Road in the Himalayas
Nako is the last village on the road with Tibetan architecture. We start hitchhiking in the afternoon, but there are almost no cars passing by. After walking for 40 minutes on a steep, bending road a jeep takes us. It is for only 15 minutes of driving, but here this is serious distance for us. After that we start waiting and waiting and an hour and a half later the first empty car comes our way. Luckily they take us for quite a long distance.
Nako Village with Buddhist flags
An old temple at Nako
A street with old houses at Nako
The driver and his brother are very nice and all the time treat us to juices, gumballs, chips and apples. The brothers are absolute antipodes. The big one doesn’t drink and is calm and silent, the small one is already drunk, smokes hashish all the time, sings and makes many gestures with his hands when he speaks. We travel 5 hours with them and manage to pass 200 km. The young brother is drinking whiskey and is getting worse.
The only slightly unpleasant thing is he puts the volume to the max and we listen to the same songs 20 times one after another. One of his favorite songs is “My name is lovely Chingo” with Latino rhythms, by a singer who is something like the Indian Ricky Martin. After we listened for this song for an hour it was too much – but these are really small worries 🙂
We crossed the whole of Kinnaur – they were going to the last village Baba Nagar. The road was passing near narrow abysses and it was in really bad condition. The journey was not an easy one. We are a little bit disappointed by Kinnaur except Nako Village. From the fork leading to the capital of the region Rekong Peo to the last village Baba Nagar we travelled only through terrible looking areas.
In the beginning we are bothered by the “houses” of the workers on the road who are living in the open, close to the rocks, under big tarpaulins next to the machinery. Here the scenery is still rocky desert and it gets pretty cold at night. The women dressed in saris obviously from South India, warm themselves on small fires. We noticed that the construction work and all the other work that doesn’t require qualification is done by people from the low castes or people who come from other parts of India. Locals usually don’t work.
Then we continue travelling next to some huge military bases and ginormous dam lakes and hydroelectric plants along the river. In the dark under the dim light of the lamps all looks monstrous. Generally all of Kinnaur except its upper part and some side valleys and villages is an ugly sight because of these hydroelectric projects.
We arrive at 9-10 p.m. and the driver shows us a school where we can pitch our tent. The terrain is steep, but we manage to find a flat place with grass.
We wake up in a totally different, brand new world. We are at 2000 m. (6500 feet) above sea level and all is green, the vegetation is thick, there are forests and the humidity is high. The air is warm and nice. The sun doesn’t burn your skin. People here are Hindu and the villages and towns look differently – there are many shops and great abundance of… everything. Life teems everywhere. There are lots of cars on the streets. It now seems to us that the two months we spent at the Trans-Himalayan desert are just a dream.
First morning surrounded by green vegetation
There is a guy who peeks in our tent. Pupils start coming to school. We want to sleep more, but we have to get up obviously. Our tent is right next to some stairs that lead to another house where there is a kindergarten and the workshop of a weaver, where he also lives. The person who peeked into our tent is this same guy. He is a very nice person. He invites us to use his bathroom and his gas stove. We drink tea together and he shows us the Kinnuar blankets that he weaves. Pupils at the school and the kindergarten are no more than 10 in total and soon we become friends to all of them. They are all from Nepal (there is a huge wave of refugees coming from there to India).
We start hitchhiking around 12 p.m. One truck drives us to Jeori. We plan to go up the mountain there to visit s famous temple of the goddess Kali. We buy stuff at Jeori and after lunch we start climbing. While we are walking two brothers with a small car with two brothers inside stops and takes us to the temple. They insist to drink tea at their house which is next to the road. When we left they gave us a big bag of apples and pears.
On our way to Jeori
While we were in Jeori it struck us that everyone is very polite and there is an air of old colonial style in their attitude. We are at Shimla which the capital of the state Himachal Pradesh. The city used to be the summer capital of the British and they also built a residence here in colonial times so maybe some of the spirit is still alive. Everyone call us “Sir” and “Madame” – they do it in other parts of India as well, but here they definitely have something about manners. It is funny to hear the response of your “thank you” – mention not 🙂
We are in the middle of the apple gathering season and there are trucks loaded with fruits everywhere. Growing pears and apples is possible only at the lower parts of the Himalayas in India and it is very expensive and a luxury thing to eat at the plains. Many people here are quite rich because they own land with apple trees.
We climb the temple on some narrow staircase and suddenly we see it: a huge building with two tall wooden towers with stones. The Hindu temples at the Himalayas are very different than those in other parts of India and we are glad we took time to visit it.
We notice a few flat places above the temple and though they are behind a fence we decide jump over it and to go there.
The weather is so warm that we sleep only with our t-shirts on. In the morning we wake up surrounded by high grass and there are birds chirping and butterflies everywhere. It is like we wake up in paradise. We visit the Bhimakali Temple, Sarahan village.
The Bhimakali Temple
Before you enter in it you have to leave all the electronic you have in a cupboard at the entrance and put a hat on. If you don’t have people from the temple give you a funny looking knitted wool hat. The Murti (small statue) of Kali is at the top of the tower. There are silver objects everywhere and all the doors have silver facing. There is one room where visitors are not allowed to enter. When we peek inside we see something strange – four wooden poles, several green stones hanging on the wall with red thread around them and chicken feathers on the ground.
Inside the temple
After the temple we decide to hitchhike on some dirt road and immerse in the local, new for us, culture, though places around here resemble Manali region. Our decision led to things that happened outside of the laws of physics, time and space. First we wanted to pass on the roads in the mountain – kind of a shortcut instead of going down the main road to the valley for 15 km.
First a truck stops by and three of us squeeze at the front seat. Before we reach a major road we have to pass through three village each at a distance of 20 km. The truck is going to the first one. Before the village they are putting asphalt on the road and we have to wait for an hour to pass. On top of this our driver starts having kidney pains.
After the first village hitchhiking becomes hard. We had decided to not hitchhike large trucks on the mountain roads, but after waiting for an hour we stop one of the passing by trucks loaded with apples. This of course turns out to be a mistake. The truck drives at 10 km/h on the broken road. In addition the road is so narrow that if a car comes our direction we have to stop and wait for it to pass. Like this we manage to pass no more than 30 km for several hours.
We reach some big village that is not even on the map. Before it we stop for the driver to fix something and loose half an hour more. After the village there is a traffic jam and we wait for half an hour more. It is already dark and we reach some town. Suddenly it struck us that we have reached the main road at Rampur which is only 20 km. away from Jeori – the town with the Hindu temple we visited. We are staggered. We can’t explain at all how we passed 30 km. for 7 hours. Even if we were walking we would have passed them faster.
Hitchhiking at the Himalayan forests
We go to a fork that leads to the villages we wanted to pass through. Tomorrow we will try again. We see a road that leads aside and decide to see where it leads. We enter through a gate and we see two buildings with colonial architecture. There is a light in one of the rooms. The place turns out to be a forest guest house. There is only one guest in it – an electro-technician who works for the forest services. We find the manager and he allows us to pitch our tent outside. The night is quite warm. There are gigantic mosquitoes flying everywhere. We hear thousands of sounds coming from the surrounding forest which is full of monkeys. The south part of the Himalayas is covered with rainforests and thick vegetation. The altitude is 2-3000 meters (6000-9000 feet) and the place is a real paradise.
In the morning the manager offers us to use the showers and treats us to tea. We leave our winter clothes to him and hi gives us a new t-shirt in return.
Toda we start hitchhiking at 10:30 a.m. We change cars, trucks and buses often and we manage to get to the place we planned to go yesterday. Rohru is a small town still in the Himalayas where the atmosphere is typical for India from the plains – thousands of people, madness on the streets and lots of dust.
We buy food and eat potato balls with some very delicious sauces. Next we have to go out of town. This task turns out to be a not so easy one. It is getting dark and we still walk next to the hundreds trucks waiting to be loaded with fruits. After several kilometers we go out a dusty road with high cliffs on its sides. Every time a truck passes by we are covered with dusty clouds. It is quite unpleasant.
Suddenly a boy stops by and says he wants to help. He is going in the opposite direction, but takes us 4-5 km. in ours. We reach a place with a factory and before it a landslide had devoured the road. On one side of it we see a flat spot and pitch our tent.
The guards wake us in the morning, but they just want to check what we are doing here and leave shortly. The factory used to produce bottled water, but bankrupted. Unfortunatley there is no spring, a faucet nor a river here and we don’t have any water. Thanks god the guard went to his home and brought us some. Then he gave us apples.
Hitchhiking starts well. First is a bus where they ask for money, but then take us for free to the next village. We decide to buy sleeping mats here because ours are so thin that are almost two-dimensional. Here the merchants give us a pomegranate which is also luxurious for this region. After this a truck full of apples takes us and the driver starts to press his body to mine in a totally not pleasant way. The truck moves very slowly. At a certain point we stop and the other guy from the trucks enters another truck and disappears. We can’t understand what is going on, but take advantage and disappear too.
Another truck with apples stops then, but people in it are nice and it moves faster. The second driver goes on the outer side of the driver which is a crazy way to drive even for India. After several hours of bumping on the road we manage to pass the record for India 150 km. The road we drive on is so wild and unpopular that we can’t believe our luck. The region is very beautiful. There are banana trees and other exotic plants. It gets very humid.
Inside the apple truck (the driver is next to me and his friend next to him)
In the evening we decide to go to Ponta Sahib which is a small town 50 km. away. The main reason is it is located in the plains. Here it is hard to find a flat enough place to pitch our tent and in addition the vegetation is thick. We settle next to a river near a village hidden in the jungle above us.
It’s six in the morning and people from the village start moving around. Some maunder about our tent, other maw the grass on the lawn we are at and all of them talk and whistle to each other all the time. At 6:30 there are already so many people that we have to get up. A group of pupils comes to us and gives us corn and cucumbers. Then they invite us to show us the village.
A woman does chapatas
Himalayan people from Himachal Pradesh turn out to be nice and cordial people. Everyone we spoke to since we were here gave us apples, treated us to tea or did some other friendly gesture of friendship. All are smiling and with manners. After breakfast we climb to the village which consists of around ten houses. Everyone try to outdo each other inviting us to their houses and treating us to tea. We enter each house. All are excited by the big attraction – tourists. Strange that this area is beautiful and calm, but not popular at all.
With the women from the village
The village has specific old architecture and joyous local citizens. We like the place very much. Around 9 a.m. pupils go to school, but the boy who gave us the cucumbers stays – and for a good reason, today is his turn to guard the corn fields from the monkeys together with his granddad. They have wooden shelter from where they can see the whole slope with their binoculars. The granddad is at guard from the morning and from time to time shouts and produces some strange guttural sounds.
Monkey watch tower
When we finished with our official 🙂 visit we gather our stuff and start hitchhiking. There are no cars passing by and we wait for an hour till a truck comes and takes us. We start travelling in the usual slow way on the typical broken road. The driver is a pleasant person and eats tobacco all the time. I say eat not chew because he puts tobacco powder mixed with spices and lemog in his mouth and directly swallows it. At noon we stop to drink tea at some town and we eat fast rice with lentils because we know from experience that truck drivers don’t have lunch.
After several hours of slow travelling we have a punctured tire. The driver is a real magician and changes it for mere seconds. We stop at the next village for repairs. Here everything is so slow that we really want to get to the plains far from the endless Himalayan roads. Out of nowhere I decide to ask the driver how many kilometers we have left to the doggone Ponta. I estimate we travel for five hours now and we should have long passed the 50 km. But his answer is: “there are 50 more kilometers left”. My jaw drops at this information.
If you haven’t travelled in these areas you have no idea how long 50 km are. On the map and the signs we saw it was not possible to have 50 km left. I notice that when you are impatient and in a hurry the distance becomes longer in an enchanted way. Obviously Himalayas want to teach us a lesson of patience that we always fail to learn.
Vultures on the road
Next blow comes when I enter back at the truck and notice that our tent is gone. After we search for it and think in retrospection we come to the conclusion that somebody took it when we had lunch in the previous village. This ruins us and we have to change the plan for the next few days. We will have to sleep at hotels and stay in the cities till we manage to buy a new tent.
We pass the remaining distance for 2-3 hours which is a real record. It is dark and we are in the warm plains already. Finally we reach Ponta Sahib – cars, rickshaws, thousands of people walking to and fro in the small Indian town. While we look for a hotel we find an Internet café and decide to sit in it. In the meantime Mr. Shushtari finds two hotels, but they are expensive.
Then the club closes and we keep wondering what to do. Then the owner of the café tells us to go and check the gurdwara. We have totally forgotten the Sikh temples and this idea saved us. We walk for 20 minutes till we reach the gurdwara which turns out to be a 400 year old historical building. We register and they give us a free room. It is very nice, with its own bathroom and a fan. I really can’t stop to wonder how this functions exactly – out of the laws of the economy.
We have breakfast at the langar (the kitchen) – milk with rice and chapatas and go back to our room to do the laundry. Suddenly we feel the heat strongly and get stomach aches. Obviously we will need some time to adapt to our new surroundings and the climate here. We decide to stay another day and rest. Tomorrow we will hitchhike direction Rishikesh.
Ponta Sahib Gurdwara
We spend the day resting and working on the Internet. We attend one of the ceremonies at the temple also. We visit the museum where there are paintings that picture the life of the ten major spiritual leaders of the Sikhism.
A floor from the living area of the Gurdwara
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion which main idea is for those who follow it to help people in need, feel compassion and love. Some of the stories we read describe this in an interesting ans somewhat funny (in our opinion) way. One of the stories said that during one of the many battles between the Moghul Empire and the Sikhs one person, who was close to the Sikh guru, always went around the battlefield to give water to the wounded. He also gave water to the wounded enemies. The other soldiers saw this and reported to the guru. The guru called the guy to him and asked him why did he do this. The guy responded: “Oh, my Guru, in each and every soldier I see only you”. The guru was so impressed that he ordered the man to not only give water, but to also bandage everyone who was wounded. This story represents the essence of Sikhism.
We walk for half an hour till we reach Ponta Sahib. Shortly a car stops by. The man driving says he is going to Hardiwar which is after Rishikesh. So we will pass the remaining 90 km with him. The man is Punjabi businessman, very religious. He is a member a one very popular in India spiritual organization called Radha Soami Satsang Beas. To be honest I still don’t know what its beliefs are. In every village and town there is a building of this organization.
More interesting is that the driver is going to his ashram at Hardiwar where he works together with his guru on a project to save the cows. We ask how exactly do they do this. He said that they save them from the Muslim butcher by buying the cows. They even have a nongovernmental organization that supports them. Radjiw is an incredibly nice person. We sit to eat at a local pastry shop and he buys us many kinds of sweets and drinks and he didn’t want to even hear to pay him.
At Dehradun the capital of the state Uttarakhand we stop at the house of one Ayurveda doctor and then Radjiw takes us to the center of Rishikesh. Before he leave he buys us several boxes full of sweets and gives them to us regardless of our resistance.
We start sightseeing in Rishikesh – the capital of yoga. There are hundreds of ashrams here where one can study Vedic culture, Ayurveda, Sanskrit and yoga.
Sadhu people at Rishikesh
Rishikesh is on the banks of Gang River and is a holy city. For the first time we really feel like we are in India. Countless Sadhu people sit on the riverside. It smell of incent sticks everywhere. Women wear colorful saris with bracelets on their ankles walk around. People enter the sacred Gang river to clear from bad karma, get closer to moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and birth) and enlightenment. On the other river-bank all is thick jungle. We decide to check the gurdwara, but this time we are not so lucky. We try to convince them and finally they say they will let us for a night, but they added that usually don’t accept foreigners because they drink and smoke. I think the fact that we disguised as Sikhs helped us a lot and after a lengthy legislation they gave us the key to a pretty luxury room.