Thursday, April 8, 2010

06. To Manali

Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India

Bruce decided that I needed a bit more space to move than at the Dhelu training ground so we headed to Manali so that I could train at the Solang Nalu paragliding area. Petie rode in a chartered taxi with our luggage and the paragliders, while Bruce and I rode together on his Enfield 500.

The trip ended up taking 6 hours, with a couple of chai (tea) stops along the way.

We took the back roads there for parts of the trip, and the views were amazing.

To Manali - 01

To Manali - 03 - Bruce and Enfield

To Manali - 10

To Manali - 20

To Manali - 21 - Road workers
Female road workers

To Manali - 24

To Manali - 22 - Matt Bruce Anil

The Enfield is fun to ride – a big 500cc single cylinder, so it’s all about the power at low revs, not like the 4 cylinder 250cc I used to ride which redlined at about 19000 rpm. And because the Enfield is so heavy it handles the potholes reasonably well. Like many of the cars in India, the bike is based on 1950s technology yet it’s only a few years old. The design has barely evolved. Unlike most motorbikes the gearshift is on the right foot and the rear brake on the left, which takes some getting used to. It’s like trying to drive a car which has the clutch pedal and the brake pedal swapped – sure, you get the hang of it, but in an emergency you’ll probably instinctively stomp on the wrong pedal.

About the only traffic we’d come across on the back roads was the occasional sheep or goat herd:

Once we arrived in Manali we stayed with Bucktooth, an old friend and business partner of Bruce’s. Actually his name is Bhagtu but in hearing his name in conversation I’d thought it was Bucktooth. I also kept hearing about another friend of Bruce’s who I thought was called Knuckle. Turned out to be Nakul.

Bhagtu is in interesting guy. He’s only a couple of years older than me but he’s already got a number of businesses and has built his own house, something that is quite an accomplishment anywhere but especially here. He’s lived his whole life near Manali so whenever we take a trip into town to visit his adventure sporting goods store, the half hour trip takes double that because of all his stops along the way to chat to the locals. I commented that he knows a lot of people and he said that he always tries to be friendly to people and that he’s well respected around town because of that.


Bhagtu’s house is sweet – located amongst picturesque apple trees (Manali is famous for its apples).

Manali - 01 - Bhagtu house

It has a hot shower, clothes washing machine, sit down toilet, and a fridge! Bruce’s bachelor pad in Bir had none of the above – no hot water, no fridge, no washing machine, communal squat toilet shared with the neighbours, and to bathe is quite a performance – fill a large 20L plastic bucket with water to the brim, then dangle an electric heating element in said bucket. After about 10 mins give it a stir, cos otherwise the water at the bottom would still be cold. After about 20 mins you’re good to go, so carry the bucket outside into the back yard and scoop water over yourself with a plastic scoop. Best to bathe in your underwear lest the neighbours see (there are no fences).

I got used to this bucket-scoop bathing system when I was in SE Asia a few years ago and it was fine there – the climate was hot enough that a splash of cold water was refreshing, and the water was tepid anyway. But up here in the mountains it’s quite a drag having to heat the water first, and it’s hard to feel hot when you’re wet and exposed to the cool mountain air.

Although Bhagtu’s house has all the mod-cons, it seems that old Indian habits die hard. His wife barely uses the fridge and it’s switched off at the wall. Likewise the electric hot water cylinder – it’s usually switched off at the wall so when you want a shower you need to switch it on 10 mins before. His wife still washes the dishes and some of the clothes outside in a large bucket and still gets hot water from a huge kettle on top of the wood-burning stove. Back home we think nothing of having hot water on tap 24/7.

But they have been perfect hosts and it only just occurred to me that while Bruce and Petie are in the guest room, I am sleeping in Bhagtu’s & his wife’s bed! They are bunking down with their daughter and the wife’s brother on mattresses in the living room. Bruce says they are used to that, and in winter they sleep on mattresses in the living room around the fireplace anyways, but I still feel stink about it. Of course I’d be happy to sleep in the living room but maybe they’d feel weirder having the foreigner sleeping amongst them.

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