Myles Harrington

Posts Tagged ‘Uttarakhand’

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.

A Rundown and Famous Ashram In The Forest

In India on April 16, 2010 at 1:33 pm

After a lazy couple of days with not much worthwhile writing about we (I am still hanging out with the Swedish bunch mentioned in my last post) decided to do something with the day. It was either a trip back to the beach on the Ganges for some swimming or to visit the famous Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram made so by the Beatle’s visit in 1968.

After bribing the guard, or perhaps he is a very lazy and stroppy owner, and his spiritual accomplish with 50 rupees per person (quite pricey at 73p; my breakfast cost the same) we clambered up the steep incline and past the meditation huts through some of the 2km grounds to the now derelict ashram. It was a very interesting place with shards of broken glass everywhere and crumbling brickwork. Every building is open to walk around and there is a cool painting featuring Beatles imagery in one of the bedrooms that was painted by an unknown German artist. Even if the Beatles hadn’t blessed the haloed grounds of the ashram it would still be a cool place to explore.

The ant hill like huts where John more than likely 'meditated' with Yoko

According to Wikipedia the Beatles “ate three vegetarian meals daily, and had wide-ranging conversations”, it sounds exactly like my time here except finally last night after a week of abstinence from booze we finally managed to get our hands on some beers! Exciting times. We drank the one restaurant that serves them in town dry, a poultry two cans each of my least favourite alcohol Fosters. We were just getting into the swing of things when we ran out so three of the Swedes went on a booze hunt and managed to get lucky with a delicious bottle of Indian vodka called Magic Moments that we got delivered by courier for an eye watering 1500 rupees. The drink is so good that the label features a swimmer drinking the fine spirit (with grain imported from France no less) while swimming. Notice the intricately carved guitar silhouette too. Classy stuff.

India's best. Served with Limca for a jolly good time

The Rishikesh Rumble

In India on April 14, 2010 at 8:10 am

All was going well a I sat down to eat Mama’s delicious thali last night. I’d got talking to a bunch of Swedish people over dinner who were planing on heading off to Haridwar today for the mad and massive Kumbh Mela festival. I decided on a whim that I would go with them and we had to be up at 5am to make sure we could get there.

An early night was required so at 9am I tucked myself in and tried to drift off.  One hour passed, then two and three and all the time I didn’t have a Delhi belly, more what i now have coined the Rishikesh rumble. My stomach was bloated and gurgling and I didn’t have any antacids to heal my pain. Big mistake. Come about midnight I got ‘the rush’ sprinted to the toilet and proceeded to yack my guts up. Mama’s thali didn’t taste so good this time.

Eventually I did managed to get some very broken sleep and luckily wasn’t sick again so decided to tackle the day head on and arrived at the Swede’s guest house as arranged at 4.55. The first of my co-pilgrims greeted me and he’d been up all night being sick too. I thought it was going to be a pandemic and the day would be called off but he was the only one that was ill so was staying behind. We started off walking towards the town and all of a sudden I got ‘the rush’ again and spewed down the hillside like a volcano erupting curried lava. Still, at least the cows will have a tasty treat today. I went back to bed and thankfully haven’t been sick again…yet.

Red marks the spot for a tasty roadside meal for the cows

A ‘Youth’ Hostel, Thinking of Doing Yoga and a Russian Couple

In India on April 12, 2010 at 6:20 am

It seems strange to be writing about Saturday now when it feels like I have done so much since then. But when I was back in Delhi I decided to move into the International Youth Hostel. I’ve stayed in one of their hostels before in Zagreb and it wasn’t very good but their one in Euston looks really nice so i thought it was worth a try. This is the kind of thing I was expecting at a youth hostel:

Party time - how it should have been

But the reality was more like this:

How it was - This man snoring for 10 hours

The average age at the ‘youth’ hostel was probably about 55, so after a night with them all snoring in some kind of orchestral fashion in different times, pitches and paces; I checked out.

During the day I did lots of amazing tourist things. I went to the Old Fort, Humayun’s Tomb which apparently the Taj Mahal was based on and then onto the zoo where  i got whisked around in a limo golf cart for 50p. The standards of welfare at the zoo were actually okay. I was expecting them to be horrific but there was of course the standard pacing animal. London Zoo has their pacing tiger, New York has the pacing snow leopard (looking much happier in this video than when i saw it going mad) and Delhi has their psychotic lion.

On Sunday I spent most of my day (nine hours) in an air con taxi going from Delhi to Rishikesh via Haridwar with a Russian couple and their one year old child. I’m not quite sure how I ended up with them but I originally went to the bus station to hop on a bus that should have taken five hours. The queues for tickets and the panic to get on crammed buses was too much to handle or even understand and these group of seven people from Belarus said i should share a car with them. An hour later I was in a car with the yoga king of Moscow (apparently he owns a yoga school there) and the queen of Goa (she had been there for the last four months) and a child (which i think was theirs) who would go around eating dirt when we stopped.

We were originally going to just stop in Haridwar but the problem with that was we arrived at 10pm and the legendary Kumbh Mela was in full swing. Imagine Notting Hill Festival but over the whole of London, or Glastonbury ten times the size and in a city. There where tents everywhere as we drove through and the whole town was covered with fairy lights. So it would have been nearly impossible to get accommodation. Amazingly though all of the traffic was  still moving! Check out this video Chloe sent me before I even knew I was going to Haridwar to get a sense of the occassion.

I luckily called ahead to a hotel i’d been recommended by the only youth in the hostel, Mama’s Cottage on the High Bank in Rishikesh. She only had one room left (the one i had reserved earlier in the day) which the Russians got so I had to sleep in her lounge with her young son/cook on the sofa opposite me. I have to stay in the lounge tonight too because she is still full. I don’t mind though it’s only £1.50 a night, i get to call her mama and she’s currently doing my washing. I’m off now to explore why The Beatles fell in love with this place.