Friday, May 16, 2008

Manali Weather Report

There are words that we haven't discovered yet
words which archaeologist are still excavating
one of these words is Manali
And the reason I hadn't discovered Manali and the northern (though still sub-Kashmiri) province of Himanchal Pradesh is because I'm a huge idiot for spending too much time in the southern beaches of Goa. Don't, simply don't bother with any part of India but Himanchal Pradesh. There's no point. You're wasting your time, and here's a testament as to why:

After finally succumbing to the heat of Hampi (52 C during the day as you may recall) and acknowledging that I couldn't climb sun baked granite any longer I started my ascent through India. I proposed a quick stop back in Palolem to visit some wanderlusting Norwegians and a rogue Iranian or two before heading north. "Quick stop" quickly turned into "1 week bender" involving a random "4 chicken slaughter" plus "1 drunken palm tree ascent" to steal "5 coconuts." A little wild with the quotation marks there, sorry.

Eventually though I did manage to extricate myself from the beach and the binge and start my epic B-line journey to Himanchal Pradesh and the foothills of the Himalayas. On the way though, a brief stop in Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga and one of the holiest cities in India was due...if only to visit yet another Norwegian, Christian the film student.

Lucky me, I picked up a bit of food-poisoning/hacking-chest-caught-action on the way though. I don't think that it was the 15 hour connection from Madgaon to Mumbai that did it, but it may have been the street food in Mumbai, the dodgy hotel in Mumbai, the 26 hour connection from Mumbai to Delhi, the "sleeping" on the floor of the second class waiting room in the New Delhi Station, the dodgy meal on the train from Delhi to Haridwar, or the train itself and it's overclocked AC. Not sure really.

Rishikesh (through the sickness and surprising heat) wasn't really my scene. I was all geared for relaxing in mountains and seeing a few babas and sadhus kicking about, but what I got was a full on assault of beggars and angry Hindus. Not cool. I don't get it though, most people seem to really love Rishikesh, but it could be that my sick lungs just couldn't take the constant assault of Charas smoke. Perhaps I was just too jaded to really appreciate the magic of the Gangas and I've really crossed off one of the most magical places in India. I don't really know. Hindsight aside, the sack of antibiotics, pain killers, hydrating salts and bowel stabilisers that I picked up from the doctor next to our Ashram cum Guesthouse did put me back in the mood to shoulder my bag again.

So, onward bound, I hopped through a grueling set of connections (including a 2km hike with all my gear, Djembe included) to catch the 3pm overnight (17 hour) public bus from Deradhun (just outside Rishikesh) to Manali. Most people opt for the easy and cheap availability of sleeping pills and/or raw Valium from a local Chemist to get them through a journey like this, but I've never been one for superfluous medicines...I'm tough like that. Tough though I am, I am also a bit of a hypocrite at times and currently have a pocketful of tablets for the next such overnight public bus. May that journey never come.

"Manali" though, that's the topic of this particular blog, and while some people may think that Manali is something you can contract from going barefoot into public bathrooms, I knew it to be the place where three English climbers (whom I had met in Hampi) had been developing some sick bouldering on previously unclimbed rock. It was also the opportunity to escape the manic honking and constant heckling of Charas dealers and shoe polishers of the rest of India.

Refering back to my "steadfast" and "conservative" view on pharmaceuticals wherein I did not take the Valium, I got to enjoy all 17 hours of overnight public bus ride sharing my tiny alloted space with my rucksack, drum and daypack. Cozy though that description may sound, it was more like a drop-in course with a carnival contortionist on speed. And so, from my contorted position I watched as the sun came up to bring life to the villages, rivers, cedars, oaks, rotadehndrons, cherry orchards, wheat fields, wild ganja and of course the snowy peaks of the Himalayas themselves. Completely in awe of my surroundings, I silently congratulated myself for making a good travel decision. I unfolded myself somewhat to pull out my jacket and socks, as I suddenly realised that the temperature was approximately 30 degrees lower than it had been in Rishikesh. It was all feeling a bit like home.

On having abandoned travel guides in the last few months I find that the biggest shortcoming in my travels is arriving at a new place completely disoriented and without even the slightest idea of the layout of my new surroundings. Arriving in Manali was no different, and all I knew of the place was that there was an "Old Manali" and a "New Manali" and that I had just been dropped off in New Manali and that my English climbing friends where in Old Manali and that the ammounts being offered for rickshaws to Old Manali were simply preposterous. I decided to walk. With my gear strapped to my back I was soon directed, and indeed led, by a friendly local carpenter who spoke no more English than the word "Old" as in "Old Manali" which is quite conveniently exactly where he was headed.

After a series of misdirections, largely my own fault, I was having trouble locating my friends and stopped for a chai in hopes that my sleep deprived brain would collect itself fo a few moments and I could remember where the climbers where staying. I noticed that the Dhaba I stopped at, in all its delapitated glory, made fresh momos (the Himalayan version of Gyoza) and I made a point to return later that day for lunch. Eventually the milky, sugary goodness did help me to remember something that sounded like, "anand" which was incidently the name of the guesthouse where my friends were staying. After another kilometre of uphill trudging (and no less than 5 early morning offers for Charas) I did find my friends and sat down, sleepless and unshowered to start immediately discussing the climbing plans for the day.

In the two weeks that the English crew (Richard, Andy and Luke) had been in Manali they had discovered some three or four epic boulders within short walking distance, each offering up at least 5 routes per face, ranging from balancy slab problems to full power, overhanging and almost surreal mixes of slopers, crimps and dynos. It was as though the monkey god Hanuman had designed a little climbing heaven and covered it all in moss and lychen, not to be discovered for many thousands of years. And indeed, it was that moss and lychen that had restricted the climbers to having discovered only a few boulders in the time they had been in Manali, as it just didn't seem logical to spend time cleaning off a single route boulder when a buffet of routes could be cleaned off on any of the larger ones.

A couple of days after arriving and having explored the established rocks, I spent some time alone in search of a new rock to clean and managed to expose a mean granite problem (which remains unsent and inasmuch unnamed) within a few minutes of leaving our initial climbing area, while a family of curious monkeys watched from the bushes. It was the first problem I had pioneered in the area and I at once felt a sense of pride mixed with just a bit of shame for having alterted the natural settings by rasping the moss from the rock. Perhaps the monkeys were simply looking on in discust. Nevertheless, I spent a good couple of minutes happily suspended on the double sloper dead-hang which I assume constitutes the crux of the initial traverse on this boulder. Hanuman's little climbing arena was fast becoming my Shambala.

For the next two weeks the four of us (which eventually became the eight of us as we were joined by fellow Hampi climbers and a couple of tree surgeons) climbed hard, ate momos, enjoyed the natural hotspings in the nearby rival town of Veshisht, and contemplated trekking up to the top ridges of the Valley in search of the distant sillhouettes of boulders we could just make out on the horizon. While other travellers disapeared for days into thick clouds of Israeli chillum produced charas smoke (not that we were particularly adverse to the activity) and bargained over treks into Kashmir, we found ourselves in the serenity of the gogeous montain views and the seemingly unending boulders.

In Manali I at last aquiesced to the fact that I'm a mountain man, not the beach seeking traveller I once thought I was. I finally succumbed to Indian food poisoning and spent a day in bed for a reason other than being hungover. And I learned that the English colloquialism, "innit" is interchangable with the Canadian equivalent, "eh."