Living in Manali, visiting all kinds of sanctuaries and temples, passing Rohtang Pass and hitchhiking with a Gypsy King



Temple in Bajora


We get up in the morning, start hitchhiking and a milk delivery truck takes us to Bajora. We go to see an old Shiva temple (8-th century) and finally we sit to eat normal food – it is called parantha (fried pancake) with yoghurt and eggs.

The next car takes us to Manali (50 km.) This is the most touristic place in all of Himachal Pradesh. All people from India eсcape here from the heat down. The traffic jams are terrible and it takes hours to get downtown. Our driver leaves us there and we are flabbergasted by the crowds, especially after our life into the wild these days. We see a tourist information center at some point and decide to enter out of curiosity. There we see a description of the trek we made. It results we had walked 95 km. and reached an altitude of 4500 m. at the lake. And all this undernourished – at least we had cleared out all the toxins from our bodies.

We leave our rucksacks at a luxury hotel for the personal to watch them (we started doing this occasionally and it works). We start going around Manali looking for a place to sleep but all the forests have fences and are used as parks and have entrance fees. There are thousands of hotels and we can’t find a place for our tent. In the mean time we enter two very interesting temples – one is called Hadimba Devi Temple and the other is devoted to some warrior-god. At the end we even reach the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) but in here they don’t allow foreigners to sleep inside.


Hadimba Devi Тemple 

It is getting dark already when we enter a Tibetan Monastery – there are all kinds of temples in Manali. We are just wondering where to go because we have to stay in Manali since tomorrow we have many things to do (mainly Internet and laundering) when we see an Italian guy. He tells us to go to the old city because we can maybe enter there easily. We take our rucksacks and after 2 km. walking we find an entrance in the forest that is not guarded and we slip inside immediately.


Local woman


We wake up and leave again our rucksacks in a hotel. Then we go to visit the temple of God Manu. There are many very beautiful big houses around the temple which in itself is also very interesting.


House in Manali

We continue walking and after passing by the last house we see a traditional place for laundering which is a concave rock and a trickle of water. We have taken our laundry that smells like fire and we start washing them immediately. Then we put a rope and hand them out. While waiting we decide to climb some more. After a while we find a pipe with spring water that has perfect temperature. Finally a shower after a week in the mountains! The rivers we passed by during our trek were all freezing cold and very turbulent and one could only wash a little bit so this pipe comes as a blessing from the gods. In the afternoon we find an Internet café and we start chatting with friends and relatives.


The place to do the laundry

The city is quite expensive compared to other parts of India so we spend a fortune. But we must stay another day or two to find all we have to do and after this we can head to Ladakh – the road is open now. In the evening we gather our already dry and clean clothes and we go to sleep at our place in the forest.


It strikes us that people usually gather only at certain spots and if you move just a few blocks away there is nobody. The foreigners (or as the two Bulgarian girls we met call them “whities”) also have their spots – usually a little further from the central part at some calm neighborhood. There are many hippies form Israel as was the case in Dharamsala.

In almost every café one can hear trance music and there are many signs in Hebrew. The difference with Dharamsala is that here we don’t see millions of announcements for yoga courses, meditation classes and spiritual gatherings. But this week alone there will be two trance parties. We deliberately avoided passing through Parvati Valley (which is notorious with its hashish production) because we knew it was overcrowded.


Old Manali

Today we continue sightseeing in Manali. We visit two government shops for Tibetan jewelery, wool shawls and blankets. All the shawls were made of pashmina wool – when I see those I realize that all the pashmina products I had seen before were fake. The real pashmina wool is quite extraordinary. In most of the shops all the products that are presumably made of yak wool are also fake. Al in all we gathered a lot of information about the different type of wool and we learned how to distinguish real wool and precious stones.


Today we finish l we have to do and we spend the day at an Internet café. I noticed that when one stays more than 2-3 days at a certain place the magical adventures stop and one starts living ordinary everyday life with all it little habits.

Nothing out of the ordinary happened today except that two calves attacked our rucksacks in the morning and a guy spent two hours with us teaching us how to distinguish different kinds of precious stones.


The calf attacks our rucksack

We moved our bivouac near the old city next to the “shower-pipe” and now we can stay in bed later in the morning without worrying that someone would come to bother us and ask us to leave. The only problem is that the food here is expensive and one feels more like in Israel than in India. Anyway shortly we will continue climbing the mountains and we are happy.


The bivouac


Our last day in Manali. We decide to rest today and do absolutely nothing. We spend the whole day next to the river, under the sun. This is actually the first day in months that we don’t travel, hike, hitchhike, walk, sit in Internet cafe or do anything alike. We just lie on the grass and gather energy for the raw mountains and plateaus of Ladakh.


Taking goodbye with the calf


We leave Manali today. We thought initially that we would just pass the city by but we stayed for 5 days. We say goodbye to our friends the calves that came to pasture near our tent every day and filled with joy and enthusiasm we leave.

We decide to not go to the central part of the city in order not to enter the traffic jams but it turns out we have to walk 4 km. to reach the bridge which connects to the main road. We pass through a small village with old houses and no tourists and we reach the main road.


House on the road

We start hitchhiking at 13:30 o’clock and the jeep that takes us brings us to the famous Salang Valley. The next car leaves us in the last village before Rohtang Pass. We still heve 40 km. left to reach the first pass above 4000 m. where we heard there is a Buddhist village with an old temple where we want to stay for the night. But our plans weren’t meant to succeed.


First passes in sight

First of all Rohtang Pass is the number one attraction for the Indian people – one must not forget that most of the Indians haven’t seen snow in their lives and there is plenty of it at the pass. That is why there are thousands of cars, motorbikes and jeeps that go there every day. All vehicles must obtain permit to enter and there is a limit per day (I think it is around 1000). Old cars are not allowed at all in order to preserve the ecological balance. And like this every morning hundreds of cars full of people climb and they go back down in the afternoon.


A crow eating tourist vomit

Around 14:30 o’clock we start hitchhiking at the exit of the last village. Everybody are going down and there is a very long queue. There are a few cars going up but anyway full of people. A limited number of empty cars pass by us but none of them stops. They stop letting cars go up at around 16:00 o’clock. Around 17:30 all the cars came down and there was no traffic in any direction.


Local women

We are hitchhiking next to a small restaurant and many motor bikers come here to drink hot tea. Some of them tell us that the pass is 40 km. away but the road is quite bad and one needs around three hours to reach it. Obviously we will not reach the pass today as we planned and on top of it the weather is cool and it started raining. Someone tells us that there in the afternoon there will be truck going up so we decide to wait for them and hitchhike at night. It looks like this is our only chance. There are almost no tourist going past the pass so probably hitchhiking will be slow.

So we start waiting, ask for some boiling water from the restaurant and prepare some instant noodles. Time is passing by and there is no sign of any trucks. It gets dark. There are many trucks in the opposite direction and not one in ours. We wait for six hours in total and around 21:30 some local drunks who stay all this time at the restaurant and watch us, come and tells in broken English that none goes up the pass in the evening and if we want to reach the pass we have to try again in the morning. They invite us to sleep in the rental ski wardrobe but we refuse because we dislike the fact that they watched us sitting on the road for hours and not telling us that there won’t be more vehicles.

By the way there are many ski wardrobes like this one after Manali. The equipment they offer looks like form the sixties. We wonder if this equipment was left by the British when they left India : )

We start looking for a place to sleep and it’s still raining. We don’t see any places that are flat enough. Suddenly a drunken police officer comest to us and offers us to sleep at his house which is not far away. We agree immediately. There are 5-6 people sleeping inside and the make room for us. They are really nice people and give us some rice and lentils to eat.


Sleeping at the policemen’s hut


We wake up at 5:00 in the morning and we start preparing ourselves at a lightning speed in order not to miss the departure of the trucks. After three minutes on of the trucks stops. We are overjoyed when the driver tells us he will take us to the villages after the pass. But shortly our high spirit was down. After not more than 10 km. of driving we stop together with 5-6 more trucks and the driver tells us that he will leave again at around 10 a.m. That means we have to wait another four hours. I think that if we left now we would pass the pass (pun intended) on foot. The cars are passing by but only in the opposite direction. There were no other trucks. Then we decide to go to sleep as all the drivers did


The truck drivers park to sleep

We wake up at around 9:30 and have breakfast. We start waiting impatiently for the drivers to wake up. It is now 11:30 and still everybody sleeps. I started getting frustrated because in just two hours the cars will start descending and we will not have any chance to pass them by at this narrow road. A driver of another truck tells us that he will leave at 12:00 p.m. but when he starts preparing lunch we get suspicious. I think he didn’t understand me and responded at random.

We ask again and finally they tell us they will be off at 5 p.m. This drives us nuts because we have missed all the potential cars with no food or water on us. We woke up at 5 a.m. and is 12 p.m.

We start hitchhiking a little depressed and we see a biker coming from Pais Vasco, Spain. He tells us he travels 30-40 km. per day and this calmed us a little bit.


The Spanish guy from Pais Vasco

Just five minutes later a passing by jeep stops next us. We ask them where are they going and he and says Leh. The people inside are not very enthusiastic that we will travel with them but we convince them to take us at least to Sisu – that is 35 km. after the pass. When we get in the car it turns out our companions are quite interesting. The driver was greasy and the only one who was sober. Next to him was The Boss – a real Gypsy Baron with white pants and totally drunk. At the back there are two dwarfs who are drunk too. They are all drinking some low quality rum and are mixing it with water.

The Baron was drinking the alcohol as it were juice. They were smoking joints and chewing some special mixture – I think it is called betel or something – it colors your saliva in red. Occasionally the dwarfs prepare boiled potatoes with masala for the Baron. They were totally out of space and are giggling all the time. Nobody speaks English except the driver who knows just a few words. They say they go to Leh at a business trip.


Traffic jam at the pass

The road is winding up and it takes us three hours to reach the pass. The last 2-3 km. there is a terrible traffic jam. The road here is very bad now and the temperatures fall to 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit). The forest is long gone and there is quite a lot snow on the slopes. We see hundreds of tourist running like crazy in the snow. There are motor sleighs, horses, yaks and all kinds of similar distortions as well as tent-shops that offer light drinks and sandwiches. Some women are only wearing saris and sandals and it is freezing cold. On top of it is raining and misty. Many people are rolling in the snow wearing rented ski pants and leopard jackets. It is a strange sight this Rohtang pass.


Indian tourists enjoy the snow

After the pass we start going down towards the valley of Chandra River, situated in the most northern part of the state Himachal Pradesh, which is called Lahaul. Here spring is just coming. There are not much cars and tourists and the people we see have Asian features and their cultures resembles those of Tibet. Most of the tourists just pass by Leh but we intend to stay there at least 2-3 days. The people living here are locked between the two passes for more than half a year and live isolated lives.

There are 13 km. to reach the valley but it seems to us like an eternity. There is practically no asphalt on the road – everything is in mud and holes. There are literally rivers and waterfalls on the road and we travel at 10 km/h maximum. We stop to eat in the first village after the pass and after 18 km. more we reach Sisu. Our companions who behaved really nice to us and even treated us to green mango juice with pepper and salt left us in the rain.


The people who took us in their car

The village has several houses and guest houses. We go to hide under some roof on the stairs and suddenly an old man shows up and tells us not to stay with our shoes on because this is a temple. We take off our shoes and enter the temple. He starts melting ghi (butter) on a small stove, lights some candles and incense sticks. We obviously came when the puja started. The deity of this temple is some local Hindu God we have never heard of.

It is getting dark and Mr. Shushtari goes out to look for a place for the tent. It keeps raining and at the end the owner of a hotel lets us pitch our tent in the front yard and doesn’t even asks for money.


At the other side of the pass – Lahaul region

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