Saturday, 9 August 2014

Himachal Travel Diary (Manali Sightseeing, River Rafting & Drifter's Inn) - Part 3

The miracle is not to walk on water. Miracle is to walk on the green earth dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive – Thich Nhat Hanh

The sharp alarm tones of the two mobiles shook us out from our deep slumber.  Both of us wiggled out of the comfort of the quilt with half open eyes rummaging for the damned phones which woke us up. We were still half dead to be woken up so rudely.  By the time we successfully muted our respective mobiles slowly the realization seeped in that we were not in our home but on a holiday and currently in Manali and of course we had lot of sightseeing to do today.

Gradually the world around us unfolded in a Bollywoodish slow motion. We could feel the sunlight filtering through the peach colored curtains of the room which had given an amber hue to the entire room.  We heard the jolly voices of the kids and their parents from down somewhere and passing footsteps right in front of our room.  It seemed like we were asleep for ages while the whole world was already wide awake.  Our bodies still ached from fatigue and sleeplessness and we had half a mind to go back to sleep. But I convinced A that we must rise and shine if we wanted to make enough of what remained of the day.

Our room was on the second floor and the car parking was right in front of us. I peeped through the door curtains to check whether Vijay was around. He was right there wiping his car clean. A called him and informed that we will be going out by 11:30 AM. We quickly bathed and changed. The warm water helped ease the fatigue to some extent. At least we were awake enough to venture out.  It was already past breakfast time so we had decided that we will first go to the mall road, grab some brunch and then start for our sightseeing. While we came down the stairs of the hotel I noticed it was a quaint little property. Not too gaudy but perfect for some leisurely time away from the city din. It had nice little surrounding terrace and sitting areas surrounding the rooms on each floor. We could see snow-capped peaks from one of the terraces. We met Nishant on the way out. We informed him that we will do the check-in procedures once we are back from the sightseeing.

As we got into the car we told Vijay about our brunch plans to which he as usual didn't agree and opined that we should first complete the sightseeing and then eat. Which almost sounded like “let me finish my duty of the day quickly then you can as well go to hell for all I care”. So we stuck to our plan of having brunch before we go for any sightseeing.  He was pissed off once again without any doubt.

A red bridge over the Manalsu River leads one to another world known as the Old Manali. As we drove through the narrow lanes with shops lined on either side it almost reminded me of any European countryside.Though the street is lined with cafes with sophisticated names such as German Bakery, Dylan Toasted and Roasted, Riverside Cafe etc. Foreigners in colorful casual attire outnumbered Indians; in fact there were hardly any Indians around apart from us. The foreigners were haggling with the shopkeepers for nick-knacks. Everyone seemed to own this place; not any lesser than the locals.Some of the Iranian cafes around the beds of the road played rock music. Few men sat idly by the roadside smoking a pipe. Delicious aroma of freshly baked breads wafted across the lanes which made us all the more hungry. Old Manali would immediately teleport you into a 70’s laid back world you would see in any old Hollywood movie.

As we approached New Manali the scene changed drastically. It was almost like steeping out of a time warp into the present. New Manali was just like any other popular hill station of India. Tourists thronging each and every inch of the roads, glitzy shops, crammed boarding and lodgings – the town center is always bustling with activity. But apart from the tourist crowd, we faced traffic snarls due to too many tourist cars trying to pass through the narrow roads of Manali. It’s hence advisable to leave early for sightseeing to avoid getting stuck in long traffic near the Mall area. It took us a lot of time just to cover the distance of 2.5 KM from hotel to Mall road. Finally Vijay dropped us before the Van Vihar entrance and told us to meet at the very point once we were done.

This was a smaller Mall area compared to Darjelling or Gangtok. The place is a busy commercial street with several hotels that were overflowing with tourists. If you are a shopaholic this is the place to be. The entire Mall stretch is crammed with souvenir shops selling souvenirs from Himachal, Tibet and Ladakh, travel agencies, shops selling the signature Kullu and Kinnauri shawls, rugs, caps and footwear, imported goods, besides a range of Tibetan handicraft items.

People come to hill stations to enjoy the cool and pleasant weather.  But Manali was anything but cool. It was a bright sunny day and the temperature was anything beyond the 40 degree centigrade mark. We were sweating as we walked down the Mall road.  Vijay had told us that there is a Buddhist Monastery at the Mall road. We wandered around the place but all we could see was a temple by the side of the S.T Bus stand. It was a beautiful Shikhara style temple. We didn’t go inside because it was crowded and we were really feeling hungry by then.

Before leaving for the Himachal trip I had scraped and gathered as much information as possible from the internet about Manali. As we searched for a place to eat a wholesome meal I tried to stir my memory to match any restaurant name that had a familiar ring to it. There are a couple of Bengali joints over there but A refused to eat at any of them. The mood was set for some Momos.  I remembered the name “Chopsticks”; all the reviews had spoken highly of it. We asked someone about the joint and he told us the way. It was bang opposite to the S. T Stand where actually we were standing then, but due to the crammed array of shops we couldn’t locate it earlier. It was one of the oldest restaurants of Manali.

We walked in through the bright red and maroon interiors playing retro music. The lady at the counter greeted us and the attendant gave us a table. It was empty when we came in; mainly because the breakfast time was already over and the lunch time was eat to start. The interiors presented a typical Chinese theme with dragons, paper lanterns, decorated hand fans and wind chimes. The place was neat , well kept and had an intimate feel to it. We leafed through the beautiful embossed Menu which was quite elaborate. There was all sorts of Tibetian-Japanese-Chinese-Korean and Continental food mentioned in the menu half of which we never heard of before. Hence we decided to stick with the known items on the menu. I had heard a lot about the Mutton Momos of this place and was eager to try them. We ordered two plates of steamed Mutton momos for Rs, 120/plate and one plate of Chicken hakka noodles for Rs. 170/plate. At first the prices would seem a bit steep, but once the food arrives you will feel it’s reasonable enough due to the quantity of food served. The joint also serves gyoza – the Japanese counterpart of momo. As we waited for our food to arrive a couple of Indian tourists came in. After a while a foreigner man came and ordered at the counter itself without looking at the menu. He seemed a frequent visitor to this joint from the way he was conversing with the lady. From their conversation we could gather that this place was frequented by the foreign travelers as their daily food joint.

The food arrived and we were taken aback by the amount of food before us. There were 8 big momos on each plate and a big bowlful of noodles. It was sufficient for 3 adults. Before this I had never tried mutton momos. I love mutton preparations hence the idea of mutton momos had intrigued me. As I took the first bite I realized that the strong smell of mutton somehow felt out of place in the usually subtle tasting momos I am used to having. Momos usually have very mild seasoning which is the beauty of it. We had tasted veg momos with a hint of lemon grass while on the way to Gangtok and it was the best ever momo I had tasted. But even an avid mutton lover like me felt a little repulsed by the strong stench of mutton. I looked at A to understand whether he was as repulsed as me. He said chicken momos would have been a better idea but ate his part. While for me it seemed impossible to finish them. Somehow I managed to polish off 5, and after that I felt I would choke.  It’s not that mutton momo was bad but it certainly didn’t appeal to my taste buds.
The noodles looked less alien and tasted good. But we were so full that we could not have more than 2-3 spoonfuls of the noodles. We asked the lady to pack the remaining in a to-go bag. We paid our tab and were on our way.

Vashisht Temple & Hot Springs :
Vijay picked us from the entrance of Van Vihar where he had dropped us earlier. The first stop was Vasisht Muni’s temple.  Vashisht Muni was Lord Rama’s guru. The Vashist temple is also famous for its hot sulphur springs. The beautiful gurgling Beas came to view shortly after leaving the Mall road which looked sparkling in the bright morning sun. Vashist, a small village located on the left bank of river Beas towards Rohtang pass at an altitude of 6503 feet just above the Manali-Keylong road.

The place is barely 3 Kms from Manali. We heard that the walking path is smaller which would take around half an hour.  Government buses do not ply to the village of Vashist. Vijay stopped his car at the beginning of a steep sloping road. He said the parking was not available up so he would park below and we need to walk up the slope to the temple. We started walking and realized soon the slope was pretty steep. We were getting a bit breathless so we started stopping and looking at the small shops by the side of the road. They had junkie jewelry on sale made out of silver and some oxidized metals. They were also selling chillum, bongs and mixing pouches.  We also saw a bike rental shop there and started discussing that if we plan to come to Manali again we will definitely hire a royal enfield for our local travel.While we were walking some of the shawl store guys were telling us “Come and see Chingoo”. We didn’t understand at all what they were referring to and didn’t stop. Finally we reached the end of the road where the temple was situated. There is also a Ram and shiv temple nearby.

The shoe deposit area was too much crowded with people colliding with each other when they moved. We deposited our shoes at the entrance of the temple and went inside.  There was a small stone and wood temple which opened to a courtyard.  The temple is adorned with elaborate wood carvings. In the backdrop of the temple we could see the green mountains.

 The Natural hot sulphur springs of Vashist are endowed with great healing powers to cure people of skin and joint ailments. There are two separate bathing tanks for gents and ladies are always full of tourists. There are a few modern Turkish style showers fitted baths nearby. Hot water from the nearby spring is provided for bathing. The hot and cold water is separately piped into these baths, maintaining the regular temperature for bathing. Charges for a dip in the paid baths are nominal.

Outside locals women were handing out giant furry rabbits to the tourist. They would thrust upon the giant angora rabbits into your unsuspecting arms before you could understand what was happening or even protest. And once the fluffy bundle is in your arms you cannot but adore them. Usually they would thrust the rabbits into the lady’s arms as they would easily go soft at the view of the angora rabbits. The man would then take a picture of his lady holding the rabbit and the local women would earn a few bucks for lending her rabbit for the snap.

I had never seen rabbits so big; these were almost the size of a baby. I eagerly went ahead and took one of them. They told me how to hold the rabbit and pose. Post the snap A began to pet the rabbit so another local women shoved her rabbit into A’s arms. And before we knew there was a rabbit in his arms and each on both of his shoulders. It was a pretty funny thing actually.

Once the photo session was over immediately the local women began to ask to pay them. What started as Rs.20 thing ended up in Rs. 80 affair due to the presence of 4 rabbits! Anyway we were pretty pleased with the whole experience hence didn’t feel anything. A asked the ladies what they usually fed the rabbits. ‘Carrots’ was the general answer. So A then went to a shop and got 6-7 carrots for Rs.10. I sat down with one of the rabbits to feed it. It nibbled away one whole carrot in a few minutes. One by one everyone gave their rabbits to me. At one time I was continuously feeding two simultaneously. One of the rabbits seemed a bit reluctant to eat, maybe it was already full. I was still holding the carrot before it. Suddenly he bit my hands. I let go of it with a yelp. Not only they had big tooth but sharp too. Thankfully the bite had only scraped through the skin but I was not bleeding otherwise we would had to abandon the rest of the sightseeing plan and look for a doctor. I became careful and handed over the rest of the carrots to the local women. We then left for the car.

On way again the shawl shop guys literally corned us and began explaining why we should see this Chingoo stuff.  We obliged and they showed us the Chingoo package - three or four blankets, a carpet, a shawl and some bedsheets . They claimed that it was the best of the Chingoo blankets available in whole of Manali. The package would cost something around 4000 and we had to pay an advance of Rs.900. After which all the stuff would be couriered to our home free of cost. The blankets looked more like the cheap synthetic stuffs you get in the Lakshmi Road of Pune, and the other stuffs were also no good. They tried their best to convince us but we walked out without becoming a prey to their persistent pestering.

The nest destination was Hadimba Devi Temple. It was near the Mall area. While coming back we had to again cross the stretch where Beas was running side by side. At one point Vijay himself parked the car and told us we could spend some time by the waters. It was like a god sent opportunity for us – the driver had himself obliged without any persuasion or threatening! We quickly made way to the bank of the Beas. There were small and big smooth white boulders strewn all along the banks. The cascading water looked pretty clear. In the distance we could see snow capped peaks whenever the clouds parted. The winds ruffled the leaves of the pine trees standing by the opposite bank. It was a picturesque setup all together. Both me and A didn’t want to open our shoes and wet our feet because we had less time on our hands. We spent some time out there taking pictures and then we decided to move. Vijay was talking with an ice-cream vendor and having an ice-cream. It was the traditional ice-cream cart which we really miss seeing in the metros. We also bought ice-creams for us. It offered us some respite from the heat and humidity of Manali. While we were enjoying the ice-creams, we saw some local kids filling water into their bottles from the spring coming down the mountain slope by the side of the road. We saw many more people doing the same. When we came back into the car we saw Vijay also refilling his bottle from the spring water. We asked him whether it was for drinking purpose. He answered in the affirmative and said that the natural water was cold and tasted well, all the local people usually filled up their bottles from the spring and use it for drinking. He also added that it was perfectly safe to have the spring water directly instead of boiling or sterilizing it. It was quite unimaginable for us city guys but for these people it was pretty normal. I was pretty tempted to taste the water but A strictly forbade me to do so stating it might cause hill diarrhea as I wasn't used to it.

Hidimba Devi Temple:
We reached the Hidimba Temple. The temple is surrounded by pine and cedar forest. At the entrance of the forested area we saw more local women with angora rabbits and cute lambs. The lambs were pretty friendly and posed calmly with the kids for photos. We also saw a yak being led by its owner. Later on we came to know that the yaks were also given to pose for pictures and if the owner sees you taking the yak’s picture he would demand money immediately whether you posed with it or not. There were many shops near the parking area which were setting beautiful home decor.

The densely wooded steep pathway was very beautiful. There was a long line of people in the temple premises waiting for their turn to go inside for darshan. We saw the length of line and decided to skip a visit to the temple. Instead we roamed around the temple.

This is an ancient temple belonging to the period of 1553 built by Raja Bahadur Singh. The temple has a four tiered pagoda roof or "shikhar".  The tower consists of three square roofs covered with timber tiles and a fourth brass cone-shaped roof at the top. The base of the temple is made out of whitewashed, mud-covered stonework. The wooden door frame has ornate carvings of various deities and other designs. Intricate carvings and horns adore the facade of the Hidimba Devi Temple.

Quoting Wiki for the story of this place: The Hidimba Devi temple is built around a cave where Hidimba performed meditation. Hidimba was supposed to be live here with her brother Hidimb. Born in the Rakshas family, Hidimba vowed to marry one who would defeat her brother Hidimb, who was supposed to be very brave and fearless. During the Pandava's exile, when they visited Manali Bhima, one of the five Pandvas, killed Hidimb. Thus, Hidimba married Bhima, and gave birth to their son Ghatotkacha. There is a Ghatotkacha temple also in the premises.
Greenery all around

Back side of the temple
The doggie
The place was full of greenery and seemed like a part of any sanctuary. There were many pathways all around the area. We took many pictures. While taking snaps we met a stray doggie who was sitting there. A whistled to him and petted him once. Immediately he stood up and began wagging his tail. I gave a look to A, this was always the effect whenever he whistled at dogs. And from there on the doggie followed us everywhere around the park. When we stopped for some snaps he patiently waited. We thought maybe he was hungry so we got him some biscuits. But he wasn't interested in eating. He just wanted to follow us. We then gave him some water to keep him engaged for a while so that we could disappear. But he slurped the water quickly and again came running after us. It almost like the famous Phone service provider AD where the pug would follow the guy everywhere. We occasionally petted the doggie and he sat there enjoying the petting. People even started asking us whether it was our dog from the way he was following us around.  There was no other path left where we could walk so as to lose the doggie.  It was also getting late so we finally we chided him and forcefully made him go away.  As he turned back we quickly left for the parking.
It was already past lunch time but we were still so full that we were not in a state to eat the parceled hakka noodles. We decided to keep it somewhere by the side of the parking lot, where there were a lot of stray dogs; at least someone could eat it, though how appealing noodles would seem was definitely a question.

Vijay came up and asked us where we wanted to go next.  Adventure sports always thrilled me. I had heard white water rafting was done around Manali and was really interested to do it. I had previous experience of white water rafting in the Chattanooga river of Georgia and it was a very memorable affair. In India there was very specific places whether rafting is available but rarely do we get chance to visit those places. Now when there was a chance I didn't want to let go. Also A had never experienced white water rafting before and I wanted him to experience the thrilling adventure. I asked Vijay where the rafting was done near Manali and he told it was available in the nearby Kullu. Vijay gave an alternate option to visit Solang Valley for other adventure sports. I don’t know why but he was more insistent regarding Solang valley than rafting. At one time A was convinced of doing Solang instead of Kullu. But I was determined not to do what Vijay suggested. Also Solang could easily be done enroute to Rohtang which was anyway on our itinerary for the next day, I had already read about it so I forced on doing the rafting. Vijay tried his best to deter us for some unknown reason by stating all kinds of reason like its late maybe they will close it as rafting is allowed only till 5 PM. We were still ready to give it a go. Then he reasoned did we have any change of clothes? That was the only concern point for us. But I said no worries we will manage. Finally Vijay was left with no other option than to drive us to Kullu. A was expressing his doubts still about the idea but I quieted him by saying it will be worth the effort.

We traveled through the beautiful valley with apple orchard on side of the road. The apples were yet small. We saw so many apple orchards that we lost count of them. Quaint village houses made of stone and wood dotted the way. We crossed a few beautiful bridges, sometimes travelling on the right of the Beas and sometimes on the left. I was bubbling with anticipation of rafting.

After travelling for about half an hour we started seeing some boards indicating white water rafting. But Vijay didn’t stop so we asked him the reason. We had a lingering fear that maybe he was trying to delay so that by the time he stopped the time gets over for the last batch of rafting. But he reasoned that these were private operators and not the authorized people for rafting, just some locals who brought some rafts and offered rafting. So if some incident occurs while rafting they don’t have enough backup for help.  Finally he stopped at a place which had quite a crowd. We could see a many rating boats being loaded and unloaded. The Beas looked very turbulent at that place. I could already feel the adrenaline rush. There were two different options – 3KM and 7 KM route. We opted for the longer one which cost Rs. 800/head.

We left all our valuables and shoes in the car and walked down to the rafting starting point. At the starting point there were a few cameramen who approached us for taking the video of the rafting ride. We finalized one person who told us the charge would be Rs. 600 for the 7Km video. We needed to pay him after the video CD was handed over to us at the end of the ride.

The magic behind Whitewater River Rafting is the extreme and never-ending thrills in the untamed rivers. The snow-fed rivers in the upper Himalayas are among the best in the world for river rafting sports, with many staircase rapids that challenge the body and spirit of the river runner. The river cuts against the rocky banks, crash into rocks, crevices and breaking into white water rapids, foaming, swirling, and falling in a thunderous din. People who haven’t experienced white water rafting think of this extreme sport as terrifying, risky and unsafe. But if you do rafting with the proper state run operators who provide professional rafters, lifeguards and equipments then there is nothing to fear actually.

Geared up in a beacon-yellow helmet and red life jacket we went and sat in the rafting boat. Another couple also came with us. It was their first time. A professional rafter accompanied us on the rafting boat. He gave us safety instructions and how to sit, where and how to keep the feet. The first time I had done rafting we were also given rafting oars so that we could also row along with the instructor. But here we were told to hold the rope in the raft. The guys sat in the front and ladies behind them.

We started with some simple and fun rapids stage. I could very well feel the difference of nature of the rapids of Beas and Chattanooga. Beas was definitely more wild and forceful. The waves immediately took us far from the starting point. The instructor was deftly maneuvering the raft through the ruffled waters. Once or twice we felt the low showers of the river as the raft wavered through it. I could very well feel the anticipation building up among everyone in the raft. All the four of us kept talking.

The water was getting choppier by the minute. Suddenly just to my left a wall of water avalanched forward onto us. It was no use of ducking as the maelstrom of churning water came crushing down on us. More than the anxiousness of being swept away the bone chilling water of the river froze us to the core. We had got completely drenched.

The rapids slowly turned into powerful swirling cascades and our boat went dancing along the waves. Perched on the edge of the raft, we were all getting into the groove as we passed one whirlpool after another. I have a brief glimpse of the oncoming roiling foam then we’re in, out and bounding up and down all over again. Toffee-colored water torpedoes up my nose and eyes. I wipe the water from my eyes, shivering. In between we could see the videographer at various vantage points taking our shots. Sometimes we smiled, sometimes we waved at him as the waves tossed us like a salad.

Our hands and feet were numb by the time we reached the 3 KM milestone. The water calmed down a bit after that milestone and we were treated to breathtaking views of the Kullu valley. Soon we were again thrown into roller coaster waters. There were many situations when we were almost vertical. It was the ride of a lifetime. Nothing compared to my previous experience. The Beas was an untamed beast lasing down on us. The entire 7KM stretch was full of funs and thrills.

Finally the raft veered towards the end point. We were completely soaked and freezing but the exhilaration of the ride was just too much. We were all smiles when we came out of the water. The videographer met us and told that he will make the video and give us at the starting point in half an hour.

Now the problem was that we had to go back to the starting point as our car was stationed there. Usually the drivers bring the car at the end point but we had not told Vijay anything, hence he would not know. We asked the instructor who told us that they would anyway have the truck bring back the rafts, so we could go back with them in the truck. We went and sat inside the truck as they started loading the raft on the truck’s roof. 4 men heaved and pulled, only then they could push the raft on top. The truck shook vigorously as they were at it, and we suspected that the truck might roll back into the water due to all this vibrations. Finally when we were all set to leave we saw Vijay bringing our car. We were so relieved to see him.
Vijay told us he was waiting at the starting point for us when one of the authorities told him that he was supposed to go to the end point to pick us up, and then he rushed to get here. We thanked him profusely. Vijay really surprised us throughout the tour with his fluctuating attitude. Sometimes he was over generous, sometimes completely arrogant and sometimes simply indifferent to everything. We were always left guessing how he would react to any particular situation.

We were still wet. I was in a synthetic dress which dried easily than A’s jeans. The evening air was becoming a bit cooler and we were slightly shivering. We got into the car as is and drove off to the starting point. Vijay told us we can spend some time in the Shawl outlet just in front of the starting point. We wanted to use the washroom but none was seen in vicinity (However when we came here for the second time we found out that the changing rooms and washrooms were just by the ticket counter. That’s a separate story). We went inside the shawl shop and told Vijay to inform us when the videographer arrives with the CD.

Kullu Shawls:
The shawls of Kullu and Kashmir are world famous. All the outlets of shawl we saw on our way to Kullu were quite big. This one also had a varied collection. We didn’t have any solid plans of buying shawls but wanted to have a look in case something seemed fitting enough to buy as gifts for our families. A particular sales lady took over who was something in her twenties. But she was such a dexterous saleswomen that she immediately understood what would catch our interest and brought out her collection accordingly. Many a times the sales person would pass such comments that “it’s pretty expensive” and stuffs like that which puts off a customer eve if he is in the mood to splurge and buy it. But this lady never displayed any impatience and brought out the finest from her collection. We saw all types of shawls. We started from the traditional design Kullu shawls which were a bit heavy and had beautiful traditional motifs. Kullu shawl is not just a shawl but it’s an art crafted on handloom. Technically kullu and kinnauri shawls are same but mainly the difference is that of craftsmanship. Usually, the wool is extracted from sheep. But there are also shawls made from the wool of rabbits, goats and llamas. The price and quality of the shawl varies depending on the fineness of the wool and the animal it came from.

Kullu Shawls are available in form of pure wool shawls, angora shawls, pashmina shawls and Handspun shawls. Though Kullu shawls are produced in different colors like china blue, olive green, maroon coffee etc. but beauty of Kullu Shawls stands only in black shades. On most of the Kulluvi shawls there were small diamonds, small dots, small squares, small triangles, plus marks etc. on the body of the shawls. I had instantly fallen in love with the hallmark black ones with bold traditional work.

Next the sales lady showed us Angora Shawls made from the wool of the Angora rabbits. It was softer than the normal woolen ones. We were going crazy with so many options in front and both of us had set aside 3-4 shawls each. Before we finalized the shawls I wanted to have a look at the fabled Pashmina shawls. The sales lady gladly obliged. She brought out the finest range of Pashmina. Pashm is the wool of capra hircus, an Asian species of mountain goat. The fine fleece used to make these shawls is that which grows beneath the rough outer hair. The pashmina shawl usually comes in subtle shades of cream, beige, brown and grey, depending on the natural color of the fleece. I had only heard about the Pashminas of how thin and yet warm they were but what we saw in front was really amazing. The finest of Pashminas ranged above Rs.9000. They were unbelievably fine and soft, so fine that it felt just like a sheet of air in your hands. We asked whether it really goes through the ring test to which the lady said it can pass through something even smaller than a ring. She also added that the Pashmina shawl I was holding would go well in sub-zero temperatures. It was so hard to believe that the fine piece of fabric which almost felt like nothing could be used in such extreme temperatures. Just holding a Pashmina is an experience in itself.

Though we didn’t buy the Pashmina we ended up buying 11 shawls and woolen caps for a whooping total of Rs. 10000. We also fell in love with the awesome silky soft blankets but at Rs.3000 each they were really blowing up our budget.

We almost spent more than 90 minutes at the shawl shop and when we came out Vijay informed us that the videographer had yet not showed up. That was strange; it should not have taken him that long. We went to the ticket counter where the authorities were wrapping up for the day as it was already getting dark. We asked a few people there who told us that the videographers operate privately and not a part of the rafting authorities hence they didn’t have the whereabouts of the videographer. We had also committed a mistake of not asking for the name or contact details of the videographer. We were really looking forward to the video cd especially A for whom it was the first time. After another half an hour or so when no one showed up and it started pouring we decided to leave. Seeing our morose faces one of the authorities assured that we can come down any other day during our travel and he will let us do the same route free of cost. We were so dejected that we didn’t think of asking that authority’s name as well. Though we knew very well that promising was one thing and implementing other.

Drifter's Inn:
The rains were getting heavier. The day had gone very well only glitch being left with no documentation of the amazing adventure we had experienced. As we neared Manali we faced the infamous traffic of the Mall road. We were stuck up for quite a long time until the traffic cleared. The wet clothes on us were gradually giving us a headache. We reached Drifters by 8.30 PM. This was the first time I took a proper look at the hotel, last night we were in no condition to notice everything. The dimmed yellow lights outside the diner porch of the hotel coupled with the frilly white curtains on the windows gave off an aura of any European restaurant in countryside. Old Manali definitely had the Colonial charm present in its every single fold.
Nishant had already asked us to do the entry in the register when we are back. We went straight to the reception and entered our details. A gave his driving license for getting a Xerox. Nishant told us he will be sending the DL to our room.

Cafe Entrance
We quickly had a hot bath and changed into dry clothes. Tiredness was gradually setting in our bodies. We had previously thought of going for a walk down the old Manali road and have dinner at any of the roadside joints. But now we didn’t even feel like going out of the hotel, hence decided to have dinner at Drifter’s itself. The restaurant was already buzzing with activity. The IPL was on and everyone was hooked on to the TV cheering for their teams. A waiter welcomed us in with a broad smile. The entire place had a warm amber glow coming from the overhead hanging lamps. Bamboo tables and chairs were placed inside.  Waiters in formal wears but radiating a casual, at home warmth. Nishant was himself at the dinner counter to supervise each and every small thing. Drifter’s Inn had come up during the summer of 2009. The café is run by an ex-corporate executive Nishant Singh, who dared to leave his job and follow his true passion. The café has an Indo-European feel to it to make the foreign travelers at home as well. We noticed that the café organized live acoustic music and karaoke on Tuesdays and Fridays. The café also has a good stock of board games which you can use at any time for time pass, specially good for families travelling with kids. There was a stack of Magazines piled up on one side table. I went and brought an edition of the Traveller while A browsed through the menu.

The Menu
The Drifter’s Inn has a downloadable menu on their website that I had read before coming and it was one of the main differentiators for choosing Drifter’s Inn over the other budget hotels in Manali. The classy touch to every word of the menu from the preamble to the food listing really impressed me. A few lines from the Menu:

When…our Heart hungers for travel and your soul seeks adventure unknown…
When…You pick the road less travelled and unintentionally pave the path…
When…You make time and let a few things slide to see your passion thrive…
When…You travel alone, ‘coz you know you will find a friend around the bend…
When…You travel the night to savor the day…
When…You beat yourself up to climb a mighty mountain only to look around you and feel alive
You are just drifting.

Everything sounded quite interesting but we wanted something which will have rice with it. So we chose Himachal style lamb curry with rice (Rs.300) and Thai red curry chicken with rice (Rs.300). While we waited for our food we also joined the others in watching the cricket match on TV. For every boundary or sixer a joint cheer would emanate from the café’s crowd.

Soon our food arrived. The plating of the food was flawless. It was like being served at a 5 star hotel. The Thai red curry was subtle with after tones of lemongrass and the Himachali lamb curry was succulent dripping with flavors. Though the rice portions were served in accordance to the European palate (quantity will be a small bowlful of rice), still we found it enough at the end. After a wonderful dinner we left the café. We got some water bottles, chips and biscuits from the local grocery store outside Drifters and called it a day. The alarm was set at 2 AM – it was the day for the Rohtang Pass.

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