|I tried to write last night but I couldn't, I was in shock, speechless or typeless. I wasn't really looking forward to Manali as I was expecting it still to be full of droves of Israeli groups but I was wrong, there isn't an Issy in sight. The warning signs started a long way out from Manali, before Kullu 50km away, large hotel resort complexes by the side of the road and billboards for resorts in Manali. From the outskirts of town it was just unbelievable, huge multi-story hotels, fleets of tour buses, and a traffic jam of private jeeps. I know that you can't expect places to stay the same for ever but I have never seen somewhere change so dramatically. The first and before now only time I came to Manali it was little more than a village with a dozen or so hotels, the market was a modest sized mud-plot of wooden stalls and the river and hills were visible from everywhere in town with the river crashing noisily along the eastern boundary. Last night arriving at dusk I couldn't even find the river let alone hear it, I was swamped by Nepalese and Kashmiri porters, touts and rickshaw wallahs. Rickshaws, there weren't any rickshaws in the past as there were no roads beyond the dustbowl that served as a bus station.
I was getting the same stories that I got in Shimla, peak season, you need to pay Rs 1000 for a room. I managed to get one guy who told me he could get me a nice room for under Rs500 so I told him to lead the way despite the protests of all of his contemporaries. The first place he took me to was average but it did have a TV and it is Euro 2008 but they asked Rs500 and he said it should only be Rs300 so we moved on. The second hotel must be one of Manali's originals as it looked ancient and is an almost fully wooden construction, it too had a TV and I checked that they had ESPN with a watchable reception before agreeing Rs300 for the room. I had an evening wander among the crowds of Indian tourists thronging the town, there is a wide pedestrianised Mall, shopping centres and thousands of restaurants to chose from so at least I got a nice meal.
Today I've had a walk 5km out of town towards the mountains and where the hippy village of Vashisht used to lie, now it is scarred by the strengthening and widening of the main road north to Leh and new shops and developments. The biggest business in town (or joint businesses)now seems to be jeeping Indians up to the snow line and the hilarious sight of kitting them out in multi-coloured 'snow-suits' and huge dirty fake furs. I couldn't help but laugh every time I saw a family of Indians being dressed up and then getting into their jeeps dressed like that, it's 30C+ down here and I guess it's no lower that 10C up at the pass which is only 3000m.
I've found the Hebies, they are still up in what was once Old Manali, or rather in a new settlement appropriately on the west bank of the river, on the road to Old Manali. Yes, there is now a road, in the past if you wanted to go to Old Manali you had to walk through the forest and across the fields. Surprisingly lots of OM still exists, the old slate roofed stone buildings are still sprinkled across the hill although now the gaps are all filled in with new brick and concrete monstrosities and there are more signs in Hebrew and Japanese than in Hindi. I've booked the bus to Dharamsala for tonight and now I'm expecting it to be 51 Israelites and me, must remember to pack my earplugs in a handy place. I've had to abandon the planned trip to Leh as I realised that after a two day trip there I would only have two days and then have to head back, 4 days travelling for two days in a place is a bit much even for me.