164_6445-4.JPGReading back through my old travel blog, I realized I was in Manali and Dharamsala almost exactly three years ago (Entry August 3-10, 2004). After that trip, I knew I’d return to Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj (which I did a couple more times in 2004 and now once again in 2007) and I knew I’d never return to Manali. But here we are- in Manali. Just as some destinations lose their appeal, Manali is an example of one that is better than I remembered. Here’s what I had to say about Manali in 2004:

            “We arrived in Manali around 11 on Wednesday morning. After eating a bit, we walked around the town a bit. Manali looks like a stereotypical mountain/ski town in the US. Its set in a valley of pine tree, surrounded by snow-capped peaks. There’s lot of little touristy stores and restaurants and there’s a lot of log-cabin architecture. While it was a really nice place and everything, Alvir and I decided it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for, so we booked tickets for a night bus to Dharamshala that night! We hiked around the area, which was interesting. We saw a really old temple, walked down a few km through a village, passed some farmers fields, and even passed through an apple orchard. Then we walked down to the river, found some rocks to sit/lay on, and fell asleep for awhile. Its not that Manali wasn’t nice- I mean we had a great day- but its more of a R&R place than somewhere with lots to see and go. So we got on our bus at 7 and headed out.”

            Perhaps this entry sheds some light into why I like Manali more this time. Last time, I was looking for an interesting and different destination. This time, Joylani and I are just stopping in Manali, en route to Ladakh. Its not our final destination or a place that we had high expectations for. Its just a transit point, where we can get some “R&R” as I put it three years ago. Originally, we were only going to stay in Manali long enough to catch a ride out. However, the only departure options available yesterday were the very back seats (fold out side-benches in the trunk) of a one-day jeep leaving at 2am last night or the back row of a two-day bus leaving this morning. Between those options and Joylani not feeling 100%, we decided to wait a day.

            Yesterday turned out okay, despite my boring experiences on Manali in the past. While Joylani napped during the afternoon, I walked down to the river, which was much as I remembered it. Sitting on a boulder over the river, watching the river was both calming and hypnotic. Indian families and couples were around as well. And the same guy had a couple boards balanced across several rocks, which held cold drinks and snacks (here’s a pic from 3 years ago). And although he had a small fire going, I resisted my urge to order a chai. Instead, I walked back up to the road and across a bridge, before heading north along the Beas River.

I mentioned this in my last post, but the Beas was the river that Alexander the Great stopped at. Although not sure exactly where his massive army stopped, it was interesting to think about as I walked. Seeing the river, it made sense why his men wouldn’t want to cross. They would’ve already had to have come down steep mountains into the Beas Valley. And across the river, to the East, they would see equally steep rock faces which would have to be navigated. This is not to mention the rapids, which modern-day tourists take rafting trips on. It was also interesting to think that he began his conquests in Macedonia, north of Greece. Three weeks ago, we were in Athens, one of the Greek polii amongst which Alexander had to consolidate his power before heading East. We were in Istanbul two weeks ago, along the Bosphoros, where Alexander crossed from Europe to begin his lengthy conquest of Asia. And now we’re here on the Beas, where Alexander stopped. It just interesting to think how long a trip its been for us, taking boats, buses, and trains. I cannot imagine how tough it was to travel and fight all this way. And Joylani and I think we need an extra rest day….

            Our rest will be interrupted at 2 am tonight, when we’ll catch a jeep to my most anticipated region of our entire trip. A region defined by its isolation. A place only reachable by plane or 15,000+ foot passes, open only two months a year. A place so  extreme, day/night temperatures range from 30°/-3° Celsius. A place so desired its borders are disputed by three countries (India, Pakistan, and China). A place where only a couple cities have phone/internet. Why would I desire to go to such a place? An inhospitable mountainous desert, which Kipling commented on in Kim, “Surely, this is no place for man.” Hopefully over the next few weeks, our posts and photos will explain why.

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