In Dharamsala, we were fortunate to befriend a lovely Israeli-Swedish couple with similar travel plans. The company was welcome and they joined us on the next couple legs of our journey . From Dharamsala we headed to Kasol- a small villiage that, like Dharamsala, is situated in the Himachal Pradesh region bordering the Himalayas. The village itself is nestled into Pravati Valley along the river. The area is quiet, despite being a known destination among travelers. The beautiful scenery and rigorous mountainous trails draw many travelers and outdoor enthusiasts and the fields of marijuana plants draw another crowd.
It was a strange place to be in as travelers. We weren't really looking to lose ourselves in highs of altitude or those that were drug induced so it left us to meander the roads and paths along the periphery of the village. The sights were still spectacular and the people pleasant.
We stumbled upon our first Baba sitting outside of a monkey temple (of sorts) where individuals were giving food or money to a scathing, teeth bearing Macaque. We were also invited to enjoy a warm glass of Chai with the owner of a small hotel that we stumbled across while roaming through the woods. He explained how he supported himself on the company of tourists and his apple farm.
From Kasol we took a day trip to Malana. the trip included a winding journey by car where we passed the first checkpoint I'd seen since arriving in India. The car traveled up and down the mountain before the road ended. We hiked for two more hours down the valley and up the mountain until, at 10,000 feet above sea level, we had reached Malana.
The people of Malana live on the periphery of Indian society. They speak their own language and our governed by their own people's republic. The village is poor and formerly only interacted with the external economy through the trade of sheep wool. But as Western foreigners began to visit, they realized another potential profit. Cannabis grows all over the mountain side and was used by the villager for medicinal and material purposes. External visitors taught Malana villagers to market and prophet from the plant, though they have seen little economic stability through the trade of Marijuana. It is rumored that the trade is run by a Western outlaw who is living and running the illegal drug business from a house hidden somewhere in the vast mountain range.
After our visit to Malana we headed back to the Parvati Valley for another night before moving on. Instead of spending more time in Kasol, we decided to check out Manikaran for the evening. It was a place we didn't know much about but we decided it had to be better then the eerie drug induced solitude of Kasol. And it was.
Manikaran is a holy site for Hindu's and Sikhs. It is known for it's hot springs and it is believed that bathing in the springs along the bank of the Parvati. The hot springs are believed to be holy and by bathing and drinking the water, one might go to heaven. I don't know if if it works the same for travelers and non religious, but soaking in the warm waters certainly felt heavenly given the temperate climate around us. Not to mention we had our best Thali so far with amazing and generous portions of dal, roti, and vegetables.
After a rest filled night in Manikaran, we woke up early to board the first of two buses before arriving at our destination. Shimla is the capitol of the Himachal Pradesh region and formerly served as the capital of the British in India. The buildings and roads offer a distinctly European feel. The city is full of markets, upscale shopping, movie theaters and universities. It is the home for many middle to upper class Indian families and draws a similar demographic of tourists. We even managed to catch our first Bollywood film in theaters:
I couldn't have been happier that English Vinglish was premiering considering without subtitles anything else might have been impossible to understand. With half of the scenes filmed in New York, it played off of the funny cultural interactions and misunderstandings we'd been experiencing in India while making me slightly homesick.
But the most noticeable and memorable aspect of Shimla was was the monkeys. They are everywhere! And aggressive! They even have a giant monkey temple on the outskirts of the city. But before entering you are equipped with a stick to bat the biting and stealing thieves away.
The monkeys are the cities pest problem and people try all sorts of ways to combat them. Including enshrouding their homes in wire cages to prevent the beasts from attacking or stealing. I have to say prior to coming to Shimla I was largely enamored with monkeys. After leaving Shimla and spending more time in India they became one of my greatest fears!