To add to the list of things I do not recommend: a ten hour overnight bus ride on the bumpiest, windiest roads imaginable, seated in the back next to a large snoring man, suffering acute stomach pains from something you ate a few hours earlier and eventually puking repeatedly – but being thankful that you just happened to have a strong plastic bag in your purse (which you hastily empty of the jewelry it contains).
When you’re laid low you tend to obsess about what exactly it was that got you. Was it water from the hotel restaurant that should have been ok? Was it the cheese pastry you unwisely bought at the bus station? It doesn’t really matter, but it becomes a burning question when you have nothing better to do. I suppose the only way to figure it out is by timing. Since I’m still a bit under the weather I don’t have the energy to search the crushing amount of information on the web to figure out how long it takes Delhi belly symptoms to show up. Any of my scientist / geek friends want to comment? [ My brother and his wife say that it takes anywhere from 2 to 12 hours, depending on how contaminated the food is. So I’m guessing that it was the cheese pastry and that it was just crawling with bad stuff.]
Anyway, I did arrive in Manali safely at 6:30 in the morning and found the loveliest 1920s wooden guesthouse with a fireplace and a balcony overlooking snowy mountains and blooming apple orchards. It’s chilly here and the season is a few weeks away, so the local population is in the anticipatory process of sprucing up the joint. Not all the shops and restaurants are open yet, which suits me fine. I took the day to rest, leaving the room only to see one temple, buy a book, and have some dinner. In the evening it became extremely cold so I called for firewood and spent an hour staring at the flames before crawling into bed again. More hotel guests arrived at 1:30 in the morning, making no effort to let me sleep. I eventually, sheepishly, came out of my room en deshabille and smiled at them and pointed to my watch. I say sheepishly because I have never before heard an Indian complain to another about noise. On the bus the previous night, for example, about ten students decided to sing all night and none of the other travelers said anything about it (although at the time it was the least of my worries). I can’t tell whether it’s a general tolerance for noise or whether there’s some idea that everyone should be allowed to do exactly as he pleases?
Today, feeling better though still slightly fragile, I walked up the hill to the neighboring village of Vashist to see more splendid wooden temples. I am once again struck by India’s diversity: the Hindu temples here look absolutely nothing like those only a few hundred kilometers South, let alone those in the Deccan. The people too look different. I noticed it when I went from Kerala to Gujarat and then again in Rajasthan, how the Northerners show the Persian / Afghani influence, while Southerners are darker, showing continuation of Dravidian culture. In Himachal Pradesh the faces are more Tibetan and Nepalese. I did see yaks today, and old ladies hugging gigantic albino bunnies, with which you can have your picture taken. I am considering riding a yak – for purely research purposes to see how they compare with camels – but it may have to wait until Nepal.
At one of the temples I aquired a companion, a young Indian man who claimed to have been traveling for a few months. He said he was an aerospace engineer and that he mostly lived in Russia. He irritated me immediately. He was one of those people who you just can’t tell anything and who will, rather than admit they don’t know something, make up a load of shit instead. For example, he decided to tell me about the temple we were looking at: “It’s made all of wood… and… stuff…”, he sang confidently. I hope he blushed later when I told him I’m an architect. He then tried to tell me that Ooty is in Kerala. Since I was there not too long ago I posited that I doubted it, but he would not brook dissension. I decided it wasn’t worth it to get out my Lonely Planet and show him the map. The bright side of the story is, however, that when he didn’t take the hint that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of the afternoon with him, I cheerfully, smilingly, told him that I was going to take a walk alone and that it was nice to have met him. When I was younger I pathologically avoided talking to people who I wasn’t sure I could get rid of (I still often do this on long plane trips) and so missed out on a lot of opportunities.
At another temple there were hot springs. I was having lunch in a rooftop cafe and could see into the men’s pool but was comforted that the women’s pool had a sufficiently high wall, especially when I went inside and found that it’s used as a bath/shower room for the local women. I had thought to take a dip myself, but when I put my foot in I found that it was, well, hot. The other ladies giggled at me encouragingly, but I couldn’t do it. I don’t think my travel insurance extends to voluntarily scalding oneself.
I’m moving on again at six tomorrow morning, to McLeod Ganj, the headquarters in exile of the Dalai Lama. I don’t expect to hang out with him, but it should be an interesting day or two. When I went to a travel agent to book a bus they told me there were only night buses, of which I am (understandably) not enamored. I enquired further and they said there were some state buses that left in the morning. So I went down to the bus station and found that there are actually only private buses leaving in the morning. I have gone beyond being shocked when blatantly lied to, and in fact have come to expect it from certain quarters, but it makes finding real information a bit more difficult.