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.
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:
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:”
We visited Naggar castle which back in the day was sold to the British for a gun and had crazy intricate woodwork:
We also went to the home and studio of a Russian artist (and true culture warrior) who settled in the region in 1917:
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).
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:
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:
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:
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).
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:
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.
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:
Instead we saw bears, monkeys, sheep and cows in funny places:
We stayed in Mcleod Ganj for 3 days and checked out the local sights. The obvious highlight was the temple of the Dalai Lama:
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:
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:
I also caught a pretty awesome sequence of the clouds coming in over the city:
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.