Holy Cow!

Trip Start Jul 27, 2003
Trip End Jul 26, 2004

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Monday, July 12, 2004

Wednesday 30th June
We got up fairly early and headed out to the Main Bazaar. By day its extremely busy and the narrow street struggles to fit all the Tuk Tuks, rickshaws, pedalos, people and the numerous cows that make their way up and down passed the busy shops and stalls. This is the dodgy part of Delhi hence it is full of cheap accommodation but saying that after all the horror stories I had heard along the way it actually seems fine. Yes it is a bit dirty and smells a bit but its not that bad. I was pleasantly surprised. I am sure the scams and touts are out there but if you have a bit of nonce then you can avoid them.

We had a walk round Paharganj and made our way to the nicer area of Connaught Place which has Air Con shops like Reebok and Adidas. We took an instant interest in trainers purely to escape the 46 degrees outside. It is pre monsoon season here and it should have arrived by now but it hasn't which is why it is so hot. It gets hotter just before the monsoon arrives so it must be nearly here but the sky today is cloudless and the sun is shining. When the monsoon arrives it will rain all day for the first day and then for about half an hour a day everyday after that. It brings the temperature down by about 10 degrees. We wandered round the local area all day before going to a Punjabi restaurant for dinner which was lovely. There is no night scene here really all the shops shut and just the restaurants remain open and they don't tend to sell alcohol so we went back to our room and watched ER and Friends before getting some sleep.

Thursday 1st July
We checked our emails this morning and had one from Rakeshh a contact Simon knew from Denby who lives and works in Delhi and he was asking us if we wanted to meet him at The Imperial Hotel at 2.30. We also had one from Neil and Felicity the couple we met in the Cameron Highlands to say they had just arrived in Delhi and did we want to meet up in Paharganj near our hotel tonight at 7.30. We emailed both to confirm and then went to get some breakfast at the only Western place in the street (I don't do Tandoori for breakfast!) a place called Sams Place.

At 2.30 we were in the Foyer of The Imperial Hotel where we were met by two waiters dresssed as Maharajas and taken through to meet Rakeshh for High Tea! We sat in the conservatory in chilled comfort overlooking the pristine lawns of Delhis oldest hotel (quite a change from the Main Bazaar!) We had fresh pineapple juice and ice cream coffee and chatted to Rakeshh. We then went to Rakeshhs office about 20km away but still in Delhi (which is huge with a population of 16million). We sat and ate the most amazing samosas and potato patties while Rakeshh phoned some people he knew in the places we were going to. A friend of his owned a hotel on the river in Manali, his uncle lives in Varanasi and had a car we could borrow - everyone he spoke to looked forward to looking after us!

At 6pm we were armed with a long list of must sees and phone numbers. Rakeshhs driver took us back to Paharganj where we headed to our hotel to get showered and then went to meet Neil and Felicity. We headed to Sams Place again for dinner. It was really busy in the restaurant so we headed up to the newly opened Roof Garden. We ordered our food and were approached by a reporter from DD India National News who was doing a piece on Finding Space in Delhi which was going to feature this new idea of Roof Gardens and would we mind being filmed while we ate and interviewed on our thoughts! He then told us it would be on the 6 o'clock National News tomorrow night! It was hilarious. We had a good meal and it was good to catch up with Neil and Felicity and we arranged to meet up again tomorrow at their place at 6pm to catch the news!

Friday 2nd July
We didn't do much today except organise our ongoing travel. We booked a bus tomorrow to take us to McLeod Ganj which is just in the Province Himachal Pradesh and 4km North of Dharamsala and home to the exiled Tibetan Government and the residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. While booking we found out as a bonus that it will be the Dalai Lamas Birthday on the 6th July so there would be a party for the Buddhists to celebrate. We spent a couple of hours on the Internet more because it was cool in the Internet cafe. Just before 6pm we made our way to Neil and Felicity's hotel just further up the street. We found the channel on Sky and watched the news (in Hindi). We got about a 2 min slot which was hilarious. Gutted we couldn't record it. We made the news after just 2 days in India! How much damage can we do in 3 more weeks! After the news we all headed out to a lovely restaurant called Malhorta for dinner.

Saturday 3rd July
We had a sort out morning as we decided to condense what we have into 1 bag and leave the other in storage as its only 5p a day and we will be covering a lot of ground and bags are renowned for not making their destination on train journeys in India. We checked out of the Smyle Inn at midday and headed to Sams Place (where we now have celebrity status!) for some lunch before our 15 hour bus journey through the night. At 4pm we headed to the bus and got our selves comfortable for the trip. The journey out of Delhi wasn't exact;y scenic but interesting nonetheless. Dusk puts a beautiful dusky orange glow over India and just when we left town for the countryside it got dark! I could tell we were heading into the mountains as the bus lurched from one side to the other.

We stopped at 10pm for something to eat. Simon ordered a Thali and I ate a little of his. I regretted this instantly after getting back on the swaying bus as I felt sick till 3am when I actually was. Its not pleasant feeling sick on a bus that you have to stay on.

Sunday 4th July
We passed through Dharamsala and got to McLeod Ganj at 7.30am. It was beautifully cool at an elevation of 1770 metres and had stunning views in every direction. We found a guest house with great views and got some sleep as I hadn't had any at all. We got up again at 1pm and I was feeling much better so we headed out to explore McLeod Ganj. It is mainly Tibetan here after they claimed asylum here in 1960 after the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Its not a big town so doesn't take long to look round but it has some lovely forest walk to outlying villages. South of the town is the Tsuglagkhang Complex which comprises an important Buddhist Temple and the Dalai Lama's residence. We made a kora (ritual circuit) of the complex which has to be done in a clockwise direction and takes you around the house. It is about 2km in all and we saw loads of monkeys which are bigger here than anywhere we have seen. There was also the odd cow doing the kora aswell! The cows all look well looked after yet they wander down the streets and along the roads, occasionally sticking their heads into shop fronts or peoples front rooms. Cows are sacred and you don't find beef on the menu here. We found an Italian restaurant for dinner (I needed safe food!) and had some lovely homemade spinach and gorgonzola Ravioli followed by a delicious chocolate brownie.

Monday 5th July
Simon had a bit of Delhi Belly today (we think it originated from the same meal that made me sick!) so we didn't go too far from town! We went to a wonderful Papier Mache factory where we spent hours chatting to the owner who made us some Lovely Chai with honey, cinnamon and saffron and showed us how he made the bits and pieces he sold. We then headed to the Internet cafe while a quick downpour arrived but he had a powercut so we sat and had a pepsi instead. Powercuts have been common here and in Delhi with probably one or two a day. The internet cafe owner sat talking to us. The people here are so friendly and have a lot of time for tourists even though they see a few.

By the end of the day we headed back to the Italian (Simon was looking for safe food this time!) We both had pizzas and then headed back to the guest house for an early night before the Dalai Lama's Birthday celebrations tomorrow morning which run from 6.30am to 10.30am.

Tuesday 6th July
Today is Tenzin Gyatso';s birthday. We were up at 6am to make our way to the temple for his Birthday celebrations. We got a good pacth of floor at the frontand at 7.30am the celebrations started with a couple of speeches in Tibetan by the Tibetan Prime Minister followed by lots and lots of dancing. Different groups of dancers came into the centre of the audience and performed their gifts to the Dalai Lama. We watched until about 10am and then made our way through the crowds towards the bus station as we had to catch a bus to Mandi at 11am. We got to the bus station at Dharamsala just in time to jump on a moving bus that was leaving early.

This was our first opportunity to see the countryside. Journeys in India are slow, Mandi is only 140km away but it takes 6 hours. On average 25km an hour! Saying that, the bus drivers drive like lunatics on these narrow cliff edge roads. Although the drive was a little scary the scenery was fantastic. We were driving through the Kangra Valley where little farms and tea plantations teetered on the steep mountains. We got to Mandi which was a pleasant surprise for a transport hub. It had a big square in the centre of town that was a sunken 2 storey shopping centre around the edges with meticulously kept lawns in the centre.

It was only 4 hours to Manali our next stop but Simon was still unwell and had refrained from eating to avoid being in an uncomfortable position on the bus so we decided to stay here for the night. We came across a rambling former palace of the Raja of Mandi now converted into a hotel called The Raj Mahal so we decided to check it out. It had beautiful quiet gardens just 2 mins from the crazy centre of Mandi and had a lovely room for just 330 rupees (4 quid). We went to sit in the gardens and got chatting to an Israeli guy called Johnathan. The largest proportion of travellers in India are Israeli with very few Brits. Simon felt to unwell to eat (he had a forkfull of rice and had to run to the bathroom) so he headed straight to bed.

Wednesday 7th July
We had toast and tea for breakfast on room service (10p!) and Simon was instantly rejecting it. He hadn't eaten a single thing for 36 hours and had been ill for 48 so we decided to stay at the Palace for the day rather than try and travel to Manali. It couldn't have been a better place to be stuck for a day. We sat in our huge room watching HBO and Star Movies all day long. At 6pm we tried Simon with some more toast with no success so I headed out into Mandi to get some Antibiotics. All prescription only drugs are freely available over the counter in most of Asia and I managed to get 2 course of a reputable brand for 50 rupees (60p). Simon took one straight away and we watched some more TV!

Thursday 8th July
We got up and had a lazy morning. Simon was feeling better but a little apprehensive about eating yet but we decided to catch the bus to Manali at noon. We travelled up the Kullu Valley into the Great Himalayan National Park alongside the huge Beas River and again the scenery was just beautiful. We arrived at Manali at 5pm and caught a rickshaw to take us to Old Manali and we headed to the guesthouse owned by Rakeshhs friend. It was right on the river nestle in the valley and was lovely. We dumped our stuff and headed out to an Italian restaurant as Simons appetite was back with a vengeance! We had Pizzas and Hot Chocolates as it was pretty chilly here as we had climbed 1,200m from Mandi to 2050m here. We took a walk around Old Manali and instantly liked it. It is more of a sprinkling of old stone houses than a village and there are walks from here along the river and up the valley which we will set out on tomorrow.
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