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Journal of a Backpacking Tour of India
4th to 24th October, 2018


Background

Friends of ours, Neena and Pashi, from the time when David was at university were celebrating their Golden Wedding Anniversary from 20th to 22nd October at their home in Jalandhar, Punjab, India. We were invited, and decided to precede the celebration with a two week backpacking tour of Northern India.

Some 20 years ago, in December 1999, we had toured quite a bit of India, mainly to the south of Delhi. So this time we wanted to see some of the northern part of the country. Kari, in particular, wanted to visit the weaving area of Kullu in the hills to the north of Delhi. As is our wont, only the first couple of days of the trip were pre-booked. After that we found trains, buses, taxis and hotels as we went along.

This is David's journal. It was not written with literary merit in mind, but simply as an aide memoire for the future.


LP = Lonely Planet, India
a-rs = 3-wheeled, motorised rickshaw
c-rs = 3-wheeled, man-powered rickshaw
a/c = air conditioned
TataG = Trains at a Glance, the Indian Train Timetable
Rps = Rupees, GBP 1 = Rps 92 approx, Sfr 1 = Rps 70 approx

Wed, 17:30 ... This grey text indicates when a journal entry was being written ...


Thursday, 4th October     Riniken to Delhi

We had planned to take the 9:15 bus from Riniken giving us time for a coffee and snack in Brugg before getting the train to Zurich Airport and the 12:40 Swiss flight to Delhi. As it turned out, we were up early enough to get the 8:15 bus, and then the 09:20 Flug-Zug to the airport after a leisurely coffee in Migros. It was a beautiful, cool autumn morning. It's forecast to be 34° in Delhi.

The journey to the airport was uneventful, as was the dropping-off of our bags having checked-in online and printed out baggage labels and boarding passes at home. Intercontinental flights go from Terminal E, which is quite a trek involving a train and passport check. But it has the advantage of having access to the visitor terrace on the roof of the building. The 90 minute wait to start boarding passed very pleasantly up there in the sunshine and relatively fresh air. We also had a front row seat to watch a Singapore Airline's Airbus 380 lumber down the runway and climb reluctantly into the air.

The flight was also uneventful, and quite comfortable, though the seating was a bit cramped. We had ordered the vegetarian Hindi menu option, which proved to be very good. We left 40 minutes late, but landed on time at just before midnight local time. Unfortunately the plane then spent 25 minutes taxiing before arriving at the gate.

Immigration with an e-visa was fantastic - no queue at all. We had a slight delay and some tension because I had mistakenly entered my AHV number instead of my passport number on the Internet application form. Actually, on the first attempt at filling-in the form, I had done it correctly, but then got confused when it changed to a new page. There followed a lot of retries with cutting and pasting and superficial checking of what had been done leading to the mistake, that I only spotted after paying the USD 80 fee.

Trying to rectify the fault led to a flurry of emails, but no correction on the e-visa confirmation when it arrived. Fortunately I had a printout of the emails with us, and the immigration officer accepted the visa without too much fuss.

There was no sign of a car waiting for us when we got out of the airport. A phone call to the hotel succeeded in getting one sent. It was about 2 am by the time that we got to the hotel. We set an alarm for 07:30 to give us plenty of time to get into Delhi for an afternoon train to Lucknow.

Friday, 5th October     Delhi to Lucknow

After a short, rather sleepless night, we were up for breakfast and a short walk to the Aerocity metro station. It was very hot, and the rucksacks heavy, so we tried to keep in the shade and walk slowly. The traffic was appalling, especially the constant hooting.

The metro worked well, with a change in New Delhi to get to Old Delhi railway station. We found the waiting room for upper class passengers, and here we sit still awaiting a train to Lucknow (LKO), train which is apparently 3 hours late.

Sun, 10:00 just leaving LKO, en route for Faizabad (FA): We waited and waited and waited. The train was scheduled for 13:40, we had arrived at Old Delhi station maybe 3 hours early, with no announcements about our train. There were continuous bi-lingual automated announcements - no mention of our train. There were occasional announcements in Hindi only, which probably explained what was going on.

Eventually the lady at the information window said that the train had been "rescheduled" for 16:45! We were naturally on tenterhooks. We went for occasional walks around, and could have put our bags into left luggage, but we were too tensed up to consider leaving the station. The waiting room was air-conditioned, and had seats, which were both a blessing, but workmen were in the process of screwing the chairs down to the floor. The noise from the hammer drills was terrible, made just bearable with earplugs.

The time passed, and I spotted that our train was already standing at the platform with an hour to spare. We dashed on and settled down to continue waiting. The A/c hadn't been turned on yet - we sweated profusely. Once the locomotive had been coupled up and the A/c turned on, it became very comfortable. We had a compartment for six to ourselves.

The train left Delhi reluctantly, but did eventually manage to pick up some speed. The train had a kitchen, which served us a very nice evening meal. It was unfortunately a bit too spicy for Kari's taste. We rolled into LKO at about 02:15, instead of ??:??. Despite the time, there was no difficulty getting an a-rs to the hotel, though the roadworks for a new metro involved a big detour and haggle over the price (150 Rps).

The reception at the hotel was not particularly friendly, and the lack of water in the bathroom was also a shock. It was not at all what we had expected from the praise lavished on it by LP. We had been planning to extend our 2-night booking to 3 nights, but it didn't take us long to change our minds.

Saturday 6th October:     Lucknow

Sun, 21:15 nearly bedtime in FA hotel: After the less than gushing reception, admittedly at a rather ungodly hour the night before, breakfast was a second disappointment at the Ganga Maior Hotel. Breakfast was via room service in our room, and the breakfast choice was dire. We opted for omelette and toast. The omelette was dry with raw onions, and the toast was unbuttered. This, actually, confirmed our impression of India from 20 years ago, viz. Any attempt to get a half-ways western breakfast in India is doomed to failure. What one gets is an overpriced poor imitation.

After the late nights we were feeling a bit low. We tried walking to Mahatma Gandhi Rd to find a tourist info office, but the street map in the LP was totally inadequate.

We settled for a coffee in a modern coffee bar, and took a c-rs to see the British Residency ruins. We feel embarrassed taking cycle rickshaws because we are much heavier than their usual clientele, but they are so insistent. We were pleased when we finally got there.

The Residency was the seat of government of the British Raj in the 19th century. It was besieged for almost 6 months during the Indian uprising in 1857, which cost thousands of lives. The grounds are very beautiful, and the ruins with bullet and cannon ball dents very impressive, but one tours around, especially as a Brit, with mixed feelings about the benefits or otherwise to India of British colonisation.

From there we took an a-rs to the station to book a ticket to Faizabad for the morrow. It worked splendidly at the tourist ticket-office window detailed in the LP. But see the woes of Sunday morning.

We strolled back to the hotel from there, having a look round a small park dedicated to some Indian historical figure along the way. All the signs in the park were in Hindi so, until I can find a reliable WiFi with nothing better to do, I'm afraid that he will have to remain unnamed (Deendayal Upadhyaya). On getting back to our room, there was water in the shower. We showered and flaked out until it was time to hunt for a restaurant.

The evening sortie began with a hunt for a bar for a beer. This was unsuccessful, so we settled for a Pepsi and Mountain Dew. Very welcome. We had tried to get a beer in a not-very-inspiring restaurant earlier on, but it had smelt good, so we went back there to try the food. Kari had a mildly spiced barbecued chicken, whilst I had a more spicy version, along with some naan bread. It was exceptionally good.we followed it up with a large glass of lassi each, which also turned out to be a good choice. We were in high spirits on the short walk back to the hotel.

Sunday 7th October:     Lucknow to Faizabad

Mon, 17:00 in the FA hotel chilling out after an eventful day: The train to FA was scheduled to leave at 7:40, so we were up at 6 to give ourselves plenty of time. We were not sorry to forego the hotel's breakfast! No sooner had we left the hotel than an a-rs came by and took us to the station. The young driver only asked 10 Rps, probably the going rate for Indians. Since he was being so straight with us, we paid him double, still a trifling amount by western standards.

There is a big display in the station with train numbers. Our train wasn't on it. On asking at the enquiry desk, the man studied our ticket to discover that we were a day too early. The lady in the ticket office the day before had obviously mistakenly understood our tomorrow, and we had failed to spot it. As it happens, we had also bought a copy of the train timetable, Trains at a Glance, along with our ticket. And we had spent some time finding our booked train in the timetable. I had even commented that it was a good job that we were travelling on Sunday, because the train only runs on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. What I had failed to spot was that the train only starts on these days. By the time that it gets to LKO, it's a day later! (In the 20 years since we last bought a copy of TataG, it has more than doubled in weight and become impracticable for backpacking. We spent some time in the evening breaking it up and just taking the relevant tables with us.)

So off we trekked to the ticket office in a different building some 150 m away to find that it didn't open for another hour. So then we trekked back to Reservations Cancellation Office to cancel the ticket. They were also able to book us a new ticket for a train leaving at 8:45 and arriving at 11:05 instead of our expected 9:55. The whole transaction cost us Rps 290 (Sfr 4), so it worked out all right in the end. In the temperatures that we are experiencing here, though, it cost us lots of real sweat.

The train, of course, was late, but only an hour, and was more crowded that the one from Delhi, but it was comfortable enough, and we were able to get a cooked lunch, which we shared. I ate the spicy sauce, Kari the milder sauce, and we shared the rice and chapaties. The train rolled through very agricultural country. Unfortunately the windows of the train are too small and low down to get a good view. It's best to stand by an open door to admire the view.

By the time that we reached FA, the train was 2 hours late, but it was still a civilised time to turn up at a hotel. English is not very widespread around here, with hardly a sign anywhere written in English. The last time that we were in India, it was possible to find out what street one was on by reading the addresses on shop signs. Here, that doesn't help at all, presumably because we are off the tracks beaten by most tourists. We've tried Google Translate today to get some words such as bus station translated into Hindi. Maybe that will help.

We eventually found an a-rs to take us to the only hotel listed in the LP, and they had a room for us. After a wash and a rest, we ventured out to try to get to the Tomb of Bahu Begam, the so-called Taj Mahal of the East, which we could see from our hotel window. Another a-rs eventually solved the problem. We had to sit in a big queue in front of a level crossing barrier for ages until awaited train finally drove by.

The tomb was impressive, in a very dilapidated sort of way, with elaborate stonework. There were some emu-like birds in the grounds, and a few monkeys around as well. We strolled slowly back to the hotel, maybe 3 km, with a school boy on a bicycle helping us to find the way. It was again time for a well earned shower, and a bit of laundry. We really are sweating buckets in this heat, and constantly buying bottles of mineral water.

After quite a long walk along the busy road in front of the hotel, we eventually found a more modern looking restaurant than most, and had a very nice meal with buttered naan bread. We chose the 'sweet' lassi for next course, which turned out to be too sweet.

Monday 8th October:     Faizabad and Ayodhya

Breakfast was again miserable - scrambled eggs on toast. The eggs were totally tasteless, and the toast was made from white sliced bread. At Rps 250 it was also overpriced.

Mon, 20:30 in the FA hotel after a delicious evening meal: The tourist plan for the day was to visit some sights in Ayodhya, some 7 km away. We had asked at the reception for an a-rs with English speaking driver. It didn't materialise and, after 2 a-rs's had declined, presumably because of the distance, we ended up in a car with young driver, with no English. The agreed price was Rps 500, but it ended up at Rps 750. To be honest, our driver earned his money, and the road conditions would have made the trip in an a-rs harrowing, to say the least.

Having reached Ayodhya, we parked the car and got led off down a side road at a tremendous pace. It turned out to be the start of a tour of several temples starting, I think, with Hanuman Garhi Mandir with its steep flight of steps to get to it. We also visited the Kanak Bhawan Temple and another too. We bought some sweets as a temple offering, got a daub of orange paint on our foreheads, stood in reverence in front of a lot of bell and cymbal ringing with lots of pilgrims squatted on the floor next to us, none of which we would have found without our driver. This was followed by a short visit to see the Ganges (note: not the Ganges but rather the Ghaghara) - very big and quite fast flowing - before we headed back in equally hair-raising fashion to FA and the hotel.

At some point we had tried to get him to take us back to the hotel via the bus station for us to reconnoitre getting a bus to Bahraich tomorrow. Our driver and his mate, after his having been upset by the agreed Rps 500 for the trip, and still looking sour after the final sum of Rps 750 was taken, have insisted on driving us to Bahraich tomorrow for Rps 2500. The initial quote was Rps 4500. Let's see if they are there at 10:00 tomorrow. And let's see how much we pay in reality.

After a suitable time to recover from the midday exercise, it was time to look for the bus station, as a fallback scenario should the young man in his car not show up tomorrow. A Google Maps search led us to believe it to be on the FA bypass, to the south of the town. On trying to get a rickshaw to take us there, we were assured that it is, in fact, not far from the hotel. A c-rs got us there in no time.

It was totally disorganised, with no sign of booking office or waiting room like in Peru. Admittedly we didn't look all that hard, and are hoping that we don't have to tomorrow. After a cold drink and some sweetmeats we took another c-rs back to the hotel for showers and some laundry.

Evening meal was at the same restaurant as last night, Params Café in Rekabganj, about 1 km along the road to the west of the hotel on the left hand side. The food was again excellent. We had had a stroll past the restaurant beforehand, getting as far as a gateway and mosque. The wealth of stores, especially those selling saris, was incredible.

Tuesday 9th October:     Faizabad to Bahraich

Wed, 16:30 in the A/c waiting room at Lucknow station: We went out to make use of an ATM and to find breakfast. We were hoping to get it in one of the two sweetmeat stores near the hotel. The ATM worked all right, but the sweetmeat shops were only just opening up and were busy cleaning their floors. We managed to buy a packet of biscuits. We retired to our room and breakfasted on the biscuits and some bananas. It was no worse than breakfast in the hotel.

After checking out at about 9:45, our driver was of course anxiously waiting for us. We set off, starting off by repeating the route to Ayodhya to get over the river. Progress was agonisingly slow, with the driver weaving his way through the traffic as best he could. It was very agricultural and very poor, but didn't seem to be any worse than the dog-eats-dog type of existence in the towns. The hotels have a swarm of taxis and rickshaws around their gates looking for business, and fighting with each other to lower a bid to get a customer. How the c-rs wallahs manage to make a living is impossible to fathom.

The further north and into the countryside that we got, the better seemed the condition of the houses, though still very poor indeed. The road conditions improved as well, until we caught up a huge political rally in the form of a motorcycle convoy. Many were wearing red hats and carrying a flag with the picture of a cycle on it. It took ages to work our way past it, just as it looked as though they were going to set up a road block.

It took us 3.5 to 4 hours to cover the 120 km, and another 30 minutes or so to find the hotel we had picked from a search on the Web. We had filled up the car for Rps 1000 along the way, and paid the Rps 2500 in addition. Our driver was, of course sour. It's always the same in this sort of haggling, and leaves an unpleasant feeling behind.

The Hotel Harsh Regency was quite adequate, though a little below the Hotel Shane Avadh room standard (no windows with nice views) in Faizabad and a good bit more expensive, but we weren't going to argue after the struggle we had had to find it, having seen few alternatives during the search.

We had been planning to at least get a taxi to take us to the Nepalese border, to say that we had been there, but decided against it. We had originally been planning to cross into Nepal and then travel back west, getting into India en route for Chandigarh and Kullu. But firstly it was looking as though time would be really tight to do that, and secondly we were rather disappointed to be still in the Ganges plain in Bahraich. We had expected it to be at least a little hilly. A browse of the Web indicated that it could well continue in the same way into Nepal, and was not likely to be any more scenic. So we decided to return to Lucknow and try to get a train to Chandigarh.

And so we started our visit to Bahraich by going out to find the bus station. It was only a 10 minute walk from the hotel, and seemed relatively well organised. At least there was a waiting room, some offices and a ticket office, of sorts. We were assured that there would be a bus to Lucknow every 15 minutes.

Wed, 22:30 in the A/c waiting room at Lucknow station: But we couldn't find the city centre. We seemed to be in the suburbs with no indication of which way to go to find the centre. Google didn't help either, because it couldn't get a GPS signal to tell us where we were. Admittedly, we didn't try very hard.

We found a disappointing restaurant for dinner. There was nothing Indian on the menu, so we ended up with an Indian version of a pizza followed by waffle with maple syrup and ball of ice cream. The ice cream was a shock. Everyone advises tourists in India to avoid ice and ice cream. But it's over 24 hours since we ate it with no ill effects, so we probably survived it. We walked back to the hotel and surfed and relaxed until bedtime.

Wednesday 10th October:     Bahraich to Lucknow

Thu, 10:15 on train between LKO and CHG: Breakfast was included in the hotel price, so we risked it - we ordered cornflakes with milk, buttered toast and lemon tea. The dry cornflakes came on a plate with a large glass of piping hot milk, and the toast had a smattering of hard butter. The milk was very thin, but with sugar was quite OK. We could spoon milk onto the cornflakes and then, when they were all gone, the milk washed down the rather dry toast very nicely. The lemon tea was good, just too small like the cups of chai that one can get.

We packed, checked out and sauntered to the bus station in the muggy heat of the morning. We had the option of an a/c bus with a 90 minute wait, or a normal bus immediately. We opted for the normal bus and didn't regret it. The 120 km trip cost Rps 137 each!

The road was quite smooth, wide and with light traffic. We stopped for a 20 minute break at about half way. It took some 4 hours to reach Lucknow. We were dumped off the bus somewhere ill- defined, and told that this was the best place to get off to get to the station. We took an a-rc. It was quite a way, but were there by about 15:00 to face the next hurdle of getting a train to Chandigarh (CHG).

Having spent time at LKO station before helped a lot. We picked one of the few trains listed in TataG, the one leaving at 23:55, filled in the detailed form accordingly, and stood in line at Window 601. It went smoothly, the man took Rps 2060 off us, and gave us a ticket, sending us on to Window 618. We didn't know why. Fortunately there was no queue at Wn 618, but also no official. With some hand waving we got the attention of the Reservation Manager. He said to come back at 20:00. After some insisting from Kari, it turned out that we had a 'waiting list' ticket. We might well not get on the train.

We went to the a/c waiting room to kill the hours. To add to our uncertainty, it wasn't clear which of the 2 LKO railway stations the train was to leave from. Fortunately they are only 100 m apart, but it could well be critical. We asked at various windows and offices and got conflicting answers! Fortunately we had plenty of time to find the correct answer.

We were back at Wn 618 in plenty of time, and were repeatedly told that we were still too early. In retrospect, I wonder whether the official was waiting to be bribed. In any case, almost on the stroke of eight, he scribbled two berth numbers on our ticket and wished us a good journey. What a relief.

We took an a-rc to the barbeque restaurant we had found on our first stay in LKO, Grill n' Roast, and really enjoyed our evening meal. On returning to the waiting room, the time passed quickly with the help of some chatty people, who were also waiting. One was a lady from Nepal, who made us feel a bit sorry for not having persevered with our original plan.

The train was at the platform an hour early, so we climbed in and sorted ourselves out. It was frightfully cold at first, but got more comfortable after a bit.

Thursday 11th October:     Lucknow to Chandigarh

The night passed very comfortably, once it had warmed up. Now we are chugging along, some 3 hours behind schedule, and heading into a rain storm.

Sat, 20:20 sitting on balcony of hotel in Kullu: It was, in fact, a very serious rain storm. Many of the fields of sugar cane looked quite battered afterwards. Fortunately the clouds had all cleared away before we reached our destination.

The afternoon wore on with long stops to let trains pass on single track sections. There was no kitchen on the train, so we had to grab what food we could from platform stalls where the train stopped. The food wasn't as plentiful on the previous two train journeys, but we were a long way from starving. We finally reached CHG at about 17:00, only two hours late.

We had decided during the long hours on the train to treat ourselves to an up-market hotel. We took a taxi to the Icon Hotel, and very nice it was too.

CHG feels more like a town out of a science fiction town than a town in India. It is a planned city, designed by Le Corbusier, in the 1950's I think. The streets are in a grid with main road dual carriageway in the middle, and a service road down each side. And the town is divided up into sectors. What's more, the cars don't hoot much, motor cyclists wear crash helmets, and there's relatively little litter. But the railway station is about 7 km out of town - poor planning? - so it was quite a long taxi ride to the hotel, but for Rps 120 including tip one can't complain.

We used the room's facilities, putting up a washing line and rinsing out some very sweaty clothes, before going out to a veggie restaurant listed in the LP. We had our first thali of the trip. It was good, far from the worst of what we have experienced, but not the best either.

We revised our plans again during the hours on the train. We've decided to go straight on to Kullu, weaving centres, and the mountains immediately, and take in the sights of CHG on the way back. It's off to Kullu by bus in the morning, then.

Friday 12th October:     Chandigarh to Kullu

Breakfast was included in the room price, and it was a very good buffet. We checked out, getting the receptionist to book us an Uber taxi to Sector 43 Bus Stand. It worked very well with a pre- defined price right at the outset.

Sun, 16:30 sitting on verandah of hotel in Manali: Finding a bus to Kullu was easy. We had the choice of non-a/c leaving immediately or a/c in 90 minutes. We took the non-a/c and it was very good if rather rattily. It was about 9:30 as we left the bus station. We got out of the city without too many traffic lights and were soon making good time heading north. It's 260 km to Kullu and Google Maps estimates 6.5 hours for the journey.

After about 2 hours the bus stopped for quite a long break in Kiratpur Sahib. Soon afterwards we reached the mountains where progress reduced to a crawl. We crawled up steep hills behind even slower lorries on a terrible road surface, but the views were superb. Everything overtook everything on the blindest of corners, just like in Peru.

After a good while we reached a pass after which the gradients were not so severe and we had good views over some lakes. We passed through Bilaspur, to name but one village, stopping to pick up or drop off passengers along the way. The driver must have had a huge bladder. It was ages and ages before the next break, and it was just about long enough to have a quick leak and get a cup of chai.

It was well after dark at about 20:00 before we finally reached Kullu. After Mandi there had been a terribly rough and slow stretch caused by road works building a new tunnel. The final holdups were going through Bhuntar where road works made it too narrow for buses and lorries to cross, and no one seems to have thought of having traffic police to regulate the traffic. Everyone was fighting to get past everyone else and getting nowhere.

But eventually we reached Kullu bus station. It was cold, really cold. We found one of the only two hotels listed in the LP for Kullu, just a short walk away over a footbridge. It wasn't as clean as it Might have been, but the room was big with good views over the river from a big verandah with swing seat. We had a nice, simple meal in the rather cold and uninviting hotel restaurant, had a short walk through the bus station and closed-up section of the townn to try, unsuccessfully to get our bearings, and retired to our room for a shower and bed, with two thick blankets on top of us.

Saturday 13th October:     Kullu

It is really cold here as soon as the sun has disappeared. Fortunately the sun gets over the mountains and into the town quite early to get the day going. We visited the hotel restaurant again for breakfast, having quite a reasonable Indian style of breakfast this time - stuffed chapatis and a dahl sauce.

The Kullu region is renowned for its woven shawls.The main aim of the day was to satisfy Kari's wish to admire and possibly buy some of these wares. In addition, we were hoping to see the weavers in action. As a second aim, we wanted to go to Kullu airport in Bhuntar, not far from the weaving cooperative. In order to be free to change our programme easily, and because the distances were not that big, just 6 or 7 km up or down the Beas River valley in which Kullu is situated, we decided to travel by bus. We started by bussing it down to Bhutti where the biggest weaving showroom is located. It went like clockwork.

We went to the Bhuttica Weaving Colony's factory outlet, and were immediately shown around their factory. We went into a room with about 40 hand looms in it. They were not all in operation, but the skill of the weavers on those that were was fantastic. The threads that they are using was extremely fine. Kari had a good time talking shop with our guide. At another point a man and woman were working as a pair threading up a loom for a new project - a job for good eyesight. And finally in another room, some men were milling out warp on huge warping mills.

After the tour I left Kari to look at the goods in the showroom and decide what she wanted to buy. She came away with three shawls, all very beautiful. The concern would appear to be a co- operative. The weavers have rooms on site with their families. I didn't like to ask if they were mainly 1-parent families or not.

Sun, 21:15 sitting up in bed keeping warm after dinner: From the factory it is only a few km further down the valley to the airport. We hopped on a bus but it soon got stuck in such a non-moving jam that we got off and started walking. The jam was caused by the re-tarring of the road.

We wanted to find out the price of flying from Kullu to CHG on the coming Wednesday. The bus ride from CHG was definitely an experience to have had once, but we didn't really want to repeat it if it could be avoided. The price for the flight that we were quoted as foreigners (domestic flights for Indian nationals are much cheaper) was Rps 12,000 for the first seat and 14,000 for the second. That is a quarter of what we paid to fly from Zurich to Delhi and back, and is to be compared with Rps 455 each for the bus. We're going to take the bus.

We went into the up-market hotel next to the airport for a snack lunch before heading back to Kullu. We strolled slowly up the road until we had passed the re-tarring work and waited in the shade to flag down a bus after it had got through the jam. It was a long wait with some buses not stopping because they were already overfull. But we got one in the end.

We went out again a bit later to go up the hill above the bus station to visit the Raghunath Temple. We started off in an a-rs but found the road blocked after only 100 m so we had to walk it. It wasn't far. Alas I had left the LP behind in the hotel room and had forgotten the name of the temple. When we came to the Raji Lupu Palace, a temple-looking building, we assumed that we had found it, even though we weren't allowed in. The temple was apparently somewhere nearby.

We continued walking up the hill through the narrow streets. There were quite a lot of expensive looking houses, presumably with splendid views. We eventually got a splendid view ourselves where the narrow street turned into a track up through the forest past some much poorer looking shacks. We turned round and returned to the hotel. By the time that we got back at about 16:30, the day was starting to get cool. And it really does get cool here, up at 1200 m, especially after one has spent days sweating at over 30°C.

We went out again later in the evening to eat, but opted out of the challenge of an Indian restaurant by having a very bland Domino's pizza. Not to be recommended - expensive too.

Sunday 14th October:     Kullu to Manali

We were heading another 40 km up the valley today to Manali. We decided to skip a proper breakfast in favour of some bananas and biscuits on the bus, assuming that we would find one. We checked-out, paying cash for the hotel with no receipt, and stood at the end of a very short queue at the bus station's ticket office. It became apparent that the young men in front of us were booking a complicated long-distance journey, so we gave up waiting and went off looking for a bus to Manali. As an aside, I had started suffering from a dry cough and runny nose.

We struck lucky with the first bus driver that we asked. We climbed on, and the bus left. The scenery was a continuation of what we had become used to, except that very high snow-covered peaks came into view. The road wasn't bad at first, but the nearer that we got to Manali, the worse and more frightening it became with ever more road damage from landslides. The bus got through safe and sound in the end, depositing us in the Central Manali, but some way from Old Manali, where most of the moderately priced hotels are located. A taxi ride up very steep hills, with rucksacks unsecured on its roof, soon fixed that. We were booked in to a very nice, very cheap room in the Dragon Inn (Later we discovered that we were actually in the Brahma Guest House. The hotels here are so numerous and so closely packed that such mistakes are easy.) in no time at all.

We had also very soon booked a taxi ride back to Kullu for Rps 1250 on Wednesday, and a guided, moderate walk to the Jogini Waterfall for the morrow for Rps 2000. We spent the afternoon visiting the Hadimba Temple, along with lots of Indian families doing the same, and then continued up the hill from there to find the start of the 5 hour trek to the Lama Dugh meadow, which is mentioned in the LP. Kari was rather amazed that we found it! So was I, to be honest.

The weather worsened in the afternoon, and it looked like it might rain. In the end it spat a bit, got windy, and cleared up. The village is at 1900 m and it gets really cold when the sun disappears. We donned thermal underwear before going out for evening meal.

The village, by the way, is simply a holiday resort, loved by the Indians, but also apparently by Israelis, though no one knows why. It is simply full of hotels and eating places. We're booked in for 3 nights to "enjoy" it after all the travelling that we did last week.

Monday 15th October:     Manali Hike

Tue, 09:30 in hotel room after breakfast: We started the day with breakfast in the German Bakery next door to the hotel. There was an American, a bit but not much younger than us, sitting there with his legs folded like a guru having an omelette and veg sandwich. He had apparently built a house further up the road back in 1992, and looked to have gone native, though he claimed not to have much knowledge of Hindi. His sandwich looked good, so we followed suit, and it was good. The coffee was good too. We then had to get ready for our hike, taking some warm clothes, just in case, and a bit of food.

We met our guide at his place of business, 50 m from the hotel, at 9:30. He had walking sticks for us, and some more food. We set off uphill from the hotel, past the Manu Maharishi Temple and on through old Old Manali heading north traversing along the side of the valley. To our right, across the valley, we could see the village of Vashisht, which we would walk through later in the day. There were very many quite big (by Riniken standards) lizards scuttling around on rocks by the roadside.

The trail gradually became less distinct as we traversed meadows which had been cut for hay making. Fortunately we had a guide or else Kari might have started whimpering. Eventually we reached a small hamlet where we descended to the river. Our guide, B??, was very friendly and informative. Apparently all the road and bridge damage was caused by 3 days of heavy rain in September. The valley is still trying to resume normality. We crossed the river via several makeshift bridges. It was time for a very nice cup of chai sitting outside the café beside the roaring river.

From the restaurant it wasn't too far up the hill on the other side of the valley to a small temple next to the stream coming down from the Jogini Waterfall. The easy way up to the falls was up the right side (looking upwards) of the stream. We went up the left side, and it got to be a bit of a scramble, much to Kari's dismay, but I think that the real problem was oxygen deficiency due to the altitude.

The falls are in two parts. We had a short stop by the lower part before climbing up to the pool below the upper part. It was quite impressive. By taking off our shoes, we were able to cross the stream, where we stopped for lunch. Whilst there, a Spanish couple with guide came past. They were only half our age and going a good bit faster.

After crossing the stream, the path dropped steeply but easily back to the temple, from where the trail traversed the hillside southwards to the village of Vashisht, where there is a new temple and thermal baths. We visited both, but resisted the temptation of having a dip. From the village there is a steep path down to the valley floor and the main road. It was a hot, dusty, very fumey walk some 3 km down to Central Manali. The road was very badly damaged, causing traffic problems. The bridge over to the village was also in need of repair, but was being used anyway.

From Central Manali up to Old Manali we went through a small nature reserve full of old cedar trees and some sweet chestnut trees. There were a few monkeys in there along with the ubiquitous stray dogs. There were also a few cages with various large indigenous birds. It was uphill all the way, coming out near another road bridge over to Old Manali. From there it was not just uphill but also steep until we reached the hotel. We had been hiking for 5.5 hours. A cup of chai rounded off a very enjoyable tour.

We went to The Lazy Dog, a somewhat upmarket restaurant, for evening meal. The food was not bad, but rather lukewarm with the plates disappointingly cold. But the main upmarket feature was the price - over Rps 1400 where we have usually been paying about 500. We did have a desert and hot drinks to boost the price, I suppose. The downmarket feature of the restaurant, though, was the mouse that ran across the floor whilst we were there.

We had a short stroll through the lower part of Old Manali afterwards. We were rewarded by a group of about 10 yaks coming along the road towards us. They are big animals with long fur, and were being rather obstinate. We got off the road as far as we could to give them good clearance.

Tuesday 16th October:     Manali Rest Day

Sleep was almost impossible last night. There was incessant dog barking. I had a slight headache too, which felt fro experience as though it could have been altitude (1900 m) induced. Fortunately we simply had a rest day in front of us.

We repeated the omelette and veg sandwich for breakfast, this time meeting a younger American, emigrated from Russia, and a couple of young Brits. The American was convinced that a flight to CHG should be cheap, but a Web search didn't support him. The British couple were on their way north to do some trekking and more serious mountaineering. As a result of talking to them though, we decided to get the taxi all the way to CHG tomorrow, despite the cost. We've agreed a price of Rps 4000.

We decided to take an a-rs up to Vashisht to visit the thermal bath and peaceful country around the waterfall. We sauntered down to Central Manali first to find an ATM. We also tried, unsuccessfully in a few banks to change some old sterling travellers' cheques. The a-rs at Rps 300 was more expensive than we are accustomed to, but it was quite a long, strenuous uphill journey, so reasonably justified.

Tue, 21:50 in hotel room after dinner: We strolled through the village, which was thronging with tourists, past the thermal bath without going in, eventually getting to the stream coming down from the Falls, where we picnicked. At this point we were involved in a photo shoot with a big family of locals. After a while we crossed the stream and followed the path down to the main road, which wasn't far, and stopped in the same café as yesterday for a cup of chai.

We sauntered down the main road towards Manali afterwards willing a bus or a-rs to come by to save us having to walk all the way again. Our wish was soon satisfied. But in no time at all we came to a stationary queue of traffic in our direction. Not a problem! With nothing coming the other way, we simply drove down the outside of the queue to its head, tucking in whenever anything came against us.

The road was blocked in both directions whilst some landslide debris was being cleared. There was another long wait at the damaged bridge over to Central Manali, but we eventually reached Old Manali. We climbed out of the rickshaw by the second bridge to save the a-rs having to struggle up the hill to the hotel. Kari unfortunately forgot to take her hat with her when we got out - something which I'm more likely to do than she is.

There was a long procession of men down the main street with lots of drums. They were carrying some religious effigy. It was probably something associated with the big festival called ??? in Kullu on the 19th. We ate a very good evening meal for our more usual Rps 500 or so at the Dragon Inn next door. Now it's bedtime. We're getting up at 05:30 for the long taxi ride. It feels as though we are about to return to civilisation.

Wednesday 17th October:     Manali to Chandigarh

Wed, 21:30 in hotel room after dinner: We were, of course, up before the alarm clock and ready to go well before 06:00. We were a bit nervous as to how things would go having paid all of the Rps 8000 demanded. For example, would we be expected to pay for fuel?

The hotel owner showed up at 6, and said he had to go and fetch the driver. We put the rucksacks in the boot, and went with him to get out of the cold. We had to go all the way to Central Menali to find him, and then all the way back again to drop off the owner, but we were finally underway for 06:15.

The early start payed off as we got through town and on the road down the valley towards Kullu with no holdups. But travelling by car rather than bus gave us a much better view of the flood damage. It was terrible, and went on and on all the way down.

There's not much to report about the drive. It was 300 very tough km with umpteen lorries, buses, rickshaws and motorbikes to be overtaken. By european standards our driver drove apparently recklessly. On closer inspection, however, there is a lot of cooperation between all the drivers to avoid accidents. I think that everyone accepts that the road conditions are so bad that one must overtake in what appear to be suicidal positions if one is to make any progress at all. It is not just the powerful cars that overtake on blind corners. The lorry and bus drivers do it too. If one is unlucky and meets a vehicle coming against one, room is somehow made, or everything comes to a grinding halt with no apparent aggro being shown. The constant hooting would appear to be part of the protocol.

We had good weather, stopped twice to give the driver a break, and were finally dropped off at Sector 43 bus station at about 13:30. There was no demand for extra money for the small strech of toll road getting into CHG or for petrol. We tipped the driver Rps 300, which delighted him, and said our goodbyes. An a-rs ride and Rps 150 soon had us at the Hotel Icon, which we had reserved by email.

After a bit of a rest, we went out to see the renowned Nek Chand Rock Garden. We a-rs'd there, and strolled back sussing out the Capital Complex on the way. The Rock Garden was definitely out of the ordinary, and well visited by lots of touring Indians. Apart from us, I only counted 3 Westerners.

We had a very nice Indian meal quite near to the hotel, though Kari found her mushroom dish rather too spicy. Fortunately my thali had a portion of savoury lassi which she could use to calm it down a bit. Kari had a sweet lassi for desert. I had my favourite sickly-sweet gulab jamun.

Thursday 18th October:     Chandigarh

Thu, 21:30 in hotel room after dinner: We took an a-rs to the High Court Visitor Centre in time for the 10:00 guided tour of the Capital Complex where most of le Corbusier's concrete architectural works are located. We saw the High Court building, the Secretariat and the Legislative Assembly. We got to see the inside of the latter. Whilst walking between these buildings, we also saw the Open Hand sculpture and a couple of others, whose names I have already forgotten.

The Legislative Assembly looked like a cooling tower, and it all looked in need of a facelift, like most of the things in India. There's lots of labour around tinkering with this and that, but rarely a concerted effort to get something done properly, and to keep it in good condition afterwards.

We returned to the hotel on foot afterwards - it was further than expected, not helped by our missing a turning and having to retrace our steps. Once there, I managed to phone Amex about some old travellers cheques. They informed me that they were no longer changeable in India.

I'm interested in trying to get a WC attachment for ablutions that we've used in many hotels and found very effective. I managed to find the address of a dealer only one sector away. Before going there we strengthened ourselves with a mixed-fruit smoothie from a food stall next to the hotel.

We walked down to the bathroom fittings dealer and found that they had exactly what I wanted. We bought two for Rps 200 each. From there we walked 2 sectors to find Thomas Cook's and change some pounds into Rps, at a slightly better rate than we are getting at ATM's. They also said that they could exchange Amex travellers cheques, but we didn't test it because we already had enough Rps to be going on with.

The. Final sight-seeing item on our list for CHD was Sukhna Lake. We sat there for quite a while enjoying the peace and quiet and watching all the locals or possibly Indian tourists promenading. The women, especially, are dressed up in beautiful clothes.

A simple a-rs ride back to the hotel completed the afternoon. Evening meal was at the same place as last night, except that Kari had an unchallenging chop suey to give her digestion a rest.

Friday 19th October:     Chandigarh to Jalandhar

Fri, 18:45 in hotel room prior to first meeting with Pashi's guests: This was a simple day so far. It was a case of getting from the Hotel Icon in Chandigarh to the Radisson Hotel in Jalandhar. It started rather strangely in that the staff were setting up breakfast in the restaurant when we went down at 07:45. Breakfast was listed as starting at 07:00. On reflection, we decided that today is a public holiday because of the Dussehra festival, so late breakfast.

We checked out, the receptionist ordered us an Uber taxi, and we were soon at the Sector 43 Bus Stand. The bus lane for Jalandhar was quickly located, there was a bus standing there, and 3 minutes later we set off. The bus had a penetrating whistle as horn that required the use of ear plugs.

Sun, 10:30 in hotel room waiting for factory tour to start: There's not much to report concerning the journey. The bus made good progress through very green countryside, stopping only occasionally. As it was only a 3 hour trip, there were no breaks for refreshments or toilets. There are quite a lot of buildings with domes scattered around the country. We are assuming that they are all Sikh temples.

Jalandhar bus station was typically Indian with a mob of a-rs's standing around waiting for business. It was a short ride to the Radisson hotel and a pampered lifestyle. We unpacked and went across the road to a McD and a McEgg menu to bridge the gap until the evening meeting with all the other guests to Neena's and Pashi's anniversary.

The evening get-together was on the top floor of the hotel, where Pashi introduced us all to tha accompaniment of drinks and snacks, followed by a buffet meal. It was very pleasant, and very relaxed after the many days of having been on the road.

Saturday 20th October:     Jalandhar and Visit to Kapurthala

After breakfast, 2 minibuses were waiting to take us all to Kapurthala and a tour of the Jagatjit Palace (now housing the Sainik Private School), the State Gurdwara (Gurdwara = Sikh Temple), and a Moorish mosque. A couple of school teachers and schoolgirls from the Bawa-Lalvani Public School acted as our guides.

We finished off at the Bawa-Lalvani Public School for a snack and short video about the school's kindergarten. The snack was an adequate lunch for us. I opted out of the afternoon programme, a visit to a fine arts gallery and museum. I walked instead down a very busy road with horrendous road crossing problems to find a shop selling toilet squirters. With a good bit of perseverance I was able to find one. This one cost Rps 300 and is for Kathryn.

The evening programme was a visit to Neena and Pashi's house for drinks, titbits, and evening meal. The anniversary couple renewed their vows, but in a very lighthearted and non-serious fashion, with the help of their granddaughter. I had been fearing a sentimental, American style rite. The evening went on very late, so that there were doubts on the bus as to how many would be up in the morning for yoga.

Sunday 21st October:     Jalandhar and Visit to F C Sondhi Factory

Sun, 18:00 in hotel room after returning from factory tour: It turned out to be quite a hard day. There was a good turnout for yoga, and it was surprisingly good. Unfortunately the meditation session following it was terrible, but impossible to skip without being incredibly rude. The lady leading it is living on a different planet, talks a lot, but her sentences don't follow on from each other.

There followed a very interesting tour of Pashi's factory. The most fascinating I found was to see all the stages of turning a lump of English willow into a cricket bat. There are endless steps of manual operations involved, admittedly with machine assistance in the cutting and pressing of the wood.

The snack lunch at the factory was, of course, more than adequate for lunch. We left the factory to visit one of the stitching groups that Pashi has established in local villages. This group was stitching leg pads for cricket. Just like our visit 20 years ago, it looked to us like a happy group of young ladies doing all the stitching, but this time mainly on machines. In the meantime, the village has become much more established with paved streets and much less cow dung being used as fuel. I think that it has been replaced by gas.

Our group, of course, caused a big stir in the village. We were surrounded by crowds of children. Unfortunately the demonstration of their grain milling machine was not possible on account of a power cut.

And still the day's programme was not finished. We went on to visit a huge new museum dedicated to the Punjabi fight for independence. I found it rather too dominated by propaganda, and far too detailed for a short visit. I was glad when it was time to get into the buses again to head back to the hotel.

Now we need to regain our strength for tonight's drinks, nibbles and dinner, this time in the hotel. We're promised a talk by a retired newspaper editor on Indo-Pakistani relations.

Tue, 11:30 in train en route for Delhi: The talk was very good, if rather one-sided in India's favour. The questions afterwards were unfortunately rather rambling, but didn't get in the way of a very enjoyable evening. It seems to be coming standard procedure here that one gets filled up with titbits whilst drinking and is then expected to tuck into a buffet supper! At about 23:45 one of the guests, Lance from Australia, encouraged us to break up the party to let the staff go home - a very good suggestion.

Monday 22nd October:     Jalandhar and Visit to a Local Charity

The programme for the morning was a visit to a Charity with which Neena is closely involved. It was quite close to the hotel, so we had a short drive to get there.

... Break for lunch ...

We sat in the assembly hall afterwards to listen to a few short speeches, and to watch some dancing. There was a group of five boys first, where the lead dancer was really good and obviously enjoying himself enormously. They were followed by a group of 8 or 9 very colourfully dressed girls, who were also very good. Finally an older girl danced a solo.

The tour of the charity was terminated by a visit to the associated school next door. The size of the classes reminded me of my primary school.

It was time for a late lunch by the time that we got back to the hotel. We had arranged a bridge session with Neena and CeeJay. We were in the "business room" of the hotel. The big, highly polished conference table, with low, soft chairs were not ideal for bridge, but we persevered for a pleasant couple of hours, having a break for a snack lunch, until it was time for the afternoon temple tour.

Kari and I opted out of the tour, pleading the need to do some packing as an excuse. Kari really did do some packing. I went out to find the Thomas Cook office to change a couple of travellers' cheques to make a donation to the F C Sondhi Charity.

The evening's entertainment was a visit to Anaurag's house for drinks, titbits and buffet supper. The house would indicate that the Sondhi business is going well. It was so sumptuous and huge that it was out of place in a rather nondescript town like Jalandhar. It was a glorious warm evening with almost full moon. The garden had been decorated lavishly with fairy lights, and a live band was playing oldies of our generation when we arrived. Again, it was quite a late night before we broke away and asked for a car back to the hotel. John and Liz shared the car with us.

Tuesday 23rd October:     Jalandhar to Delhi Airport

Tue, 22:50 in Delhi airport waiting for our flight at 01:15: Our train from Jalandhar to New Delhi was scheduled to leave at 9:20, so we were up earlier than usual for a good hotel breakfast before taking a hotel car (no doubt adding yet more to Pashi's enormous bill from the hotel) to the station. We had plenty of time, which we sent sitting in the shade on the platform because the a/c waiting room was segregated into male and female parts.

Surprisingly the train was on time, and unfortunately we were at the wrong end of the platform when it came in. The train was so long that we had to jump in before we could reach our carriage and walk from carriage to carriage. We had booked ourselves AC1 class for a treat. We had a 2 berth a/c compartment with 2 beds all to ourselves. We passed the time snoozing and vegetating as the train rolled through very green countryside, keeping more or less to time. A spicy lunch was served in our compartment at about 11:30 to wake us up a bit.

At 16:30 we rolled into New Delhi station. The platform was so packed that we were hardly able to make our way through the crowd to the exit. I wanted to buy some Indian sweets as presents for the family, and wanted to get them in town rather than at the airport, where I was sure that the prices would be grossly inflated. We strolled up the main bazaar looking for a sweet shop without success. We were apparently in the jewellery part of town. But eventually with the help of a tourist information office we found a good shop and filled our plastic sandwich box with sweets. Unfortunately the shop also sealed our box in plastic foil, so we haven't been able to sample them.

We strolled back to the station to find the airport express metro. It was probably about 18:00 by the time we got there. We had a mere 7 hours to wait. Now it's only 2 hours so the end is almost in sight! The funny thing was that, because of my visa mistake (see entry for 4th Oct), we had more trouble getting through passport control to get out of India than we did to get in.

Wednesday 24th October:     Delhi Airport to Riniken

Fri, 20:40 at home: The plane was more or less on time; the flight was uneventful, except that the toilets were in a bad way and the so-called omelette for breakfast was awful. The plane was only about half full, so the service was good, and we were able to get off quickly in Zurich.

Our bags were some of the first to appear so that we were able to catch the 7:01 train, only 30 minutes after touching down. In Brugg we had 30 minutes to wait for a bus, so we bought some milk and bread, and had a coffee. We were home for about 8:50.


End of trip!


Hotel List

Date City Hotel Name Breakfast
included?
Price per Night
(incl. Tax)
4 Oct Delhi AeroCity Hotel Shanti Palace y Rps 4720
5-6 Oct Lucknow Hotel Ganga Maiya y Rps 1904
7-8 Oct Faizabad Hotel Shane Avadh n Rps 2240
9 Oct Bahraich Hotel Harsh Regency n Rps 2789
10 Oct - in train - -
11 Oct Chandigarh Hotel Icon y Rps 4130
12-13 Oct Kullu Hotel Aaditya n Rps 1600
14-16 Oct Manali Brahma Guest House n Rps 600
17-19 Oct Chandigarh Hotel Icon y Rps 4130
19-22 Oct Jalandhar Radisson Hotel y ?