We would be spending two days in Manali and although there were several options for activities in and around this town Judith and I decided (as most others) to have a day for ourselves and explore the place at a relaxed pace (and of course Judith wanted to do some shopping). After sleeping late (read: ) we went down for a fine extensive breakfast (called 'English Breakfast' but fortunately being an 'American Breakfast'). I was highly amused to see how the neatly suited waiters were wearing sneakers under their trousers.
Today was Andre's birthday and some of the group had arranged a little surprise party for him.
Celebrating Andre's Birthday.
Andre being a Buddhist, small pieces of red cloth were handed out and while he sat on a chair in the lobby with a small party hat on a group of 15 'quick-and-dirty' monks sang 'happy birthday' to him in a low, slow mumbling version that could easily have been part of the puja at Thiksey. The hotel had arranged a wonderful cake with 'Happy Birthday in Manali' written on it. On this cake a wonderful little gadget was placed: a lotus flower that opened with lovely little candles. After having a piece of cake Judith and I decided to wander down the hill into Manali.
Manali (2050 meters, the lowest we had been since leaving Delhi, and situated on the west bank of the Beas river) is a very popular holiday spot for both Indian people and foreign tourists.
Celebrating Andre's Birthday.
Whereas foreigners like us mostly include it in their itinerary, spending a couple of days in this place, relaxing or doing adventure sports, the Indian people come here for their honeymoon or for the winter sports season. Legend had it that Manu (the Hindu equivalent of Noah) aligned his boat here to re-create human life after floods destroyed the world. Well, it seemed like the floods were back because with the exception of the morning it would be raining most of the day. As a matter of fact, the papers in India were all buzzing about the excessive rainfall of the last couple of days and we heard that the Leh-Manali highway was a disaster at the moment with several stranded trucks. Looking at this from the bright side, we had crossed the Himalaya just in time and considering this we could cope with the bad weather south of this mountain range.
As I mentioned, the weather was still comfy and sunny in the morning.
Hadimbah tempel, Manali.
We took a right shortly after leaving the ManaliHeights hotel to visit the Hadimba temple, one of the few sights in the new part of Manali. This temple looked a bit like a poor man's attempt to recreate one of the multi-layered temples of Bhaktapur in Nepal. It was erected in 1553 and honoured Hadimba, a character from the Mahabharata legend. Only having read the Ramayana I wasn't really able to place this into context. The temple was covered with nice woodcarvings though and a series of horns of bulls and ibex were attached to the side. The interior was one of the weirdest things I've seen in a while. It had the look of a cave with some strange dimensional slant and among the remarkable objects inside there seemed to be a small safe! Although mysteriously interesting I didn't stay long inside in order not to be in the way of the locals that went here for a puja.
Bull and ibex horns, Hadimba temple, Manali.
The characters that wandered around the temple were as remarkable as the temple itself. They seemed to come straight from a sideshow and all had something they wanted you to take a (paid) picture of: a huge dog-sized rabbit (seemingly the Angora breed), a cobra and python and even a Yak (hold on, I thought Yaks weren't able to survive at the altitude ... Something fishy's going on here). If this didn't amaze me enough than the nearby 'Ghatotkach temple' did. Ghatotkach, another Mahabharata character, was worshipped here in the form of a tree and among the sacrifices were goat horns and tin miniature houses, as if daddy had offered his daughter's doll house to this deity.
Ghatotkach 'temple', Manali.
We wandered further down into Manali, and walked into The Mall, the main street that is filled with restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and more. Although very tourist it somehow had more character than the Main Bazar in Leh. During the day I tried multiple cyber cafes to upload my blog and some pictures. It took after different attempts, in the first one the sites were not loading ('Only sites like hotmail.com are working Sir', 'Well that's pretty useless isn't it?'), in the second one the USB ports of the PC weren't working and touching the casing of the machine almost got me electrified, in a third one the PC was so old that it didn't even have a USB port. The fourth one was okay and even had a reasonably fast connection.
Early in the afternoon we sat down in the Mountain View restaurant for some soup and momo's and were quickly joined by 'Big Jan' who had walked in.
The Mall, Manali.
Even with the three of us we weren't able to finish all the momo's and remembering a story Kirsten told me, we took the remaining ones outside and handed them out to some poor children and their parents, making sure to inform them which ones were vegetarian and non-vegetarian.
After lunch the three of us wandered into the Tibetan area south of The Mall, coming across two little Buddhist gompas. The first one, the Himalaya Nyinmapa Buddhist Temple, was rather new. It had a two story Sakyamuni Buddha and wall paintings that explained the life of the Buddha. This was the first time I actually was able to understand most of what was painted on the wall of a gompa. A shame though that the paintings had been placed behind ugly plastic foil.
The second gompa, the Gelukpa Cultural Society Gompa, loudly proclaimed the injustice in Tibet through various posters and pamphlets.
Himalaya Nyinmapa Buddhist Temple, Manali.
Its prayer hall was colourful and included several nice statues of Buddha's and bodhisattva's. As often, pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama were also omnipresent again.
By the time we got back in The Mall and had a cup of coffee at a funny Nescafe stand where instant coffee was mixed with hot water (and didn't taste half bad) it had begun to rain cats and dogs again. Still, noting that a couple of 100 rupee (1,5 Euro) umbrella's couldn't handle. At we decided to head back for the hotel where the group would gather at seven for a dinner at Johnson's Bar. For some reason taxi's were incredibly scarce tonight so we ended up walking to the restaurant (in the rain) and back (in the rain). The food was okay but not optimal; the 'spicy tomato soup' was nice but a bit bland, nowhere near as spicy as soups that were not advertised as spicy elsewhere and the Chicken Steak Blue Cheese Sauce was lukewarm because the sauce that cover the chicken breasts had been cold.
Himalaya Nyinmapa Buddhist Temple, Manali.
Tomorrow's program had an optional 5 to 6 hour trekking but considering the current weather Judith and I decided to cancel our participation. Rather miss the trekking than probably having to walk in the rain for several hours. We'd be fine relaxing and killing time exploring Manali's surroundings and shops.