Our first stop in India was Delhi… Everyone had told us how crazy this city was. We arrived at 5 am and got the metro to Delhi central station and we were a bit surprised that we were alone on the metro after how crowded we’d heard it was here. Then we arrived in the central station and the intensity of Delhi we’d heard about was in our faces. The heat, the humidity, the crowds and the rush that everyone seamed to be in was all a bit much. We checked into our hotel and had a nap before going for a walk to see what was in the area. We met a nice guy who talked us into going to a travel agency where we were sweet talked into making the biggest mistake of our trip, booking a tour! (We will go into this in further detail in another post.) We got a driver courtesy of the travel agency and he took us around the main tourist attractions then we had an early night as our train to Kalka was at 5.30 am.
We woke up at the crack of dawn glad to be leaving the constant car horns and rickshaw drivers stalking you down the streets. We were heading to Shimla for our first couchsurfing experience living with a family. Our taxi took us to the station and we boarded our train to Kalka in the AC carriage. We didn’t know AC stood for arctic conditions haha but thankfully we had our blankets we got on the flight to keep us warm. The exit from Delhi was a shock to us… our first encounter of how bad the poverty really is here. There was piles of rubbish with huts that people were living in amongst, it really brings a tear to the eye. The norther we got the greener and more mountainous it got and there was some beautiful scenery on the way.
We finally arrived at Kalka where we would be boarding the famous toy train up through the mountains to Shimla. We had good seats near the front door (which was open the whole way) so got a nice draft all the way because there was no AC on this train. The views on this route were proper stunning climbing through the hills but we were gob smacked at people of all ages throwing all there rubbish out the windows like it was nothing, all the way. From children to adults, they would just finish the tray they were eating off and launch it out the window. This made us feel a little sick inside.
Eventually we arrived in Shimla 2 hours late and our couchsurfing host was nowhere to be seen, neither of us had any power in our phone so we asked around and eventually went to the station master. He was a funny, kind man and helped us by phoning our host as Jimmy tried but they couldn’t understand him. (nobody ever does haha). Our host S.P. arrived on his motorbike and took us to get a taxi to his shop but the traffic was bad and we experienced our first traffic jam on the mountains (the first of many). It was dark and we were 2,196 meters above sea level. All we could see were blinding floodlights and our ears were ringing with the constant car horns. We finally got the shop and Nisha, his wife and Rishu, their son were waiting for us with a our first delicious chai. Chai is the name of a flavoured black tea served everywhere, very cheap in all corners of India. Our favourite morning beverage!
We spent three days with S.P. and his family and this was our first encounter with Indian culture. We ate the same vegetarian diet, dishes that we had never tried before, all cooked by the amazing Nisha. We discovered the famous dal, a source of proteins made with lentils and ate with chapatis, a round, thin flat bread. On our first day we were lucky enough to have Rishu to show us around Shimla. He had the day off school because it was Gandhi day. We went around the city guided by the best tour guide, Rishu. We went to visit the Jakhoo temple, it has the worlds tallest Hanuman statue. Hanuman (the Monkey God) stands at 108 feet and you need to stand underneath it to understand the scale of the statue… it’s huge! Trying to get there was an experience, the monkeys surrounding the temple are very mischievous and don’t fear humans. Some people advised us to get a stick and we laughed but realised we actually needed one. After visiting the temple we had a little stroll around town, then when were sitting on a bench Sara was innocently reading her map with her bag open when a big monkey came out of nowhere and stole her wet wipes. After realising it wasn’t food it soon threw them away and a local picked up a stone and scared the gang of monkeys away. That night we were took to Nisha’s mothers for a dinner with her side of the family and had an unexpected sleep over. Jimmy spent the night in the room with SP and his father in law and Sara in the room with Nisha, her Mother and Rishu. It was an experience we will never forget… It made us realise we definitely prefer sharing a bed together hehe.
The next day S.P. had the day off work and took us to Naldehra where we rode small horses over the steep mountains. The trail went past the highest golf course in Asia and you could also see the border with China. We enjoyed it very much and the guide, who should be a photographer made us laugh a lot with the poses he had us doing. We felt like we were in a bollywood photo shoot at points. Afterwards we went to visit S.P’s side of the family in a beautiful bungalow on the side of the mountains followed by a long winding journey through the mountains to Tattapani. There was a beautiful river running through the mountains. The scenery was astounding and the hot springs running from the ground, containing sulphur water was a perfect beauty treatment for Sara. We had a great day but we had to come back early to get ready for our new destination: Mcleodganj.
We boarded our “super deluxe” AC bus in a rush from Shimla after we said our quick goodbyes. The bus wasn’t exactly what we would call super deluxe but we soon remembered that we are in India haha. The bus wasn’t busy and we had plenty space and the ticket inspector seamed a bit mad and couldn’t speak English. It was dark and when the lights went out we couldn’t see much but we felt every winding turn and every bump in the road like we have never felt before, it resembled a roller coaster. We made it to Dharamshala and when we got off the bus we met a fellow travelling couple, Loes and Kris who we jumped in a taxi with to Mcleodganj. After trying to get the best accommodation deal, we settled for a hotel at 300 rupees per night. It was very basic and you got what you paid for. The WIFI didn’t work, the electricity in the room was dodgy and the noise during the night was a bit much at times. We had the best view from our balcony, eagles regularly swooping past was an amazing sight. In our first day out we stopped in a coffee shop called Rogpa, we highly recommend it. The chocolate brownie’s were delicious and the coffee reminded us of home. Rogpa means “Trusted friends and helpers” in Tibetan and it’s a charity acting to integrate the Tibetan community in exile. We then visited the Dal lake and were disappointed, maybe because it was very misty and we couldn’t see anything. Walking on the street we met Loes and Kris and we had dinner together and decided to go to Kangra Fort and Masroor Temple together the next day. We visited the Kangra museum but we didn’t bother going inside the Fort instead we walked down to the river running behind it. We then thought we could walk to Masroor temple but we soon found out that it was impossible when a taxi driver stopped and asked us “where the hell we were going?” He kindly gave us a lift to the next village where we had to walk a few more miles to the bus stop. Surprisingly a tractor offered us a lift to the town where we thought that we could get a bus to Masroor but the bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully a nice guy we met organised a taxi for us to the temple then to somewhere where we could get a bus back to Mcleodganj. The next day we went a walk to Bagshu waterfall and on the way back we met an awesome group called The Waste Warriors. We were surprised and also glad that we met this group as we hadn’t seen anything like this yet. We shared our view and opinions about the waste problem in India and we wished them all the luck.
Click on the Waste Warriors link to find out what they are all about.
Our days in the land of the Tibetan exiles, home of the Dalai Lama were coming to and end. After the last night in the hotel where a group of young noisy Israeli’s brought there own sound system to the hotel and felt the need to scream, shout and bang the walls all night we were glad to be leaving. We got up bright early and the conductor put us on the next bus leaving to Manali, which we soon realised wasn’t the bus we planned to get. The bus was tiny, Jimmy could hardly bend his knees and Sara got sick for the first time in India. It was a long bumpy journey and the bus stopped in every single stop in every single village. If stopping at every single bus stop wasn’t bad enough we got stuck in a traffic jam for an hour and a half and this is when Sara got sick. Afterwards we finally got to Manali and our couchsurfer Biplob looked after us and showed us the beauty of Manali, taking us to the Rasta Cafe and other peaceful places. Sara cooked Spanish food for us all in Biplob´s kitchen… it was a nice change! We had good banter and a lot of laughs and exchanged some music. We hope to meet Biplob in the future!
We got a night bus to Chandigargh to continue our adventure and move onto our next state Uttarakhand.