Tag Archives: Nature

Escape to Manali

The constant and endless movement around the country that had once excited and inspired me was starting to make me grow weary. Apart from a few longer stays in places like Mamallapuram, Pushkar, Hampi and of course the Vipassana retreat I had barely stopped moving in the past 4 and a half months. The summer in the south was slowly creeping north and making itself known with the mercury regularly hitting 47 degrees in Varanasi when I decided I was done with the Indian summer. The Himalayas were calling my name and I dragged me and my sweat-soaked shirt into the travel agent and pleaded for a train ticket north. The agent told me there was one ticket left but it was in the more expensive AC carriage – like I was going to choose anything else at this stage.

Beautiful old houses of Manali

Beautiful old houses of Manali

I stopped in Rishikesh (more to come on this shortly) and met up with some friends I’d met in Pushkar and spent a week exploring the Ganges, the waterfalls and The Beatles Ashram, it was cooler but still a little toasty – roll on the Himalayas.

Before I managed to completely escape the chaos, India had one more surprise in store for me and that was the trip from Rishikesh to Manali. It all faded away like a bad nightmare when I rolled into Manali.

My friends from Rishikesh had arrived the day before and I sent them a message as I got off the bus – ‘Brew some coffee, I’m 5 minutes away’. Sure enough, they greeted me with hugs and coffee and I relaxed into Old Manali.

Old Manali is a cliche mountain town only this time a little different. Where most cliches leave you feeling a little lacklustre through expectations, Manali exceeded all of mine and I knew I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.

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The surrounding mountains are covered with pine forests that only give way to the snow line at the top, the rivers at the bottom and the waterfalls that connect the two. The mornings and afternoons are cold enough to warrant a beanie, scarf and hot coffee while the days are warm enough to consider a dip in the icy melt-water.

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While Manali lends itself to the peace and quiet it would be hard to get through a trip here without doing at least one of the adventure sports on offer. I took a few days out of my calendar of R & R and went rock-climbing.

The trekking around Manali is world-class and even if you don’t choose to go on the multi-day treks that are offered everywhere there’s plenty of treks that you can do by yourself (the companies and guides will tell you this isn’t possible but a bit of exploration will prove them wrong). After rock-climbing with the guys at Himalayan Caravan I had a chat with them about potential treks and they gave me plenty of ideas on where to go, they also gave me their mobile number incase I got lost. Walking in any direction will take you somewhere pretty special.

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Three months of vegetarianism would also come to an end in Manali. The Lamb burgers at Shiva Garden Cafe were just too good to pass up for $3. Manali may just have the best western style food in all of India as well as delicious Indian, Tibetan, Nepalese and Chinese dishes. Although being a melting-pot of tourists it was still possible to find some cheaper restaurants ($1 dollar momos became a staple).

The rest of my days there were spent reading, writing, fishing, hiking and sitting in the hot springs in between catching up with the constant flow of travellers through the town.

A spot of early morning fishing.

A spot of early morning fishing.

Eventually the time would come where I would have to re-pack my bags that had exploded across my room and make my way to Srinagar, Kashmir in preparation for an 8 day trek. I had made a lot of friends in the town and left knowing I would be back one day.

Have you taken a break from travel before? Where did you stop and relax?

Don’t Worry, Be Hampi

I’m not sure if Hampi is best described as an alien landscape or a prized photograph from the National Geographic collection but I certainly felt as though I wasn’t meant to see it. It’s one of those places where photo’s just seem far too surreal to ever picture yourself amongst it.

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After 13 hours by train and bus over flat and relatively dry land, huge mountains of boulders appear out of the plains in the distance. The roadsigns read Hampi 12 kilometres and as it counts down the stacked orange boulders seem to surround the road, the bus is now following the road that winds in and out of these huge formations and excitement wells amongst Hampi’s first-timers and return visitors alike.

Although the boulders are all naturally formed it appears as though they’d been carved and stacked by a giant master sculptor and each piece glued into place to stop them rolling down the mountainside to the surrounding villages and rice paddies.

After a short stroll through the bazaar and a river crossing you come across the dirt road that’s home to a group of guesthouses with very little to distinguish amongst them, almost all of them have an in-house restaurant with cushions on the floor surrounding low-lying tables serving local Indian food as well as an Indian take on Italian, Chinese and Israeli food.

After you’ve stuffed yourself with as much Malai kofta or ‘Italian Lessange’ the real adventure starts. Cover yourself in sunscreen and start walking in just about any direction and you’re sure to find yourself at the foot of one of these boulders. A laborious hike over cacti, thorn bushes and boulders will have you stumbling upon ruins that – excusing the proximity to the town – would have you believing had been unseen since the day the Vinayanagara civilisation collapsed some 400 years ago .

Atop the mountain of boulders opens up to 360 degree views of Hampi and the surrounding lie of the land. It sprawls in all directions with similar mountains of delicately stacked boulders and you can trace the run of the river by the coconut and banana trees and rice paddies that surround the fresh water. The paradoxical play between the greenery surrounding the river and the orange/reds of the boulders reminds you of something out of a Dali painting.

That look of thanks at the end had me.

That look of thanks at the end had me.

Perhaps Hampi’s most famous mountain top temple is the Hanuman Temple or Monkey Temple. It’s a 5 kilometres out of town and upon reaching the foot of the boulders you are met with 600 dauntingly uneven steps that snake around and under the boulders before opening up to a small temple surrounded by 50-100 monkeys and on a busy day, an equal number of tourists, backpackers and devotees. It offers a 360 degree view of the land around and the boulders, sunset and monkeys make for amazing photo opportunities. Bring some bananas for the monkeys but keep them well hidden until you’re prepared to part with them-they’ll quickly disappear. You’ll split your sunset between here and the sunset jam, a drum circle on top of boulders just outside of the main street (ask around and people will be able to tell you where it is). Check it out here.

I must warn you though, Hampi is a trap. You’ll roll into town with the intention of a 4 or 5 day stay and wake up 2 or 3 weeks later still wandering if you really need to leave. The only thing that dragged me out of Hampi was that I had a friend waiting for me in Goa and that didn’t take long before I convinced him to come back to Hampi.

Don’t Worry, Be Hampi

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