Varanasi was an assault on all of the senses and I initially feared the whole of India would be the same. But one 20 hour train journey later and we were a world away from the crazy of the city and instead were relaxing in the peaceful town that is Rishikesh. 880km away but still situated on the Ganges, Rishikesh is home to many yoga ashrams and many tourists. Being upriver the water is vastly cleaner and there are no dead bodies to be seen!
Dipping my feet in the Ganges – not brave enough for a swim:
We tried two beginner sessions of Hatha yoga, we were completely useless but the yogi teaching us was really friendly and had the best voice. I enjoyed the chanting and the relaxing positions, probably cause I wasn’t remotely flexible and could never touch my forehead to my knees!
Sadhu crossing the bridge:
Following a relaxing few days in Rishikesh we set off to Shimla. Shimla is only about 200km away but this journey still took us two days cause I had the bright idea of taking the toy train from Kalka. This train line has UNESCO World Heritage Site status and is really popular with Indian tourists and people on their honeymoon! It was really nice for the first hour or so but 5 hours later, with numb bums and having been through over 100 tunnels the excitement was over. Still it was fun and the lady opposite fed us random ‘eatables’, which we accepted despite the train station warnings of people trying to poison us.
Photos from the toy train journey:
It is good to know when it is safe to take eatables:
Shimla is a hillside town that people visit to escape the heat of Delhi, this is when Delhi is hot rather than now when the weather is pretty cool and Shimla is actually really cold. It was kind of like being at home with the cold weather, the quaint Victorian style buildings and a Domino’s pizza but then there are hundreds of monkeys and you soon remember that you’re still in India. There isn’t much to do in Shimla for backpackers and I didn’t fancy a walk up to the monkey temple due to reports of monkeys being quite vicious up there. They even rent sticks so you can warn them off if they get too close. We did explore the really quite dull State museum and we were grateful when there was a power cut and we could escape.
View over Shimla:
We probably would have appreciated Shimla more if we hadn’t been so excited about our next destination, Dharamsala. Dharamsala, or McLeod Gang (the upper section of town where the Dalai Lama and the tourists stay) is home to many Tibetan refugees who escaped the Chinese occupation. It has a completely different feel to the rest of the places we’ve been in India. The town is full of Buddhist monks, the restaurants sell momos and other Tibetan food and there are lots of prayer flags. We timed our visit for when the Dalai Lama would be in town and we attended a long life ceremony for him, it was fantastic. There are some photos here if anyone wants to look http://dalailama.com/gallery/album/0/509#ad-image-3. Surrounded by 1000s of excited Tibetans and tourists we watched lots of dancing, listened to prayers and were lucky enough to see the Dalai Lama walk by and wave at the end :).
McLeod Gang on a rare sunny morning:
We decided to make the most of our time in McLeod Gang and took a cookery course with Mr Sangye, learning how to make momos, which are kind of dumpling like things. Mr Sangye was awesome, he showed us how to roll, stuff and assemble the momos, even praising our efforts that were barely passable. Then we got to feast on the momo mountain that we made. Mr Sangye chatted away throughout the course, explaining how he had fled from Tibet by walking over many mountain passes until they were in the safety of Nepal.
Pinion eating momos:
Mr Sangye with the momos we made:
The following day was Holi, the festival of colours. Prior to our trip I had been advised to stay indoors on this day, apparently it can a bit gropey later on after some of the men have consumed a bit too much drink or weed. We weren’t really sure whether people would ‘play’ Holi here. Lower Dharamsala has a larger Hindu population so we wandered down in the morning, after deciding what t-shirts we were willing to sacrifice. We soon learnt that they do play here, people were driving around on motorbikes covered in paint and there were people selling the powdered paint out on the streets. We armed ourselves and carried on wandering…