As soon as we could get it organized we set off with Adi and Nir on a 4 day trek through the surrounding mountians, Indian trekking style. By this I mean that if you require a guide (which due to several mysterious disappearances of trekkers in this drug trade reagion it behooves you to have) you get the whole package deal which includes an entourage of cook, guide, ponies, tents, food, and horsemen.
There is no regard to weight of goods nor biodigradability of materials used. Trash is burned or piled in a ditch (this offended our environmental sensibilities but without any trash bags and communication difficulties we were a bit stuck). Our tents were 1970's style canvas giants and our meals were fulll out feasts that took 4+ hours a day to prepare.
The trek itself was incredibly steep and stunning despite the intermittent monsoon rains and accompaning mist.
We began our trek in Naggar, a city that used to be the capital of the state and where we explored a small but beautiful palace until we were bored to tears waiting for our horses to arrive.
After a short climb we passed through a small town seemingly unchanged by time called Rumsu in which kids came running from their stone/wood houses to beg us to take pictures of them. After Rumsu we passed through a thick misty forest alive with the hum of cicadas which opened to a pasture complete with a singing shepherd girl who cursed and threw stones at her cow and sheep out of boredom. After a quick lunch and nap waiting for the ponies to catch up we continued at a steeper angle until we reaced our camp and the ponies were unburdened and rolled happily on their backs in the grass to get rid of the feeling of thier packs. Our two tents and the kitchen tent were set up and Chai and biscuits swerved. This is certainly different than backpacking in the US!!
We embarrassed our entourage by insisting on hanging out with them in the kitchen tent instead of reading in our own but they warmed up to us as Jesse and Nir put on an afternoon concert with the backpackers guitar and Indian bamboo flute and I used my pitiful Hindi to try to steal the cooks secrets.
The second and third day we continued to climb higher through increasingly misty and steep terrain with fewer and fewer insects and trees. On our second night we stopped at a windy, h igh alpine meadow beside a teahouse of sorts which is the equivalant of a Himalayan "Bed and Breakfast." The father of the tea house family heard the afternoon "concert" and insisted we join his family in their tent after dinner for a repeat performance. We were glad for the invite because it was raining and cold and while we had no fire or dry place to sit together they had a wood stove surrounded by bedding mats in their humble house/tent. Jesse and Nir played for them and Adi and I talked with the father and the children. The father had studied science and so spoke English quite well and translated a few funny questions from his daughter. One of the things she asked about was our hair and skin...why were we so white and blond? Was it because we had been kept out of hte sun our whole lives? In the morning when we left they shared their simple homemade bread with us (a stuffed and fried flatbread called Paranthas) and the father gave me a book on spirituality hoping that I, as a science teacher, would connect to his swami's "scientific" approach to spirituality and then share it with friends at home. Friendlier people we could never imagine!
On the 3rd day we reached our breathless summit...at about 4000 m it is as high as Everest base camp.
It was quiet and mysterious with now tress or insects...just soft light green scrub grass and a thick shroud of mist obscuring our 360 degrees view of mountains and valleys (Bubs, I am sure you will have better luck in September!).
Surprisingly it was not this climb to the pass but rather the 6 hour descent that day that brutalized our moral and our poor knees and leg muscles. Much of it was through chest high wet wild flowers along slippery mud horse paths with steep switchback turns or on loose rock slopes sometimes through shallow streams where each step could be a twisted angle or perhaps the beginning of a long fall down the slope. Adi and Nir found their bodies were not up for it and their knees stopped co-operating about an hour from camp...the guide had to help them down some of the steeper parts. Jesse and I held up a bit better but between a
The town of Manali was a disappointment...tourism has ruined the picturesque town surrounded by soaring green mountains outskirted by clouds and rock ice peaks. There were in fact apple orchards and a climate reminiscent of Colorado but between the large modern hotels and small filthy old guest houses catering to skiers in winter and post-army stoned out Israelies the rest of the year, this just wasn't our scene. But it was quite a scene. Every shop selling identical baggy "haram" pants and UVM-style patchwork pants and ponchos...pool tables and movie rooms set up beneath leaking tarps...purported sushi houses amongst the more traditional tourist fare...and marijuana plants growning as weeds higher than my waist.