Nigel and Ivan had been planning on going to China for the past 2-3 months. However,an unjustified visa rejection tore their China plans asunder. As they had already applied for leave in their respective companies I invited them to come over to the North as they had never been to this side of the country. They landed in New Delhi on 2nd March 2016 and we headed out the next day.
After a 6 hour train journey we arrived at our first destination:Amritsar. We were surrounded by taxi guys the moment we stepped out of the station premises who insisted that we go to Wagah border. After some haggling we managed to get a good rate and headed for the border crossing. Due to the area being a sensitive zone we were required to walk for a while along with being subjected to some very uncomfortable frisking.Alas,by the time we arrived the crowd was already massive and we could’nt see the border ceremony. It still was a memorable experience as we got to see the Pakistani side and we could see the Pakistani crowd barely a 100 metres away from us.Also, from where we were,we could see the Border Security Force men rehearsing for the main event.
Our next stop was the Golden Temple.We entered the temple complex in the evening.After standing in line for about 45 minutes we entered the temple which was a railed room with people singing devotional songs.It is said that the Guru Granth Sahib is housed here during the day.After that, we had our try at the communal kitchen aka the Langar. We still had sometime to kill before we caught our train to Pathankot so we had some street food and spent sometime at Trellium Mall before heading to the railway station.In Pathankot, we found a taxi guy to take us to Mcleodganj for a good rate and headed out. The Taxi guy spoke about the corruption in Punjab and massive drug problem that it faced. He alleged that the Superintendent of Police who was caught by the terrorists in Pathankot was in fact heading a massive smuggling operation in Punjab and no one could touch him because he was protected by the Badals(The ruling family in Punjab). He also spoke about how the Pakistanis were not being allowed to play at the Dharmasala stadium which was close to Mcleodganj.
Mcleodganj started with the 3 of us bargaining for rooms with the best view. We went through atleast 7 different hotels and ended up at hotel with an excellent view for a very good rate. We went for the kora(Religious walk) and saw the monks in debate at the Dalai Lama Temple. The World T20 match was taking place at the Dharamsala stadium and an elderly Tibetan lady excitedly pointed to a group of men with police escorts and asked which team they were from.I confessed to her that I was myself unaware and it seems no one knew which team these guys played for let alone their names. When we reached back to our hotel we had in our balcony a resident monkey who also thought that the view was good. Ivan in an attempt to shoo the monkey away hit the window in an attempt to scare it away. The monkey looked like it got a mini heart attack and then slammed the window back in protest to our rude interruption. The monkey returned again a few seconds later with another friend and they both walked across the balcony railing quite menacingly.Thankfully they didn’t bother us after that. The next day strangely many of the shops were shut down. The Tibetans were hesitant in giving a straight answer but finally a European lady I spoke to said that a kid had committed self immolation in Dehradun as a mark of protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet.Normally self immolation take place in China occupied Tibet and this was the first time it was done in India hence it was a significant event. The body was to arrive on that day and as a mark of solidarity all Tibetan shops were to be closed. I looked at the Tibetan next to the lady for acknowledgement and he nodded in agreement to her story.We did manage to find other shops, especially in Jogiwara road where we managed to shop away. We searched around for a taxi to take us to Manali and finally left at around 9:30 p.m.
We reached Manali at 3 in the morning and the temperature was a bone chilling -2 degree celsius. We landed at Hotel Beas(named after the river that flows behind it) and were greeted by the concierge who showed us to our rooms. He had the most bemused smile on his face as if he could not believe that 3 guys would show up at the 3 in the morning asking for a room. Later during the day we went to mall road where we went to Chopsticks, a respectable eating joint. We all ordered for some apple cider to go with the food. Suprisingly, we were given bottles instead of glasses because wine is apparently cheap here.But then who were we to complain? We ordered sushi,chicken momos & some delicious trout which was washed down with the apple cider. We ordered more chicken with more apple cider. The food was delicious and we were all talking and laughing. What happened next I cannot say because we had become unexpectedly very high with the apple cider and the next thing I remember is getting up in the room at 4 the next morning. There was puke on the floor and we all had massive hangovers.
It was a slow day but by afternoon we were ready to start exploring once again. We headed for Solang valley which is known as the snow point. The best part about our arrival there was the fact that the valley received fresh snowfall within moments of us reaching. A lot of the snow was old and there were many slippery parts.To make things worse my shoes had zero grip and while climbing uphill I ended up sliding backwards for a good 1o metres at one point!!! After the snowball fights and more sliding we headed back to the Hotel.
The next day we went in search of any Govt. authorised handicrafts shop in the area. Bargaining is pointless but the merchandise is authentic. We bought a couple of Angora(Rabbit wool) and Paschmina(Sheep wool) shawls and headed to the main city square to find ourselves a Taxi.Because we looked like the stereotypical tourist it wasn’t hard to spot us.Before long we were surrounded by Taxi guys giving us allegedly “Fair rates”. We insisted that we knew better and stood our ground asking them to bring the rates down even further.They too stuck to their guns and all insisted that what they were quoting was the best anyone could offer. The Taxi guys had obviously unionized and we could see through their act. The trick here while dealing with any union is to find the scabs. Sure enough there was an individual who had been following us from the beginning. Sensing he was ready to sell out on his friends,when he approached me again I embraced him by giving him a friendly pat on his shoulders and said that I knew he wanted to take us and that he was ready to go at a “reasonable rate”. The moment he agreed to the quote that I gave him the entire union turned pounced on him. They abused him and I was a little afraid that they might get physical with him. He whisked us away and made us sit in his car. Then, he exclaimed that his friend would be taking us to our destination and not him. Obviously the plan was to go back to the union people and tell them that he had a change of heart.
We went to Golaba which was a little east of Solang where we played in the snow again. Suprisingly Dominos pizza was available here.As we made our way to Parvati valley we encountered the above Pizzeria and decided to check out the place.We reached Kasol by around 6:30 p.m. and after dinner slept early at the Hotel. On the last day we decided to take a short trek to Manikaren.
The trek was about 90 minutes long and quite easy with very few inclined paths. We encountered numerous Cherry blossoms which I had never seen before save a solitary one that stood in Mall road in Manali. Also my favourite tree(strangely I do have one), the Cedrus Deodara dotted the landscape.We finally arrived at Manikaren which is known for its hot springs. Manikaren has religious significance and is considered holy to the Sikhs. As we entered the interiors the temperature rose immediately. There was a Public bath which had suprisingly hot water. As we ventured further in there was a Sauna room as well where the temperature rose even more.While returning we managed to catch the local bus back to Kasol. After a little while more of shopping we caught a bus and headed back to New Delhi.
Cost : Rs.1000;Amritsar Railway Station-Wagah border-Golden Temple
3.Hotel at Mcleod:
Cost: Rs.1100(inclusive of taxes+extra person charges) per day
Cost: Rs.2200; Manali-Golaba-Kasol