Started on June 27th, finished on the 28th, recollecting the events of June 15-25 (I think!)..
Written on June 28:
I AM SOOO ANGRY!!!!! I just found out that all the pics got deleted from my camera!!!! These were all my pics from India so far!!! and a few from Thailand!!!!! ARRRGGGHHH!!!! It happened when I brought my camera to get a CD done for Mouchi (of the 10 day trip). I had to hand-in my memory card to the guy at the shop to burn the CD (they won't let us do it ourselves) and didn't even think about the potential for him to delete the pics from the card (it's totally not necessary)!!! Anyway, I'll be able to retrieve a few hundred pics (from the CD left with Mouchi), but it still SUCKS ASS!!! How could he just take the liberty to delete my pics!?!?!? He's lucky to be several hundred km away from me right now!!! (actually, maybe not, they may still be in his trash box...hmmm...I'll look into that). Well, no need to say that you're not getting any pics for this leg of the journey! Too bad as there was some good ones... arrgghhhhhhhhhh!
(Funny side note: the young guy beside me is watching porn on his computer! Hehehe)
Ok, back to the original entry (started on June 27):
Oh my, I know I write this almost every time, but there's WAY too much to talk about here, I don't even know where to begin!!!!!
Alright...let's begin with the beginning. We ended up gathering 2 other tourists (Brigitte, a Dutch girl and Andy, an English guy) to go on this trip to the Himalayas, or more specifically the Kinnaur and Spiti valley. We started in Shimla and finished, 10 days later, in Manali.
We tried to get two more people to go with us (to save some $$ by cost sharing) but we didn't succeed, so we took off on the 15th, bright and early in a jeep with Mouchi and a driver (Mr. Rana - who doesn't speak English, but understands some).
I must explain that the road, right from the beginning and throughout this entire trip, is nothing like anything we have in Canada. It's bumpy, partially paved and/or rocks/gravel/mud, rarely wider than 1 car width, often carved through the rock (half tunnel), and always on the side of a mountain with the cliff way too near! Yikes! We had plans for 8 nights, and had left 1 night free, in case we wanted to stay 2 nights in one town or something. Well, within the first 3 hours of the trip, we came to our first, and most important, roadblock. A semi had partially fallen off the cliff (only the rear wheel, but still) and this was completely blocking traffic in both directions for God knows how long, minimum 5-6 hours. We then decided to head back to Tattapani (Andy and Brigitte hadn't been), spend the night there instead, and then head off on our planned journey.
We did and it was very nice. The following morning, as we were ready to leave, we met Grace, a British girl, and somehow got her to come on the trip with us. This would turn out to be a big mistake, but oh well, she seemed nice. So we head off to our first destination, a village called Sarahan. Like all the villages we visited, it was very small, but there was SIGNIFICANT infrastructure work being done. In this case the road was being widened (more than doubled to be exact) and the bridge was being redone (in fact, throughout our journey, we only crossed fairly new bridges, as the river, called the Sutlej, starts in China and is "regulated' by a dam (in China), which overflew in 2001, causing a massive flood which destroyed every single bridge crossing the river (which we followed for over 5 days). There was a bit of a conspiracy theory going on about this, as the flood occurred in the middle of the night (around 2am) and destroyed a town where the Dalai Lama was staying (people though that the Chinese did it on purpose to kill him... doubtful but not impossible I guess...).
Anyway, I've got many great pics, which (...well, I might get back one day) I will try to post tomorrow or within a couple of days. The scenery throughout the trip was absolutely gorgeous. We were always surrounded by high mountains, but the scenery changed from lush and green (with a mix of cacti’s and coniferous side by side! weird!) to complete desert (starting around day 5) and glaciers...
In Sarahan, we visited the Bhimakali temple, and as for every temple visited after, we had to wear a little felt hat (provided at the entrance) and remove any leather items, knives, etc.
The culture "up there" is very different from any other part of India. For one, it's rough mountain terrain -with harsh winters, and remains cool at all times (no higher than 20-25celcius, much less at night) - the road is only opened from April to October-, and the people look more Asian, there are many many Buddhist temples and Tibetan refugees. One thing that we kept seeing, and that remains sticking, is the swastika, which was "popularized" by the Nazi's. The cross is actually a sign of life and good luck here, but the Nazi's flipped it around (literally, the "arms" point the other way, and figuratively since any westerner cannot see it without thinking of the Nazis). It was therefore very strange to see it on doors of restaurants and on flags of Gumpas (temples)!
We then head off to a town called Sangla, where we stayed in a gorgeous hotel, with absolutely breathtaking view (in fact, the quality of hotels on the trip exceeded what I had experienced so far!). We went for a walk and explored the surroundings. Houses in this part of India and built with a mix of timber frame (aka a beam every 1-2 feet horizontally), filled with stone and the roofs are made of slate! Absolutely gorgeous, but I wonder how it fares on keeping the heat in and rain and snow out…
Sangla is in a valley, and seems quite fertile, with endless orchards of apricots, apples and walnuts.
Mouchi also taught us a very very fun game called Kabati!!! I had never heard of it, but it's apparently quite popular around here, being played in Universities and by kids in general (I saw it being played for Phys Ed in a school at the last town we stayed in!). It's essentially like playing tag, but with rules and boundaries and the "attacker", must say “Kabati Kabati Kabati” at all time, to prevent him/her from breathing. He/she must tough someone before running out of breath, hehehe, it was a great time! We have the funniest video (taken on Brigitte's camera) of us playing. I really hope I can get my hands on it at some point in the future...
We then head off to a town called Chitkul, where a wedding was just finishing. The girl had left with her husband to his village, but the people were still putting food away and everything. This was,b y far, one of the most rustic villages we visited although very cold. We stayed in a hotel ran by a family (we actually stayed with the family), and went on a easy trek, then a hard one up the mountain! The altitude makes a big big difference, with less oxygen in the air...
We then went to a town called Kalpa, which is notable for it's great view of a mountain called Kinner Kailash. There are apparently 7 "Kailashes" in the world, and they are called the same because of their tip, which has a particular shape (I had a pic, it doesn't loook THAT particular to me, but whatever). Still very nice! The town is said to be the winter home of Shiva (God)… hehehe…
We then head off to a town called Nako, a very cute village with tiny alleys running between houses made of stone and mud, animals everywhere (mostly donkeys and horses) and where I waited almost 1 hour for a “sunset over the Himalayas”, which turned out to be very anticlimactic (the pics weren’t so great, and not great colours… I kind of anticipated it would be such, but kept hoping until it was clear it would just get dark and colder…oh well!)
This city was the turning point from greenery (Kinnaur) to desert scenery (Spiti).
We then head off to a town called Tabo, where we stayed at the Gomba (monastery). The town was, as usual, very small, but quite nice. Andy and I got a great tour of the temple by a Monk, who explained the exquisite paintings on the walls, statues and overall temple. This site is a World Heritage Site for it’s best preserved Indo-Tibetan art in the world. We also sampled "momos", which are essentially chinese dumplings, either fried or steamed. Momo's are awesome! On that note, the food in this region is composed mainly of chow mein and momos...nice for a few days but would get very boring very fast!
We then head off to a village called Kaza, which is the capital of the Spiti valley, making it slightly (very slightly) bigger, but more noticeably, the only town with internet access in the area! yay! I was feeling very deprived, but at 80R/hour, I didn't stay long (I pay less then 25R/h right now!!). On the way to Kaza, we stopped at the Dankar Monastery (Tibetan run) which is perched on a steep hill. It was also very pretty. Pics would not have given it justice anyway, but there were nice….
For the final night, we went from Kaza to Kibber, which, at 4205m, claims to be the highest village in the world (later specified as "the highest village with a motorable road and electricity"). This village as notably NOTHING at all other than a couple of guest houses and a school. There are no shops (which is really really weird) This is where I saw the girls playing Kabati in school. It was very fun to watch! On the way, we stopped at yet another Monastery (after a while they really all look the same: a Tibetan monastery is a Tibetan monastery!), called Kee, which is noticeable for being the oldest and largest Gompa in Spiti.
We head off to Manali on the last day, where we all (finally) split up! Manali looked very different from Shimla, but felt similar dur to the vast amounts of Indian tourists. The town is divided in New Manali and Old Manali. All the westerner hippies hang out in Old Manali and the Indiand in New Manali. I had enough of westerners, so chose to stay in New Malani where I happen to catch a show given in the honour fo the last day of the summer festival in the town. It was a great show of Indian traditional and current music and dancing! Quite interesting! At some point they had some technical difficulties and I couldn’t understand what they were saying (talking in Hindi), but the word “cassette” from time to time…hehehe cassette!!!! On that ntoe, most Indians still have “old cameras” (aka not digital)..I would know as I must be on at least 100 different rolls (I thinkt hey came in rolls of 24 and 48 pics… I can’t remember.. wow, it seems so cumbersome when one knows digital! I should feel even more flattered that they are wiling to spend a whole pic on me when they only have a few…anyway)
I must say that 10 days with the same people, almost 24/7 was a bit much. Actually, I think it would have been fine with Andy and Brigitte only, but Grace turned out to have a really bad attitude, quite hypocrite in fact, and since she was staying in the same room as Brigitte, it rubbed off on her. With two people, out of 4, with a bad attitude, I started looking forward to the end of the trip around day 5... Oh well, it was somewhat predictable I guess and overall, it remained a very very nice experience and Andy even booked another tour with Mouchi as he had such a great time…I think this was a perfect example of “you make your own trip” if you want to me miserable, it’s very easy! It’s also very easy to have a great time!
We had many great laughs, both with, and about, the Indians (they really think different than Westeners!) and they laughed at us too! It's all good! For example, and this happened pretty much every time we asked a question such as...can we get 3 chais (tea)? Upon understanding the question, they would deliberate between them for a good 3-4 minutes, and then give an answer, generally yes! hehehe, what the heck were they talking about? I'll never know!! Mouchi and Mr Rana would also often chat together in Hindi and laugh their heads off. Mouchi would tehn tell us the story, which would not be funny at all (to any of us), but Any and I would laugh just at the sheer absurdity of the jokes and their sense of humour, while Brigitte would be listening to her IPod and Grace would be sighting heavily!...anyway, I gotta get these two off my head and I want to remember the good times!
Well, on that note, that’s that for Kinnaur and Spiti valley….