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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

2 Months And A Half Off! (Part 9)

This series of posts is a day by day account of my two-month-and-a-half trip that begins with a stay in Bangkok, followed by a train ride Amritsar, a bike trip from Leh to Manali and a yoga teacher training in Kullu Valley, the end of the habitable world.

Day 16: The Day Before 
The day before our long bike trip to Leh, we headed to New Manali to buy some things that we'll need for the road. One of the most taxing errands we had to do was getting a sim card that we can use in case of emergencies. Here, a photo, a copy of your passport and visa and some signed document from your guesthouse or hotel are needed to get a sim card. Luckily, the man selling the sim card was nice enough to sell it to me without asking for the signed document from our guesthouse. And, I was given several packets to choose from. Here in India, even your mobile number can change your luck.

I must've picked an unlucky number. The minute I turned on my phone I started getting phone calls from unknown people. Around five numbers have called me repeatedly. And, telling them that they've called the wrong number didn't deter them from calling again. It was absolutely frustrating I had to keep my phone on silent or turn it off.

Day 17: Day 1 of the Manali to Leh Epic Bike Trip
At around 6 in the morning, our bags were packed and we were headed for Keylong, our destination for that day. The small town was around 125 kilometers away from Manali. 

Even though the drive from Manali to Keylong wasn't that long, we had to leave early in order to avoid the traffic on the narrow roads. Also, being ahead of everyone else meant that we will have loads of vehicles to count on for help should we have any problems with our bike. Another good reason for being early is that the water in the stream is higher in the afternoon than it is in the morning.

Our drive from Manali to Rohtang Pass started out smoothly. White, feathery clouds covered the mountains opposite us. And, we saw several waterfalls along the way.

Our first challenge were the muddy bits that we'd been warned about a couple of days ago. We crossed like three or four stretches of mud pits and I could feel the tires slip as we went through them. And, it didn't help that we were sharing the road with trucks, buses and jeeps. Fortunately, my boyfriend's amazing motorbike riding skills kept us from falling off. His shoes were absolutely soaked by the time we got to an asphalt road.

The muddy road up Rohtang Pass.

After the muddy bit, we had a mix of smooth asphalt roads and areas filled with gravel and sand. We also crossed a couple of small streams which added some spice to our trip. We were lucky to have an early start since the streams we had to cross were shallower and less threatening.

The road up the pass.

Moving along the scary mountain roads

Rohtang Pass

We were up close and personal with the mountains.

This is a scene that city folks don't normally get to see... And, I thought it was beautiful.

There was a waterfall in every corner.

Before we reached Tandi, where we were going to stop for petrol since this is the last town with a petrol station, we stopped at Glacier Cafe for a cup of chai. Below it are several rooms with clean bathrooms. And, opposite the cafe, are melting glaciers that looked like silver on the mountain's dark gray surface.

A melting glacier on the dark mountain surface.

After getting some petrol in Tandi, we headed to Keylong which had very dusty roads. We arrived at around 1 PM and found out that we had a flat. Luckily, we passed a mechanic on our way into town and the problem was fixed in no time.

Nalua Guesthouse (Keylong, Altitude: 3,080 meters, 500 rupees per night)
We picked this guesthouse because it had a restaurant and a small shop. The rooms were very sweet with ensuite bathrooms, hot water and a shared balcony with a nice view of the mountains.

The Guesthouse

The View From The Guesthouse

Sunset at the terrace.

Travel Tips
Leave early. The roads are narrow and being ahead of all the other vehicles makes the drive a whole lot easier. The streams are also much shallower in the morning.

Enjoy the view. The scenery along the way is the climax of the trip. Nothing can be more beautiful than the untouched green mountains and silver waterfalls you'll be passing by on the way. Stop and take a picture. 
Fill up and bring spare petrol. Tandi is the last place you can get petrol on the way to Leh.

Do some sightseeing (if you have time). There are a lot of temples in Tandi and Keylong. I didn't make it to any of them.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

2 Months And A Half Off! (Part 8)

This series of posts is a day by day account of my two-month-and-a-half trip that begins with a stay in Bangkok, followed by a train ride Amritsar, a bike trip from Leh to Manali and a yoga teacher training in Kullu Valley, the end of the habitable world.

Day 14 (PM): Hadimba Temple
When I returned to the guesthouse I had a nice chat with boyfriend's old friend (who had arrived from Leh the night before). Since she was keen on doing some sightseeing, we decided to head to the Hadimba Temple which was walking distance from our guesthouse while my boyfriend sorted out our bike.

From the Eagle Guesthouse which is located around 100 meters from the clubhouse, we walked towards the bridge, crossed it and climbed up the steps opposite it. This led to the uphill Hadimba Temple Road which is lined with vendors hawking t-shirts, accessories and other wares. We even passed a couple of women asking for 50 rupees to have a picture with their extremely furry rabbits.

The simple wooden temple was built in 1553 by Raja Bahadur Singh. It was dedicated to Hadimba, a character from the Mahabharata, who became a goddess after going through tapasya which is a combination of meditation, prayer and penance. The Hadimba Temple, was built over a rock on which she meditated.

It was in this temple that I prayed for our safety during out bike trip. It was a very Indian experience -- The man in the temple placed a red dot on my head and gave me some red rice crispies. I smiled and tried some. But, since I didn't want to eat the whole handful, I chucked it into my bag and left.

The Hadimba Temple

Some kids singing outside the Hadimba Temple.

Ibex horns on the walls for warding off evil spirits.

A very nice park filled with pine trees.

A Tree Shrine
In the same area, beside a colorful carousel and a huge heart where couples are supposed to have their pictures taken, we found a tree with loads of flowers and other ornaments. It looked like a shrine of some sort. With no guidebooks to tell us to whom it was dedicated to, we had no idea why it was there.

A very beautiful shrine

A tattered carousel that shows a lot of character.

Green Forest Cafe (on the way to Hadimba Temple)
On our way down the hill, we decided to stop by Green Forest for lunch. They've got really nice cheese and vegetable momos (dumplings) and curry-flavored thukpa (vegetable noodle soup). This restaurant serves these Tibetan staples with an Indian twist.

Day 15: Test Drive
The next day, my boyfriend and I decided to take En Oi, the 500cc Enfield Machismo that we rented for our trip to Ladakh, for a test drive. Since he's gone through the road to the Rohtang Pass the day before, he was excited to share the stunning views with me.

After yoga, I walked up the steps to meet him in Vashisht while snapping some pictures on the way.

The area seems to be populated by these scaly things.

A man carrying some leaves up the steps.

The View of the Beas River from Vashist

Basho (Vashisht)
He drove pass when I reached the top of the steps. And, we headed to Basho for some breakfast before going for our drive. The view from the restaurant's terrace and they've got a really nice vegetarian burger. 

The River View From The Terrace Of Basho
The Road to Rohtang Pass
After getting a spare helmet from Bike Rentals Manali (where we rented our motorbike for 1,000 rupees a day), we began our trip up the road that led to Rohtang Pass. The road was fairly smooth with loads of switchbacks that looked like mutated hands on Google Maps. And, as we went higher up, the views became even more stunning.

With each turn, we were greeted by waterfalls sliding down the rock surface. And, as we moved up, we had a better view of the green valley before. The dark earth, the green grass and pine trees, the glistening waterfalls and the blue skies had such a rich contrast it was impossible to take a bad picture.

Tom and En Oi on Rohtang Pass


Two... Three...

Four... The pass is just filled with waterfalls.

It's a nice feeling to be so close to the clouds.

This is what dreams are made of...

And, nightmares as well...

We didn't get to Rohtang Pass that day. We stopped before we reached the challenging muddy bit that lead to the pass, took some pictures and headed back to our guesthouse.

Casa Bella Vista (On the way up to Hadimba Temple, on top of the steps across the bridge)
Since it was my boyfriend's birthday, we decided to have a long lunch in Casa Bella Vista, where they served cold beers and really good Spanish-Italian dishes. The staff was so accommodating that they helped make their desert (a scoop of ice cream topped with chunks of brownie floating in a cup of espresso) extra special by putting candles and flowers around it.


Their version of Patatas Bravas.

Four Cheese Pasta.


Friday, August 17, 2012

2 And A Half Months Off! (Part 7)

This series of posts is a day by day account of my two-month-and-a-half trip that begins with a stay in Bangkok, followed by a train ride Amritsar, a bike trip from Leh to Manali and a yoga teacher training in Kullu Valley, the end of the habitable world.

Day 11: The Long Drive to Manali
Yesterday, realizing that it was within our budget to book a taxi to Manali, we got the owner of Hotel Grace to sort one out for us. Unfortunately, when we checked out, the taxi that we booked for eight o'clock hadn't arrived yet. 

Twenty minutes later, a taxi arrived and we were about to put our bags into the trunk when we were told to wait. The receptionist talked to the driver in Punjabi. And then, the taxi driver left and the receptionist told us to wait again.

Another twenty minutes passed and another taxi came. Instead of letting us put our baggage into the car, we were again asked to wait. And, again, loads of talking followed. And, once again, the taxi left.

Around 9:30 AM, the owner and his son came in. Another cab pulled over. And, finally, we got a ride to Manali. The trip to Manali usually takes twelve hours. But, because our newbie driver made a wrong turn, we ended up arriving in our guesthouse around 11:30 PM.

The taxi was 6,200 rupees. We were told that because of huge taxes, they couldn't give us a lower price. The owner of the hotel named three types of taxes. During our ride to Manali, however, we only paid the toll once. And, according to the sign, the toll fee was 500 rupees.

I don't know where the money we paid was going but our arrangement with them was to pay the "taxi company owner" a deposit of 2,000 rupees and then give the cab driver 2,200 rupees for his expenses. The remaining 2,000 rupees should be paid after we've reached our destination. 

The traffic as we were leaving Amritsar.

Ladies picking flowers.


Shades of orange and yellow

Sunset. Taken during one of our stopovers.

Day 12: The Morning After
The night before, when we arrived at 11:30 PM, we walked around in the dark to look for the Eagle Guesthouse. And then, we climbed up some steps with all our bags. It was quite a challenge getting up the steep steps. And, it was a long, rough day for the both of us.

The next day, however, everything just got better. I looked out of the window and saw the beautiful scenery. Outside our window was an apple orchard with yellow and pink fruits and behind it was a magnificent mountain with wisps of clouds. Outside our room was a shared terrace with a view of more green mountains with silver waterfalls slithering on their slopes. And, from the garden below, we had a good view of the river. And, every second, we were accompanied by the sound of its flowing water.

We had an amazing breakfast. My boyfriend had a toasty while I got their shakshuka. Their helpings were very generous. My shakshuka had three eggs and I had a hard time finishing my breakfast. And, the owners and other guests were great company. We were in paradise -- great company and food, wi-fi and a nice room with a comfortable bed in a beautiful location far away from the noise. It was a really nice place to chill before our three-day bike trip to Ladakh. 

For such a fantastic place, we paid a very reasonable amount of 450 rupees per night. So, we decided to stay here for six nights.

The View From Our Window.

The guesthouse dog, Tiger

Day 13: New Manali
We spent the morning in New Manali, buying supplies for our trip to Ladakh. There were loads of shops, stalls and people walking about but it wasn't as intense as Amritsar or Delhi. Better yet, cars and rickshaws weren't allowed in some areas. So, we were able to do our shopping without worrying about getting hit by something. Most of the shop owners don't hard sell so it was quite a pleasant place to shop.

For lunch, we had some delicious mutton curry in our guesthouse. The food was so good there we barely ate elsewhere.

Mutton Curry

Day 14 (AM): Vashisht
Yesterday, I found out that our host, Liet, did yoga in the past and has been trying to go to the ashram in Vashist but hasn't had the time to do so. So, we decided to check it out together.

Shri Hari Yoga Ashram
The yoga ashram is located along the shortcut to Vashisht which is basically a bunch of steps which can be found after a petrol station. It had a beautiful and well-kept garden as well as a fantastic view of the mountains.

The teacher was quite nice. He may look serious at first but you can get a chuckle or two from him while he's helping you with a pose. 

The teacher is a Hatha yoga instructor. And, the Intermediate and Advanced class at eight o'clock began with some pranayama, followed by some forward folds and back bends and ended with a hanging headstand. The hanging headstand he made us do had three variations. First, our legs were in an upavistha konasana (wide legged pose) position. Next, we were asked to do a baddha konasana. For both variations, the teacher pushed us as close to the wall as possible. And, the third one was quite a stretch. He asked us to do a baddha konasana again. This time, our shins were on top of the rope. And, while we were holding on to the rope with our legs, he gave us a nice stretch away from the wall. He did this around three times before he moved on to the next person. It was a very nice opening experience.

Inside the Ashram.

The View From the Ashram's Garden

The view as we were walking back to New Manali.