Another Trip to India! We cannot resist it. We sometimes say to each other that we must have lived there in a previous life. We feel at home in that immense country.
The journey we´re going to make promises to be a very special one. Normally we never travel to India in June. Much too warm. But this trip is a real trip to the Himalayas/Ladakh. The passes to Ladakh are often closed till late May - early June en open till September - October. So the timeslot in which you can travel by car to Ladakh is June-July-August.
From Delhi and the famous Hindu pilgrimage Haridwar on the Ganges, we will travel to the residence of the Dalai Lama (Dharamsala) and the "hippie haven" Manali. From Manali we will travel over land to Leh, Ladakh. Along the way we will cross the second highest mountain pass for cars in the world. But whether we will be successful? We don´t know. When we leave Holland the passes are still closed. So we will see (and hope)!
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English is not our native language, so we apologize in advance for translation- spelling- and grammar errors
Our daughter Marjon and her friend Bram bring us to the airport. We fly with Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Delhi. The plane arrives too late in Amsterdam because of problems at Frankfurt with tailwind and we therefore have a 30 minute delay. Frankfurt airport is very boring. But the transfer saves a lot of money. We have a nice flight.
Delhi airport has changed a lot over the years. The first time we came here it was old and filthy. Now it is light, clean, and there is a large modern arrival/departure hall. We are neatly picked up at the airport by Mr. Singh of the Indian travel agency. It´s the middle of the night. Delhi is deserted.
At 2:30 in the night we arrive at our hotel. The Broadway Hotel. Despite of the late hour we are welcomed with an orange garland! We need to fill in a lot of questions in a thick book. You have to do that very precisely. If there is a column which "days" above and you fill in 24, you get the book back, place write "days" behind 24 sir.
The room is boring, but clean; especially for a city hotel. The temperatures in Delhi are very high; even in the night, so we are happy to have air conditioning in the room.
When we open our suitcase in the morning we discover a pack of wine is leaking. In India you hardly can get any wine. So we always take some Aldi wine with us in the suitcase. One pack is leaking. Fortunately, for the first time Jan has stored his clothes in separate plastic bags. That is why only one pair of pants that was not red of itself is coloured red now. So the damage is not that big.
It´s very hot in Delhi, 42 degrees Celsius (=107.6 degrees Fahrenheit) ! Wow! We have breakfast at the hotel. Good breakfast in a surprising setting! Nice breakfast room containing an old English car. The car is used as the buffet table. Very original! Our own table has a glass plate. Below the glass an exhibition of several typical ancient Indian objects. All very nicely.
After breakfast we drive to our next destination: Haridwar. Leaving the city of Delhi went very smoothly. The traffic congestion is the other direction. As soon as our car exits the highway we are surrounded by bicycle rickshaws, tuk-tuk´s camels and cows. Back in India! It has rained a lot. The road is very muddy .
It is about a 6 hours drive to Haridwar (230 km north east of Delhi map). At 3 pm we arrive. Haridwar is situated on the banks of the Ganges, at the point where the Ganges flows from the mountains of the Himalayas into the plain.
Haridwar or ´the Gateway to the Gods´ is one of the seven holiest places according to Hindu mythology. The restaurants in Haridwar are all vegetarian. There are many pilgrims!
Hari Haveli Ganga our hotel is a very nice hotel. On the bank of the Ganges! We have a great room with a terrace overlooking the river where people take ritual baths. We are welcomed with beaded necklaces.
After the bags are put down in the room, we quickly walk through the traditional village. Along the Ganges are many bazaar streets, where many religious articles (including sacred stones from the river) and handicrafts are sold. We buy some objects for our Indian home altar.
Many people are in and around the water. Ropes are attached to the quays. People can hold on to the ropes so they do not float away. The current is very fast. We walk around the rest of the afternoon. People are friendly and there are many holy men (Sadhu´s).
Every evening around 7.00 pm hundreds of worshippers gather at the the Har-ki-Pairi Ghat for the ganga aarti (river worship ceremony). We also go there. The Har-ki-Pairi Ghat (The Footstep of God) is where Vishnu is said to have dropped some heavenly nectar and left a footprint behind. It therefor is very sacred to Hindus and the place to wash away your sins.
The Ghat is situated on the western bank of the Ganges. As the sun sets, bells ring out a rhythm, torches are lit, and leaf baskets with flower petals inside and a candle on top are lit and put on the river to drift away downstream. There is singing, music and a lot of fire. We also make an offering. A priest makes a kind of murmur prayers with us and we get the familiar red dot on the forehead. Ingrid forgets the dot and rubs her forehead due to the heat. She should not have done that. She obviously looks strange and unworthy. A priest sweeps her head completely clean with a dirty rag. We step into the Ganges. An impressive experience.
After the ceremony we return to our hotel. Still a lot of people in the streets. Many shops appear to be open. At one point a bull is running loose in the street which obviously should not be there! Everyone goes aside. Various merchandise stalls collapse. Eventually, order is restored.
Back at the hotel we enjoy a good meal. Soup with lemon and coriander and mushrooms with spinach. Very tasty. In our room we take the first sip of our - here forbidden - wine. What a overwhelming start of our trip! Less than 24 hours on the road and we already experienced so much in a totally different world. Great!
At 8 o´clock we leave for the private ghat of our hotel. A priest is celebrating a private puja for the guests. At 8:30 we leave the hotel after a good breakfast. It will be a long travelling day!
We drive on small winding roads with many potholes through the hills. The scenery gets more and more beautiful. We stop only once. The hills are dotted with houses. There is a lot to see. At 6:30 pm we arrive in Shimla (map). By 1864 Shimla had developed into the official summer capital of British India. Every summer until 1939, the entire government of India fled here from the sweltering heat of the plains, with all their clerks´ books and forms filled out in triplicate. Nowadays, Shimla is the capital of Himachal Pradesh.
Due to the late arriving hour we will not be able to see much of this place. Too bad! Poorly organised by the travel agency! Hotel Springfields is not spectacular from the outside, but inside it´s downright surprising! Beautiful old wooden floors. We have a huge room with a large bed, a large sitting area and large bathroom. Monkeys in the garden and on our balcony. The temperature is a lot cooler in this region of India.
The weather is beautiful again! After breakfast we leave around 8:30. It´s another long travelling day with a nice ride over the hills. We see many monkeys, big and small. It is quite busy on the road. There are a lot trucks and we see many wrecks along the side of the road.
At 16.00 p.m. we arrive in Dharamsala, and drive through to McLeod Ganj ( map). McLeod Ganj is situated above Dharamsala in the mountains and is known as haven for Tenzin Gyatso, the exiled Tibetan Dalai Lama who has his residence in Mac Leod Ganj.
Mac Leod Ganj is a small but busy place. By car we drive through the narrow main street to our hotel: the Chonor House. The hotel overlooks the temple and monastery of the Dalai Lama and is just behind the main street. It is a very special hotel. Each room has a different theme and is decorated with paintings on the wall.
Our room is very big and we have a spacious balcony. In our room "the Amdo" room, the walls are decorated with themes from the Amdo region of northeast Tibet. Again we are visited by monkeys. This time cheeky ones. Jan gives the monkeys a few biscuits and they like it. Very nice but not so wise. One monkey was already with one leg in our room. If he grabs our mobile or camera the fun would be over. So no biscuits and free entrance for the monkeys anymore. The people of our hotel are Tibetan.
We put our stuff in the room and go into town. It is a very long street with many different shops and stalls. We buy a lot of things, a paradise for shoppers! After breakfast we only ate two biscuits so we are hungry. In a little coffee shop at the side of the road we enjoy cappuccino and cake. We stroll around and at 7pm we go back to the hotel. On our balcony we take a glass of wine. The hotel´s restaurant is in the garden. A delicious Tibetan meal is served. Jan has lamb with garlic bread and Ingrid fried potatoes, spinach, green beans. The evening temperature is agreeable.
We put the alarm in time because we want to visit the residence of the Dalai Lama. The residence appears to be closed on Sundays. Well, the Dalai lama is abroad so there was no chance to see/meet him anyway. Therefore, we go to a prayer service at the temple on the corner. Many monks, many Tibetans, many prayer wheels. We spend an hour and enjoy everything we see and hear.
We enjoy a tasty breakfast in the hotel and a coffee on our balcony before walking to Bhagsunath, a Hindu village located at the outskirts of Mac Leod Ganj. The place got its name from the ancient temple known as Bhagsunath temple at the heart of the region. The temple attracts many devotees. It´s very busy on the road, perhaps because it is a day off? Massive noise and a lot of car horns. The road to the village is a large file!
We drink lassi and take a pancake on the rooftop of a restaurant. Lovely view on raptors flying around searching for prey!
We have heard that there would be a basin in Bhagsunath with holy water for Hindus, but it appears to be little more than a pool where only men are splashing around in the water. Armbands to adults.
The women are all on the side. Not a very exciting place. We return to the hotel and take a break in our hotel room. The monkeys are back on our balcony.
Half past four we leave for the temple again. Unfortunately we prove to be too late for the service, but also without service, there is plenty to see. Impressive to see how sincerely the pilgrims and monks experience their faith. We make a final walk through the main street, drink a cappuccino and enjoy the colorful procession of people that comes along. Tibetans here almost exclusively. Many old people walk with prayer wheels in the street.
Back at the hotel it starts to rain and we hear thunder. We eat inside the hotel. Less tasteful than the previous evening. Electricity is down but we get romantic candlelight! Eventually we go to the room. In the dark. Candles are placed on the steps of the stairs to our bedroom. It looks nice! Soon the electricity is restored and we end the day with a glass of wine.
We had a wonderful time in Mac Leod Ganj. The history of Tibet, the Tibetan refugees and the Dalai Lama has deepened here for us.
Eight thirty in the morning we leave Mac Leod Ganj. We ride over hills and mountains. Far away we see snow on the mountaintops. Many beautiful various trees. Along the way we would visit an old temple in Bajnath and the Norbulingka Institute in Sidhpur, a replica of the Dalai Lama´s palace in Tibet, but that did not happen. Jan has noticed that Mr. Singh - our driver – starts singing when he is lost, and today ........ he sings quite regularly.
We make a stop at another ancient temple with a very nice Nandi. Back in the car we get a text message from Ingrid´s sister, Betty. She travels with her husband in Indonesia. The world is small and communication is fast! We see herds of goats and cows, people on train tracks, even on bridges. If a train was coming, they would have nowhere to go to!
Around 2:30 pm we arrive at the hotel at Lake Rewalsar ( map). Unfortunately, and this the first time since we travel with Namaste travelagency, our stay in Rewalsar runs into a deception. The hotel is a dirty cluttered ruin. We walked past the reception 2x before we realize that there is a reception. The lady at the reception does not understand what we are doing here, there seems to be no reservation and she does not understand what a voucher stands for. Eventually, Mr. Singh is called and we get a sleeping place.
The Deluxe View Room with stunning views promised by Namaste does not exist in this hotel. We get a small room on the third level with a blind window. The bed´s not made up and everything is dirty dingy and stained. There is no water so the toilet can´t be flushed and the shower can’t be used. No electricity. The only light bulb dangling from a wire from a loose power outlet is down. Fortunately we have a flashlight. Brrrrr. We make the best of it and quickly leave the hotel for walk around the lake. That´s nice! Monasteries and temples and of course, lots of monkeys!
It´s really hot! At the shore of the lake is a lot of fish crowding together. Catfish. We feed them, always fun! Big Nandi´s and a lot of prayer flags. The monks seem very worldly. Big watches, and a lot of chatting with "ordinary" people.
We visit a Sikh temple. The reception is very friendly. Your head has to be covered when you enter the temple. The women have a lot of fun when they see Jan with a silly piece of sheet on his head. We take, at their request, a photo of some people near the temple.
Suddenly we hear thunder. The wind swells to gale force. The flags flapping hard. The rain burst quite violent, even hail! In a Tibetan eatery we find a shelter and order a pancake. We eat at the balcony of the restaurant. Above our heads a roof made by corrugated iron. What a sound! Cows do not like rain. They try to run in to a shop to hide, but that is not appreciated.
Back in our room, we are called by Namaste. The mountain passes of Manali to Leh are open, but there are no places to stay overnight. It is too far to cross the mountains in one day so they suggest that we choose for an alternative route. That sucks! All plans are now unclear. Whether or not to go to Manali or drive directly to Amritswar and then fly to Delhi and from Delhi to Leh!
Sitting on a dirty bed in the dark the Namaste call fell hard
Departure to Manali ( map). We don´t mind to leave here. There is no water, but the lady at the reception is just afraid that a valve is still open for when the water is there again. We had understood that we would stop at some meditation caves, but Mr. Singh was singing again and so the right turn was passed again.
A beautiful road through the hills brings us to Manali. Along the way we are called by the Indian travel agency. Annoying. The Indian travel agency has arranged a 12-14 hours car drive from Manali to Amritswar and flights to Delhi and from Delhi to to Leh for us. Mile at 7.
At the hotel in Manali (Dragon Guesthouse ) we get a warm welcome. We speak to the receptionist. He tells us that it would not be hard to find a 4 wheel drive car and driver to bring us to Leh!
The passes are open and it is safe to travel by car. Great! It took a lot of calls but eventually Namasté managed to organize the trip over the mountains by car with an overnight stay at a hotel and in a tent. We are so happy, This is so wat we want, because we see the mountains with snow heads and it looks great! But, before we go, we have two relaxing days in Manali.
Manali is a nice town. Our hotel is in Old Manali. It´s a big hippie event. It strongly reminds us at our own hippie time in Amsterdam during the sixties/seventies. Half of the tourists here are young Israelis. There is a lot of cannabis smoking! Even the dresses te girls wear are the same as Ingrid wore long long time ago. People have fun with each other. The atmosphere is great and we hear guitar music everywhere. Lots of coffee shops and restaurants. There also are a lot of good massage salons in Manali. At the end of the day, we both have a (more than) 2 hour massage. Delicious! Deep tissue massage it is called here. Well, there is a lot of squeezing, but it is very good!
We have diner in an Italian restaurant: Little Italy. Again many Israelis. Till now we did not see one Dutchman on our journey, and that´s unique! Our holiday is running great again.
For the first time this holiday we awake without the sound of the alarm clock. After breakfast we drink coffee on the balcony of our room. We enjoy the mountain view. We make some drawings and read a book.
At the end of the morning we walk to New Manali. A quack stirs with a wooden spoon all sorts of obscure trinkets in a big pot and tries to sell it as medicine. A panacea for every conceivable illness. He has a lot of attention! At the market we buy a hat for Jan and a scarf for Ingrid. Beautiful hand-woven crafts. We eat pancakes and drink lassi in a roof top restaurant. We see a man take a nap on the sidewalk and also a Sadu with a heavy iron chain with a slot on his crotch.
Finally we take a tuk tuk back to the top of the hill; the oldest part of Manali. It is such fun! Beautiful old houses and beautifully dressed people. We walk around and buy an other scarf in a kind of cooperative where they spin the wool themselves and weave the wool into beautiful scarves. On the way back to our room we make a reservation for another massage for the evening and we drink tea with Mr. Singh. He drives back to Delhi tomorrow.
We receive an email from Namasté with the message that the travel agent in Manali will be in the hotel at 6 pm to hand us the schedule for tomorrow.
The massage is wonderful again. Ingrid is getting a massage from a girl of 25 from Kerala, South India. She does it very well. She is far from home the whole tourist season, and misses her family.
We have diner at the Italian Restaurant again. Behind the restaurant is a meetingpoint.
Young people are coming and going. Rasta hair, harem pants. Sometimes we think we hear Donovan, the Mama´s and Papa´s or Santana. But no. Well, as always: Bob Marley.