Trip Start Nov 27, 2012
Trip End Feb 24, 2013

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Flag of India  , Himachal Pradesh,
Sunday, January 13, 2013

We are now half way through our Big Trip which is amazing.   In some ways it feels like we have been away for ages but looking at the itinerary it is quite scary how quickly things are dashing by. 

Continuing our travels around Himachal Pradesh in Northern India we are really beginning to love this part of the country.  It is so unlike other places we have visited here with its dramatic hilly terrain and snow-capped mountains in the background.    It is more like travelling around Switzerland or the French Alps, however, there are always plenty of reminders that we are still in India.  We're even getting used to the cold, or maybe we’re just feeling the benefit of the warm clothing we invested in.

We left Shimla on 10th January having fallen in love with the place. Like most of the towns in this area it is built up the side of a mountain so there are dramatic views everywhere.      It was very laid back and, as the former summer residence of the British Viceroy during the day of the Raj, there are quite a few reminders of the British time here.     We have also been very excited to see our first tea plantations but have not been able to assist with any tea picking yet.

We are getting used to travelling as part of a group .  Thankfully everyone is fairly chilled and we have a great tour leader, a chap named Pavar from Mumbai.    Although the itinerary is set in terms of where we stay there is plenty of flexibility and Pavar is great at reading the group and putting plans together that work for us.   Most of the places we are staying do not serve alcohol but Pavar has been able to smuggle in the odd beer and some Indian Rum which is being appreciated by those with colds and sore throats.  He has also led a few early morning yoga sessions which have been interesting.

In Mandi we stayed at the Raj Mahal Palace (no, not the Taj Mahal).  The accommodation was far from palatial but it was worth it to spend the evening in the company of King Sen.   Apparently there are still around 5,000 Kings in India, although many now don’t use their titles as they are fairly meaningless.     King Sen is 82 years old and absolutely charming.  He had spent 9 years studying and working in the UK and is a big cricket fan.  He kept us amused for most of the evening with his riddles – example given below:

A man, a squirrel and a monkey are up a tree and there is a box at the bottom.   They all decide to climb down from the tree, who will see the box first?

We are now in a place called McLeod Ganj which is close to Dharamshala and home to the Dalai Lama who lives in exile here.    The thing that has surprised us more than anything here are the numbers of Tibetan refugees living in this area, they make up about 50% of the population in McLeod Ganj and about 25% of them seem to be Tibetan monks.     They wear distinctive red robes and have shaved heads and seem to have taken quite well to modern living with the training shoes and mobile phones.  A Tibetan monk is sitting on the next table to us now in the Coffee shop surfing the net on his I phone!   Speaking to local Indians they say that the Tibetans live well alongside the local people and there are large numbers of them running businesses in this area.   

Sunday morning and I managed to drag Terry along to the local church for a service.   St Johns in the Wilderness would look more at home in the Scottish Highlands but it a lovely little church.   When we get to Dalhousie we are going to visit a friend’s aunty and she asked us to say hello to the vicar here, a chap called Ajay who used to be based in Dalhousie.   The English speaking service was taken by Michael, an Australian Baptist Minister, and assisted by two elderly American ladies.   The small congregation was made up of a family from Kashmir, two Australian tourists, a couple of Tibetan ladies and one or two other people.     We chatted to Michael and he told us he had been living here for 9 years after getting the India bug, like most people who live here he was unable to say exactly what it was about this country that made him love it so much.

Tomorrow is our first journey on a public bus which should be interesting.

What’s in the News:   A lot about Cricket.    England are currently touring for a series of One Day Internationals and won the first match a few days ago.  They also won the Test before Christmas but the Indian press have been quick to point out that two of the English players have Indian parents.   

Update on Terry’s Beard :  Coming along well, he has now developed a rather hippy look (although Gemma thinks he looks like a small gnome!).   Today he was approached by a rather unkempt looking character who asked "You want smoke, brown, marijuana, hash?"  I was quick to reply that we were clean living folk so not interested.  The whole exchange went well over Terry’s head, he had not heard what the guy was saying.

Great signs :    Just to prove how laid back they are here.   We passed one of many signs by the local police, this one read HIMACHAL POLICE :  BETTER LATE THEN NEVER.
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