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A quick trip into Punjab and forging on into the foothills of the Himalayas!

Wednesday 4th June
Kirsty and I had to get up at 5am to ensure we were at the Old Delhi train station in time for our train to Amritsar, the holiest Sikh city in India. We arrived at the station, located our platform and found the train already at the platform being loaded up with huge boxes of god knows what, bound for Amritsar.

Due to the spontaneous nature of our plans we had to book seats in second class sitting, as all the expensive (well expensive by Indian standards) seats had gone with huge waiting lists for cancellations. So we boarded our carriage…bars on the windows, fans on the ceiling and bench seats….same seating we had on trains in Rajasthan before, although whereas in Rajasthan the trains were empty and we had whole carriages to ourselves, this time the train was packed! Kirsty and I were squashed in amongst Indian families, beggars and wallahs selling all sorts of stuff from crisps, bottles of coke and fruit to chai and buckets of tomato and onion salad!

At 8am our train pulled out of Delhi bound for Punjab….as usual there was a wonderful array of scenery on route…small villages, sunflower fields, rivers, farms, pigs bathing in sewerage and men shitting in rubbish dumps! Gotta love India’s diversity! Lol

The journey was relatively uneventful, a few stares from men but no photos requested, somewhat disappointed! 7 hours whizzed by and finally at 3.30pm we pulled into Amritsar station. We disembarked the train, fought our way out of the station and jumped in a tuktuk to our hotel.

We pulled up at the hotel, which to be fair looked like a building under interior renovation from the outside! The glass entrance doors were devoid of handles, the reception was an old piece of wood, an old phone and 2 ropey old sofas that looked like a pack of dogs had used them as a bed for a few months!

We checked in, followed the man who would show us to our room on the second floor..first he had to go into the fuseboard and turn on the lift!

Our room was of a similar nature….ropey door that didn’t lock properly, tv that had no plug, just copper wires sticking out the end of the cable, a bed that had the worlds thinnest mattress…about 1cm thick which sat on top of solid wood frame and made for the most uncomfortable sleep! The bathroom had more paint peeling off the walls than actually on the walls but to its credit a working shower!

What sold it for us though and made it worth every penny of the £6 a night was the bizarre swing in the middle of the room….yes swing….god alone knows….

What I love about India is their optimism and their ability to fabricate hotel facilities…the business card of the hotel actually stated underneath the hotel name these exact words…..’newly decorated, cable tv, wifi’….this may well be accurate if by newly decorated they meant the new fad for peeled paint and by cable tv it just meant you have a tv with a cable, no plug and as for wifi…not in the room…only in reception which meant sitting on the dog sofas!

Love it…what an adventure – who wants to stay in a 5 star hotel where its bland and boring; 1 star is where it all happens! Lol

Anyway we popped out in the evening in a tuktuk to the city centre and grabbed some dinner and had a quick stroll.

Thursday 5th June

We were up early today, not for any other reason other than I woke with practically a full set of cracked ribs from the ‘mattress’!

We jumped in a tuktuk and headed over to the Golden Temple before it got too hot…it is the most holiest of holy places for the Sikh religion and a place I have always wanted to visit.

Upon rocking up at the neon signed, shop laden exterior, we handed in our shoes and waded through some filthy water before entering the temple! This is the also the same filthy water that Sikhs drink before entering the temple! Someone really should explain hygiene to the indians sometime! Lol

We wandered around the temple, watching Sikhs take a holy dip in the water surrounding the golden temple, people sleeping in the shade and people eating the free food.

We didn’t stay too long because even in the shade the sun was cooking us and it would have taken all of 20 minutes to end up with heat stroke!

So after collecting our shoes we located an ice cream shop and had a cold coke and ice cream for breakfast…not very conventional but when in india do as the indians do…which is pretty much anything you want! Lol

After sitting in the air con indulging in a mango ice cream, we headed over the road to the Jallianwala Bagh which is the sight of the massacre of the Sikhs by the British! Wasn’t quite sure what reception we would get bowling into this memorial garden as a pair of female british tourists in low season when we were so far the only 2 westerners we had seen since leaving Delhi..and on the day prior to the actual date of the massacre!

Still I thought maybe we could fall back on my diplomacy skills and all would be well!

As it turns out, we were the only 2 westerners in the memorial but although asked many times where we were from, everyone seemed pleased to see us. In the space of 20 minutes we must have been photographed with friends, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers and children about 15 times! Think I might start charging!

Eventually we managed to escape the cameras and head back to the hotel for a nap on the plank. Later in the evening we jumped in a tuktuk and asked the young driver to take us back to the golden temple area so we could get some dinner and I could go flip-flop shopping.  (I have a penchant for Punjab shoes…..flipflops and curly toed slippers).

Christ what a journey…think it has been the most hilarious journey in a tuktuk to date…….my description, I am sure, will not do it justice….i must begin by pointing out the Sikhs are a peaceful, loving people (most of the time, when not stabbing each other with swords!) so one would expect the centre of their religion to be a peaceful place…NO! Amritsar is by far more mental than anywhere I have been, even worse than Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi! Think of the Katie Melua song nine million bicycles in Beijing and replace Beijing with Amritsar and bicycles with Sikhs on motorbikes and you have half the story!

The exhaust fumes and horn tooting is something else, it takes noise pollution to a new dimension of spectacular!

So with that in mind our journey from the hotel to the golden temple went something like this… tuktuk, exhaust fumes, tooting, driver took us through the middle of the night market, no idea why, we sat in traffic surrounded by Sikhs on motorbikes, carbon monoxide and pots and pans for about 20 minutes…during which time one of the nine million sikhs on motorbikes crashed into the back of our tuktuk, another one ploughed into a market stall next to us displaying metal pots and pans, which sent them flying into the street like culinary shrapnel! At this point I was practically doubled over in hysterics…i looked over to Kirsty only to find she was more hysterical than in hysterics! Lol. She said she had closed her eyes and was attempting to transport herself to a peaceful place….

Eventually we made it out of the market and found a restaurant, so somewhat deafer and with a reduced lifespan due to stress and carbon monoxide we hopped out of the tuktuk and sat in relative tranquility for a while indulging in a thali. We hit the shoe shops after for a while and eventually headed back in a tuktuk to the hotel.  The journey was almost uneventful apart from another tuktuk reversing into us! All in all an entertaining night!

Friday 6th June

We were picked up from our hotel at 10am by our driver and his son who would be taking us out of the mental Amritsar and over to the peaceful buddhist and Tibetan influenced Dharamsala, which is the seat of the Tibetan Government in exile and home to the Dalai Lama.

The drive was uneventful which pleased Kirsty, who was still coming to terms with the journey in Amritsar the night before!

We arrived in Mcleodganj which is upper Dharamsala, checked into our hotel and chilled out in the peace and tranquility of the mountains with snow-capped peaks and prayer flags outside our window.

After a brief nap we headed up to the main square and had dinner in a tibetan restaurant before strolling back for early night.

Saturday 7th June

We had a relaxed morning, poached eggs on toast for brekkie and a bit of fruit shopping. We then wandered down to the Dalai Lama temple and sat inside this peaceful place for a while chatting and absorbing the quiet, all the while staring into the Dalai Lama’s front room!

Then we went on a 3 hour walk around Mcleodganj starting at the Dalai Lama temple and following a footpath around the hills where we came across thousands of prayer flags, stones painted with ‘Free Tibet’, stoupas, prayer wheels and temples.

The sun was shining, the sky blue, the mountains white with snow, the prayer wheels red and gold all accompanied by the sound of a local in the temple, spinning the prayer wheel and ringing the bell with each revolution. It’s a small piece of Tibet inside India, at least India allow the Tibetans freedom to preserve their tradition, language, cultures and beliefs…something China is still refusing to do…and yet another reason why I dislike the Chinese!

In the evening we went to an Italian for dinner followed by a 3 hour film in a makeshift cinema…the cinema was pretty much in a basement of someones house…they charged £3 per person and the ‘cinema’ was a room with fabric draped down the walls, a small extractor fan, a freestanding fire extinguisher, some old office chairs lined up, a projector screen and a laptop! Brilliant lol!

The film was pretty good, a number by Scorcese called Kundan, about the life of the Dalai Lama from when he was a child in Tibet to when he was selected as Dalai Lama, the war in Tibet, his fleeing journey on foot and horse in India and an insight into his life. Worthy if a watch, just excuse the dramatic music!

Sunday 8th June

Today we decided to go for a couple of hours walk to Bhagsu area outside of Mcleodganj, we walked along a beautiful but busy road, hoping for a peaceful mountain walk but ended up fighting tuktuks, motorbikes and cars for space on the road. The soundtrack was constant horn tooting and shouting!

Still after about 30 minutes we reached the Shiva Temple and the Holy Pool where loads of Indian men were taking a dip in their pants, someone really should tell them about the invention of swimwear! Lol

We then spent the next 40 minutes climbing up steep steps into the mountain to the river and waterfall. We climbed down and sat on a rock beside the river where loads of indians were sitting on rocks in the river, swimming, washing their clothes or just sitting in the river with a beer! Kirsty had a paddle while I sat in the sun watching everyone enjoying themselves.

We then carried on up to the waterfall and plunge pool, climbing steep steps up the mountain with a picturesque view of the river, valley and wild horses. The plunge pool was packed with indians in pants swimming and pratting around, we sat and watched them listening to the waterfall.

After about 30 minutes we headed back down the steep path and found somewhere to grab something to eat. Then we wandered back to the hotel had a nap before heading out for dinner on another rooftop before having a couple of cocktails in a Shisha bar.

Monday 9th June

Today we went out in a tuktuk to Norbulingka which is a Tibetan institute, which houses a temple, museum and workshops for Tibetan handicrafts. Students come from Tibet and over the world to study and practice different tibetan traditional handicrafts and skills.

There is also a beautiful japanese garden which is tranquil and serene with water features, bamboo and koi ponds.

We wandered around with our Tibetan guide who took us around all the workshops explaining the skills and handicrafts and showing us some of the works. They ranged from painting, metalwork, to works with silks and fabrics.

We then went to the temple and had a wander round before jumping in the tuktuk back to Mcleodganj. We went for lunch in a tibetan cafe and then had a nap before heading out for dinner al fresco and a wander around some of the shops.

Tuesday 10th June

This morning we checked out of our hotel, left the rucksacks and went for a walk to the tibetan museum which is inside the Dalai Lama Temple. We spent 40 minutes wandering around the museum reading about Tibet’s plight for freedom and the atrocities the Chinese carried out to the Tibetan people in their own country. Then we sat in the temple watching a monkey and a dog have a face off! The dog wanted to play with a friend but the monkey was grumpy and kept chasing the dog away! Pretty amusing…

Eventually we left the dog v monkey arena and went back to the hotel to use the wifi and pick up our rucksacks. We then headed up to a restaurant and had dinner before walking down to the bus stand to find our bus to Manali.

We took our seats on the bus and watched the Himachal Pradesh countryside slide by.

The bus stopped regularly and people kept jumping on and off…the journey was spectacular…the moon came up, the stars came out and we weaved our way round the mountainside for hours. Absolutely amazing journey….i plugged in the ipad and found some suitable music to listen to…no not the ‘best of tibetan meditative chants’ but ‘Trance Nation’! Weaving around the mountains, with misty valley to one side and trees interspersed with lit temples and forest fires the other…only really goes with some melodic trance!

Wednesday 11th June

After a night on the bus we arrived in Manali at 6am, grabbed our rucksacks from the boot of the bus and started walking towards Old Manali….after a while we grabbed a tuktuk and headed up much faster to our hotel.

Once arriving, tired and cold we were told they had no rooms available even though I had booked one. So we wandered around asking at a few others before settling at the Brahma Guesthouse. We checked in there and then and slept!

We went out for lunch by the riverside, had a wander around and then just chilled in the room and hit bed early as I was starting to feel fluey…we had literally dropped from 47 degrees in Amritsar to 35 in Mcleodganj to 20 in Manali! My poor body can’t cope with such fast drop in temperatures!

Thursday 12th  June

Slept late, watched cheesey films in bed until early afternoon then popped out for a walk and some lunch by the river. I still felt ropey so came back and slept and just popped out in the evening for a drink and wifi in a place called the Lazy Dog on the river.

Friday 13th June

I awoke feeling bloody awful, bad stomach, flu, tonsillitis and sinusitis, so headed down to the pharmacy to try to get some medication to clear it all.

We sat in the hospital for 30 mins waiting for the registration desk to open, then I registered, then we had to wait an hour for the doctors to start. Saw the doctor who prescribed a couple of bits, picked them up and then went for breakfast.

We then hailed a tuktuk back to the hotel, this one was full on bakery items and had to stop at 2 places on route to deliver…so became the tuktuk drivers assistant for a few minutes passing boxes out from the back of the tuktuk! Lol

We napped and chilled for the afternoon before heading out to a restaurant for tea and wifi. I was still feeling rough but was surviving!

Saturday 14th June

An entertaining day….It started with Kirsty waking up at 2am and being sick and sitting on the toilet continuously for 2 hours, she couldn’t even keep down water. So to prevent dehydration and due to the state she was in I phoned an ambulance and we grabbed some stuff and jumped in the ambulance jeep down to the hospital. She was wired up to an IV and moved to a private room. I stayed with her until about 2pm by which time she was so full of liquid and medicine she wanted to sleep.

I was still feeling rough myself, so I left her to sleep and slept myself.

I didn’t wake up til 7pm but got up and tidied the room and used the wifi before going back to bed.

Sunday 15th June

Up early and grabbed tuktuk down to the hospital to see Kirsty. We sat watching world cup repeat matches until she could check out early afternoon. She has food poisoning which is not unusual in India. E coli and Amoeba bugs also, we have got the same bugs but I just have bad stomach and bloated as apparently I have partial immunity to them due to amount of times I have been to India! Bonus!

So we grabbed her prescribed medicine and headed back to Old Manali to get lunch and rest.

The medicine is the same as one I have so decided to take a course myself to help clear up the bugs. Unfortunately it makes you very nauseous so we spent the rest of the day feeling sick which lead us to be rather lazy and unproductive! Lol

Monday 16th June

Lazy day again today, resting and recuperation.

We got up late and walked to the bakery, grabbed a croissant and some fruit juice and came back to the hotel and sat in the garden for a bit breakfasting and wifi-ing.

We then came back to the room and I slept until 2pm, we then went out for lunch in a garden before coming back to hotel and chilling with cheesey films on.

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