A Travellerspoint blog


overcast 15 °C

Greeting again!

Last time I was in a civilized place, I was in Kasol, on Monday April 2nd. The four of us, Tsach and David, Shmulik and Me, each pair prepared the whole previous day for the climb. They tell us the walk up there is tough, this morning we will put that warning to the test. Early in the morning each of us got his backpack ready, and said to meet in the center of town at a specific time, so that we could start the climb during daylight. At high noon, when the sun was highest, not a cloud in the sky, we crossed the bridge and headed west, on the northern bank of the river, toward our first waypoint, Chalahl. The beginning of the walk was easy, between the trees that provide shade from the hot sun, we stopped several times on the way, for drinks and pictures, resting on rocks, and listening to the rush of the river. When we entered Chalahl, we asked locals how to get to Rasol, not many speak English but they know what you mean, so they simply point you further down the path, so followed it we did, through the garbage, leaking water and cow crap, we skipped through town. On the way, we saw natural, clean water come out from the ground, flowing downhill in to the village, water you can drink, and that the village bellow use for their personal needs. After drinking and some more rest, we trod on. Just when we thought that everyone who warned us was exaggerating about this climb, the route started to ascend, in a steep, sometimes steady, sometimes less steady, incline. Uneven steps, big rocks and plain, old steep dirt paths that led us up, took us further toward Rasol. When we weren't really sure about where Rasol was, because we still couldn't see it, we noticed power cables, leading in the general direction, we assumed, of the village, and up the mountain, through the valley, and around a curve in the mountainside, and out of sight. The climb was slow, many stops on the way were made, for water and catching our breath, each time we stopped we were higher and higher, and before our eyes, to the south, looming and threatening, above the greener peaks, was another one of the Himalaya range. Every few minutes of steady ascent was rewarded by more and more of the snowy peak, revealed by two smaller mountains like an opening curtain. Around us were many trees, blooming in different colours. While we climbed we had to cross small, loosely put-together bridges made of wood and lumber, climb steep steps, and even wait for a porter and his convoy of mules and horses to pass, carrying goods downhill to Kasol. We saw women carrying huge piles of wood uphill, chop wood, herd cattle, and do most jobs performed by men in other countries. All over the place, wherever we drive in India, if we see any kind of construction or carrying, women outnumber the men. Some women were carrying even a big pile of bricks, while we were struggling to breathe, with our heaviest bag weighing 20 kg, they were skipping on the steps up toward the village. Late in the afternoon, we at last made our final curve/rock climb, and saw the first building in the village was a guest house. We unloaded our backpacks, and crashed on chairs, ledges, and whatever was in eyesight, at the request and invitation of the guy in charge at the moment. He gave us some water and explained shortly about himself and the village; his name is Weilon (pronounced Veilon), living with his girlfriend, Linnete, and running this small guest house. They both come from Goa in southern India, which means, that like us, they are outsiders in the eyes of the local villagers. This is where these villages around Kasol become tricky, because outsiders of any kind, foreign or not, were not allowed to touch any of the villagers, their buildings, and especially their temple. We became qeurious, so we took two rooms in Weilon's guest house, left our things in the room and made another small climb, in to Rasol itself.
The village itself is very old fashioned, wooden houses, and stockpiles of wood for the winter for each house can be seen easily. More common than any other resident of the village, are small kids. Hundreds of kids, from the age three to twelve, are in droves, running around the village, some performing menial tasks, like carrying wood for chopping, the chopping being done by the older kids, and by older I mean twelve or thirteen. We bought some things in the grocery store for dinner, and started to head back down again. On the way, these small children started to walk with us, offering us some of their own, hand made, jaras, some begging for some chocolate, which Shmulik gave in the end. At some point on our way down, one kid shot me in my ass with a bow and arrow, made by sticks and some loose string. Cheeky bastard.
As we walked through the village, the only constant, unchanging view is the snow-capped mountain to the south. Between all houses and buildings it can be seen, peeking through corners, watching us, and on the way down we all agreed that staying in the first building in the village, with no obstructions to the view, was a good choice. We settled in separate rooms, and sat, talking to Weilon and Linnette, and every once in a while, more and more people came up the path to village. Some stayed in our guest house, while others went further in to the village to look for other guest houses. The ones who stayed with us were Ori, Dor and Amit, two of which Shmulik already knew from previous encounters, earlier in their trip. To fit everyone in the small guest house, which had only three rooms, other than Weilon and Linnette's, we had to get creative; David, Tsach and I slept in the same bed, Shmulik in the fire-place room, with all three others, Dor, Ori and Amit, two of which were sleeping on the floor.

The days in Rasol were spent mostly enjoying the atmosphere. Weilon's friends came often, local Indians from the village, and we just talked, laughed, and some of us smoked. On our first morning there, we saw all the sheep herders, taking their sheep to the field, and asked one of them if they sell any sheep. So, we got the idea of buying a sheep, and making a big dinner out of it, now we needed to make it happen. We needed to gather as many people as we could, this way it'll be cheaper the more people who come, then we need to figure out how to kill the bloody thing. We started spreading the word among Israelis in the village, saying tonight we're buying a sheep, slaughtering it, and plan to make a feast. Planning is one thing, and performing is another. That afternoon, it started to rain, like every other day in Pravati Valley, as soon as the sun was behind the mountain tops, the temperatures started to drop, followed quickly by dark clouds, and then finally, to conclude it's point, nature brought rain, which lasted all through the night. In between rainfalls, one guy that was on board with us, and me, went together with Weilon to speak to sheep herders, see what prices we're talking about and to see what kind of sheep are for sale. Passing between cow/human crap, and plain old garbage, we skipped and hopped from one house to another, speaking to several farmers with Weilon as interpreter, we saw they weren't very eager to let one of their flock go, thus prices were very high to buy one. After several more farmers, and several more expensive sheep, we decided to retire, and get back to the guest house before total darkness, our plans only pushed by a day.
When we got back to the guest house, we spoke to one of Weilon's local friends, asking him for help, to buy a sheep. He agreed to help us, saying farmers here don't really like outsiders and tourists, that's the reason for the high prices, he will be able to get us a sheep more easily being a local. We gave him money, so that by tomorrow morning he will be able to buy a sheep before the farmers leave for herding. Let's hope everything goes smoothly, and that he won't screw us over.

The next morning, I woke up earlier than usual, because we had a healthy sheep! At 9AM we already had the sheep, roaming free in the field below the guest house, feeding on wild marijuana leaves. The guy went so early to buy the sheep, that by 7:30 he was already sitting and drinking chai in the guest house. So now we have a sheep, now it's time for the logistics. We split in to teams, each having it's own task, I wanted to play with fire, so I dug a small hole in the yard, put bricks on the sides, so that heat will be kept inside, while the fire is burning. We also had to acquire something, long enough, to shove through the sheep, and rotate above the flame. That took us to the roof of the guest house, where we found some old metal rods we can use, but we had to clean those first. We took a few with us, and went back to the yard, where the hole was dug, and started to retrofit the whole construction, with two pieces of wood on either side of the hole, to hold the rod, while someone rotates the meat.
When everything was ready, when all ingredients were bought, and fires were now brewing, the show can begin. One term Weilons' friend agreed to help us for, was that if he helps us, he also insists on doing the slaughtering of the sheep himself, if he doesn't he won't be able to eat from the sheep, out of some religious belief the villagers have, I didn't quite understand why. None of us knew how to slaughter cattle properly, so of course, we agreed to his terms, also because this way no one really needs to bloody their hands by doing it themselves. We brought the sheep forth, tied its horns to rope and pulled, to expose the neck. Today is clear, the weather right now, couldn't be more perfect for an occasion like this. We gathered round the yard, nobody spoke, not a cloud in the sky, and only the sounds of nature interrupted the silence. Birds, dogs, horses, sheep and goats in the distance could be heard faintly. Like the supposed execution of Buckbeak in Harry Potter, the executioner came forward, lifted his scythe, I pulled on the rope to expose the neck, and with one fell swoop, no pain administered, and without it realizing what's going on, the sheep was no more. Quickly we tied the carcass to a nearby tree, to let the body empty itself from blood, and started to work on the skin, cutting the meat in the desired places. This is where everything started to spiral down. It was still early in the afternoon, but like yesterday, as soon as the sun disappeared behind the mountains, the cold came too, chilling us to the bone, while we were trying to make this sheep edible. The concept of rotating meat above open flame didn't work. First off, no one rotated the meat on the rod. The flame was either too big most of the time, or the coals to cold, so the meat didn't get steady heat for proper cooking. After about two hours like this, it started to rain again, so acting quickly, we took a large piece of cover and we tied it to trees, rocks, logs and even the building closest, anything to hide us from the rain, and keep the fires going. After hours and hours hanging over open flame, the main part of the sheep was nearly, totally burned to ash. With no proper leadership, no one taking control of the cooking, and no one listening to each other, this whole evening turned to chaos. We could only salvage the ribs and make them in a different way altogether, in the kitchen, on a frying pan.
The rest of the evening, we spent sitting, talking in hindsight about what could have been done better, while eating what was left edible, around a fire that was lit by Weilon's friend, and ribs being served in steady intervals. When everyone that didn't belong to the guest house finally left, we could all retire back to our rooms, and call it a very late, disappointing night, for tomorrow, we unfortunately, leave Rasol, and head back down to Kasol.

Until next time, Live long and prosper.

Posted by Son_of_Axe 21:46 Archived in India Comments (0)

Kasol pt II


On Saturday, March 30, we wasted our day doing nothing, and decided to leave Manali, for Now. Our problem was this; we were now four people and one bike. Shmulik and I came on the bike, from Kasol, now that we're heading back, we need to split up from David and Tsach, only for the ride. We decided to leave early the next morning, Tsach and David, by local bus, Shmulik and I on the bike, the same way we came, only in daylight this time. the ride was smooth, easy and uneventful. The weather couldn't be better for a short ride like this. On the way back to Kasol, I got hungry, so we stopped to eat in a local dhaba. A dhaba serves local Indian food and drinks, and is usually very cheap and satisfying to eat in. Before the last leg to Kasol, we sat in the middle of a busy street, my bike parked within eyesight, and we just relaxed in the warm sun, after already two hours of rough riding. On the way, Shmulik took out his portable speakers we charged beforehand, and we listened to music the whole way back. We arrived in Kasol sometime in the afternoon, and immediately started to look for a guest house, only this time with access for a bike. We found a very quiet guest house called The Green House, and apparently, the owners here is the cousin of the owner in the guest house we were staying in before we left for Manali, good thing we were in good relations with that family, then.
After we settled down in a room, we went out to eat something, so we grabbed our things and went to take the bike. Somehow, since we landed in the room, I had a flat tire, with no clue as to how this happened. We arrived from Manali, started to look for a place to stay, and we passed through several places, before settling down, and the tires were fine. Now we were stuck, we couldn't risk damaging the wheel on the way to a mechanic. So we decided to leave it for now, go eat, and ask the mechanics if anyone would do the work, and for how much.
Since the seder Pesach, Shmulik has been living on beans and water, he can't eat anything else here, because he used to be religious, and still has some leftovers from it. The only place around this part of the world that serves kosher dishes, other than the Habad house, is a local restaurant run by an Israeli couple. There, we met David and Tsach, and they told us that we overtook their bus at some point, but we couldn't hear them calling for us because of the wind, then, while we rested and ate at the dhaba place, they saw us again through the window. On both occasions they called for us but we didn't hear, and they tell us that all the Indians thought they were crazy for just shouting with no apparent reason on a public bus.
After catching up on some road stories each pair had from the ride over, we started talking about our next move.
Around Kasol are dozens of small villages; villages aimed solely toward Indian tourism, to villages that produce their own drug. Our aim was more specific, toward a small village, by the name of Rasol (pronounced "Rashol"). We asked our guest house manager, Amarajh, some questions about how to get there, and how far away it was. Kasol is about 1500 meters above sea level, Rasol is 2700 meters, meaning we need to climb by foot. We ended our day by resting earlier than usual, because of the ride back from Manali. The climb to Rasol should take around two hours, depending on the weather, we will see when we'll start the climb.

Early the next morning, Shmulik and I rolled, pushed, shoved and fought the bike to the mechanic who agreed to do the work for me, and replace the tire. We carried it to the other end of Kasol, and left the bike at the shop. We went to town to get a few things, and also found David and Tsach in some shop. We talked more about Rasol, and found out some more details, like what to take, what to see up there and what to do. We decided to rest one more night, buy some things and make the climb the next morning, because it was raining for two days, but the sky was clearing toward sun set, and if it holds until the morning, we go.
Later that evening I went back to the bike shop, to get my bike back, finding the mechanic in the middle of pumping air in to the tire, and putting it back in place. I had to argue about the price he wanted, becsuse at first he said one fix price, but then, when the work was done, he suddenly said the price didn't include work time. I didn't like that, so I argued and gave him only what he asked for in the beginning, and left the place. Not going back there anymore. After everything was said and done, the four of us planned for an early start to climb to Rasol.

We all woke up, packed everything we needed for two-three days, and took all we didn't need, in to town for safe keeping. Then, we ate in our local dhaba, gathered some strength, and began our ascent. To get to the trail leading up, we needed to cross the same bridge we cross for the hot spring, just across from town, on the other bank. I took everything I brought with me to India, carrying everything in my muchilla, weighing over 20 kg. The route to Rasol is one narrow, steep path, and no vehicle can drive up it. No car, motorcycle, bus, lorry, bicycle or even roller blades can make it up there, only people and animals who walk all the way up. Because of this, Rasol is more expensive than Kasol is. From what we've heard from locals we asked, porters have to carry goods up there, two-three times per day. This makes even toilet paper more expensive than in most places, almost double the price for the same item, in Kasol.

Until next time, remember to Share the love

Posted by Son_of_Axe 04:55 Comments (0)


rain 13 °C

Slow ride, take it easy!

On Wednesday, two days after the seder, and one day after after Holi, Shmulik and I left Kasol. We each woke up at our own pace, checked out of the guest house, and started our last preparations for departure. I took my bike for one last check up in the garage, then went to Omer and Noya's place to say goodbye, for they were leaving an hour later for Delhi, on a 12 bus ride, then to take a flight to Thailand on Thursday.
At around half past three in the after noon we finally said our goodbyes, and started to load the bike with our muchillas. My bike has a big iron rail connected, and we tied all our equipment to it. We started our ride to the south, looking for a gas station first, which came only after a few km, in the next town we arrived in, called Gerry (like the name Jerry). We refueled, added two bottles of 2 litres each, for extra gas, and headed east to our first waypoint, a town by the name of Bundhar. The way over there was full of cars, and bikes. The road is badly damaged for most of the way, and rarely paved. We stopped on the way to take some pictures before the big mountain, connected to the Himalayas, disappears from view. We felt very comfortable riding the bike. The Royal Enfield I bought is very stable, with great suspension for when we encountered potholes, and a strong engine, for when we needed power going uphill. Then the problems started. About an hour and half after departure from Kasol, the engine heated up because of all the weight. We got stranded on the side of the road two hours before sun set, and the way to Manali should take about 4-4.5 hours. We asked people around us how far the next town was, and learned it was 7 km away. We decided to let the engine cool down for a while, before we could go any further. By pure chance, a taxi stops next to us, and through the window I see Omer, asking us if we need help. They were on the way to the bus station. I suggested Shmulik will go in the car with them to the next town, and this will make it lighter for the engine. We split up and I followed behind, trying to keep up with the quick car on this bumpy road. After several more km's of careful riding, we entered the fray that is known as Bundhar, Me on my bike and the car before me. The taxi dropped Shmulik close by, and sped away toward their destination. We started asking around for someone who will change my oil, and strengthen a few loose bolts. We found a nice mechanic that started work immediately, opening up the gear box to empty, then change the oil. This took some time, like everything else in India, and while we waited, some Punjabi people on some pilgrimage, started talking to us, asking many questions and offering us some of their local foods. We were given some Indian chai, and very nice and very kind treatment from the people we met. After more than an hour, we could finally be on our way again. The sun had already started to set, and Manali was more than 25 km away. We discussed whether to finish journey, or to call it a night in the next waypoint we set for ourselves, a town named Kullu. On the way to Kullu, things started to get trickier. It was dark now, people drive like animals on the road, overtaking each other with no second thought. Though all this takes place, the average speed of cars is no more than 50 km/h, I never once went over 60, not even reaching 5th gear. Driving in the darkness made me be twice as careful, and at some point, before reaching Kullu, Shmulik suddenly noticed something flying off one of our bags. We stopped on the side of the road, to see if anything was missing, and decided we could continue. After ten more minutes on the dark road, he suddenly noticed his pouch, carrying his passport, and thousands of Indian currency, called Rupi, was missing. Trouble.
We disembarked near a hotel, in the light, to see if maybe, by chance he put it in another bag and just forgot, but chances, he said, were slim. He practically unloaded his whole muchilla to search, but in vain. We quickly strapped his muchilla back on the rail, and turned around to look for the spot where he noticed the thing flying off of us. We started searching blindly, him on foot reaching further down the direction which we came from, coming from Bundhar, and me using my bike's headlight to searvh the road. After more than thirty minutes of search, Shmulik reappeared with a spark of hope. He said, that while searching with his small LED light, he was reenacting how he packed, and remembered he took out his pouch, to write something in his notebook, which he keeps in the pouch, and maybe, just maybe, he forgot it in the guest house, where our friends are still staying at. We talked it over, and agreed to finish the ride as early as we could, reach Manali, find a guest house and hope we'll be able to find an internet connection that will still be open by the time we get there. We arrived in Manali just after 10 PM, chilled, hungry, tired and still had much to do and less time to do it in. First thing, we looked for a place to stay, taking a suggestion from someone we met, recommending a place called The Wooden House. It was easy enough to find, on a trail leading uphill, on a steep climb, so we took a room there, sharing a bed, and then asked the owner whether he knows if there were any internet places still open. He directed us down hill, in the direction we originally came from, to a small shop, that according to him had the fastest connection in this area, owned by a guy named Shalom. On him later. We walked out in the cold night, to look for this Shalom, on the way down, there were many shops and places to sit and eat, and signs in all kinds of languages, but Hebrew was the most common non-Hindu language that could be seen on the way down. Reaching Shalom's shop, we saw it was closed, crushing what little hope we still had of finding Shmulik's pouch. We made our way back uphill to the guest house, and saw on the way an open restaurant, full of people. We went in, because the sign outside said they have open WiFi. We went straight to the front desk guy, and begged him for the password saying it's an emergency. He gave us the password, and we could finally breathe a sigh of relief, at least now we can send a message to the outside world, and find out if Shulik's pouch really was back in Kasol. We tried calling first but no answer, so we sent messages to several friends and waited for response. After some time, we both agreed there's no point for us to just stand there and wait, so we decided to call it a night, and hope that tomorrow, some news will get through from the front lines.

The next morning, after some very needed sleep, we quickly got ready, and headed downhill, this time in day light, but rain started during the night, so the cold stayed too. During day time, we could see all the shops that were closed the night before, now open for business. We went together to Shalom's shop again, this time he was open, and we went online, to fish for some answers. During the night I received a message from Omer, telling me he spoke to one of our friends in the guest house in Kasol on the phone, and said they found the pouch, on the table where we sat, just before we left for Manali. Relieved, we asked someone there we could trust, to bring the pouch over to the local Chabad house. Now that we knew where everything was, we could relax, and now is the time to talk about Shalom. Shalom's shop is owned by an Indian fellow, his full name is Shalomraj, and is a place with computers and internet, like many shops we've seen here before, but with great connection. Shalom is also some sort of a travel agent, where you can book flights and bus tickets to various destinations. He also has a gigantic cloud library, with over 10 Terra bites of music. Cataloged by 0-9 and A-Z, one can find nearly anything one is looking for, from Hindu music to Hebrew, every kind of genre, from hip-hop to heavy metal, classical music and classical rock, famous bands and ones that have disappeared over the years. Every time I went there I got lost for hours, looking for new and old material, and erasing some of my own players' memory, to make space.
In the afternoon, after hours spent at Shalom's library, we went back to the guest house to find something to eat. Later that afternoon, Shmulik and I wanted to see the market in Manali. Little did Shmulik know, when he agreed to join me on this ride, that I had my own agenda. Vegetables and spices are easy to find in any market in India, you just need to look for the best looking stock. To find a good knife in India, that is a different story. Since I landed in Delhi, I looked in every market, asking locals, where I can find a good knife. In Bolivia, I traveled with a big hunting knife I found in some market, in southern Chile. That knife was of poor quality, and broke somewhere in the jungles in Bolivia. After that knife broke I've been looking to replace it, and all my queries led me here, to Manu Market, Manali. Somewhere in that market is the trekking shop I've been searching for nearly a month, but first, we find vegetables, first, I let Shmulik look for food, while I keep an extra eye open for anything that looks remotely like a trekking shop, and some shops are very confusing to the searching eye. We spent several hours in the market, and after buying all the food and spices we needed, I told Shmulik my intentions, now that we finally have everything we need for supper. Manu Market is located right at the entrance to Manali city, so to get to our part of the city, where we were staying, it was necessary to ride through it. It is made up of one main road, where thousands of people, tourists and locals, walk in every direction, and dozens of small streets and alleyways, where more shops lurk. I wanted to go deeper into the streets, that's where you find the good stuff. While dodging all kinds of things the shop owners sell, we came across one small trekking shop. In my eyes, that shop glowed, blinding out all the others, I could see it's small display of knives from the outside. I stepped in and greeted the shop owner, so that I could start off on the right foot, if prices are too high. I asked first about portable gas cans I can take out for trekking, because even that is difficult to get here in India. He gave me two for a good price, and then I asked about his knives. He showed me his Swiss army knives and small pocket knives, but I was looking for something more serious. He then showed me four bigger knives, their prices ranging from 1000 Rupi to 3750 Rupi. I believe a man does not choose his knife, I believe a man's knife chooses him. A perfectly balanced, hard rubber hilt, razor sharp, and shiny blade. Curved like a hunting knife should be curved, about 10-12 inches long. The guy asked 2000 Rupi for it, and doing the quick math in my head, this knife costs less than 140 NIS. I decided against trying to bargain for the price, because a knife this well made, is worth a whole lot more than what he was asking for it. I gladly paid for the knife and gas, and exited the shop. On the way up, while walking back to the guest house, we bumped into two friends from Rishikesh. David and Tzach are from Petach Tiqwa, both fresh out of the army, no more than a year. We started walking together up the mountain the street was paved over and some dog started to follow us quite in the beginning, this took us in a trail leading, probably, to the mountain peak. With no planing ahead, we started to walk on this trail, most of it was through some stream, with the dog guarding us from vantage points he could reach that we couldn't. About half way up, we actually realized where we were going, and saw that we weren't nearly prepared enough for this kind of trek/rock climbing, and made our way down. On the way down we talked it over, and David suggested we move to their guest house the next morning. We saw it had a great view over the entire valley, from East to West, surrounded by snowy peaks. That night, we spent sitting together, the four of us, David, Tsach, Shmulik and I, and two more girls we saw only once more since.

Early the next morning, we woke up and packed our belongings as early as possible, because if we missed check out time, they'd make us pay for an extra night. Because we are carrying with us things that weigh as much as another person, we literally had to make two trips on the bike, to carry everything to Tsach and David's guest house. We took a room right next to theirs, and immediately started to plan a big dinner for the four of us, making a list of things to buy. I spoke to the guest house owner, if he would let us use his kitchen for cooking. He said yes, for a small price. David and I, then took the bike downhill, to the center, to find ingredients. We started by looking for beans, spices and eggs, then went on for vegetables and rice. After we found everything on the list, I wanted to see one more thing in the market. When I was in the market for the first time, with Shmulik, I saw a different trekking shop than the one from the day before. I wanted a good top to wear while riding, so I found one I liked, one that prevents wind from freezing me on the road, and convinced the salesperson to give it to me for 500 Rupi less than what they were actually asking for it. As soon as we finished with the shopping, we rode back to the guest house, and started work on our shabbat dinner. Each one had his own part to do, with cutting, and slicing, peeling and cleaning, we had plenty to do. If someone would finish his work, he would be in charge of music, for the time being. Dinner was served much later than shabbat, so we ate while stars were shinning outside. Because Manali is very high up, and this hill our guest house was on, was even higher, the air was very clean compared to other places, and that night was clear, and the stars were bright. We talked until the early hours of the night about our intentions for tomorrow, we wanted, maybe, to finish that climb we started a few days ago with the dog, or go skiing, or roll down a hill in a giant inflating ball. We set our alarm clocks for 7:30, because no matter what we were going to do tomorrow, it will be early, and said good night.

Saturday, March 30, we woke up late. All of us.
None of us woke up early enough to wake the others, so we ended up wasting a full day drinking, eating and later, ransacking some more music from Shalom's shop. We also talked about our next move. I said that my reason for coming here, to Manali, was satisfied, and I want to see the villages around Kasol. That means, I need to ride back to Kasol, and start asking questions there. Everyone agreed this should be the next move, the only question was the timing of it. When will we leave Manali?
Staying In Manali right now is a waste of time. I came here for the trekking shops, and also because a friend recommended a good Enfield mechanic in one of the villages around here. Most of the shops were still closed for the season, nearly no tourists of any nationality, and the weather was too unpredictable. So leaving as soon as possible quickly became the topic. How, was the next obstacle. Now that we are four, travelling together was problematic. Only two people and their muchillas fit on the bike, the other two had to think creatively. Tomorrow, Shmulik and I, will leave on the bike, wish us luck that nothing will break this time.

Until then, Share the love.

Posted by Son_of_Axe 11:02 Archived in India Comments (0)

Parvati Valley


semi-overcast 13 °C


When last I wrote I was just about to leave on a mini-bus ride, to Kasol. 12 people gathered, we were the fellowship of the mini-bus. We all came to the meeting point at seven PM, and waited for the driver to get there. We only had to wait ten or fifteen minutes, so it was OK. We spent that time talking amongst ourselves, and getting to know a few people who were new. Finally, after a short while, our driver arrived and we immediately started to load our backpacks. Our driver climbed on the roof and tied everything together. Here's to hoping nothing will get lost on the way. We started to file in, one by one, finding our seats inside, for that seat will be the only seat each one sat on for the rest of the way. The beginning of the ride was fairly easy. Everyone still had energy, because it was still early, we all went into simultaneous conversations in all directions. At the beginning, we hoped to watch a movie on the small screen, but that dream flew out the window, as we couldn't make the little doo-hicky work. The ride was very cramped the whole way, and more than once, while trying to find a good position, I found myself kicking someone, or being at the receiving end of a kick. Along the way, there are plenty of small villages that we passed through, so every few hours we stopped to drink Indian chai. The scenery on the way must have been quite something, but it was dark for most of the way, so we couldn't really make anything out of what we saw. As the morning came closer and closer, we realized that we were heading for the mountains, the road was getting narrower, and below us opened up Parvati Valley. This valley is where Kasol is, but on the far end of where we entered it. The valley itself is mostly green today, because it rained a lot recently, the terrain is rocky with plenty of streams coming down from the peaks of the mountains. Little villages litter the valley, with farms and farmers everywhere. A very beautiful place to be in the rising sun. A special thing about Parvati valley, is that marijuana plants grow wild on the sides of the road. In every village we drove through, and the mountain road in between, we saw it everywhere.
The valley was just beautiful once the sun came up.
Though it was early morning, our journey was not yet over. We still had a very long way to go. More than once, we stopped again and again for Indian chai, bathroom breaks and picture break, each one taking its toll on our timing.
After more hours of driving alongside a river, in a forest, the valley opened up, and before us were the first buildings in Kasol. Ahead of us, looming, gigantic and towering above all the others, was the first of the Himalayas. Its presence is felt everywhere you go in town.
As soon as we disembarked, we split up into teams of twos and threes, and we all started to look for places to stay, while at least two people stayed behind to watch the bags. Quickly, each group found its own place to stay, each group in a different guest house. I found a room in a place right on the river, overlooking a bridge the stream runs under. I had a small porch looking down the river, where at some point, Omer and I suntanned on.
I teamed up with the girl I was sitting next to on the mini-bus, and we took that room together. Omer and Noya were four doors away from us. A great start to Kasol, we quickly became hungry, so we went out to look for something to eat.
Omer and Noya weren't hungry, so only me and the girl from my room went out. Next, I found myself in a Nepali restaurant, with a girl I barely know, and have nothing in common with, in a city I have never been in. When we went in, the first thing I saw was a group of Israelis, sitting like zombies and ordering the waiter around, like he was some kind of servant. I immediately started to dislike the place, because of the fact that the sitting arrangement makes you sit on the floor, on low tables, and it just made the whole scene more obnoxious. I felt sorry for the waiters, and shame for how my country is represented. I didn't want to be there for longer than I needed, so I stayed away from conversations, and didn't engage one with the girl I came with. The sooner out of that place, the better. After a very long night-day-night, we were both very tired, so after we each took a shitty shower, in our shitty little bathroom, I could finally go to sleep.

The remaining days of my first week in Kasol, were spent by getting to know the town, and sitting around with friends. The first two nights I spent in the guest house room I took with the girl. After I understood from her that she doesn't really want to be in that guest house, she kept complaining about the cold because the room had no heating and we both froze at night, so I decided I wasn't going to stick around for her to leave me, and then I'd be stuck paying the full amount for renting that room. I found a guest house through some friends I met here, and finally got myself a room with a mini fireplace.
In that guest house I share a room with an Israeli guy, and with us are two others in a separate room. Also staying there are two Italians and an Indian fellow. The Indian guy's name is Karthik (pronounced Kartik), he's 24-25 y/o, and he is really cool and great to hang around with. He knows the area extremely well, because he's been in Kasol for about a month now. He showed us a hot spring just outside of town, three and a half minutes away by foot. All we had to do is cross one raggedy bridge, but the clear view straight at the snowy mountain, is worth every risk. The local population comes to this hot spring for various reasons. People bathe there, wash their cloths, get hot water into town for cooking and other uses. The rocks that come into contact with the sprouting are all warm to the touch of hand, and warms ones behind on a cold afternoon.
After our first visit to the spring, Karthik took us twenty meters further, to a small cave. The cave was made by man, it's a deep rock that was sealed by concrete except for a small door opening. Before entering we were asked to take our shoes and sandals off, and inside we understood why. This place we were in was a shrine. A Hindu Baba lives there. Karthik told us that in order to become a Baba, a person will need to exclude himself from society, and go live on his own, in the wild. In order to reach enlightenment, these people live in extreme conditions, whether if its in the forest, desert or mountains, and only after 12 years of this so called "training", these people will receive the title of Baba. After becoming a Baba, that individual will keep on living in half exile, he will have no money, and can only accept donations of food, or practical things for living outdoors. They can only dress themselves in cloth, in which they wrap around themselves, never more than two or three pieces. Each Baba has his own thing. For example, one Baba will live only on potatoes and water, and nothing else, his title will be Aloo (potatoes in Hindu) Baba. Or the Baba that lives in that cave we were in, the Cave Baba. Another type of Baba, is the motorcycle riding Baba, Avenger Baba, because of the type of motorcycle he rides.
While we sat and listened about the Baba's in India, we learned that there are over ten million Babas here, and they are also protected from the law. Therefore, they're also allowed to smoke, for "recreational" purposes, the local drug that is manufactured here, in India, the jarras. It is made out of the type of marijuana grass that grows wild in these mountains. After a while in the cave, the sun began to set, and the resident Baba came "home". He lit a small bonfire outside the cave, and we found ourselves in an extraordinary situation. This person isn't allowed to converse, so we all spoke in hushed voices amongst ourselves. We were five Israelis sitting around that fire, along with Karthik, another Indian guy that joined us, two other Indian locals, whom I assumed were some sort of disciples of the Baba, the Baba himself and another local, that resembled Frank Zappa terribly, only he had silver hair. The night sky was clear and the moon was only quarter full, but still very bright. We could see entire constellations clearly, and finally, I knew where to look to find the North. After about an hour of hushed conversations, we respectfully said our goodbyes, and started back. This time, when we past by the spring, it was steaming hot against the cool night air, we climbed the rocks, up to the bridge again, and across it in to town. We finished our day with some food and drinks, said good night, and I battled my mattress to find a good position to sleep in, alas, it is still India, I gave up and came to terms with the fact that in the morning, I will wake up sore.

On Saturday, March 23rd, I bought my motorcycle here in India. I ride a Chinese motorcycle at home, I bought her in April of 2012, I have invested a lot of time and money, sweat and tears into her. But I still love her. Her name is Gemma. Today, to keep her busy (and still running by the time I get back home), I gave her to my friend at home, Nir. Here in India, many Israelis come to travel. Some of them choose to travel all these distances on a bike, instead of local transportation, whether it be by bus, train, taxi or a domestic flight. The most common motorcycle type on the roads in India is the Royal Enfield. A very old brand, with models dating back to thirties. The beauty about traveling that way, is that you're not obligated to any time table what-so-ever. You can travel at your own pace, from town to city, and on the road itself. I have spoken to many people that have traveled that way, and heard stories about villages they visited, that are unknown to most people who travel there. You happen upon a small village overlooking some amazing valley, or mountain, and you simply would never have gotten there without a bike. That is why I bought this new bike. It's a 2005 Royal Enfield Bullet, with 350 cc engine. My direction now that I have a motorcycle, after seder Pesach, is to wait with Omer and Noya, to leave for Delhi, which is two days after the seder, and then head to Manali, north of here.

Pesach came on March 25th. From the beginning of this trip, Omer, Noya and I all knew that we were going to spend our Seder here, in Kasol. The question was, where and how? I came up with an Idea of doing something different. Instead of going to the Habad house, where there will be hundreds of people, we will do one of our own, from top to bottom. I call it a Progressive Seder. We needed to collect the right people to join in on our scheme, and organize everything. Omer and I wanted to print hagadas, and do this somewhere outdoors. That idea quickly became obsolete, as it was rejected by Noya. One of the first (of very few) people who joined our cause, was Tal, Noya's friend. The both of them were very against reading the hagada, due to bad experiences in the past. But I insisted, that instead of compromising, and not doing anything for the occasion, and ending up in one of the restaurants here, and eating from the same food we eat almost everyday. Omer supported the idea of doing our own seder, so eventually, Noya and Tal spoke to the guest house owner, and got the kitchen for the day. We also met three others who joined in, they were Chen, Maya and Raz. There were only seven of us in the seder, but with enough wine for all of us, food that we cooked ourselves, and good company, Omer and I could tap each other on the shoulder, and call the night a success.

The next day after Pesach, was an Indian holiday, called Holi. I don't really understand what the celebration is, but the custom is to go to war. With color. The shops on the streets suddenly sell this kind of powder paint you can either throw as it is, or mix it with water. I left the guest house at noon-ish toward town, and found a bloody scene. People were walking around with yellow, pink, red and green color on them, some from head to toe. I quickly joined the fray, when I met my Israeli comrades, fighting against Indian locals. I quickly gave anything of importance to some girls I knew, and earned my stripes. Not long after I joined, Omer arrived from his guest house, fresh for the fight. Some twenty or thirty Israelis, trying to hold the main crossroads of Old Kasol, we encountered some fierce resistance from the local kids and teenagers, women and girls on the roofs and balconies, and one roof, held by a bunch of locals with a giant container of water, and three buckets, to shower anyone brave enough to pass in their range of fire. They rained terror on the street until twenty brave, young men laid their lives to take the hill. We charged up the stairs, deflecting resistances all the way to the first roof leading up to the objective. There, we found ourselves before an Indian with a bucket, full of red water-paint, and no-one wanted to receive that on the head, for the wind was cool outside. Finally, Omer made the ultimate sacrifice and moved to make the enemy waste his only deterrent. As soon as the bucket was empty we stormed up the stairs, taking to water tank for Israeli control. The battle was fought by the brave men and women of The Israeli-Kasol Militia. By the end of the day, the whole town was painted in various colors, cars and motorcycle were mostly pink. At some point, in the evening, when the whole war game was about to end, I was walking to the west, to get to an Internet place. To get there, I needed to pass through that part of the main street, and what I saw reminded me extremely of old western movies. On top of every building, and every balcony, there were people waiting with bucket-fulls of painted water, in ambush. The street narrowed down to a tight squeeze, because people were standing there, creating a sort of bottle-neck. This whole situation made me feel like the people on the rooftops were snipers in a movie, and the street was empty, because a big shootout is about to begin. While avoiding open air, I saw two motorcycles driven by a bunch of Israelis, three people on each bike, heading toward that ambush. I couldn't resist the urge to wait there, and see what happens. As soon as the first bike came through the first building, they were peppered by water and paint from every roof, balcony and person on the street. Small puffs of paint powder could be seen from the distance I was standing, against the evening sun. Priceless, that I witnessed a crazy scene like that.
The day ended when Omer, myself and a few other, all went to the hot springs, there we took our cloths off, and made the first attempt at removing all the paint. Eventually, it took two more showers, back in the guest house, to return to my natural, un-pink color.

The next day after the Holi was my last day in Kasol, for now. Omer and Noya are about to leave on a long bus ride back to Delhi, from there, a flight to Thailand. I joined up with an Israeli guy, named Shmulik, who used to be religious, but not anymore. Together we decided we want to head north, to a city called Manali. I made preparations with the bike for my first cross-city ride.

I hope everything goes well. Until next time, Share the Love.

Posted by Son_of_Axe 23:25 Archived in India Comments (0)


Mumbai - Delhi - Rishikesh

sunny 25 °C

Namste everyone,

My flight from Israel was at night. I arrived safely in Mumbai airport on Thursday, the next morning. On the flight itself I sat next to an Israeli girl whom I ended up talking to for most of this eight hour flight. She was younger than me and on her first trip after her army service. Eventually, after landing in Mumbai, she went her way, to the south of the country, whereas I was heading to Delhi. I had a five hour connection in Mumbai and not much to do there. I spent my time reading and listening to music, while waiting for the flight that takes me north, to Delhi. After five hours that I felt like they wouldn't end, I flew to Delhi on a short domestic flight with Indian Air.

When I landed, my survival instincts took over, I quickly detected the first Israeli I saw, and we banded together because Israelis are stronger when in numbers. We ended up gathering seven people. A pack. While talking, we all said we need to get to the same place, the main bazaar in Delhi. We all split two taxis out of the airport and in to the city, I was with two other guys. This is where we met India for the first time. A billion people in cars, bikes, rikshas (small bikes with three wheels that acts like a small taxi), wagons carried by donkeys and yaks, on the same road, overtaking each other from all directions. No road rules at all.
Omer told me in which guest house he and his girlfriend, Noya, are staying in, and this is where we went, Hotel Harre Ramma. I got there while they were still asleep, after a night bus that they took and had no sleep in. I woke them up, and they were surprised to see me like this without any warning and very happy as well. They showed me around in the bazaar area, which is basically a street market. Leather shops, tailors, shoe and spices shops of all kinds, and souvenir shops. The alleys were very cramped and narrow, and everywhere you go someone is trying to sell you something. Omer took me shopping after we ate dinner. We went in to a leather shop, and I bought a leather belt for less than 15$. The next shop was a very nice Indian man's called Uri's shop (an all most Israeli name, but probably a short for some long Indian name), he took my measurements and made me overnight jeans for less than 20$. I can finally buy a new wardrobe on my own terms. It's been five years since the last time.
Anyway, after walking around some more, and just looking, we had to find a way to leave Delhi as soon as possible. Omer led the way to another nice Indian man, called Charley. Charley is a travel agent, and is the man to see if you need to get somewhere. Everyday at 15:30 a train leaves Delhi to a city called Rishikesh, and that is where we wanted to go, so we asked Charley about train tickets, but he said it was overbooked until the 11th. We didn't like the idea of being stuck in Delhi for more than a day, because Omer and Noya had precious little time left here in India. We both came back to the guest house beaten, but still not defeated. We spent the rest of the night eating and drinking and just talking about our options for the following day. The next morning we came back to Charley, this time re-enforced by a woman that knows what she wants, and how to get there. Noya finally asked Charley if he can set us up a taxi all the way to Rishikesh, fours hours away by train, by car it should take six, he got us a young driver, and two hours later, we checked out of the guest house, and were already on our way to Rishikesh. We left Delhi at four in the afternoon. Our driver may have been young, 23-24 we understood from him, but he knew the way perfectly and took his job very seriously. We felt completely at ease with his driving. The ride dragged on for just over seven hours in the end, because the ride was mostly slow paced because of all the traffic. It was very often slowed down by wagons full of wood, people, materials, goods, by big trucks, buses, and pedestrians completely obstructed by the dark. On one particular break, about halfway, we stopped to refuel. This is where I saw what kind of an effect a pretty blond girl could have on people who probably had never seen one before. Indians like to stare, if its worth stopping anything and everything they were just doing, they can just group together, stand there and just look. It's kind of eerie when dozens of people just stand and stare at something or someone. As quickly as the tank was full again, we took off from there, because Noya was starting to feel Very uncomfortable with the whole "show". Lucky for us we had cookies that Omer's mother home-made for us, we shared with our driver of course, and carried on with the journey. On the way I had a long time to observe and absorb. On a drive like this you get to really see, hear and, more than anything else, smell India. It's very hard to breath here while on the roads, because of all the fumes and pollution. We stopped only one more time for Indian chai, and asked the driver to get us there as quickly as possible. Well, actually we mimed it more that anything else, because our driver couldn't speak a word of English.

After an interesting, fun, and tiring ride we arrived right at the river crossing inside Rishikesh, and another Israeli friend of Omers was waiting for us to show us the way, across the bridge to his guest house. He is about to finish a six months trip, with his girlfriend, across half of Asia. They gave us mattresses to sleep on for the night, and fed us in their guest house apartment.
The next morning we moved in to our own room, with a double and a single bed, a kitchen and a bathroom. We spent most of the day getting to know the area around us, and mostly doing nothing. We bought some cloths, and food to cook.
The town itself is very small, it lies on both sides of the Gangas river. Most of the town is just one big market, and the area is full of tourists for one reason. Rishikesh is where The Beatles visited India in the '60. There's a big yoga ashram just two or three km away, so we walked there. The way to the yoga temple is horrible. You pass through town, and all of the town's garbage is just lying there in the streets, cow crap litters the paths, the place is a mess. On the way, we saw yoga temples and even a big sign for an International Yoga Festival. Who knew they existed. The Gangas river flows from the north, and is extremely clean at that particular area. The water is freezing because it flows from the Himalayas. The ashram we went to today, is an abandoned complex of buildings and shrines. Houses and small hangers lie dead among the foliage and growth. It is so overgrown with vegetation, it's hard to walk from building to building. Inside the main temple (if that's what it was), there are signs of a small community that used to live there, looks more recent than The Beatles' visit. The people who lived there made their mark by painting on the walls, and leaving also a dedication. There's not much to do there, the place is exactly what it sounds like, abandoned and filthy. It's too bad nobody took care of the place all those years, it could have been something really special. We didn't stay there for too long, because Noya, Omer's girlfriend, couldn't handle the walk for too long, she had a hard time there so we started to make our way back to the guest house, meeting three other Israelis that went to the ashram as well on the way, so we walked together. The people of the town make it a habit of washing themselves in the river, it looks mostly clean, and it comes all the way from the Himalayas, so the water is freezing. At some point on the way back we stopped to rest right on the riverbed, we washed our heads and feet in the freezing water until the police came. Maybe it's not allowed for tourists to enter that particular spot, who knows, we couldn't really understand what they were yelling at us.

The next two days we spent on motorbikes. We rented two, from a small agency around the corner from our guest house. We took them across the bridge to the other side, we saw monkeys roaming the streets like they own them. On the bridge, we saw them pray on the unsuspecting, snatching food out of their hands. We went across town looking for interesting things to see, finding only one small, insignificant waterfall. It hasn't rained here in ages, so there isn't much water in the river and streams. The "waterfall" was very sorry-looking. Other than that, only scenery was left. That was something else, let me tell you.
We found a vantage point overlooking the entire valley, from east to west. The Gangas river flowing gloriously from the east, slithering it way below the city. Above that, the mountains towering, leading it away in to distance, finally curving away to north behind another slope. The city, from afar, looks completely different than from within. Magnificent temples in various colours, stand above the rest of the buildings. Hotels, restaurants and shops can clearly be seen. We ended those two days having dinner in a Nepali restaurant, talking about what should we do next.

After a few more days of basically just relaxing, sitting with people and getting to know new friends, we decided we should continue our movement northward. Our next destination will be Kasol. We planned a late night mini-bus ride across countryside, for Saturday night. We gathered our companions and reached 12 strong. Before that, we still had Friday night to take care of. We cooked a great big dinner for fifteen people, each one did something else to help with the group effort. Omer and I went shopping for veggies in the market, and seeing on the way two cows fighting over a scrap of garbage. When we returned, we joined the cutting and the slicing and the cooking. we sealed the evening with great food and company. We didn't stay up too late, because tomorrow morning we needed to check out early.
We spent the next day, Saturday, in chai shops, eating lunch, and playing card games the whole afternoon. Toward evening, we started to gather all the people who were coming with us.

So far, I find India quite disappointing. It really wasn't what I was expecting, but I do have experience in countries that have neglected themselves. The things I experienced in Bolivia are not much different than some of what I've already seen here so far.
I am still Intrigued by what people find India so special. Maybe Kasol will show me some thing else, but that I will know only tomorrow, after the gruelling ride still ahead of me.

Until then, Happy Birthday to Oran, Adam and Yuval who had their birthdays the same week I left for India.
Share the Love.

Posted by Son_of_Axe 04:07 Archived in India Comments (0)

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