Myles Harrington

Posts Tagged ‘Himachal Pradesh’

His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Me

In India on April 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm

It’s been a packed couple of days for me in McLeod Ganj. Yesterday I was woken early by the deep inhalations of the Canadian sleeping next to me so I decided to get up and have a wonder around the town at 6am. I stopped off at the main square and had a roll of delicious Tibetan steamed bread which is very similar to an English muffin and then wondered down towards the Dalai Lama’s temple and residence at the bottom of the hill.

The temple near the main square in McLeod Ganj

The temple in the main square in McLeod Ganj

There was a buzz in the air because the Dalia lama was making an appearance to pray for the Tibetans who have died in the recent earthquake there. I sat and had a chai and an egg roll from a street stand and watched as monks, locals and tourists gathered to see the man himself. We didn’t come back to the temple untill about 8am and by then the queue to enter was about 200 metres long and we thought we’d never manage it. Luckily they decided to open up the monk only entrance to the rest of the rabble and we managed to sneak in and get the best seats in the house! We were incredibly lucky as the buddhists didn’t have the heart to tell us we were blocking their view. I can’t describe the tense yet enjoyable feeling in the air as he walked past. It was hard not to get caught up in the moment as everyone bowed down in the prayer position following his every step as he entered the temple from his residence a short walk away.

Yesterday evening it was time for something a little more light hearted so we stocked up on Hide and Seeks and went to the illegal cinema next door for a screening of Scorsese’s Shutter Island. The film was, according to the bloke who took the extortionate entrance fee (just over two pounds) “DVD quality”, it was in fact a Russian download with bad syncing and it stopped twice during pivotal moments. I tried to get my chai for free because of the inconvenience but he wasn’t having any of it, he said we could go back for another film for free if we liked. I might take him up on the offer, as long as the film really is DVD quality.

Send me DVD copy so I can screen in basement cinema in India

Today we attended a fantastic cookery course where we learnt to make some delicious Tibetan specialties; momos. They are dumplings that can be filled with various fillings such as vegetables, mutton or even chocolate. We made the most traditional varieties of mixed veg, potato and sweet (brown sugar and sesame seeds). The lesson cost double the price of the cinema but the profits were all going to a local Tibetan charity so we didn’t mind paying a little more.

The gang chow down on some home-made momos

The gang chow down on hand-mad momos

My favourite was probably the mixed veg one and our efforts were much tastier than the street stall versions that I’ve eaten everyday since being in McLeod Ganj. I now appreciate the technical skill required to make them and can’t understand how the ladies in the street can afford to only sell them for 15p for four pieces! The teacher told us they can make about one or two hundred an hour and get up at 3am to prepare them for the day’s trading. No wonder their seasoning is slightly off.

Momo magic

Zorbing, Bathing and Chilling in Manali

In India on April 25, 2010 at 6:23 am

We’ve been in Manali now for about five days and have managed to build up a massive bill at our guest house. We’ve got to go and check out now and split up the thousands of rupees. That’ll be good fun. Today has the best weather that we have experienced here so it feels a shame to be leaving. There is no rain! Three of us are getting the 7.30pm 12 hour mini bus ride to Dharamshala later today. We bought some special prescription only sleeping pills in Shimla so hopefully they’ll help take the edge off the bumpy ride.

The view from my guest house window in Manali

Yesterday I did some extreme sports like you’re meant to while in Manali. We all went zorbing. I now know why all of the organisers were saying you shouldn’t do it in the rain. It was raining like England when we got out of the taxi and the zorbs were disgustingly dirty with yak shit on the outside and in. It was great fun doing it but I wouldn’t be in any hurry to do it again. It was an expensive 30 seconds but the feeling of weightlessness was cool.

Just before I rolled around in the mud with Axel

They see me rollin' They hatin' Patrollin' they tryin' to catch me ridin. dirty.

After the zorbing, some delicious vegtable pakoras and a few rounds of chai we went to Vashist’s natural hot springs for a lovely soak with the locals inside a man made temple with intricate marble carvings. At first the water was a little too hot to handle with the cold air but it made a nice change to the cold showers i’ve got used to.

Soaking it all up with the locals

I would recommend anyone who likes Amsterdam to come to Manali. The place should be caled Little Amsterdam because there is the same feeling around the town, basically all the locals are drug dealers or saffron dealers (i’ll let you decide who gets better business), and there is the same distinct smell when you go into all of the coffee shops. There are hardly any police here and the weather is identical. Also, the view of the mountains and natural waterfalls is a bit better than the scummy canals.

Yaking Up a Hill in Worse Weather Than in Britain

In India on April 23, 2010 at 6:46 am

From Shimla we stopped off the beaten track in Mandi. After just one night there we got back on the dirt tracks for the trek to the foot of the Himalayas and we now based in Manali for four or so days.

The garden in the middle of the sunken market in Mandi

Manali is a small hippie town where people some to do extreme sports and get stoned in the Tibetan-esque region of Himachal Pradesh at an elevation of just over 2000 metres.  When we arrived after two bus journeys that cost the same as a single zone 1 tube ride; it was pissing it down. I have never seen so much thunder and lightening as I have in the past three days.  It’s quite beautiful to see the sky lit up constantly with flashes hitting the tops of the snow capped mountains.

On our first full day I couldn’t take it just walking around in a thin cardigan anymore (thanks Tom) so I went on a shopping blow out purchasing a standard backpacker jumper (like the ones they always sell at festivals in the tents that stink of incense), a cosy blanket (for sitting in the cinema with), some purple socks and a cool hat (as modeled in the image below). Then we trekked up a hill to a temple that’s about 500 years old with amazing wood carvings and outside there were a number of tourist trap adventures. You could get your picture taken with a giant rabbit or ride a yak for 100 Rs. How could I resist a yak ride? Up and down the hill and it got boring after 3 seconds. It’s still a nicer ride than camels though.

Taking the bull by the horns

Continuing on my spending spree for the day Minja and I decided it would be a nice after to have an afternoon beer and an expensive and luxurious cheese platter from one of the finest restaurants in Old Manali. The platter featured yak cheese (i love that beast) which was kind of like emmental, some local Himachal cows cheese and some old imported favourites (brie, mozzarella and gorgonzola). In the evening we chilled out at one of the ‘cinemas’ (a large TV in a local’s lounge) and watched a Bob Dylan documentary.

Minja, Me, Victor, Brent and a stray

The Raj Town of Shimla and Very English Wine and Beer

In India on April 20, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The first thing i have noticed since being in the new state of Himachal Pradesh is how much more liberal they are compared to the last state I was in; Uttarakhand. It surprised me how divided India is into the states, I didn’t realise that they were but I suppose when you think about it they are the same size as countries in their own right. I noticed how liberal they were as soon as we crossed the border and the guards were joking about us going to smoke in Shimla. We then stopped for a chai at 3am at a roadside house/restaurant and the brother who lived/worked there showed us some hash; I am not sure whether we were meant to be impressed, shocked, jealous or buying but it gave us a homely impression of our destination for the next 10 or so days.

It’s strange how in Shimla it is illegal to smoke in public places but there are numerous beer shops all of which are called English Beer Shop, English Wine Shop or English Wine and Beer Shop. It’s good to see that England’s reputation as the drinking capital of the world is still going strong. This trend of naming alcohol shops with English as a prefix continued all along the Shimla-Menali High road and every village had their own English Shop selling fine plastic bottled whiskies at Rs. 120 (£1.75) for a litre! It’s a tough choice whether to buy Kingfishers at a pound a pop or a go for a bottle of Officer’s Choice and a party pack of Coke.

After a heavy night on the Kingfishers and whisky it was time for us to explore the treasures of Shimla. The town itself is constantly referred to in literature as looking very traditionally English. I would say they are definitely overstating the beauty of my home country. Shimla looks more like how you’d imagine an Alpine outpost to look. Lots of faux wood and fir trees.

The English style church in the Alpine style Shimla

The first and pretty much stop on the tourist trail was the Viceregal Lodge on the outskirts of town with its botanical gardens. This time the architecture was in a Scottish style and the building lived up to its reputation. The grand country house has an amazing history and even has the same wallpaper as it did 122 years ago. Probably the most interesting point that was described by the tour guide was how they created crevasses in the walls when they built the building to house electricity even though there wasn’t yet electricity in the state and they even installed a sophisticated sprinkler system that used nitrous oxide.

We are now in Mandi, further north for one night in a town that was described by Lonely Planet as definitely not touristy. There are a few nice temples and a bizarre underground bazaar but that’s about all. Only one night here and then onto the very touristy Menali for some good whisky fuelled times and extreme sports.