We chose to visit the North of India because we wanted to spend some time in the mountains, enjoy a “fall like” climate and meet some people from Tibet. Since we will spend six months in Southeast Asia, we decided not to visit the South of India, where the temperature is more tropical. We started our journey in the State of Himachal Pradesh, North of India, in the heart of the Himalayas. We visited three cities, Shimla, Manali, and McLeod Ganj. In this post, we will talk about Shimla and Manali as we will dedicate another post strictly for McLeod Ganj. Since the train tracks stops in Shimla, people must travel in this mountain paradise either by taxi or bus. On our side, it is by bus that we decided to travel and we have experienced all kind of buses. We crossed several villages at high-speed on narrow roads on the edge of the mountains. We take this opportunity to thank Shiva, Ganesh, Brahma, Vishnu and Buddha for watching over us for these crazy trips!
From Delhi, we first went to the town of Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh. Since we unfortunately failed to get signed up on the train booking system that you need to use in India, we could not take the famous Himalayan train. We took the ‘Volvo’ bus from the Government Bus Agency. We arrived very late in Shimla and we headed to our hotel which was probably the highest hotel of the region, it’s a good thing that we have taken a taxi because it went up and up for a long time. We loved the pedestrian street in Shimla even if it was very busy with pedestrians, there were no cars circulating with their incessant Horn noise.
The next morning, we went to visit the Jakhu Temple. To get up there, we had to keep walking up because the temple is located at the top of a mountain which is topped by a huge statue, measuring over thirty meter, representing the monkey God Hanuman. Not surprisingly, it is possible to find a large population of rhesus macaques. We had to carry a stick in our hands to keep away the monkeys that were a little too aggressive. We have seen one of these primates try to steal a woman’s scarf. We think they had a taste of the wooden stick treatment more than once because we only needed to hit the ground with the stick so that they would run away from us. It was our first visit to a Hindu temple and we made our first mistake: we went near the temple with our shoes! We were challenged by the guard quickly enough. In our defence, there was nothing written in English on the signs. It was very interesting to see a completely different cult from Christianity, the offerings that people do, the bell they ring, the different statues, etc.
Due to its colonial past, it is possible to see many Victorian mansions in Shimla. We went to visit the Viceregal Lodge, an impressive British building surrounded by a beautiful garden both dating from 1888. Today, it is used by graduate students who can go in this peaceful place to study. We did a guided tour, that brought us to a few different rooms exhibiting several pictures from before and after the independence of the country. We had met two nice Swiss gentlemans on the bus and by chance, we met them again at the entrance of the Lodge and have decided to spend part of the day together. We ended our excursion by a having good lunch together in the center of Shimla. It was good to be able to have a discussion with other adults 😉
There’s definitely a more hippie vibe in Manali and it’s in the Old Manali that we dropped our bags down for a few days. We stayed in a family suite above a good restaurant with music that seemed to come out directly from Simon’s ipod. Manali is apparently the most touristic place in the State of Himachal Pradesh. We certainly have no difficulty to believe it given the high number of hotels, guest houses or hostels that we saw there. While there was a large population of rhesus macaques in Shimla, Manali had a large population of wild dogs. Different packs indulged in a territorial struggle every night…
Manali is a good base for some great treks in the region. We intended to go to a village which is located a few kilometers from Manali, but we got lost on the road. OOPS! However, we did a lovely hike where we met only one other hiker that was looking for a Japanese tea shop. We also saw a few charming rustic houses made of stone and wood. We arrived on one of the flat area and where treated with a great landscape with cows grazing peacefully. We were amazed by the beauty of the landscape, until two very curious cows decided to come meet us, running at very high speed. Despite the fact that we were backing up, they were decided to continue to pursue us. Let’s just say that we didn’t like the two horns on their head. We decided to turn back and get down the hill at full speed, laughing nervously as we tried to return to the village. The cows followed us to the village like in a horror movie. We all felt a little dumb but we had a good laugh.
We have only seen the outside of this ancient temple which dates back to 1553. Made of wood and stones, this temple is adorned with a multitude of sculptures to the effigy of gods, animals and dancers. There is also a huge collection of different animals antlers. Since the queue to enter the temple was long enough for the Hindus who were there to pray, we decided not to enter the temple. However we went to see the sacred tree which is used to worship Gatothkach. This tree was full of offerings and decorations and we could see several people praying by the tree. People are definitely strong believers in India, the temples are always busy and we can only admire their devotion.
We liked those two different cities. Manali is a great playground for outdoor sports. More laid back, we have preferred the restaurants in this city. Shimla has a lot of older history and benefits from the British heritage that made this city very interesting. We are pleased to have included India in our itinerary, despite a few hiccups so far, we are having a lot of fun discovering this country.