Rishikesh and Manali
The trains in India are a bargain, which makes last minute tickets exceedingly hard to get. Luckily. I got a first class single seat, from Delhi to Haridwar, one of the four holiest Hindi cities in India, and the nearest train station to Rishikesh. Known as the Yoga Center of the world, as well as a very holy Hindu city, Rishikesh is a rabbit warren of hotels, guesthouses yoga centers, ashrams, and little Hindu holy shrines tucked in among shops selling tourist junk and religious objects for pilgrims. Across a walking bridge over the Ganga River near its headlands is located a large temple and a smattering of shops, guesthouses and local restaurants.
A crush of people, cows, and motorcycles cross the bridge daily. Numerous times during the day the bridge is so full everyone just stops moving; much like stagnant L.A. rush-hour traffic. Among all this, people occasionally decide to take family portraits on the bridge to get the Holy Ganga River in the background. It is amazing that both the bridge and peoples’ tempers survive. Rather than anger, some groups sing, while others recite little poems, which I assume, are prayers. They recite these in unison over and over as if in a perseveration of the soul, (which I believe if translated into English has, ‘a get me across this lousy bridge before it breaks and we all fall to our deaths’ kind of theme).
During particularly holy periods or festivals, pilgrims from all over India flock to these holy cities, big and small and I happen to hit one of those weekends. The color and style of many pilgrims’ clothes, mostly the women, often indicate the area from where they hale. The red saris and valed faces of the women of Rajasthan are the most obvious. Yet white worn by men who have recently lost a family member is also prevalent. Another common sight among these religious souls is an elderly person squired through the throngs by an adult child or relative. For most, because of financial reasons, this might be their once in a lifetime pilgrimage and not one pilgrim that I observed seemed to miss any of the little shrines stuck between the bigger more obvious commercial enterprises that filled the town.
My guesthouse, the HARI OM, which cost about $11 US a night, was clean, had a hot water geyser, and was located directly on the Ganga River. Often in the evening, I would sit on the chair in my room with my feet on the windowsill, and watch the river as it rushed by in torrent-like fashion racing down to Haridwar and Varanasi eager to carry the ashes away of those in wait for reincarnation to pursue their souls.
I had envisioned that Rishikesh would be somewhat idyllic. After all isn’t yoga a relaxing stimulant for the body? One would think it would be taught in a restful environment. But no, like the river there is a restlessness about the place created by the way the shops and guesthouses are jammed together, having to step over their piles of dung left by the wandering cows, the constant noise of motorcycles roaring through the main street, and the accumulative noise from the overwhelming crowds wandering throughout the town. Added to that, my room was airless, humid hot weather was encroaching, and there was lots of dust, the evil attacker of my sinuses. What was I to do? I could move up the hill to another location, but as luck would have, it wasn’t until I was riding out of town, heading for my next destination that I found the appropriate location, too late.
I had hired a car and driver and off I went to what I was told was a cooler, beautiful, less dusty atmosphere, Manali in Northwestern India. Well two out of three aren’t bad. Yes, once I arrived, it was cooler, and located among exceedingly beautiful pine forests marching up magnificent, mountain sides with distant snow covered peaks, and numerous streams of melting snow. But the roads to get to Manali were some of the worse I have experienced in India. The mountainous terrain on which they are built, and the avalanches both contributed to my arch enemy arriving again, an incredible amount of dust. By the time I arrived in Manali after a seventeen-hour drive, the polyps in my nose hung down to my knees. Breathing through my nose was impossible and breathing through my mouth uncomfortably dicey. To top this off, we arrived so late (around 10:30 pm), The Drifter’s Inn Guesthouse, rated number one in Trip Advisor, had given away my room and was rude about it. So Dragon Guesthouse kindly took me in but at an exorbitant rate.
There are two Manalis; New Manali, which is a class ‘D’ Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and Old Manali, about a mile up the mountain from the main Manali tourist trap. Old Manali is a lovely little hillside village, which spiders here and there up the mountainside with a small crowded tourist hamlet located at its base.
The morning after my arrival my first job was to move to a less expensive room, still pricey for the area. My second, to call friends to determine the feasibility of coming home, having polyp surgery then returning to India and continuing my travels. A working plan developed determining where I would stay and have the surgery done. Then the light bulb struck!
Was there a Tibetan Doctor in the area? There was a Tibetan community. Yes! The MEN-TSEE-KHANG Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute of H.H., the Dali Lama had a doctor and hospital located near the monastery in south New Manali. I was there in a shot. These doctors are amazing. They listen to your problem; actually you don’t even have to tell them the problem. They figure it all out when they put their fingers on your wrist. Listening to the magical pulses embedded there, these doctors diagnose your problem as well as explore your medical future. Although Dr. Lugyal and I had a bit of a language barrier, my description of the problem and his prescription of the appropriate medicine worked. The little buggers have been sucked back up into the nether lands of my nasal orifices and I am no longer a mouth breather, day or night. This obviously freed me from the expense and perils of surgery and the flight home. So I could again continue on my journey.
But enjoying the Manali area was my immediate goal. I casually walked up mountain roads and paths visiting Hindu Temples, riverside venues, and little village hamlets. I ate river trout cooked numerous ways at various restaurants, ate honey-peanut cookies from the ‘German Bakery’ (not), and Pizza at Casa Bella Vista, a charming but pricy, mountain guesthouse with a wonderful vegetarian restaurant. Gilli the owner claims they serve the best pizza in India. So far it’s the best pizza I’ve had in the India or Nepal, but India is a vast country and I have much pizza tasting to do before I give it my final stamp of approval.
Fourteen Km from Manali is Solang, one of India’s best-known winter skiing resorts. Having previously been to the charming ski resorts in Switzerland and Austria, I looked forward to seeing one of their Indian counter parts, a charming little skiing hamlet. Boy, was I in for a brief shock. There was no village at all, rather a large meadow filled with Zorb balls, Para Gliders, children's games of chance like ring toss, bounce houses, jewelry sellers, locals with angora rabbits for photo shoots, outside restaurants and a ski lift.
So what does one do when they've been duped? Go with the flow. I went Para Gliding! Wow it is one of the most wonderful things I have ever done. It gave me an extreme sense of relaxation and freedom. I will certainly Para glide again, as it has become my old age extreme sport.
I only have two more tourist goals here in Manali, to visit the last temple in the area and to ride the yak. I have three days to fulfill these dreams. Wish me luck!