Friday, 9 October 2009

A little reflection and introspection

Oh India, India, India. As I sit on my patio balcony (only 400 INR a night – so less than $10) with the sound of the mighty river Beas that flows down this spectacular valley from the Rotung La Pass to Manali, looking up at (dare I use that much over used cliché) ‘the snow-capped peaks’ of the Himalayas bathing in the last gently, glowing rays of the day, watching the puffy clouds melting and molding together to form and dissipate and re-form I do truly marvel at the wealth of beauty surrounding me, that this region has to offer – but only hours ago, I was shaking my head and agreeing with my oh so meek and un-opinionated husband (tongue in cheek) that this place is dirty and stinky and these people are barbarians. Today we visited the Hadimba Temple in the middle of a small forest on the edge of Manali and as we approached I couldn’t help but be saddened by how little the local inhabitants respect the environment around them. Not a square foot of forest is untainted by some form of garbage or other – whether it be the butt of a cigarette or some more substantial form of waste, like a plastic bottle or chocolate biscuit wrapper. Were we any place else on this planet but India, natural surroundings like these would be treated with kid gloves and found in pristine condition – but here – with only India’s inhabitants to make it their job to clean up after themselves, sadly the effort is completely lacking. At least in Srinagar and Leh, although not always in the best of shape regarding litter there was at least some effort, some signs of awareness – public notices could be seen reminding locals and tourists alike to respect nature and ‘keep the nature clean’ – but here? – nothing! It seems so sad. And yet, it is the insurmountable truth – India does not take care of itself.
So you may ask me if the term ‘barbarians’ isn’t just a little harsh when referring to India’s people, concerning their lack of environmentally sound garbage disposal – but this wasn’t really the prime cause for the use of that particular term. As I mentioned we were visiting the temple – an ancient Hindu temple dating from 1615 where, to this day, animal sacrifices are made.
Now I’m no vegetarian, but even I found it a little gruesome to see the blood-spattered walls and sacrificial posts where the poor little lambs and goats are clearly axed to infinity. Dexter would have a field day with those walls and although the guide book explains that the sacrifice only takes place once a year in May, and I will point out now, I am no expert in these matters – those spatters looked a little fresher than 4 months old to me. And what’s more – while Darko and I looked on with morbid fascination, the local tourist population quite literally clambered over one and another to enter into the temple and ‘pay their respects’ to whichever god it was that was represented within it’s walls. We decided not to join the merry throng of jostling, pann chewing devotees inside and kept a respectful distance from the chopping post where obviously many a poor little sacrifice had met with it’s demise. Instead we headed to the ‘outdoor tree temple’ nearby, where we were greeted with an equally odd collection of offerings around the base of a tree and many pairs of de-headed horns nailed to the trunk, that were obviously the only remains and reminder of all of God’s great creatures that had been ‘offered’. For what purpose? Who knows? So – barbarians did seem quite fitting to us!

Manali itself is crammed full of tourist souvenir stalls and rug shops so it almost has the feel of an Indian style, cheesy cruise ship port, without the ocean and the ship, or perhaps Niagara Falls with spicy food and sari clad tourists instead of fat Americans – apparently it’s the honeymoon capital of India and is obviously very popular with the native population, so it’s certainly a lively spot and a good place for people watching – but since we wanted to enjoy some peace and calm we didn’t bother spending too much time in the centre of town. After a quick lunch at a Punjabi Dhaba with a spicy sweet sauce that left my taste buds tingling we set off for ‘Old Manali’ to see if we couldn’t’ find a little more of that ‘authentic’ India that everyone is searching for.

We did indeed find some pretty cool buildings that looked almost like overgrown lego land creations, built from a layering of brick and wood – where the top floor was clearly the living quarters above the ground floor: the domain of the family livestock – seemed like an interesting way to keep tabs on your cows! Interspersed within this ‘Old style’ India were, of course, the mandatory backpacker accommodations and snack stops and amongst them we managed to find ourselves a phenomenal ‘English bakery’; so after an afternoon of dillying and dallying around we felt we had earned ourselves a treat. One slice of warm apple pie and fresh from the oven chocolate cake later we were ready to head home to our balcony and reflect on the day. After the behemoth journey we endured to reach Manali we were quite glad of a somewhat lazy day – and here I am – once again pondering what it is that I hope to find here in India. Surrounded by the ‘well to do’ of India, here on vacation, just like me – I am again reminded of the inequalities of this country. Perhaps it is the cynicism of my husband rubbing off on me but as he put it ‘the rich culture of India’ seems to be a lie – they live through prayer and worship while throwing their garbage in the woods, and I struggle to see what people this numb to the damage that they do to their beautiful surroundings can teach me – so I think that I am learning – the path I hope to find is and always was going to be the one within myself. My inner voice is getting louder – and my inner voice is telling me what I knew 11 years ago when I embarked on a very different journey to a much more ‘modern’ part of the world – that the place where I belong has been there all along. As hard as it may seem to believe, while staring at the majesty of the Himalayas I find myself comparing it to the might of the mountains in BC and knowing that I can’t wait to once again call Vancouver home. All that I want and all that I dream about is there waiting. But I know that this time I spend in India is precious because it is about freedom – not Indian freedom, but personal freedom and finding my own power within to be strong and confident and creative. Each day I find time to be with myself, in my own thoughts and learn my own hopes and dreams and goals and build tools to embark upon my future with strength. I am ready for tomorrow each night when I go to sleep with more determination than I was the day before and I am ready for anything that India might throw at me because in truth, much of it is disgusting and vial – but my journey is to find the good that comes from seeing past the dirt. One of my greatest skills in life is to find the silver lining – I always have and always will be able to do that. Each and every day has one – and I can and will find it – even in India! The wonderful thing about being here is that sometimes there is no need for a silver lining because the whole damn thing is golden – like standing on the top of a Himalayan peak over 6100M far away from the garbage. But sometimes finding the silver lining is truly like hunting for that needle in a haystack – like standing in a bathroom that stinks of piss waiting for the hot water to run through after an 18 hour, dust filled bus ride over pot-hole ridden roads that made my flesh shake until it felt like it was the steak under the hammer of a French chef tenderizing his meat, and realizing that since this wasn’t the only hotel in town I was quite capable of putting my pants and shoes back on, picking up my backpack and finding a hotel with a bathroom that wouldn’t make my skin crawl at the thoughts of entering it naked! There is gold and there are silver linings everywhere – we just have to remember to look for them – and when we find them – be grateful for them – and life will be amazing!
After another day of recovery in Manali it was time to hit the road once more. This time though we were not going too far; just a couple of hours down the road to the Parvati Valley. One of the things besides its Himalayan beauty that this particular part of the world is famous for is its Charas – which certainly put Darko and I in the minority of people NOT visiting for the drugs. The reason for the abundance of bakeries and cake shops in the area suddenly became crystal clear……of course…..hippy backpackers with the munchies must be fed…..and when an attack of the munchies hits hard there’s only one thing for it: sweet stuff. Apparently the marijuana of Parvati is world famous – but since we had no interest in hanging out with a bunch of Isreali stoners we decided to give Kasol (dubbed the traveler HQ of the region by Lonely Planet) a miss, and stop in Jari (the quietest of the traveler towns). At first glance this sad little one horse town does indeed look like, to put it bluntly, a bit of a shit hole – but if your little legs can handle the hill, there is a little hamlet about 1KM above the main village where you will find one of several guest houses hidden away that are quite simply delightful.

The only drawback to this town is the ‘shared bathroom’ – for one with a bladder as small and demanding as mine, the trek to the washroom in the middle of the night is a little bit of a pain – but for only 100rupees a night (for the room – not the midnight bathroom run) – it’s worth the minor inconvenience.
This village is a little piece of heaven. Peaceful, scenic, sunny and serene! We ended up pootling about here for a few days – just to catch our breath and experience a day passing slowly. A trip to Manikaran, just up the valley one day to visit the hot springs and temples was a pleasant interlude to the peace – but our favorite happening was the annual festival for the cow – a one day event that we stumbled on quite by accident. With the intention of snapping a few shots of the village kids we trundled down the lane from our guesthouse to find the beginning of merriment in action. The holy cows of the village were being adorned with flower wreaths and paint and offerings of rice and grain were being hoisted in the air.

And then came the walnuts – the frenzy of children and adults alike hopping and jumping in the air to catch the tasty treats as they were tossed about was contagious and it wasn’t long before Darko and I too had our pockets full and huge grins spread across our pasty cheeks.
And the villagers were happy to have us along – as the festival progressed through the tiny alley we were encouraged to tag along and all present were more than happy to pose for a photo or 2.

What a fabulous to wrap up our journey in Parvati. Next stop Mandi!


  1. What a great read! Finding your inner self, barbarians, your heart in BC, marijuana bashing (how dare you) and walnuts! Excellent.

  2. Carrie, so wonderful that you can be on the road, seeing so many corners and facets of humanity, so many beautiful and disgusting vistas. I am enjoying the freedom and aliveness of it vicariously through you! Thank YOu!
    Love Hanna