#3 India, June 21, 2012

What are the changes in India that I am noticing after 14 years absence?

*CELL PHONES: Who is everybody talking to all the time? Young and old have phones, and use them constantly—I guess not too much different than at home.

*No Smoking: In two weeks I have only seen two people light up. I don’t think cigarette smoking was ever as popular here as, for example, in West Africa, but I also see signs that say Himachal Pradesh (this province) is smoke-free . Maybe cell phones have replaced cigarettes.

*Traffic: The highways used to be mostly used by trucks and buses; now cars in big numbers have been added; they dart in and out in front of the bigger vehicles, horns honking continuously.

What are the things that remain the same?

*Clothing: While the young men wear jeans (they did before, too) the women mostly still wear traditional clothing, (salwar kameez) and usually have the red bindi on their forehead.

*Food: The food remains traditional (thank goodness), still on sale in holes-in-the-wall where I often eat a good breakfast paratha. (Pancakey Indian bread thing with onions inside, hot off a griddle). Very few restaurants sell beer in this area but my Mandi hotel did, and had good traditional food, as well. I usually spend about 300 R ($6) for my main meal (I only eat two meals) which is typically a big beer and a vegetarian dish with two chapattis.

*Tuk-tuks: They’re still pretty much everywhere and are a convenient way to get around. I haven’t seen any of the newer models shown in the movie, “Best Marigold Hotel.”

In this area, north of Delhi, there are very few western tourists, but many Indian tourists.
Because there aren’t so many western tourists, I attract a lot of attention in these more untouristed areas. There are no classic hostels, so I am more isolated than usual.

Downtown Mandi in the early evening was a madhouse. The traffic was horrendous and the noise of all the honking was deafening. Vendors selling, shops going full tilt, cows and pigs in the street, and people gonging bells in temples all added to the scene.

My next destination was Naggar, which was north, toward the Himalayas. I took two buses, the second one being very crowded. I put my pack on a cooler that was sitting in the aisle; the young man sitting in the seat next to it kindof kept it from falling off. When the aisle was stuffed with standees, he put my pack on his lap. Finally when some of the people had gotten off, I handed him some money for caring for my pack but he absolutely refused to take it! Near Naggar, I began to see snow on the mountaintops!

The Castle Hotel, where I stayed in Naggar, really had been a small castle, built originally in the early 16th C. by the Sikh rajas of Naggar. In 1979 it became a hotel when the raja ran out of money. The architecture is like much around here—alternating wood and unmortared stone, built to withstand earthquakes.

I had my own balcony—it was quite atmospheric! The price of my room also included a big buffet breakfast and dinner. I asked to have my dinner at 2:00, which they accepted.

I spent most of Monday visiting three temples in Naggar—I walked to all of them. The Vishnu Mandir was built in the 11th C. with some interesting stone carving on it;

-the second, the Gauri Shankar Temple, was more ornate with lots of stone carving and effigies of Gauri and Shankar in the interior (whoever they are);

-the third was the Tripura Sundari Devi Temple constructed much like the Castle Hotel.

In all the comings and goings, I interacted with some nice ladies who let me take their

photos, and then watched while two men readied a bier for a procession. Always lots to see and people to meet!

At this hotel I have enjoyed tuning into Al Jazeera in English—the only English channel available. I was sorry to hear of Rodney King’s death.

I walked up, up to the Nikolai Roerich Art Gallery.   He lived here from the latter part of the 19th C. and painted the Himalayas. He also was responsible for the ‘Roerich Pact,’ which was signed by over 60 countries, guaranteeing the preservation of cultural monuments.

Then I did have to peek into the Castle Hotel Temple, which has a several-ton rock inside that is venerated because it was brought here by bees!  A beer and a nice Paneer Kahida finished off my day in Naggar.

The next morning I had a really good parantha for breakfast (with curd and chai) and then got a bus to Manali.

The bus was very crowded and I had to stand for quite awhile. Not to worry about falling on all the lurches and jerks—we were packed in so tight in the aisle that one couldn’t fall down. Later when a young man was getting off, I pointed to his seat (giving dibs on the seat) and it worked! I got to sit. Manali is at 7500 feet elevation, so I huff and puff when walking up stairs. I had made a reservation by phone the day before (good thing) and checked into the Veer Guest House. Right next door was an Ayurvedic Massage place so I had a 90-minute massage to cure all my ills. Actually, I did feel pretty good afterwards and booked another for the next day.  She even massaged my face!

Manali is kind of a strange town. There are many Tibetans here, wearing their traditional clothing and marching their cows and sheep right through the main thoroughfares of the town. One man came through with a yak!

There are some interesting temples, museums and nature parks; then all else is tourism.

There are hundreds of hotels and virtually all of the businesses on the main streets are geared to the tourists. Still I enjoyed the sights: the Hadimba Temple set in gorgeous woods, built in 1553 (here and other places I was asked to pose for pictures with locals—it happened with a Sikh family and about six times more!); the Himalayan Nyinmapa Buddhist Temple; the Van Vihar Park with specimens of their State Bird, the Monal Pheasant; and the Museum of Himachal Culture and Folk Art. Clearly the Himalchal culture, relating to the Himalaya Mountains, is quite different than the rest of India. –

In Manali I can see beautiful snow-capped mountains right from my hotel room!

Hope you’re all doing fine—I am!

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