You know when you stumble bleary eyed off an overnight bus, tired and hungry and barely keeping murderous urges in check, and hoards of taxi and tuk tuk drivers besiege the exit of the bus insisting they can take you to where ever you want to go for the best price and your irrational, sleep deprived brain convinces you that they want all of your money and will drive you round in circles for an hour before dropping you off at their cousin’s overpriced hotel which is actually only a four minute walk from the bus station anyway, and you just want to set them all on fire and curl up in a corner and sleep until someone brings you a masala dosa? Yeeaahhh… well when you climb off said overnight vehicle and there is literally not a single taxi or tuk tuk driver in sight you kinda a feel a little bit lost. You start to feel like you suddenly have way too much personal space and long for someone to invade it and promise you they’ll take you anywhere you want to go for a completely unreasonable quantity of rupees.
So that’s Manali when you arrive at some god awful hour in the morning, it turns out that Indian tourists will pay shit tonnes of money to be taken to a lookout point to watch the sunrise so no one wants to pick up tight arsed foreign backpackers who’ll probably argue over the last ₹10. Totally fair enough really. Eventually we got directions to the main town, walked in, grabbed a feed and a chai and waited until someone gave up looking for domestic tourists with an abundance of wealth and would take us to Apple View Guesthouse in Old Manali.
I had huge plans for Manali. I was gonna trek the shit out of that region, totally forgetting that altitude makes all of my cells sad, and walking over freezing cold mountain passes wasn’t something I’d add to my list of “Pleasurable Things I Would Like To Frequently Indulge In.” But despite promising myself as I shuffled along at over 5000 m.a.s.l. on the way to Everest Base Camp that I’d never put myself through this again, there’s something addictive about mountains. I hadn’t been able to get the feeling of exhilaration out of my head. Buuuuut those ideas were well and truly pissed on when I found out how much trekking cost. Knowledgeable humans are, quite rightly, expensive. Doing the treks I wanted to do without a guide probably isn’t a sensible option. I mean, I’m sure they’re doable, but I get lost trying to find my way home with full directions and GPS, I didn’t fancy trying my luck in remote Himalayan mountains.
I settled for little hikes with Theo and Jess, just around the local area which is absolutely stunning. The natural scenery alone is all manner of hyperboles, and the hills are dotted with tiny, local villages with these awesome looking houses which seem to consist of a concrete centre and a large, wooden balcony around the middle, making them look a bit top heavy. I loved them. Our first walk was just to Vashisht which is a couple of kilometres up the hill from Manali town centre. Hill. Big hill. Not as big as the hills I was originally contemplating, but big enough to cause excessive wheezing. It’s quite worth it though, it’s a funky little backpacker enclave with all of the cafes and restaurants you’d expect, a temple with hot springs, women walking round with massive rabbits that you can have a photo with for a small fee, and a fish foot spa. Do not adjust your sets, I said a fish foot spa, with a slogan, “Fish are food for the soul, soles are food for the fish.” It’s fucking hilarious! Jess and Theo had trouble keeping their feet in the water because the fish tickle so much. It took some serious willpower for me not to dissolve into a useless puddle of giggling too. The staff are on hand to help you, holding your feet under and advising you to “open your foot fingers!” It killed a bit of time before we chucked a bit of food into our faceholes and headed back to Old Manali.
The couple who run Apple View Guesthouse are absolutely lovely. So chilled and helpful, and sometimes they’ll cook for everyone (for a fee of course, and only if you want in) and we’ll all sit together and eat. I love that. I love how food brings people together. Also, I just fucking love food as my ever expanding waistline will attest to, but food eaten with interesting strangers is fantastic. They also share their wealth of local knowledge with anyone who asks. We’d heard tell of a waterfall not too far called Jogini Falls and the bloke gave us directions to walk there. We wandered past a pack of street dogs and a dog with a small chain around his neck, and as we walked the dog with the chain and one of the street dogs bounded along in front of us. We assumed chain dog, a male we called Bob, was interested in street dog, a female. Until we stopped for tea and the dogs stopped with us, chilling by our table until we were ready to move on. Awesome! Dog friends! They walked with us all the way to the waterfall and even waited for us whilst we hung out with a bunch of other backpackers we met there. They joined us as we headed to Vashisht with the others and when we got to Rasta Cafe the staff said we could bring them in where they flopped down next to us and accepted the morsels of momos and pakora we slipped to them. We kinda felt a little bit responsible for them by this point.
We bid our temporary friends goodbye and headed back to Old Manali, the first part of the walk being along the main road and this is where we learned that walking with a dog in India is one of the most nerve wracking things you can do, and not least because they have no fucking road sense. Seriously. They give no fucks that the big pile of shit is bang in the middle of the road, they’re gonna go and roll in it anyway leaving you to clutch at your hair and resign yourself to the fact that they’ll probably be reduced to furry, dog shaped pancakes before you could deliver them back to their pack. You also become a target for every bastard dog pack that you walk past. I’m not even shitting you, it’s like that movie, “Warriors”, but with teeth and rabies. I’d become quite fond of the little fuckers and to see them disappear into a flurry of teeth and fur and howling as they chased rivals down was pretty terrifying, and not least because this was all occurring uncomfortably close to our tender human flesh. We got home eventually though with all of our soft tissues intact and only a small fraction of my nerves spread out along the main road.
Another lovely little trek is just up the hill to the pub to indulge in a spot of happy hour at Drifters. There are a shit tonne of places to eat and drink in Old Manali, mostly they’re identical, serving Western or Israeli style food and Kingfisher, but Drifters is the kind of place where you sip a glass of wine whilst sitting on a chair like a grown up as opposed to cushions on the floor, and force your travel buddy to play Battleships with you as you pay over the odds for mediocre food. I loved it. I wouldn’t say I got homesick for the UK but sometimes, just sometimes, I want shit wine and average eats and I want to pay too much for it.
Aaaaand in other news, I appear to have a urinary tract infection, possibly because I’m a fucking feral who doesn’t change her knickers quite as often as she should do. Fortunately Jess is a nurse and Theo is a doctor, even if they’re both hippies and are insisting I try all manner of alternative remedies before I go crawling to the pharmacist, begging for antibiotics. They’ve got me necking herbal tablets and drinking my body weight in fluids which, thankfully, does include beer, and here’s a fun fact; if you consume whole cloves of raw garlic it makes your shit smell like Italian cooking. Lovely. I’ll see how this goes then. And if my entire pee tube still hurts in a couple of weeks I shall kill it with the proverbial fire.
Old Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: Apple View Guesthouse