Blogs from India

McLeod Ganj

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Dave

Have definitely waited too long to write this blog.
Home now for three weeks and our last week in India seems like it was in another lifetime. Reincarnation aside, write I must.
Manali to Dharmsala. Either a bus trip or another Toyota Qualis. The latter is the best option. It is easier to see your driver falling asleep in the Qualis and therefor safer.
It always takes longer than you would think to get around in India. I have come to expect only about 30kms in every hour and they still manage to make that hair raising.
We are starting our two part Tibetan experience, in India. First we have two nights at Norling House at the Norbulingka Institute. The accom is in a lovely circular building on the complex. At Norbulinka, Tibetan culture is kept alive in a way that is impossible in their homeland. The Tibetans are charming and gentle people. Buddhists of course, which as a religion I find hard to fault.
While there Gabby took the girls to see a Tibetan doctor (that we had met earlier on our travels) primarily to let her have a look at Ella's persistent ankle wart but also to give Florence a once over. Gabby, never short of a topic asked, "Why does Florence seem to have the weight of the world on her shoulders?". They checked her pulse and other vital signs. "She is very mature" was the diagnosis. Oh bless... that explains a lot.
We take an early taxi up to McLeod Ganj to attend a long life Puja for the Dalai Lama. I settle in with the girls, prime position up front while Gabby takes our cameras off premises. You can normally bring a camera into the temple complex but not if his holiness is going to make an appearance we discover. Not long to wait and a very sprightly 71 year old monk speeds by us in the company of his identically robed entourage. Our girls were too busy being respectful and unfortunately did not see which one was the Dalai Lama. We settle down close to the temple as an endless stream of well-wishers bring presents. We are fed handfuls of sweet rice and very weak tea poured from huge metal tea pots which is nice but I am not comfortable (physically) and after half an hour it pleases me that we have all had enough of the chanting and watching people with curiously similar looking presents file through. It was fantastic to get a glimpse of such a great man but needs must and we think we have seen a cafe just up the hill that may do a nice English Breakfast. We like McLeod Ganj a lot and spend our next four nights here at Chonor House. A lovely hotel owned by the Norbulinka Institute and overlooking the Dalai Lamas temple complex. Staying at Chonor is a real treat. We booked it about a month ago.
One wet night I met a monk up a dark lane-way near Chonor. He asks if he can come around for English lessons (and tea on the deck) of a morning. Seems like a good idea to me. Each morning we chat and I hear the story of his walk out of Tibet over the Himalayas. On the Dalai Lama's birthday my girls also chat to some young Tibetan kids preparing to dance at the festivities. (We were backstage of course.) They were carried out of Tibet as three year olds and their parents are all still there. Got the kids out but no chance to escape themselves? Hard to fathom and it's hard to ask. The more we travel the more we learn and the more grateful I am for being born in the right place at the right time. The Chinese walked into Tibet over 50 years ago and the destruction of this unique culture and the persecution of these people continues today.
I don't want to go on about it but some facts just fascinate me. Five of Asia's great rivers have their headwaters in Tibet, including the Mekong, Indus and Brahmaputra, nearly half of the worlds population lives downstream from Tibet.
While In Laos and Vietnam we witnessed peoples distress at China's plans for dams on the Mekong. I would like to see the world come to the aid of Tibet in my life-time. That would make me very happy.
Homeward bound we have just one more scary journey from McLeod Ganj to Delhi to get our flight. We toyed with the idea of a sleeper bus but the sight of a bus carcass being pulled up from a ravine at a hairpin bend just out of town sets us off looking for another Qualis. I know a lot of people travel by bus in India but we just can't face it. We talked to a chap in McLoed Ganj who said that the beds on those sleeper busses are greasy anyway and it was while riding on them that he came to the conclusion that people actually smell like dogs. He supported our decision to take a car.
We do a one night stop over about half way at Vaseela Resort near Chandigarh (Punjab). It is everything we were expecting 'Nature Notes' to be. It is charming and sophisticated. The kids appreciate the first good pool we have seen since Vietnam and the Punjabi museum onsite is very nice. We are just here to sleep but could have stayed a few days easily.
Anyway, that is about it. Airport hotel, easy flight home.
Oh, and I nearly forgot. Very very well treated by Virgin. Red wine from first class, two full bottles of Champagne and other gifts. Photos taken in the cockpit after landing.
Gabby says they simply took a shine to the girls.
I am not so sure .........but thanks anyway.

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We're Coming Home

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Ella

I am sooooooo excited! We're on the aeroplane back home. Florence and I have been hyperactive all morning. I find it hard to believe that we're at the end of an amazing 7 and a half month trip. Mum said I have changed and progressed leaps and bounds on this trip, I know I have. I think that I am a really lucky child because not many people get to walk on glaciers, explore the Himalayas, go sailing, sleep on trains, fly through the jungle on zip lines, eat food from loads of different countries and meet lots of people on just one amazing trip around the world!

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On The Plane

Date: 10/07/2007 | Author: Florence

We are now on our way home and are soooooooo excited about seeing our friends, our cat and our school. We are hoping that we bring back the sun with us! Ella and I were running around, jumping on the bed at our hotel last night, soooooo excited about getting on the plane and going back to London. I expect Mum and Dad are excited too but in a different way. Mum and Dad said we could have a few friends for a sleep over when we get back to London. It is quite late here and we are all very tired. Ella is just watching the end of her film and Mum and I are just falling asleep..........waiting to get back to London!

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McLeod Ganj and the Dalai Lama

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Ella

After Manali we stayed in the Norling Guest House just outside Dharamsala. Norling is part of an area called the Norbulingka Institute which is trying to help Tibetan culture stay alive. In Norbulingka they have an art shop which sells special Tibetan wall hangings called Thangkas and other things like that. They are all made in Tibetan work rooms. There is also a Tibetan dolls museum and it was all very interesting.
Not far from the Norbulingka Institute is a place called McLeod Ganj. There are lots of Tibetan refugees who live there because the Chinese people invaded Tibet and tried to take over. McLeod Ganj is also home of the Dalai Lama, who is a really special, holy man. Everyone calls him Your Holiness, that's how holy he is.
On 6th July it was the Dalai Lama's birthday and there was a big long life puja for him and we went there. We got a really good position right at the front. It took a while for the Dalai Lama to come out but when he did, he was being rushed along by all the other monks and there were so many people that I didn't see him at all! After the puja we went to the temple cafe for lunch and ordered a Margarita Pizza. When it came out we took our first bites then scoffed it down - it was the best pizza I have ever tasted (by the way I have never been to Italy!).
The following day we left Norling and moved to another hotel in McLeod Ganj called Chonor House. Our room in Chonor House (called the Songtsen Suite) was REALLY nice and had lots of things from the Norbulingka Institute in it. While we were there Dad met a monk and the monk said "Can you give me English lessons?" and Dad said 'Yes, of course". So he did and Florence and I helped - it was good fun. The monk's name was Kunchok. The views from Chonor were amazing. It is set on a hill overlooking McLeod Ganj. Tibetan Prayer Flags hung in the view and the clouds often visited the balcony. We spent 5 days in the Chonor Guest House and then we were off again - this time to Delhi It was a very long car journey so we slept one night at the Vaseela Resort in Chandigarh - it was very nice. The people who worked at Vaseela were very happy to have us in their hotel that they gave us a free dinner and the owner came to chat to us!
We left Vaseela quite early and were soon in Delhi again but this time it wasn't as hot as when we arrived in India a month before. We stayed in a very big hotel called the Radisson near the airport and it had a huge swimming pool! You wouldn't believe how excited I was the next day as that was the day we were heading home!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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The Dalai Lama

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Florence

After Manali we had a long drive to another part of the Himalayan foothills and stayed at a nice place called Norling Guest House at the Norbulingka Institute. It had a very big garden that fitted a dolls museum and an art gallery! It was a holy place and had a very nice garden with Tibetan prayer flags and prayer wheels. Because the garden was soooo big we went on a tour around the garden. We saw things like a big Buddha in a temple in the gardens and we saw people making thangkas which are big paintings but with lots of detail put into them - it looked very hard (I expect it is!). Norbulingka was a holy place because the Dalai Lama visits every now and then. The Dalai Lama is the head of the Tibetan Buddhists. In our guest house, upstairs where our room was, there were lots of pictures of the Dalai Lama during his life from the age of three to now. The Dalai Lama decided to be a monk from the age of three, the Tibetans call him Your Holiness. Ella and I were very excited when we went to the Dalai Lama's puja! We got a good space in the front and waited a very long time until he came. He was very close to us when he walked past and had lots of other monks around him. It was very hard to see him but I got a quick glance.
The next day we moved from Norbulingka to Mcleod Ganj. Mcleod Ganj is the home of many Tibetans because the Chinese invaded Tibet and the Tibetan government moved there. We stayed in a lovely hotel called Chonor House. There were lots of Tibetan prayer flags in the garden and lots of thangkas painted on the walls in our room. While we were there we learnt a lot about Tibet and how China invaded the country. We stayed there for 4 nights but we were really looking forward to going to Delhi to go back to London.
Another mad drive to Delhi THEN HOME!!!!!!!!! Apart from one night's stop over at the Vaseela in Chandigarh (which we spent ages trying to find), we only stopped for the occasional camping wee! The drive was long, but we finally reached our posh hotel, with a swimming pool and big rooms, near the airport in Delhi. We only stayed there for one night - we didn't sleep much because we were soooooo excited about getting home!

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Little Lhasa in Northern India

Date: 08/07/2007 | Author: Gabby

We never did get the bus from Manali to Dharamsala - the Himalayan Roads are too windy, the Indian driving too bad....... A car with drier was the only option. We lucked out as the travel agent we had booked our treks through had to drive there so we received a hefty discount. Apart from a terrifying incident at the beginning of the journey where the driver nearly fell asleep (apparently on medication that made him drowsy) and, at the end of our journey, a fallen tree across the road, it was a pretty cruisy trip. No vomiting and very little whinging! We had booked in to the Norling Guest House part of the Tibetan Norbulingka Institute about 18km from McLeod Ganj (where the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan Government are based). The Norbulingka promotes the continuation of Tibetan Culture - in the grounds is a great cafe and the lovely guest house itself. We were the only guests in a place full of images of the Dalai Lama at various ages through his life - it was an amazing, peaceful place and somewhere we all learnt a huge amount about Tibetans, their culture and the crisis their country has been going through for the past 50 or so years. With 2 days until the Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations, we discovered there would be a long life puja (prayers, offerings) at 8am next day. As we were 18km away we had a really early start, and arrived at the temple at about 7.30am only to be told we couldn't bring phones or cameras in to the complex. Thankfully, we were booked in to Chonor House from the following day - only 5 minutes up a steep path - so I was able to leave everything there while Dave and the girls went in to the temple to get a good spot. I was so excited at the prospect of getting a glimpse of the Dalai Lama. After a stringent security check, I found Dave and the girls in a prime spot - right next to the area His Holiness would walk. The wait was long and the girls did get a little bored. Fortunately a few nuns distracted them with their keenness to practice their English. A few minutes after an initial flurry where the Karmapa came through surrounded by his entourage, the moment came where the Dalai Lama and his entourage walked through. He was whisked by so quickly, it really was just a fleeting glimpse - the girls, confused by the huge number of red robed monks besieging him hardly managed to see him at all! It was a very special moment for me but one I think the girls will forget very quickly!
The next day we moved into McCloed Ganj itself. Perched on a steep hill above the larger town of Dharamsala, Mcleod is more like being in Tibet than India and is often referred to as the Little Lhasa of Northern India. Chonor House was just beautiful and, with it's views over the Dalai Lama's residence and Buddhist temple complex, oozes a calmness and serenity we had not experienced in any of our other accommodations in India. Our room, the Songtsen suite was lovely. The whole hotel was decorated with Tibetan rugs, thangkas and furniture - it was a great place to escape from the bustling town. Our relaxation was aided by possibly the best massage I have ever received. Two Tibetan Doctors, Dolma and Kalsang, came to our room on at least 3 occasions to give all of us Tibetan massages. McLoed Ganj is also full of great places to do yoga and the classes I did were far better than anything I did in Rishikesh (somewhere I won't be returning to!).
It was a great place to end our month in India but the plight of the Tibetans made us all feel really angry. While China is devastating Tibet, the rest of the world is just looking on. We met so many Tibetan children who escaped to India when they were really young, leaving their parents behind. How desperate must the situation be for parents to send their young children away? I just can't imagine.
We had 5 blissful days there. We did try to book the train to Delhi (from Pathankot - a 4 hour drive from McLeod) but the sleeper had been booked months before. Hearing of another bus that had been driven off the road killing 30 people meant the sleeper bus was NOT an option so, once again, we booked a car and driver.
We stopped enroute in Chandigarh at the Vaseela Resort. We weren't expecting anything special but it was everything Nature Notes wasn't. Sadly, with less than 12 hours there we weren't able to make use of all of it's facilities but the place was lovely and the owners charming.
So, seven and a half months after leaving the UK, we arrived in Delhi for the last night of our incredible trip. The traffic was a nightmare and it took us about 3 hours to cross the city to get to the Radisson hotel at Delhi airport. This was the most expensive accommodation of our whole trip. That's just one of the disparities of India - it's one of the cheapest, yet one of the most expensive places in the world! I was glad to be leaving the country, but I hope I will go back one day soon.......
The girls hardly slept on our last night - they were so excited about getting home. They didn't sleep on the plane either. The flight was practically empty so we all stretched out on 4 seats each. The chief steward, Sam, when she heard we were heading home after such a long time away, plied Dave and I with champagne and gave the girls bags of gifts - it was a great flight home!
An excited Aunty Loo met us at Heathrow & the girls leapt into her arms. We were greeted by a huge 'welcome home' banner when we arrived at Andy and Helen Beales house in London. We are not going home just yet - we're staying there for a couple of weeks before continuing our nomadic lifestyle in the West Country. Why spend the summer in London when the kids aren't at school? It's going to be a slow reintegration in to London life - I think it's the best way to go.........

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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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Trek Two

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Ella

We don't normally get anywhere without booked accommodation but that's what happened when we arrived in Manali after our trek. So we had to go through the annoying stages of looking for a hotel.
We went to Vashisht first. I found it quite annoying having to walk up the hill just to find a hotel when I really thought we should stay in Old Manali. Dad and I sat on a crooked wooden bench outside a lady's shop and watched boys playing with cement. We played Os and Xs while Mum and Florence looked for a hotel.
Soon Mum came back and said "No luck, all the hotels are dirty, full of flies and the toilets are disgusting". Mum set off hotel hunting again, I was with her this time. We intended to go to the Mushroom hotel but never found it. When Mum and I got back to where Dad and Florence were sitting, Mum said "Let's go to Old Manali".
When we arrived in Old Manali, we found a very very nice guest house called Red Dragon. It had lovely big rooms but it was full!! We ended up in a place called Veer guest house. It was very nice because there were lots of people to talk to.
While we were there we met lots of Irish people. They included Brenda who was travelling with her boyfriend, Barry, Enda (who was travelling alone), Claire, Carla, Cara and Roisin (who were travelling together).
We spent 4 days lazing around in Veer guest house, sitting in the TV room, hanging out in our rooms and chatting to the Irish girls and boys (mostly Mum). We were still talking about our 3 day trek and how great it was, then one day Mum suggested that we should do another trek. Florence Dad and I all agreed and decided to do it the next day......
We got up very early and got a rickshaw to New Manali and from there we took a car up the Mountains..... while we were driving up the hills the clouds raced us. They won in the end so we had to drive thought them! Our campsite was in the spiti valley. It hardly ever rains here so that means no trees, no wood, which means there is no campfire. The spiti valley is much colder then our last trek so we NEED a fire! Florence and I searched the area looking for wood but the only plant life here is grass and the odd mountain flower or two. Apart from that, rocks.
"I wish we could burn rocks" I think, as I snuggle down in my sleeping bag trying to keep warm that night. I had a really fitful nights sleep. Flo woke me up in the middle of the night saying "I want to go to the other tent with Mum and Dad... Ella wake up". I flopped my crocs on and stumbled over to the other tent, Flo by my side. Florence shone the torch on the tent and Mum saw it and opened the door. We all slept better when we were sleeping together and didn't wake up once.
When we woke up in the morning Mum and Dad felt quite poorly. Mum more, but Dad was pretty bad. After our chat during breakfast we all decided that we should go back to Manali, instead of going any higher.
On our drive back we ducked down through the clouds and we soon in the town again. We drove up to Old Manali and stayed in Veer Guest House again. We spent another three days in Old Manali before we went on another adventure.

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Manali and the Mountains

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Florence

Instead of looking in New Manali, we decided we wanted to stay somewhere more out of town. So we searched and searched in Vashisht. There were absolutely no good rooms in Vashisht, you had to share toilets or they had squatty toilets and all of them were full of flies! Vashisht was no good so we looked in a bigger village called Old Manali. We looked in a place called the Red Dragon which had big and lovely rooms, I thought it would be a good place to stay. But if there was a better place we would stay there. Just in case we looked just along the road and there was a lovely but small hotel called Veer Guest House. There were some lovely people to chat to and also it was much cheaper than the Red Dragon. It is 400 rupees per night which is about five pounds. Still, if I was an adult I would have stayed at the Red Dragon!
We liked our last trek so much we decided to do another one. This time we went with a different guide called Baggy and our helper was called Arun. We drove over the Rohtang Pass and into the Spiti Valley where we set up camp. It was the same height as our last trek but it seemed higher because there were no trees where we were camping and no wood either so there was no chance of having a fire. We went on a walk up the rocky mountain. We saw a big mountain up there covered in flat thick smooth snow. It is called White Sail Mountain because the snow on it is blown in the shape of a sail.
That night, Ella and I slept in a separate tent from Mum and Dad. We couldn't sleep and we started to get a bit scared. So we secretly crept into Mum and Dad's tent trying not to wake them up but in the end Mum woke up (so did Dad) and got our sleeping bags from our tent. We snuggled up with Mum and Dad but before we went to sleep Mum said "I am not feeling very well"
In the morning Mum still wasn't feeling well so we snuggled up in our tent and ate porridge for breakfast, discussing that if Mum and Dad (but Mum mostly) were feeling ill we shouldn't go much higher. We thought it was altitude sickness so after a long discussion we decided that we would definitely go back to Manali.
We helped pack up the tent. Ella and I were desperately trying to help but the wind was too strong and the tent puffed up like a gigantic balloon!!
We drove back down to Manali but on the way Dad felt even more sick. We arrived in Veer Guest House with Dad extremely sick!
For the next couple of days we didn't do much but we had a lovely time chatting to the people at Veer Guest House.

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Manali and the Spiti Valley

Date: 01/07/2007 | Author: Gabby

After our Beas Kund trek, a dilemma. Of the two villages close to Manali town, Vashisht and Old Manali, where should we base ourselves for the next 4 or 5 days? Old Manali is a bit of a travellers enclave but Vashisht, according to the guide books, is the more atmospheric of the two and with hot springs in the village and a great waterfall an easy walk away, it seemed the better option.
Arriving back from our trek at about 2pm, we ate a delicious fish lunch (I can only take so much Dal) at Johnson's before heading up the very steep hill to Vashisht. As the village is a (largely) traffic free zone we had to drag our bags up the final, steepest part of the hill. We could, of course, have paid some baksheesh to the traffic control policeman, but decided to keep our hands on our rupees.
An hour of looking around filthy rooms, mostly with shared squat toilets - all only 100-200 rupees (about 1.20 - 2.50) we quickly realised this was a place for long term backpackers who had to really watch their rupees and didn't care how disgusting their accommodation was. We hot footed it to Old Manali (on a rickshaw), back down the very steep hill to Manali town and up another very steep hill on the opposite side of the valley. Here we discovered Veer Guest House (pronounced Beer by the locals), an old wooden building with good sized, clean rooms, own bathroom, dressing room, western toilet - we could all squeeze in to one room for just 400 rupees (a fiver). The guest house also had a great garden, a good, comfortable restaurant and was full of social, friendly Irish travellers. It was a great place to hang out and with massage, shops, good restaurants (sadly no wine) and great local walks nearby, it was easy to fill several days. There were great people staying at our guest house - all (just a little bit) younger than us, they were interesting as well as interested in our experiences of travelling with kids. The most frequently asked question: have they been sick? It was probably the most sociable place we have stayed on our entire trip. it would have been easy to stay there and do very little, but after the success of our first trek, we felt compelled to arrange a second one. We were initially going to do this from McLeod Ganj, our next stop, but as the scenery there isn't as high or as stunning, we decided to head to the Spiti Valley. North of the Kullu Valley, Spiti is an area that falls in the rain shadow of the Himalaya, creating a bleak, high altitude desert. We intended to camp at 2 spots, Chhotta Dara at about 3500m (to acclimatise) and Chandra Dal (another sacred lake for the Hindus) at about 4200m, with walks around the latter approaching 5000m.
This trip involved a much longer drive over the Rohtang Pass. This is where Indians converge by their thousands to experience the delights of the year round snow. Driving through the area at the end of June meant the snow was very sparse and very black, but still the Indians were there skiing, riding yaks, tobogganing...... Despite a 7am start we still had to fight our way through traffic on the narrow, winding mountain roads. My vertigo is obviously still very evident as my legs went wobbly every time I looked down the steep precipices to the valley below. With so many cars and busses overtaking on these hair pin bends, I was surprised we didn't see more vehicles career over the side of the mountain. I'm having serious second thoughts about getting the overnight bus to McLeod Ganj..........it's a really windy road.
The drive down the Rohtang Pass in to the Spiti Valley was spectacular, although I spent quite a large part of it with my eyes shut - either through fear or tiredness. After the greenness of the Kullu valley, the Spiti was desert like. Our camp at Chhota Dara was devoid of trees, shrubs - anything green with the exception of some grass surrounding the abundance of streams and brooks. Our campsite was on the edge of the raging Chandra River. The area was incredible but bleak, Rudyard Kipling once said of the Spiti, 'Surely the gods live here; this is no place for men'. Not the most picturesque campsites but stunningly desolate. After a walk up the steep valley sites to an amazing viewpoint, we returned to a delicious dinner. However, with no wood to collect there was no campfire, and beaten by the cold, we were all tucked up in our sleeping bags by about 8.30pm.
I woke up at about 1am with a stinking headache and feeling really nauseous. Dave was semi-awake too and feeling the same. I wasn't sure if we had eaten something bad or were suffering from altitude sickness. I did manage to get back to sleep but felt like shit in the morning. We were supposed to be packing up camp and driving for another 2 hours to Chandra Dal, where we were going to walk for about 3 hours. I really didn't feel like doing any walking and certainly didn't want to go any higher. Dave was feeling a bit ropey but seemed better than me. The girls were their usual exuberant selves and were enjoying their amazing Himalayan playground. Our guide, Baggy, suggested I slept for a bit and we review the situation by midday. By 11.30am, Dave and I both felt we should head back to Manali - neither of us were feeling great and definitely didn't need a thin-aired trek!
6 hours and a hairy drive back to Manali, we were both glad to be back in the confines of the Veer Guest House. Dave and I were both still suffering, painful wind with incredibly smelly burps and farts. I'm glad I'm travelling with my husband of 10 years rather than a new boyfriend! It seemed like Giardia, normally requiring antibiotic treatment, however a few days of the right homeopathic remedies and we both seemed as right as rain. With frequent toilet trips, we were incredibly grateful not to have spent a second night in a tent.
The Irish were still there when we arrived back at Veer - they had intended to do a trek but didn't quite make it!. Plenty of new arrivals too, including 2 women who had been cycling and motorbiking their way around Tibet, China and India. I could have spent hours listening to their stories. After a blissful few more days there, we dragged ourselves away to McLeod Ganj, home of the Dalai Lama. With his 72nd birthday imminent it's the hottest place to be in Northern India right now. We bade farewell to our new found Irish friends - they were still in Manali, maybe they'll leave tomorrow.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

Date: 24/06/2007 | Author: Dave

We had been promising ourselves a trek in the Himalayas since our journey started last year and promising Ella and Florence a donkey or horse on this trek in case they need it. We book with a company called High Adventure. They chose a three day trek for us and paced it perfectly. We packed a rucksack each and left our bags at Jimmy Johnson's. High Adventure's office is almost next door and our team are busy repacking as the Indian family that were to trek with us have cancelled at the last minute.
We set off and travelled for 45mins in a taxi until a rope across the road stopped us. Time to jump in the 4wd with our porters and guide. 5 minutes later we are stopped by another rope across the road that this time signifies 'Government Vehicles Only'. It takes only ten minutes for a friend of our driver's to appear in a Gov't Vehicle. India works in mysterious ways, but it does work, and this new car takes us to the start of our walk at the head of the Solang Valley.
With our backpacks on the horse we follow the River Beas up a valley that becomes increasingly steep and spectacular. After about an hour and a half we reached a nomad camp and share some hot buffalo milk while we rested. Our girls use the horse for most of the climb from there. It takes another hour and a half to get to our campsite at 3500m. Gabby and I have lagged a little behind the rest and the tents are almost pitched as we arrive at Baker Thach (place for shepherds). We are not walking at our usual pace in this rarified air. We have all been in mountains before but this is bigger and more spectacular. Higher peaks and larger valleys. Welcome to the Himalayas. We are blown away by the beauty of this place. We have two tents but choose to all sleep in one for warmth.
Sometime in the middle of the night I wake with a pressure on my lower abdomen. I reach down and feel something wet. I reach over my head and grab a torch. I have a black and white dog, I have never seen before, curled up on my sleeping bag. 'Get Out' I say, and without argument she returns to the cold. I fully zip the tent.
The second day we walk to Beas Kund, the source of the River Beas. We climbed from our camp up a hill that is actually an old buried glacier face. On the top there has been a very recent subsidence and we get to see a portion of this 300m deep block of glacial ice. It probably hasn't seen daylight for about 80 years as the glacier has now receded many kilometres up the mountain from here. We stare as the sun carves it's way into this super hard ice. Rock and dirt is sliding down into the hole as the ice melts. It is not the safest place my family and I have ever lingered.
From here we descend into the old Beas Kund lake bed. Traverse it's many streams (including a warm one!) uphill all the way over stone and ice till we finally stop at the base of a waterfall, the official source of the River Beas, at about 4200m. I know it's not Everest, but I think this is our family altitude record.
Camping at Baker Thach was ideal. Shalu cooked great food and in the evening we lit a toasty camp fire in-between two large rocks. Dead wood is hard to find here. We Braceys only ever managed to bring back a small handful of sticks whereas Rajul would appear sooner or later with a massive faggot on his back.
On our last morning our horseman appears with impeccable timing and we make our decent back down to the Solang Valley. As we drive back into Manali we are already talking about doing another trek. This was a highlight of our trip without a doubt.

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Hilly Himalayas

Date: 24/06/2007 | Author: Ella

We have been talking about doing this the whole trip. Florence and I have been bugging Mum and Dad about when we will do it and what it will be like...........
We took a car to a big pony camp and saw our horse. We had to change our car because we were on a Government road but weren't in a Government car. When we stopped driving, we met our horse and put our bags on it. Florence was very, very excited because Mum said that if we were tired we could ride on it. The horse's name was Sheeru. Our guide, Shalu, took us up the mountain, every step taking us higher and higher. We had a packed lunch so at one poit we stopped at a Nomad's camp. Nomads are people who are unsettled, for example, we are Nomads while we are away because we are unsettled. It was a 3 hour walk to our campsite but we arrived quite quickly. We all felt a bit tired when we arrived so we flopped down on our sleeping bags and read our books. Florence and I got a bit tired after a while so went for an explore on the rocks. We found loads of caves and cool climbing rocks and we had lots of fun! After our play we took Mum and Dad around the area. As evening came it got much colder. Mum, Dad, Florence and I piled ourselves up with huge blankets and coats. We all said that we wanted a fire so we split up (me with dad, Flo with Mum) and looked for wood. Of course, it was difficult, because we were near the very edge off the snow line, right on the tree line, but we found some wood in the end. Our guide helper, Rajul, took a little walk up the mountain to get wood and he always did a good job. That night we snuggled up in our blankets and sleeping bags waiting for the next day to arrive.
When morning came, Shalu, Rajul and Arun (the other guide helper) were already awake. that day we walked to Beas Kund, which means Beas lake. Beas Kund is a dried up lake and only a little bit of it is left. our guide, Shalu got a bit crazy when it came to taking photos. He would grab Dad's camera and take shots of nothing.
When we came back from Beas Kund we all had a nap. I as usual, didn't sleep a wink but after played hide and seek with dad which was extra fun because of all the boulders to hide behind.
The next day we walked back to where we started our trek, stopping at the nomad's camp on the way. This time we had a different horse called Neelu. He was very friendly.
When we finished our trek we had a picnic by a waterfall and soon we were back in Manali away from the Himalayan chill.

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A Trek In The Himalayas

Date: 24/06/2007 | Author: Florence

After my great birthday came another wild adventure - we were going on a trek high up in the Himalayas. I had been talking about it since Vietnam. There were porters, who are people who carry your bags each day. Our main porter was very nice, he was called Rajul and our main guide was called Shalu. It is much colder here than in Manali because we are higher up and there is less air for the sun to heat up. We slept in a little clearing in small tents. We saw lots of caves and streams while we were there, it made some great hiding places. It was a 3 hour walk to our camp but if we got tired there was a horse walking with us. Our horse was called Sheeru, he was very friendly. Every night it got colder and colder so each night we got a fire going. I scrambled into bed the first night feeling quite snug amongst all the blankets we had bought.
On our 2nd day we had quite a long walk, but not too long, to a dried up lake called Beas Kund. There were still some streams and rivers where the lake had been, but the guide carried us over those. It was a big lake and took quite a while to get over it. We walked over a little bit of snow and sat next to a small mountain and ate our packed lunch. For packed lunch we normally had things like tomato sandwiches and egg, chocolate and potatoes. We were right at the snow line and had lots of opportunities to walk on the snow. After lunch we started heading back to our campsite hoping for a fire that night. Sooner or later we had a nap, after all that walking - Mummy and I had the longest ;0)! After our long nap we were wide awake so Ella, me and Daddy had the longest game of hide and seek ever! We camouflaged amongst all the rocks and hid in small caves. At last, after all that running - bed time! I crawled in to those sleeping bags waiting for tomorrow to go back to Manali.
'Morning, breakfast', Shalu said waking me up. Shalu and Rajul cooked porridge for us, my favourite, it was very nice (but a bit runny). We had a different horse for the walk back, he was called Neelu. We really wanted a black horse but Neelu was friendly too! Finally, we started heading back to Manali escaping from the cold Himalayas!

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Himalayan Trek

Date: 24/06/2007 | Author: Gabby

One of the things we have discussed with the girls since the start of this trip is trekking in the Himalayas with a donkey. We had wanted to trek in Nepal or Tibet, but either the season wasn't right or we haven't had the time. Manali is one of the best places in northern India to base yourself for short treks so it was here we booked one for 2 nights. True to our word we booked a donkey, so if Ella or Florence got tired they could ride rather than walk.
A short drive from Manali to the Solang Valley took us to the start of our Beas Kund trek (the lake that is the source of the Beas river). Our walk was taking us to altitudes close to 4000m - altitude sickness can be a problem at these heights so I was hoping we'd all be OK. We were met by 3 porters as well as our guide, Shalu, his assitant, Arun and a rather ropey looking horse, Sheeru.
Of course the girls wanted to ride Sheeru straight away but we decided he should carry their bags and they should walk, at least for a bit. The valley was amazing with enormous snow clad peaks and hanging glaciers in the distance. We stopped en route at a Nomads camp. The girls shared their packed lunches with the kids there and we were all given up cup of warm buffalo milk, rich with nutrients. Even with a huge dollop of honey it tasted disgusting.
At this point the girls jumped on to Sheeru - no helmets, no safety talk - but this is India. The horse might have looked ropey but he was like a ballerina negotiating the rocky terrain and went so quickly that Dave and I had to speed along behind him to keep up. After about 10 minutes we were knackered & breathless - the thin air taking it's toll on our lungs. The girls were energetic, giggly and thoroughly enjoying their mountain ride.
After about 3 hours of walking, we eventually arrived at our campsite, Baker Thach (place for shepherds), about 10 minutes behind our guides and porters. The tents were already up and a pot of water boiling ready for chai. We enjoy camping a lot at home, but I really really like this sort of camping! It was an amazing place to spend 2 nights with streams, rocks, caves and soaring mountains surrounding us. Once the camp was completely assembled, 2 of the porters and horse, Sheeru, headed back to base camp to leave us in the elements, with Shalu, Arun and one porter, Rajul. While Bracey family explored the area, read, drank hot chocolate or dozed in our tents, Shalu cooked soup and made dinner, Arun did all the washing up and Rajul collected huge bundles of firewood. I really love this sort of camping! Dave and I loved the food - the girls only liked the chapattis and that was pretty much all they ate for 3 days. We were all exhausted by 8.30 and, dragging ourselves away from a roaring fire, all bundled in one tent rather than the 2 we had been given - it was freezing so we wanted all the warmth we could get!
We all had a blissful night's sleep (apart from Dave's dog incident......) and woke up early for the walk to Beas Kund. There were a few other groups walking in the valley - the mountain border patrol amongst them. At times our site felt like a mountain chai stall, but it was great playing host to the other trekkers. We walked over the Beas pass to Beas kund, a sacred lake for hindis, stopping to take in our surroundings and eat our packed lunch. After the exhausting walk back we all dozed, read, drank hot chocolate etc while Shalu etc cooked dinner etc...........great camping!
By 8.30 on our final day, the horseman arrived with a new horse, a not as ropey looking, Neelu. It was a much quicker walk back and. of course, the girls argued for a lot of the way about whose turn it was to go on the horse and who had been riding the longest. They didn't want to share on the way back down because it was far too uncomfortable on the way up.
It was an amazing 3 days - one of the highlights of the past 7 months for me - for all of us I think. I can't quite believe that in 3 weeks time we are going to be at home camping in a field in Norfolk........

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Getting to Manali

Date: 21/06/2007 | Author: Dave

Gabby found Nature Notes on Trip Advisor and everything pointed to it being the best place for Florence's birthday. Cabins right next to the River Beas in the beautiful Kullu Valley. The web site and Gabby's conversation with Amit sold it to us and we paid for our five days in cash as we left Rishikesh to secure the last two cabins. Nature Notes sounded like an Indian version of Centre Parcs with all inclusive facilities and "five star nature". At 6400 rupees per day it will easily be the most expensive place we stay at in India on this trip. Florence is a bit sad that she won't be seeing any friends for her birthday, so we want to make it as special as we can.
It has been a gruelling journey from Shimla and we arrive at Nature Notes in time for a late lunch. I am a little confused and not sure if we are in the right place as we get out of the car. The location is nice but we can see at a glance that we have arrived at something less than we were expecting. You know that sinking feeling. Owner in your face asking what you think of the place. "Great location" is all I can say. Gabby's only words to me are "F***ing hideous". I try to make sure the kids can't see her crying but Ella spots it. It had meant a lot to her to get this right for Florence and it is looking very wrong. We knew the rooms would be small but they are tiny, dirty and characterless. The promised facilities do actually exist. The children's play area is a small plastic slide and the pool is a direct feed from the river. Only members of the Bondi Icebergers swim in water this temperature. They seem to have an easy answer for any questions we have about their establishment. We are majorly disappointed and although the place grows on us a trip up to Manali on day three seals our destiny.
We find Jimmy Johnson's Lodge, the eighty year old building in the grounds of Johnson's Cafe. We look at a space with two large bedrooms (one with a fireplace), two bathrooms, a kitchen and a living space opening onto a garden. Very neat and oozing with charm, all for 4400 rupees per night. Still expensive by local standards but worth every rupee. For Gabby and I the choice is clear but we do the right thing and let Florence chose where she would like to spend her birthday.
She ponders this over lunch and excellent chocolate cake at Johnson's Cafe.
The following morning we pack our bags and check out of Nature Notes. I receive a bill for all of our non-veg food but in a conversation with U.S Chawla (Amit's dad and onsite boss) he not only tears up this bill but gives me 6400 rupees in cash. We are very happy to be leaving and this partial refund takes the edge off our disappointment. U. S. Chawla keeps repeating "so our account is closed, yes?" I agreed, so true to my word I will not be going back to Trip Advisor to leave a review. He did not have to give us anything. Our cottage at Johnson's is fantastic for three days and Florence has a wonderful birthday. They made her a superb chocolate cake.
We were invited that night to the hotel of a very nice Sikh family from Delhi. They were aghast at our Indian trials and tribulations so far and to my surprise had U.S.Chawla's phone number on their mobile. For a moment there was a fervency to make a call! An interesting evening with a very nice Sikh family. These encounters with Sikh's are becoming a welcome and quite regular occurrence for us.
Our tide of bad luck has turned in India and we are literally headed for the hills. The Himalayas beckon.

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Indian Birthday

Date: 21/06/2007 | Author: Ella

Florence and I were really excited about Florence's birthday. From what Mum had been telling us we were going to stay in a really nice place called Nature Notes with a kids pool, play area, flying fox etc. It was a long journey to get there so we were really tired. When we arrived, it was no way up to our expectations, the kids 'playground' had a plastic slide and a few hammocks - the flying fox wasn't a proper one. It was a bit dull. The garden outside our tiny cottages was quite big, but there was not much to do. Nature Notes is right next to the Beas river which is freezing like the Ganges , We went rafting in it once, our rafting trip was very short but a lot of fun! I wanted to do it again.
Nature Notes is a 45 minute drive from Manali so one day we ordered a car and drove there. We had lunch at a hotel called Jimmy Johnson's Lodge. It was quite expensive but very very good. While we were there we looked at a room because we were already thinking about leaving Nature Notes. The room was lovely, it had it's own kitchen, dining room, living room and had 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms!
On our car ride back to Nature Notes I was talking about Jimmy Johnson's all the way and even thought we should spend Florence's birthday there. But when I consulted Florence, she wasn't sure. After thinking for a while, Florence said that she would actually like to stay there. Mum and Dad agreed because if we stayed at Nature Notes any longer we would get bored. I was so glad when we arrived at Jimmy Johnson's and really happy as I scrambled into our soft comfy beds with the first proper duvet for ages.
Finally, Florence's birthday arrived and I was really impatient. I knew a bit about what was going to happen but Mum and Dad did all the decorating. Mum had bought this ridiculous toy dog that was inside a fluffy cake and if you squeezed his hand he would sing 'happy birthday' over and over again
Mum cooked scrambled eggs and beans on toast, in our kitchen, for birthday breakfast. We opened presents and played games. When lunch time came, Florence and I dressed up in the Indian dresses that Florence had for her birthday and we had a lovely lunch. After lunch we ate a big chocolate cake - I was the best cake I had ever had, and it was covered in chocolate sauce. We shared it with the other people in the cafe because it was so big.
We also went for a wander in Manali. Mum told everyone it was Florence's birthday. After our explore we clambered into a rickshaw and drove to Vashisht, a town just a 10 minute drive from Manali. Mum and Dad had promised Florence and I an ankle bracelet so we stopped in a shop and looked at them. Mum told the man in the shop it was Florence's birthday and he gave Florence an Indian yoga bell as a present!
We had another day in Manali before we had to leave my beloved Jimmy Johnson's Lodge. I'm definitely much happier now!

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Happy Birthday To Me!

Date: 21/06/2007 | Author: Florence

We arrived at Nature Notes agreeing to spend my birthday there! There was a very nice area for playing in. There we lots of hammocks near the Beas, which is a very cold river like the Ganges, flowing past our resort. Beside the Beas is a little, freezing swimming pool. Ella and I dared each other to swim in it - bit it didn't look very nice!!!!!!!!! I loved playing on the lawn, there were so many fun things to do at Nature Notes and I was glad I was spending my birthday there. While we were there we went white water rafting - it was dangerous and much more urgent than last time we went (in Laos)! It was a short ride, Ella wanted to do it again - but I found it a bit scary! Next I learnt how to play badminton, Dad says I'm really good but I'm still learning.
One day we drove for 45 minutes to Manali. It's crazy there and sometimes it gets really annoying when people come over and squeeze your arms. In Manali we looked at a few hotels. The first one we saw had a lovely big, cosy (remember it's cold up here) cottage. Ella absolutely loved the cottage - I did too. We had lunch at Johnson's cafe (the hotel cafe) and everyone said I should be the one to decide which hotel I was going to have my birthday in! Everyone tried to persuade me to have my birthday at Johnson's Lodge. At first I wasn't sure but then I thought that I would meet lots more people there - so I decided I definitely wanted it at Johnson's!
The next day we moved out of Nature Notes - we were staying in Johnson's one day before my birthday and one day after. Ella and I wanted to stay longer, but Mum said it's just toooooooo expensive (ggrrrrrrr!).
Finally, my birthday came - I woke up quite surprised seeing birthday balloons! For my birthday, I had 4 Indian dresses, loads of bindis and a few clothes. After breakfast we went to Vashisht. I kind man owning a shop gave me a bell he was selling as a present! We also bought some ankle bracelets (Ella has already lost hers!). We went to the tailor so he could put some elastic in my Indian dresses. We didn't do too much in Vashisht so soon we headed back to Johnson's, time for cake!!!!!! The cake was a bit too big so we shared it with other people in the restaurant, including a 2 year old girl from Russia, called Sonia.
I had a fab birthday but it would have been much better with my friends here! HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!!!!

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The Kullu Valley and Florence's Birthday

Date: 21/06/2007 | Author: Gabby

Our expectations for Nature Notes were very high. Their website proudly listed the free facilities they offered and I'd had several conversations with Amit, the owner. He'd said that the huts were basic and small which meant we either had to put the girls in a tent outside our hut or get them their own hut. As we planned to spend 5 days there, one of those days being Florence's birthday, we opted for the additional hut. Each hut was 3200 Rps (about 40) - this included breakfast as well as lunch and/or dinner, as well, of course, as the abundant facilities. We are not supposed to be spending this much money on accommodation in India, but as it was Florence's birthday we decided to splash out.
When we pulled up to the 'resort', situated in the Kullu valley about 25km before Manali, I cried! The 7 acre site on the edge of the Beas river is a lovely location - with beautiful views of the snow capped Himalayas in the distance but the place itself wasn't at all as I imagined it. The internet is a great resource for travelling in the 21st Century but the problem is that things often look better online than they really are. This is so true of Nature Notes. I can't really describe exactly what was wrong but nothing was quite right. In my mind I thought we might be going to an Indian version of Centre Parcs, but the facilities just didn't live up to scratch: a trampoline that didn't bounce; badminton facilities but with only 2 racquets and one broken shuttle cock; a kids 'pool' with ice cold water fed from the River Beas; an unsafe looking rope bridge and flying fox there was no way I'd let the kids go on! There were lovely touches, waiters brought your food out to you in the gardens and there was a big campfire lit every night. We met some really interesting Indian familes and while the kids loved it, Dave and I just weren't happy. This just wasn't where I wanted to be. Anywhere other than India - I even suggested to Dave that we just went home. India was not proving to be what I thought it would be!
We did some white water rafting while we were there, which was fun, but with little around to see, by day 2 we decided to go and spend the day in Manali to check it out. We saw some great potential accommodation there - all a lot cheaper than we were paying at Nature Notes. We really liked the town - it had a mix of Indian and Foreign tourists (peak season here) but wasn't as crazy as Rishikesh. We found an available 2 bedroom cottage, with it's own garden and kitchen - adjoining Johnson's Cafe, one of Manali's best restaurants. Dave and I needed no persuasion that we should move from Nature Notes the next day and Ella was right with us. Birthday girl, who had the ultimate say, wasn't sure..........I think she enjoyed knowing it was down to her and she wanted us all to wait as long as possible for her final say. Of course, I tried not to influence her decision in any way, but we had heard that Johnson's made the best chocolate cake in Manali - so we decided to put that to the birthday cake test. It was absolutely delicious and left Florence in no doubt where she should spend her birthday.
We moved out of Nature Notes the next day, 2 days earlier than planned. In fairness to them, they did refund us most of the money we would have lost by moving out early - which made us leave there with a smile.
Manali was great, our cottage was lovely, spacious and had an open fire we burnt every night. The weather was perfect, warm sunny days and cool nights. Florence had a great birthday - despite missing her friends. The chocolate cake was superb - the best I've ever had in India.
With a trek in the Himalayas planned, we are sure the best is yet to come. Things have improved, we've adapted to Indian ways and finally I'm loving it here!

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India please be good to us

Date: 15/06/2007 | Author: Dave

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the local time in Delhi is 9:30 p.m. and the temperature is 44 degrees Celsius." So glad to be on this Jet Airways flight. They really helped us out.
We settle into the 'Master Paying Guest House' quite late and have a 7am train to catch in the morning. The idea is to head to Rishikesh early and escape the Delhi heat. We already know that it is no cooler in Rishikesh but it is at the start of the Himalayan foothills so we are headed in the right direction. Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of the heat but dirty, dusty, smelly humid heat is not my cup of tea. Speaking of tea, we have chosen to spend time in the holy town of Rishikesh. Yoga and dipping a toe in the Ganges, yes, alcohol a definite no. Booze is not available and that can only be good for us. Anyway I am getting ahead of myself.
Back at Delhi train station and I am being 'helped' to the ticket confirmation office. We haven't managed to print out our e-ticket and the 'helpful man sitting across the desk from me under the almost official looking 'Govt Tourist Office' sign is repeatedly connecting with an automated message on his speaker phone. "Computer down" he says. In-between phone calls he is giving me quotes on cars to Rishikesh and beyond. US$1300 for one month. Very small car. Time is ticking by and that bloody computer is still down. I grab my stuff and run for it. "We will have to take our chances" I say as I run out the door and back to my family. There are no flies on me. I have allowed us 15 minutes to get to our train, totally unaware that platform 12 is a 12 minute sprint from where the girls are standing with all our bags.
That car sure would have come in handy if I had been delayed much longer.
This was not too stressful and we settled into a comfortable train journey to Haridwar. Haridwar train station was boiling hot and our car was not there to pick us up, even one hour later. It took that long to arrange a car. This area is full of pilgrims at the moment.
So started five days that made us feel like calling off the rest of our trip and going home.
Getting to our hotel in Rishikesh was a physical and mental endurance test. We dragged our bags for a kilometre through the crowds and cows after having to leave our taxi on the wrong side of the river. I left Gabby and the girls while I pressed on with two bags up about 60 steep steps to where I could finally get a rickshaw to our accommodation. Peasants Cottage did not have our booking but luckily a room was available. We stayed there in the High Bank area of Rishikesh for three nights, venturing down into the town or wandering along the ghats watching the pilgrims bathe in the Ganges and joining in the arti at sunset. As Ella sent her burning offering (puja) down this most holy of rivers she took a wrong step in this brown water and disappeared up to her neck.
It was over 40 degrees when we arrived in Rishikesh but some monsoon rains took the temperature way down.
High Bank is a backpacker enclave. Our neighbour at Peasants Cottage, Ashlie, recommended a place further up the Ganges called the Glasshouse. Peasants Cottage booked two nights there for us but as we were leaving the next day mentioned that the booking was only 99% confirmed. Our bags were already in the car so 99% sounded good odds at that point.
It is easy to guess what happened next. An hour and a half later we arrived back at Peasants Cottage. Gabby is still holding the bag of sick (flo's) as we demand the return of 1000 rupees for the taxi and our old room back for the night. The boss here, Rajeev, has been booking everything for us this side of Delhi and has been responsible for 99% of our grief so far. No one even hints at an apology and Rajeev, cleverly, never introduces himself.
We organise our own car to take us to Manali. It is a 9hr drive to Shimla, a high hill station that must have seen better days. Our hotel, 'Little Inn', is in the process of being brought up to international standards by a very patient Kiwi. He has a long way to go and we were royally overcharged for our room. A disappointment but all our fault. Our driver has stayed with us and early the next morning speeds off down the windy mountain roads toward Manali. Florence seems to have received the mantle of car-sick daughter from Ella, who now handles car journeys very well. There is nothing like the sound of someone being sick in your car to slow you down a bit around those tight curves.
After seven hours in the car we arrive at our destination for the next five days, 'Nature Notes' on the River Beas, just 25km short of Manali. We have high expectations as this is the place we have chosen to spend Florence's 7th birthday in 4 days time.

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India at Last

Date: 15/06/2007 | Author: Ella

We arrived in Delhi at 9.30 at night - it was 44 degrees. We stayed at the Master Paying Guest House. I really really wanted a cold shower but the water tank was on the roof in direct sunlight so I had no chance of cooling down. Luckily, we had an air conditioned room but it broke in the middle of the night so we had to boil in our sleep.
We woke up quite early and went to the train station. It was really busy and at one point a man told Dad that he needed to do something about our tickets. It didn't take us long to realise that the man who had taken dad away was trying to make us miss our train. When Dad finally came back we had to sprint to our platform.
We all felt a bit happier as we climbed in to our air conditioned train. Florence and I (as usual) drew and read.
When we got to Haridwar we felt cooler than when we were in Delhi because it is further north. We waited a while for the car that was supposed to pick us up. We were still waiting after an hour. Florence and I were getting bored and hot so Mum eventually found another car to drive us. A man said the car was big and had AC but when it arrived it was smaller than we expected and had no air conditioning! We were disappointed but accepted it because we needed to leave.
Mum didn't always trust the driver so she kept saying 'Rishikesh, are you sure this is the right way?' but the man didn't speak English very well so he didn't reply.
At one point I fell asleep and was woken by Mum saying 'He's taken us the wrong way - wake up'. When I woke up properly we lugged our bags out of the car and pulled them across to where we wanted to go. We crossed a pedestrian bridge and took another short taxi drive up to our hotel. Our hotel was called Peasants Cottage.
Our arrival in India (as you have probably guessed) was not a very welcoming one but it was good after coming to Rishikesh.
We took a rickshaw (an Indian version of a tuk tuk) to town. When we got there we saw loads of cows, they were just running around loose. Cows are worshipped here though so people don't get irritated if one walks through your picnic! After exploring Rishikesh we went to walk by the river Ganges. The Ganges is a holy river running through India, it comes from the Himalayas so is really cold. Some ladies offered us some little baskets with flowers and incense sticks for us to make a puja (offering or prayer). We lit them and set them off down the rapids in the Ganges. At one point I was exploring the steps leading down to the Ganges (ghats) and slipped and fell in the river. Obviously I didn't stay in long because it was freezing!
Lots of people come to Rishikesh to do yoga and we did it as well. Rishikesh is a busy, crazy town in a funny way. After Rishikesh we headed to Manali. It was a 2 day drive so we stopped in a town called Shimla, in a guest house called Little Inn. Little Inn was horrible.
Wow, what a mad way to arrive in India!

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A New Country - India

Date: 15/06/2007 | Author: Florence

We have travelled...........
from London to Thailand to Australia, then to New Zealand, back to Australia for a week then Asia. In Asia we went to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I was always really excited about going to India and now I am here.............
We arrived in Delhi, it was very hot compared to Vietnam. A very nice, tall man met us at the airport. He led us to his car, thankfully it was air conditioned. At our guest house we slept in a small room and just as we were about to fall asleep the air conditioning broke...............ggrrrrrrrrrrrrr! The overhead fan was just swishing around hot air. Early the next morning we got the train to Rishikesh. It was about 4 hours till we got to Haridwar. When we got off the train our taxi we had booked wasn't there. After a while we found a car to take us to Rishikesh but, unfortunately, the driver took us to the wrong side of the river. So we had to drag our bags across the footbridge, through cows, motorbikes and pilgrims. It was very hard. At one point one of the bags got hooked on to a motorbike and Daddy got pulled backward with our bags.
In Rishikesh we stayed at Peasants Cottage. There was a little girl called Yogda who lived there - we played with her a lot. We did lots of yoga in Rishikesh. After Rishikesh, Ashlie, who was staying in our guest house recommended the Glass House. The next day we waved goodbye to Yogda and our taxi driver took us there (not the taxi driver who took is to the wrong side of Rishikesh, of course!). But we had to come straight back because the Glass House had no rooms.
So the next day we drove to Manali. It was a TWO DAY DRIVE along wiggly, windy roads. We stopped in Shimla for one night and stayed at Little Inn - Little Inn wasn't very nice.
On the second day I was sick about 4 times but I was really excited about getting to Nature Notes because that is where I am having my birthday!

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Welcome to India

Date: 15/06/2007 | Author: Gabby

Our trip so far has been near perfect. A few dodgy accommodations we have stayed in and a few places we didn't like but generally the whole trip has been bloody amazing! The biggest pain in the arse was trying to change the date of our flights from Bangkok to Delhi, but that problem was due to having paper tickets as well as incompetence on the part of the Virgin Airlines. Eventually that was resolved but now we are in India, things have started to really go wrong................our first week went like this:
We arrive at Indira Ghandi Airport in Delhi at 9.30pm and the outside temperature is 44 degrees Celsius. Our guest house in Delhi (recommended by Alastair Sawday) is lovely but unfortunately the air conditioning breaks an hour after we check in to our room. The overhead fan just swirls 40 degree heat around the room - it is so hot, I cannot sleep. We get up at 5.15am to get the 7am Shatabdi Express train to Haridwar. This had been booked by a travel agent but we only had confirmation on email. As a result we nearly miss the train. We arrive in Haridwar 4 hours later, where a car had been booked to meet us and take us to our guest house in Rishikesh. There is no car but there are thousands of people at the train station. On the Ganges, Haridwar is one of India's most important holy towns and it is the middle of pilgrimage season - so it's busy. After about half an hour I manage to find a man who says he could get us an AC car to Rishikesh (another holy town). Twenty minutes later a non AC car with plastic seats arrives - it's midday and about 40 degrees. The car takes us to Rishikesh but to an area the wrong side of the Ganges from our guest house. To get to the right side would involve another 45 minute drive in a sweaty car. We have already been in the car for well over an hour and have had enough, so decide to take our own bags across the pedestrian bridge to the right side of the river. We fight our way through beggars, sadhus, hindis, sikhs, swamis, cows, travellers and motorbikes. Eventually, tired, sweaty, hot and very bothered we get to our pre-booked accommodation to find there is no booking. Fortunately they have a room, a bit dark and dingy but the 4 of us can squeeze in there. At this point I could murder an ice cold beer, but as this is a holy town there is no alcohol allowed so I settle for a ginger, lemon and honey tea. Everything goes OK for the next couple of days. We are staying in High Bank, a traveller enclave on the hill above Rishikesh. I am glad we are away from the madness of the town - Rishikesh is a crazy, busy, dirty town and a head first introduction to Northern India. The times we do venture there the kids get grabbed, pinched, squeezed, photographed, surrounded, hounded - they always manage a smile but they find it a bit annoying. I keep sane by doing yoga every day (I try 2 different teachers, one is a charlatan but the other is great) and having various parts of my body massaged. We like High Bank and meet some lovely people there. A fellow Londoner, Ashlie, recommends the Glasshouse to us - it's on a beach further up the Ganges, where the river is much cleaner (Rishikesh's Ganges is really dirty). Our guest house, Peasants Cottage books us a room for the following day for 2 nights.
The following day, as we are about to pull away, Peasant's Cottage manager tells us that the booking is not 100% confirmed but if the Glasshouse is full there is another great accommodation (probably owned by her company) on the way there. We drive for 45 minutes to find the Glasshouse is fully booked by one big party and has been for some time. We decide to go back to Rishikesh, stay there for one night and start our journey to Manali (our next destination) a day early. Florence throws up on the way back - we have, unnecessarily, spent the best part of the day in a car. I could murder a beer. I missed yoga so am feeling stressed. When we arrive back, we get no apology from anyone at Peasant's Cottage but after me throwing a hissy fit they refund us the money we spent on the taxi.
We have no other accommodation booked so I spend the afternoon online looking for somewhere in Shimla (a 10 hour drive from Rishikesh and half way to Manali) as well as Manali. All Shimla accommodation is expensive or looks pretty shit. Eventually we opt for the Little Inn, which describes itself as 'exotic'. I have emailed loads of places in Manali but no-one has got back to me, apart from Nature Notes, a 'resort' on the River Beas about 25km before Manali. As it is Florence's birthday in a few days I need to make sure we are staying somewhere she will enjoy. On their website, Nature Notes sounds ideal, with great kids facilities and I have some very friendly emails and phone conversations from the director of the company, Amit. He offers to throw a party for Florence when I tell him it's her birthday in a few days. We need to make a decision as I am told they only have 2 rooms available for the 18 and 19 June. The place isn't cheap but I am positive the kids will enjoy it. A quick conflab with Dave and we decide to book it for 5 nights - but we need to pay everything upfront.
Early the next day we leave for Shimla. Our car is good (and air conditioned), the driver lovely. It's a long drive but the kids cope well. Florence manages to sleep for a bit, Ella doesn't (she never does) but no one throws up and we eventually arrive in Shimla at about 6.30pm. We have trouble finding our hotel and when we do we find it's a shit hole. The included dinner is disgusting and they don't sell alcohol! We retreat to the swankier hotel up the road where I have my first drink for a week. The constant headache I have had since we arrived in India goes. Does this mean I am an alcoholic?
We sleep well, get up early the next morning, pass on the included hotel breakfast and leave for Manali (an 8 hour drive) at 7.30am. This drive isn't as successful as Florence is sick about 4 times. After all this, I just hope that the Nature Notes Resort lives up to my expectations............

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