Roerich1

Each summer my buddies from college all get together and spend a few days being debaucherous. We unanimously agree on a host and it’s up to them to ensure a good time. Previous trips included such exotic locations as, the Jersey shore, Cape Cod, Vegas, a trailer park in Mexico and Lake of the Ozarks. This year was our sixth “sunbelly” and I was el presidente.  I told everyone a year ahead of time that it’s going to be in India and even though we knew the cost and time involved would force a few people to drop out, peeps were pumped.

Sure it would’ve been easy and par for the course to get everyone to party on the beaches of Goa, but I was hoping for something a little different.  After discussing a few different options (Kerala or Andaman Islands) we settled in on the Himalayas.  The original itinerary (setup by our amazingly fantastic and highly recommended travel agent) involved us taking a driving from Manali to Leh/Ladakh (Kashmir).  Unfortunately the day my friends arrived to Mumbai, a freak cloudburst and ensuing floods devastated the region including burying villages, knocking out the airport and  blocking all roads in and out of the region.

After some last minute scrambling we settled on an Agra, Manali, Lahul Valley and Dharamsala trip.

Agra

We flew to Delhi in the morning and drove down to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.  I received some bad intel pegging the drive at 3 hours (in reality it was more like 5 and a half).  Aside from my friends shock and awe by the sights, sounds and smells of India (and monkeys attacking our car), it was a pretty uneventful drive.

The Taj Mahal lives up the to hype:

the taj mahal

Taj Mahal 2

Us at the Taj Mahal

Manali

Early the next morning we hopped on a flight to Kullu and drove to Manali. The flight in was my first real experience in the mountains and absolutely mind blowing.  We hung out for a day or two in the old city which is dominated by Israeli backpackers (for better or worse).  It was nice, but a little too “heady” for my taste.

Manali really gives you the feeling of “being in the clouds:”

Manali

We visited Naggar castle which back in the day was sold to the British for a gun and had crazy intricate woodwork:

Naggar Castle

Naggar2

We also went to the home and studio of a Russian artist (and true culture warrior) who settled in the region  in 1917:

Roerich2

Roerich3 Roerich4

Rohtang Pass

The next morning we hopped into some jeeps and made the journey across the Rohtang Pass into Lahul Valley.  Rohtang sits at 14k feet and is literally translated to “pile of corpses”.  It was easily the most intense drive of my life.  Recent mudslides, hairpin turns and high altitudes took it’s toll on the roads (and our group).

Rohtang1

Rohtang3Rule #7 of driving in the himalayas: If a man starts cooking and selling corn on the side of the road, you have at least 45 till you get moving again:

Corn Guy Corn2

I’d received a lot of warnings from friends to make it over the pass quickly.  ”Don’t spend too long out out on the pass or you’ll be crawling back to the car.”  Despite the consequences we were determined to play the highest altitude game of wiffle ball ever:

DSC_0934 whiffle2

DSC_0932

wiffleball5

In retrospect this turned out to be a bad idea.  Death notes to loved ones were written and a few of us couldn’t breathe from altitude sickness:

DSC_0927

On the other side of the pass the clouds cleared up, people started feeling better and we got our first real views of the himalayas.  Spectacular:

Lahul1 DSC_0971

Lahul Valley

By nightfall we reached our stone cottage near Jispa.  The people managing the place cooked us dinner, lit a bonfire and provided us some local “nectar of the gods.” This turned out to be the best place we stayed on the trip.  No cell service, no internet, just natural beauty and contemplation.

If you ever find yourself near Jispa, I’d highly recommend Gemur Khar Cottage, Jispa (contact Ramesh Thakur 09418388352).

Jispa

The next day we hung out in Lahul Valley visiting two villages: Triloknath and Udaipur. Triloknath was on a sheer cliff and had a very authentic monastery. Although definitely Buddhist, there was a lot of Hindu influence:

Triloknath

Triloknath3

Lahul8

Triloknath2 The views were consistently spectacular throughout the drive:

Lahul2

Lahul4

Lahul5

Lahul4

After two and a half blissful days in Lahul we once again went over the Rohtang pass on our way to Dharamsala.  The drive back was a lot easier (no wiffle ball, we’d adjusted to the altitude and we knew what to expect).  We also saw a bunch of tourists riding over Rohtang on motorcycles and bicycles, not to mention local grandmas doing it on foot.  We were really embarrassed that we could barely do it in a high end SUV.

To break up the drive, we stopped at an off-season The Shining-esque ski resort in Solang Valley.

solang

Dharamsala / McLeod Ganj

The drive to Dharamsala was scary and epic in it’s own way.  We kept expecting to see velociraptors hopping down the mountains:

dharamsala drivedharamsala drive 2

Instead we saw bears, monkeys, sheep and cows in funny places:

bears

We stayed in Mcleod Ganj for 3 days and checked out the local sights.  The obvious highlight was the temple of the Dalai Lama:

temple dalai lamatemple of Dalai Lama 2

temple of Dalai Lama 3

temple of Dalai Lama 4

On our second night my buddy Ben had a dream that we all met the Dalai Lama.  The following evening an old Tibetan woman gave us a tip that “his Holiness” was in fact in town and leading morning prayers the next morning.  We showed up early and the place was a madhouse.  #14 rolled in with a crazy entourage including a bunch of monks, dudes in suits, personal bodyguards and the Indian Army.  After a 2 hour morning prayer he walked around the crowd, smiling and dispensing snippets of wisdom.  He really radiates,  you can tell dude is enlightened.

Our last night was pretty relaxed.  We played a bunch of chess:

dharamsala

and the game the Nazis play in Inglorious Bastards (“well then I must be King Kong”). Although I hate Nazis, this is a pretty awesome game:

inglorious

I also caught a pretty awesome sequence of the clouds coming in over the city:

clouds1 clouds2 clouds3 clouds4

All in all the trip was spectacular.  Although we didn’t make it to Leh/Ladakh, I’m sure I’ll make it back (much more prepared) to do it all again.

Jiddyjiddy zarzar.

Related posts:

  1. Only in India…