Now I have extended my stay in this magical country, I decided to go to Manali on an overnight bus. It reminded me of when I first went backpacking around the world. As a budget backpacker, l often travelled on overnight buses and trains to save on accommodation costs. It got me a little excited to be doing it all over again. However, I ended up on a seat right at the back of the bus, where the seats don’t recline. Five of us back-seat travellers; four Indian boys and I, were shook and swung in our seats 10 times more than the rest of the passengers. Not only was the route through hilly Himalayan mountains with narrow roads full of potholes; there was hardly any shock absorption at the rear of the bus.
Even though I was geared up with my homeopathic remedies for motion sickness I was still feeling a little queasy. Luckily, sleepiness took over soon enough. The bus left Mcleod Ganj after 10:30 pm, way after my bedtime!
I dozed off for a wee while. When I awoke the first time, my young neighbour told me to put my head on his shoulder. I kindly declined his offer and carried on sleeping, as the bus continued to give us whiplash. After a few toilet stops, I finally saw the sunrise from the window. A few hours after that the bus eventually reached my destination of Manali. Nine hours to travel 240 km. Standard in India.
My bones cracked as I stretched out my body. It felt great to breathe in the fresh chilly air. I negotiated with a taxi driver to take me to Vashisht, about 4 km up the hill. I was happy to pay 150 rupees ($3). A river at the foot of the large mountains reminded me of New Zealand, which triggered my mind to go wandering. But not for long. As I got out of the taxi, the cold air on my tired face woke me up.
The Valley of Gods
Vashisht, aka The Valley of Gods, is tucked deep in the high mountains. It holds some interesting myths, which were told to me by the locals. Due to its history of Gods and Goddesses, the mountains of Manali are often chosen by genuine spiritual seekers to achieve Samadhi/enlightenment or “no-mind” state.
Vashisht is famous for its sacred Jogini waterfall. Named after Jogini, a Hindu goddess who treasured silence and meditation. There are signs on the track to keep silent to respect this holy place. Every morning before breakfast I went for a walk into the forest, and up to the Jogini. The air was so thin and cold, it cleared my head every time.
Another activity I indulged in daily while in Vashisht was the natural hot spring. The public bathhouse is in Vashisht temple at the end of the street. The simple and ancient bath is made with stones has two sections. A large bath filled with HOT sulphur-rich water. A small section with 5 hoses sticking out for washing. Local ladies gather to wash and to catch up on the gossip half-naked. No one tries to hide their bits here. Wearing only knickers they chat and laugh as they wash.
Follow the locals
I too stripped down to my knickers and jumped into the bath. The goodness of the natural spring seeped straight into my tired bones and muscles. There’s something about getting naked and be open with the local ladies who seem to rule this bathhouse, and don’t care what your boobs or belly look like.
It was easy to see that so many locals still maintain their traditional way of living. Houses are made of clay on the ground floor topped with wooden verandah and more rooms on the 2nd floor. Each household has cows for milking and farm work. Local kids play marbles on the street. Toddlers play in the dirt as the parents attend to their apple farm.
All with the stunning backdrop of snow-capped mountains, blue sky and lush forest.