After the bus ride from hell, we could not have been more grateful to step off the bus and take in our first view of the Himalayas.
At an altitude of 2050m, the air was delightfully crisp, and the surrounding snow capped mountains were a sight to behold. We did some quick negotiation and secured a taxi up the hill to Backpacker Panda, our accommodation overlooking old Manali.
Having not eaten since lunch time the day before, we scarfed down some delicious curry before retiring to our room to catch up on some missed sleep.
As evening fell, we ventured out. The view from our balcony was breathtaking. We looked out over the town below, lit up like a European ski village. The temperature was around 10 deg, and it was such a nice change to get rugged up in almost all of my clothes to head out for dinner. As we walked down the hill into town, the stars started to come out, and the mountains seemed to glow in the distance.
Dinner was a huge success as well. We managed to get some tasty western food in a warm cafe (even if it was playing some pretty depressing music aggressively loudly). The walk up the hill was slightly more arduous, but we found a short cut that took us past a pile of TINY puppies. They couldn't have been more than a couple of weeks old, and there were about six of them, all snuggled up together. We didn't see a doggy guardian, but there were blankets in their nest, and the remnants of some food, so it looked like someone was keeping an eye on them.
We were very pleased to make it back to Panda, and tuck up into our bed with two duvets. We slept like warm logs, despite the frosty overnight temperature that dropped below zero!
A terrible breakfast
Getting out of bed in the morning was incredibly difficult. The whole building was made of concrete, so outside of the two-duvet-bed-cocoon, it was FREEZING. Eventually, hunger dragged us from our hideout, and we walked downhill into town, checking on the puppy pile on the way.
We headed into a cafe on the riverfront and sat down. While the temperature was still pretty chilly, the sun was warm, we had two dogs for company, and the river running past made for a glorious setting.
After a while, a man came to take our order. It was a bit of a struggle with his very limited English and our non-existent Hindi. It seemed like everything we asked for from the menu was unavailable, but we got there in the end. Or so we thought. Five minutes later, he was back to tell us that it wasn't available. I ordered something else. Five minutes later, a repeat performance. In the end, Zev and I both ordered BLTs (mine with no tomato), apple juice, and chai.
45 minutes later, our travesty of a breakfast was delivered. I'll start by saying that the chai was good - it was definitely the high point of the meal. The apple juice was in a cup the size of a thimble. And our BLTs... We opened the sandwiches, and it was just mayonnaise between toasted bread. There was about half a tablespoon of shredded lettuce mixed in with the cup of mayo spread on each sandwich, and between the two of us, without a word of exaggeration, they had split a single rasher of bacon. Zev didn't even get any tomato. We sadly ate our breakfast (I just picked the bacon out of mine - I don't even really like mayonnaise), and headed off on our way...
Vashisht and Jogini Waterfalls
After a thrilling tuk tuk ride up to the nearby village of Vashisht, we set off in search of Jogini Waterfalls. Our hostel recommended it as an easy walk and we were super excited to get outside.
The increasing temperatures over the past few weeks had left us feeling a bit miserable. We struggled to get much exercise in because it was simply too hot to walk anywhere. While the Delhi metro helped get us out and moving (we didn't have to catch Ubers door to door everywhere), a big drawcard for Manali was the temperate climate and ability to get into nature.
We spent a bit of time winding through the narrow alleys until we found a track that wound along the hillside. About 10 minutes along it, we passed a German woman who was very insistent that a nearby stall sold the best orange juice she'd ever had. We filed that tidbit away for future reference.
As we made our way along the rest of the track, we couldn't stop commenting on the incredible beauty of our surroundings. The snowcapped mountains, the nearby running stream, and the glorious sun shining without melting us all combined to create postcard-worthy views. I can honestly say that it was exactly what we needed.
We've talked recently about feeling a little jaded, which we've put down to the increasing heat, lack of outdoor time, and eating 99% of our meals out. Getting back out into nature really reinvigorated us, and made us beyond excited to be heading to Nepal.
30 minutes or so later, we arrived Jogini Waterfalls. We climbed up the hillside to check out the 45m (150ft) high waterfalls. While they were nice, it was really the walk and the rest of the surroundings that made the hike worthwhile. We perched on a rock for about half an hour, basking in the comfortable sunshine and drinking in the views.
On our way back to Vashisht, we stopped off at the orange juice stand and, by god, the woman was right. We sat on the porch sipping some excellent orange juice, still basking in the atmosphere.
We decided to walk back into town, which took us about an half an hour once we made it back to Vashisht. We made a pit stop for some delicious momos, and walked back to Panda via a beautiful park filled with cedars.
Later that evening, we ventured back into town for dinner. We found a rooftop restaurant that served us a delicious dinner, and went home full and happy!
...Until midnight. I could tell by Zev's breathing for about half an hour that something was imminent. Then it struck. The poor bastard spent the next 6 hours in the freezing cold concrete bathroom, making split second decisions about which end of his body to hover over the toilet.
Naturally, he spent the day in bed recovering. I ventured out to gather supplies, and kept him company while maintaining a safe distance and performing rigorous hand hygiene.
Since Zev wasn't feeling well and we were loving Manali (violent food poisoning aside), I popped down to reception to book an extra two nights (and to pick up more toilet paper)... I mentioned that Zev wasn't well, and ordered some bland dinner. Later that night, the manager knocked on the door with some rehydration sachets for him - he'd gone into town to get them for him! Amazingly sweet.
More waterfall adventures
With a more settled night and a sleep in under our belts, we stopped for breakfast at a cute little bakery in town. The food was great, and our beatboxing Nepalese waiter was a treat!
From there, we set out in search of our second, unidentified waterfall. It looked to be a similar sort of walk to Jogini Falls, so we wandered along the riverside path, again delighting in the magnificent views and weather.
It wasn't long before we took our first wrong turn, and ended up climbing over stream-side retaining walls. We realised when we ran out of track that we'd missed the turn off somewhere. We back tracked, found the trail again, and followed it up a hill.
The day was starting to heat up, and the track forked again. It wasn't immediately clear which way was correct, so we opted to follow the flat path, rather than the one that snaked even further up hill.
This was promising for about 10 minutes, but the further on we went, the more the track was overgrown, and we were fighting through some pretty aggressive foliage. We felt like we were close, so we pushed on.
Shortly, we rounded a bend, and thought we could see the falls in the distance. We persevered.
As we continued, the day was heating up, and it was clear that Zev was getting weary. We felt like we were nearly there though. We passed a pair of elderly ladies carrying enormous loads of sticks on their backs as if they weighed nothing, and felt a little wussy.
About 10 minutes later, as we fought our way through thorn bushes, our trail came to an end. Sadly, it was not at a waterfall. With Zev feeling pretty grey, we abandoned the hike. We took it slowly getting back, and headed back to the hostel for lunch. We spent the afternoon resting up and getting some chores done.
Dinner was yet another interesting affair. We were the only two people in an enormous restaurant, and after we arrived, they put on the LOUDEST hardhouse techno music ever. Zev ordered a pizza to try to fill a craving, and I never thought I'd say it, but it had too much cheese - I mean, I didn't know that was even a thing. The cheese was thicker than the base. We left as soon as humanly possible and headed back to our toasty warm bed.
Rain, breakfast, and admin
The next day was grey and dull. We had thought about doing a longer hike, but with Zev still recovering and the weather packing it in, we decided against it.
Instead, we headed a little further afield for breakfast, and it was well worth it. We had delicious potato rostis, belly warming chai, french toast and waffles, all while sheltering from the weather outside.
On the way back to the hostel, we managed to sort our bus tickets on to Shimla, our next stop, from a very nice travel agent. He told us to come back or call in the following night to get the bus number from him, as it wasn't available yet.
With the weather in mind, we headed back to the hostel, rugged up, and spent most of the rest of the day organising the remainder of our transport and accommodation in India. Even though we only have a couple of weeks left in India, it feels like a weight off our shoulders knowing that we have all our ducks in a row until we head to Nepal on 30th April.
The best laid plans...
Sadly, our plan for a longer hike during our time in Manali was thwarted by the weather. The rain on our last day was even more persistent than the day before. While we were disappointed that we didn't get to do it, Zev still wasn't feeling 100%, so it was probably for the best.
Even though it might seem like the rain would be a downer, it was actually incredibly refreshing. It's the first time since leaving New Zealand that we've really experienced anything other than neverending sunshine! We've had some isolated instances of rain, but nothing like this, and it's been so nice to experience 'weather' again!
We spent the day enjoying our surroundings from the indoors - first, back at the breakfast cafe from the day before playing board games, then back at Panda playing games and watching movies with the weather blowing past our window.
The weather cleared enough for us to head out for a delicious dinner. We thought we'd pop back up to the travel agent after, as he said to get in touch at around 7.30pm. Sadly, a delay in my dessert had us running a little late, and as I called and called him, I couldn't get through.
We started dashing up the hill at around 8.30pm. As we neared the travel agent, a man walked past, saw us and smiled. We carried on. 30 seconds later, he tapped us on the shoulder - it was the travel agent, on his way home. Thank goodness he recognised us! We apologised profusely and explained that we'd been trying to call, but it hadn't connected. It all worked out though - he gave us our bus number and we headed back to the hostel to pack.
As we walked back up the hill (past the puppy pile, now out and stuffing their faces with a plate of rice that someone had delivered), a man stopped and got our attention. It was the hostel owner, offering us a ride back up the hill. We certainly were having a lucky night.
Arriving in Shimla
It was 8 degrees as we climbed onto our bus the next morning, wearing all of our clothes. Over the course of the next hour, we dropped in altitude, and soared in temperature. Soon, we were stripping off our layers and opening all the bus windows. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable, but otherwise uneventful. We were on our way to Shimla!
Lots of love,
S & Z