My Himalayan Odyssey Part 10 – Manali Magic

From the darkly beautiful Jalori...

From the darkly beautiful Jalori…

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... to mellow Manali.

… to mellow Manali.

If the trip in and out of Jalori had been fraught with a sense of danger, the drive to Manali was like a breath of fresh air. It is really no surprise that so many travelers list Manali amongst their favourite places to go to. It is a lot like a perfect Mojito – clean, clear, green and cool, with a touch of something sweet. We first had to drive down a bit, cross a valley and then drive up to Manali along beautiful mountain roads that presented one with jaw dropping views at every single turn!

With apologies to Robert Frost - the road not taken all that often.

With apologies to Robert Frost – the road not taken all that often.

The drive to Manali was really special because on the way we saw (and yes this is based on what a local told us… but maybe he was just having a good laugh at the expense of these silly tourist types… I don’t know) the River Tirthan in its infancy… a gurgling, energetic stream tumbling over rocks and boulders on its way to becoming a bigger river. Of course in the land of Sutlej and Beas, the Tirthan is considered a small river.

The locals told us that this stream goes on to become the River Thirtan. Not sure whether he was pulling our collective, ignorant touristy legs... but I like to believe that he was right.

The locals told us that this stream goes on to become the River Thirtan. Not sure whether he was pulling our collective, ignorant touristy legs… but I like to believe that he was right.

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (5)

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (6)

From Jalori to Manali - The Thirtan or so the guy says (1)

I just love the way we see things in comparison to other things. I remember this trip to Vienna and we were being taken around by my husband’s Viennese colleagues contact – Hans. Suresh and I along with two other friends (all of us based in Dubai at that point of time) were walking around with Hans and just taking in the sights and sounds of this historic city. We were so impressed with the palaces and opera houses. And then we saw another beautiful old building and asked Hans, “Tell us about that building.” Hans looks across at the building we were pointing at and just waves his hand and dismisses it saying, “Oh that! It is nothing. It is a new building. Not much story there.” The four of us look at the building and ask Hans, “New! When was it built?” Hans shrugs and says, “Oh about 100 years ago.” It took us a while to make Hans understand why the four of us burst out laughing. In Dubai, if a building is 20 years old, it is considered OLD. Of course in India, the land of Mahabalipuram, Hampi, Ajanta and Elora, even old can be broken up further in to old, really old, ancient and Baba Aadam ke zamane ka (from the time of Baba Aadam (who may or may not be the Adam of Biblical fame)).

Anyway older than all these buildings and maybe Baba Aadam himself are the rivers that flow through this beautiful land. River Tirthan flows through the Tirthan Valley and originates from a spring called the Tirth. (According to the Britannica, Tirtha in Hinduism refers to a holy river, mountain, or other place made sacred through association with a deity or saint. The word tirtha means literally “river ford” and, by extension, a sacred spot. Courtesy http://global.britannica.com). This river is very popular with anglers for its excellent fishing, especially the trout.

Along the way we had to stop for a barf break courtesy my daughter who had feasted on cheesy Cheetos in the back seat, not realising that Cheetos, moving car and a winding mountain road don’t mix well. We were all snapped out of our dreamy admiration of the vista when Sakshi bawled “STOP THE CAR! I am feeling pukey.” We would have made army commandos the world over proud with the speed with which we stopped the car, leapt out, got the kids out from the back seat and made her puke outside the car. The motivation was high – no one wanted to spend hours in a car scented by barf.

Winding mountain roads and cheesy Cheetos don't mix well.

Winding mountain roads and cheesy Cheetos don’t mix well.

While Sakshi recovered from her motion sickness, we sat around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

While Sakshi recovered from her motion sickness, we sat around and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

As one drives on one gets to see the confluence of the Rivers Tirthan, Sainj and the Beas. We were amazed by how different the waters of the three rivers were! At the Sangam (point where the rivers meet) you can actually see one river that is muddy, another that is almost green and the third that is blue.

From this point we started following the River Beas and drove through the 3 kilometer long Aut Tunnel also called the Kullu Manali Tunnel on the Kullu Manali highway.

Crossing the tunnel we soon reached the outskirts of Manali and enjoyed one of the highlights of the trip… Bella… River Banks. (In fact I found out later that this restaurant was also featured by Rocky and Mayur on Highway On My Plate). A Beas riverside restaurant, Bella boasts of the best trout ever, but the highlight for the kids (and the grownups too I must say), was that the restaurant had roped off a small section along the river bank, where one could place one’s plastic tables and chairs and lunch on freshly caught and hot off the stove food, while the ice cold water lapped at your feet.

Fresh Trout at Bella... River Bank

Fresh Trout at Bella… River Bank

River Beas in the background...

River Beas in the background…

This was such a lovely beginning to our stay in Manali. The girls still talk about the fun they had.

This was such a lovely beginning to our stay in Manali. The girls still talk about the fun they had.

The kids had a blast running and hopping along the river bank, picking smooth pebbles and enjoying the glacial cold water. We however could only sit with our feet in the water for this long. 5 minutes later we were moving table, chair and trout to less wetter parts of the riverside.

To be honest, the food was just so-so. However the ambience more than made up for it. They could have served me burnt toast and I would have considered the meal the best ever because the meal was accompanied by a cool mountain breeze, a gurgling ice cold Beas, beautiful mountains in the background, a sunflower garden nearby and so much greenery that my desert-living, greenery parched eyes, heart, mind and soul were soothed and calmed.

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I do have to point out at this stage that keeping in mind the accident that occurred earlier this year when those students were swept away by the waters of the River Beas, we were lucky but we were also in an area that was and still is designated safe by the locals.

The rather fragile wooden barricade let us know how far we could walk along the river bank without any danger to ourselves.

The rather fragile wooden barricade let us know how far we could walk along the river bank without any danger to ourselves.

We hung around in the restaurant for a while and then moved on. The road ahead branched towards Manali to the left and to the right the road led to Manikaran, a pilgrimage centre for Hindus and Sikhs, which I did not get the chance to visit during this trip. A popular Hindu legend is that Manu recreated human life in Manikaran after the catastrophic floods that destroyed all life. In fact this is just one of the legends that make this place so magical; there are so many more captivating stories related to this beautiful holy spot.

However we were on a schedule and we took the road to the left and drove into Manali – the land of Manu, ancient Deodar trees, apple orchards, momos, traditional Kullu shawls, jackets and caps, magic and our destination for the night, Mayflower Hotel.

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My Himalayan Odyssey Part 5 – Chalo Jalori!

Please forgive me… so tardy that I am not even giving an excuse. Just read please. I think the very fact that the www.dangerousroads.org lists the road to Jalori on its site should have warned me off. According to the website, the Jalori Pass (at an elevation of 10,800 ft / 3,120m) above sea level in Kullu, features on every adventurer’s map! The roads are usually closed to vehicular traffic during the winter months. And even during the summers and especially in the monsoons, the winding, narrow roads are a test of one’s driving skill, patience and balls. There are stretches (especially closer to the Pass) of the road which are just one vehicle wide, climbing steeply and where it is nothing but mud, pebble and stones, with the tar layering worn off by the rains, streams, landslides and harsh winters.

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One distracted moment while driving and you are falling down that!

The initial stretch from Narkanda to Jalori (a total of 77kms) down the Ambla-Shimla-Kaurik Road is a dream. Initially we descended from the heights of Hatu and Narkanda and soon the jackets were off as the sun warmed up the mountains. The Ambla-Shimla-Kaurik Road branches off near Sainj and we turned left and took the Sainj-Ani-Banjar-Aut Road. At one point we stopped the car and stepped out for a 10 minute break to just sit and take in the beautiful view which included the Sutlej (Satluj) River snaking its way from one end to the other. The water is brown and muddied from the recent rains and in the hush we could hear its roar even from a great distance.

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Our first glimpse of the majestic Sutlej.

At 1,450km long it is the longest of the five rivers in the region and originates from Rakshastal (Tal means Lake and Rakshas means demons in Hindu mythology – read a bit more about Rakshas at the end of this post) which lies south of Mount Kailash (it is considered the dark to the light of Mansarovar lake), before heading into the Arabian Sea. That is some journey! Along the way The Sutlej (also called the Red River) meets up with the rivers Beas, Chenab and finally the mighty Indus itself.

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The road ran along the River Sutlej before climbing up again towards Jalori Pass.

 

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The Sutlej River tributary along the Sainj-Ani-Banjar-Aut Road.

The Sutlej soon gave way to one of its tributaries as we would our way up the mountain. Along the way we stopped at a roadside dhaba for lunch. It was rather ominously called the Kobra Dhaba, and had a bathroom that had spiders the size of toy teacups. I did not take pictures… I should have but honestly I just wanted to get the hell out of the loo. After a quick bite at the Kobra we continued towards Jalori Pass. The route and the scenery soon changed. The sun was soon shrouded in a thin veil of mist, the trees loomed ominously over us and the road narrowed and twisted and turned sharply. One could not escape the feeling that it was almost like a warning from the mountain Gods… an unspoken sense of anxiety sets in.

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On the edge of nowhere!

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The road to Jalori Pass was almost non-existent. And this happens to be a two-way carriage!

Surya became even more focused on the driving and the other three adults in the car also began to pay attention to the road and the various outcrops, rocks and the clouds. Yugi slept unawares but Sakshi and Parisa stopped squabbling and sat quietly. We crossed the aftermath of a few landslides that had occurred in the recent past which the locals had told us about. Luckily, no lives were lost and the authorities had cleared the road allowing traffic to flow.

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Land of the landslides.

When we had started out on the Sainj-Ani-Banjar-Aut Road we had come across a few rivulets cutting across the road. But they looked tame and were quite easy to ford. In fact the government has now created passages below the road for the mountain streams to flow, thus preventing them from cutting across and wearing down the road. However further up the rivulets were a different beast altogether.

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Small streams created by melting snow – a reason why it is always advisable to step out early before the sun begins to melt the snow.

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The government has now created these passages below the road for the mountain streams to flow, thus preventing them from cutting across and wearing down the road.

While we had been covering the distance at a decent pace until now, our speed was just a few kilometers above crawling now as the road snaked uphill. Up ahead we could see a rivulet (well, it was more a stream) that was cutting across the road. In this particular case the danger was heightened by the fact that the water seemed to be flowing down a channel created by a recent landslide. We were in two minds as to whether we should go ahead or not, when we saw an SUV driving through what looked like a rock-fall road block.

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Rivulets cutting across the road and flowing down the mountain side along a channel cut by a landslide.

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Bhaiyya aage rasta kaisa hai?

We saw a local driving up and Surya hailed him to ask him how the road ahead was. Typically, the answer was “Haan haan bhai, Ja sakte ho. Sab teek hai bas ek chotti si jagah pe thodi dikhat ho sakthi hai.” (Transalation: Oh yes! You can go ahead. You may face a slight problem in a small section of the road.) In the mountains the trick is to read between the lines and the gist of the local’s warnings always amounts to – “Go ahead if you are an experienced driver like us locals. However if you are an amateur ape trying to be macho on the mountain roads, then you’d better turn back cause you are going to be so screwed”. The ‘thodi si dikhat’ or ‘small problem’ he was referring to turned out to be a large chunk of road eaten in to by a landslide. Given that Surya was an experienced driver and used to these roads, we decided to forge ahead. There is a trick to fording these rivulets – it lies in respecting them. They look like they are going to be easy to cross but most of them have a strong under-current and vehicles can very easily lose their grip on the road and find themselves sliding to the edge of the road along with the water flow.

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Rivulets cutting across the road and flowing down the mountain side look deceptively easy to ford.

Image We managed to cross the rivulet though we were too close to the edge for my comfort. Quite a few times, I caught myself thinking ‘this is it’ as I looked out of the window in to the ravine. I don’t know about the others but my heart was in my throat and I could feel the headache returning. Image On the other side of the rivulet loomed a nature-made bottleneck created by the mountain side on one side and a huge rock (no doubt, the remnant of a massive landslide in the past) on the other. I was convinced that the XYLO was going to get stuck between the two.

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An old rock fall which was not cleared means you have to squeeze your vehicle through this!

But there was no way we could turn around at this point… the road was too narrow. So we took inspiration from the local who had driven his SUV through this and said ‘Jai Mata Di’ and forged ahead.

PS 1 (courtesy Wikipedia): It is said that Rakshasas (demons) were created from the breath of Brahma (the creator in the Hindu trinity) when he was asleep at the end of the Satya Yuga. As soon as they were created, they were so filled with bloodlust that they started eating Brahma himself. Brahma shouted “Rakshama!” (Sanskrit for “protect me!”) and Vishnu came to his aid, banishing to Earth all Rakshasas (thus named after Brahma’s cry for help). Rakshastal also called Ravana Tal is where Ravana is supposed to have undertaken severe penance to please Lord Shiva.

Ravan or Ravana - the demon king who fought Rama in Ramayana.

Ravan or Ravana – the demon king who fought Rama in Ramayana.

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Ra One of Bollywood fame. Inspired by Ravan. And NO! I am not trying to sneak in a picture of Arjun Rampal in to my blog post.

PS 2: It is obvious that you love the mountains and the environment; otherwise you would not have read till the very end of this post. So while you are trawling the net, please do visit http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2608579/, to read all about how the villagers of about 250 villages in HP have turned eco-warriors to save the Sutlej and assess the damage caused by hydro power projects in the state. This is of great relevance considering the terror unleashed by the rains in Uttarakand last year.