Travel: India #1

RISHIKESH  -  MANALI  -  DHARAMASALA

Rishikesh

Rishikesh

 (My yoga teacher training experience in its own post)

A place becoming a temporary home. Explosions of colour in the opening days with our first experience of Holi festival. Palpable energy from those involved, dancing with locals, ending with the pappy overwhelming texture of paint powder in your mouth as, after hours of paint throwing, you draw the line. Days later still finding colour in the orifices of your scalp. Waterfall climbing and puppy companions. Views across Himalayan foothills and the winding Ganga which cuts the city in half. A daily routine forms of chai and porridge at a cheaper, local place - simple with a giggling, warm owner. The feeling of being a regular, recognised, tinging the city with familiarity as we settle in. Riverside meals, dodging monkeys, fairylights at night, huge power-cutting storms so we eat in pitch blackness, smells of spices wafting up as we reach out blindly. Being mobbed by overexcited groups of men with camera phones. Dunking down underneath the magic and healing of the icy, icy, Ganga waters. Rising up reborn. Friends becoming family as time moves on, dates made for rooftop or riverside chai and slices of gooey brownie. Artworks and colour splashing out from every corner in flowers and murals, the latter often having a spiritual or provocative edge. Cramming in side by side on cushioned floors, the night pressing in its heat amidst the chatter of wildlife, dog howls, and ourselves. The breathless silence as the sun rose over the mountains and we watch in awe from the highest monastery in the region. The light catching, the rolling green, low mist, and sense of spirituality and size. Rishikesh has a slice of my heart. It moved me, changed me, taught me. There is more to come from it.

MANALI

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Escaping the rising heat after graduation by heading North into Himanchal Pradesh. The seventeen hours on a public bus both arduous and exciting. Crammed into hard small seats, fighting to keep them in the first place, tasting real roadside chai, consuming aloo parantha at most meals and street samosas inbetween, the yells of the young jumping on at stops to make sales of snacks. The landscape changing. Winding cliffside roads, river in the valley, a long tunnel of darkness, more mountainous. Villagers passing goods and people across the river in suspended baskets! Goats in the road, trees becoming alpine, civilisation becoming more sparse, every bus beeping and decorated in colours, incense burning at the front. 

Making friends in Manali and gaining the cheapest accomodation yet. A cooler air we aren't quite ready for! Yaks in the street, the whitened snowy tips of the mountains keeping my eyes occupied, wanderings into traditional areas with incredible door carvings, huge looms, and a goat soon to be sacrificed. Views from every hill climbed, a waterfall found but the route to it the best part of the adventure, being out in the world through apple orchards and an area as if from a fairytale - babbling brook and butterflies included. 

Dharamsala

Home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees/exiles. Humbling visit to the Museum to further educate myself on their circumstances. So many of these current issues I find are overlooked or forgotten. Days in Bhagsu exploring and climbing up rocky paths to empty fields with only a baby goat in sight and the sun scorching from above. Another day making it up to Triund in record time. Melting and aching our way to a worth it view, feeling on top of the world amongst mountains. Making friends as always with our guesthouse guys, ice cream treats and chai on the balcony. Glittering gems and quintessential Indian patterns in every store. Moving to McLeod Ganj shortly after being trapped in the shower with a huge huntsman, featuring the most movie style girlish screams of my life. Then getting a free upgrade on our room as we discover a good 5 or 6 huntsman spiders in our new digs. Incredible street momos from a leathery skinned old lady with a huge smile and just one gold tooth. Investing in art as I am drawn to a street stall of film photographs, getting into conversation with the French travelling photographer. Faces and scenes radiating out of the wall of a local charity art space. The most surprising and delicious vegetarian Japanese dinner at a not for profit - not what we expected to encounter here but highly recommended by a friend from Rishikesh. Patio relaxing looking at the mountain and the stars, feline friends everywhere we go, trying thukpa and tenthuk at the same place each night, dodging cows on the dark walk home. Monks wandering the streets, huge murals and quietude in the temple, flowers in bloom, and dusty roads. Dharamsala was likely my favourite place in India from this trip. 

TravelCamilla Sampson