Manali and Trek 2

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Dave

We don't as a rule arrive in a town without accommodation already booked but having earlier spent some days in Manali it seems an OK plan. It take two rickshaws to get us and all our bags up to Vashisht. I sit with the girls and the flies while Gabby has a scout around. After an hour we realise that we have definitely come to the wrong side of the river. Lots of accom for 150 rupees..... (dirt and flies, no extra charge). We head back over the river to Old Manali where we find a more than satisfactory lodging at Veer Guest House for 400 rupees (5) per night with great views back across to Vashisht and the waterfall. (I guess the reason I am mentioning these rates is because I am still a little vexed at having paid 6400 per night at Nature Notes.) Old Manali has more character and is perfect for us. The old wooden houses here have slates on their roofs up to 2 inches thick and are built from big timbers to support all this weight. It would have looked amazing here before concrete construction arrived in these hills.
Nine out of ten travellers in Old Manali and Vashisht seem to be Israeli. I have never seen such a concentration of travellers from any one country before! Old Manali however, has the slightly more cosmopolitan feel.
We have a few lazy days here but still manage a few nice walks. Through the forest back into New Manali is lovely and due to the 5rp fee is pretty deserted as well. Up to the waterfall at Vashisht was a good climb but with a rather precarious viewing perch at the end.
We have been talking to High Adventure and would like to do another trek here rather than wait till Dharmsala. The suitable treks for us near Dharmsala are in forest so we decide on a three day trek up to Chandra Tal in the Spiti Valley to the north of here. It is above the tree-line where things become spectacular in this part of the world and we know we can camp in forest elsewhere.
By the time we leave, we have condensed our plans to a two night trek and have a very experienced, level headed guide on board called Baggy. There is a lot of driving on this trek. Our first leg is up over the Rohtang Pass. This is the destination for a thousand Indian tourists every day for some play in a small patch of rather dirty snow. This pass in not accessible for six months of the year (winter) but right now there are lots of things to keep the Indian tourists amused, on what is probably their first visit to the snow. You can have your photo taken in front of a Ganesh snow carving, ride on a Yak or take unorthodox looking horizontal ski lessons. After a stop for breakfast we leave this 'winter wonderland' behind us and wind down into the Spiti Valley. Little rain falls here. There are no trees and the boulder strewn landscape is the most inhospitable I have ever seen.
Five and a half hours after leaving Manali in our 4WD we arrive at Chhota Dara, (houses three, population one). We have with us, in addition to Baggy, our cook Viki and from our last trek, helper Arun. They set our camp as we wonder what might be going on in Chhota Dara tonight. Disco anyone?
The views are imposing. No photograph can or will portray the scale of what surrounds us. We take a walk with Baggy up a small rocky slope. It looks near from the camp but when we reach the ridge and look back, our tents are tiny dots on a postage stamp of green. This is not nearly as pretty as our last trek but we are glad to be here.
There is no wood in the Spiti Valley so no camp fire tonight, much to our dismay. However the occupant of the nearby town is burning something, so I despatch Arun to exchange cash for timber. Alas, no joy, it will have to be an early to bed for us tonight.
We try sleeping in separate tents here, but at 3 a.m. and probably minus 3 degrees the girls come knocking on our tent flap. Nice to see the munshskins. Both Gab and I have a fitful nights sleep and in the morning I am feeling rather ropey but Gabby is worse. She is very ill. Is it altitude sickness or a stomach bug? We can't be sure, but decide that She had better stay in her sleeping bag for a few hours before we decide on the best direction to head. Gabby doesn't want to force the end of trek so I decide for her that a decent to Manali is the sensible option. If this is altitude sickness then going up to Chandra Tal would be wrong and if it is a stomach bug staying in this cold thin air will be uncomfortable. Ella and Florence are in good spirits and seem absolutely fine.
On our drive down I start feeling worse but it is tempered somewhat by the adrenaline ones body produces as a passenger on roads like these. The Indian driving style is hard to explain, it is so diametrically opposed to the Western. After a lot of consideration I have come up with a compact description.

"THE ONLY IMPORTANT CAR ON THE ROAD IS YOUR OWN, YOU CAN BE ANYWHERE ON IT YOU WANT, AT ANY TIME YOU WANT, AS LONG AS YOU BLOW YOUR HORN A LOT."

Our driver was worrying me slightly as we traversed these tricky slopes. I had been smelling petrol fumes for quite a while and in the interest of driver precision I called for a stop. I traced the smell to a cardboard box in the back of the car. Typically Indian, they turned the box over so you couldn't see it anymore.
Our driver had many stand-offs in the middle of the road with all sorts of vehicles (even army) but he had a massive disadvantage. His horn had stopped working. He kept a brave face but had to do more than his fair share of reversing.
By the time we arrived in Manali Gabby felt a lot better, but my condition had deteriorated and I spent most of the next 24 hrs in bed at Veer Guest House. So glad I wasn't in a sleeping bag, 100 kms from the nearest flushing toilet.
By day two back in Old Manali things had settled down for me as well so both Gabby and I felt compelled to treat ourselves. I have not had a massage in India since Kerala 18 months ago. I was a bit put off them there, to be honest. Don't want to go into the details. Anyway, we had seen a place nearby called 'Lotus' with two very satisfied men exiting, and they did not look gay. We settled the kids down to some homework in their reception and both had a very good massage. My bliss was dented slightly when I was told by the masseur that at 47 I had the body of a 55 year old! Of course, I have been thinking of doing yoga (to improve my flexibility) for about 5 years now.
I will start tomorrow.

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