Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Magical Manali!

After the looooooong drive from Leh we woke up in a strange guesthouse and were ready to find something better. Once we walked out we realised that the lane-way that was so freaky the night before was absolutely beautiful and full of local houses and barns with cows, yaks, pigs and chickens. We also noticed that there was a really nice guesthouse right in this quaint lane-way. It looked amazing so we didn't think we'd be able to afford it but it actually ended up being within our budget. The room was so bright and had huge windows with views of the forested mountains and waterfalls nearby.
We also had a huge balcony with beautiful wood furniture where we could relax and enjoy the cool mountain air. It really was the perfect place to stay, it was surrounded by old farm houses with people tending to their farms.

One of the many farm animals near our guesthouse.

One of the beautiful buildings in our little lane. 

Jason walking...I really loved this area!

...and again.

During the day a net would be put up around the farms for the locals to play.


Hard at work.

Charlie, the beautiful dog owned by the family that runs the guesthouse.

Charlie chilling.
After settling in we decided to venture out and take a look around Manali. It is a really beautiful town. There are two main areas of Manali, old and new Manali. Old Manali is where most backpackers stay while new Manali is where many Indian tourists stay.

Beautiful old Manali.
We really enjoyed our time in Manali and ended up staying 5 days there, relaxing, listening to some live music, eating delicious food and wandering around. Jason bought a beautiful chess board so we also spent a lot of time on our balcony watching the misty rain cover the mountains while playing chess.
Jason hanging out on our beautiful balcony.

I really can't say much about Manali because we really did just relax there and ate a ton! It was a lovely mountain town that is situated on a river. There are the friendliest stray dogs everywhere and we also spent some time sitting on the footpaths cuddling with them.
It was love at first sight for these two.

If there was any way possible Jason would have brought this guy home with us!

They were so sweet and friendly.

One day Jason decided to do some paragliding and he had an amazing time. the weather was really nice and he had to ride a horse up to the take off area high above the town. His photos are beautiful, I spent that morning having a long breakfast and enjoying some me time.
Jasons photos from his paragliding trip.

Beautiful views!

My manly man on his horse.

He took this photo while paragliding...I'm a little jealous that I didn't join!

He then met me for brunch afterwards.

...and again.

Our time in Manali was so wonderful and it gave us the rest and relaxation we needed before heading back in to the hot Indian summer down south. Initially our plan was to travel from here to McLeod Ganj and then down to Delhi but this journey would take some backtracking and a long time on buses and we were quite sick of buses at this point so we decided to go down south towards Delhi. After reading our Lonely Planet I saw that there was an interesting city about halfway between Manali and Delhi so we decided to take a couple of days to explore Chandigarh.


Tiger Eye Guesthouse:

This was probably one of our favourite guesthouses of our entire trip, the staff, rooms, food and dog were all exceptional!

Our favourite restaurant:

I don't normally post about restaurants here but I just have to tell you all about this amazing little spot that we practically lived in while in Manali.

Drifters Cafe:

It was a beautiful little place that had a ton of games for you to play, they had scones and cakes, wonderful breakfasts and even better lunches and dinners. You usually had to get there early for dinner as it would fill up fast. They also had some live music. A little bit more expensive than other places but well worth it!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The epic drive from Leh to Manali.

This journey is something that I've read about many times before doing it. If you ever google the top ten drives in the world this is usually up there. The thing that makes it exciting is that the road between these two places is closed for about 9 months of the year because it's completely covered in snow. It is only open during the summer months so it suited us perfectly. We knew that it would be tough ride but also one to remember. It's a crazy road that passes over numerous mountain passes one higher than the next. Luckily for us we choose to drive back to Manali instead of driving to Leh as people can get pretty bad altitude sickness while climbing the high mountains getting to Leh. I think our time in Nepal helped us out a lot too.

Anyway this drive goes through the Himalayas and is truely beautiful. We left our guesthouse at about 10 p.m. to meet what we though was a jeep. Unfortunately the jeep got cancelled and we ended up having to drive in a minibus with a very obnoxious couple in front of us that insisted on pushing their seats fully back which left us with NO space whatsoever. I'm not going to lie, I plotted their deaths a couple of times during the trip. As we began in the dark we didn't really see much for the first couple of hours, this was when we were driving over the mountain passes. I also didn't get much sleep that night so I got to witness the sun rise. By the time the sun rose we were driving along vast open areas with a couple of yurts here and there. We stopped at one for breakfast and got to take in the views and then were off again (I was way too tired to take photos unfortunately).

After another while the scenery turned to a very desert landscape with beautiful rock formations and sand cliffs. Unfortunately I couldn't get many photos from this raod trip so my memories are all that will suffice. After another while we began to go into vast green spaces with fields everywhere. This was where we stopped for dinner and once again were off. As the sun was setting we climbed another mountain and were on the final frontier towards Manali. The other side of this mountain pass is where many Indian tourists go to for a day trip and it's where many of them get to see snow for the first time. While driving there we got to witness a few familys having snow ball fights. The way down from that mountian pass was astoundingly beautiful. The sun was setting and we were above the clouds so got to see the beautiful mountains lower down completely covered in clouds.

Further down again we were getting closer and closer to Manali and the scenery changed again, this time to beautiful greenery and forests. Soon it got dark and we had been going for about 24 hours we were all exhausted and dying to get to Manali when the unthinkable happened...the bus broke down! We had two options, either wait for god knows how long for someone to come and help or drive with no brakes, we decided on the latter as long as we drove pretty slow (this guy had been driving so fast throughout the entire trip)

Everything worked out in the end and we managed to make it to Manali in one piece, although the traffic coming in was absolutely crazy that we ended up having to sit in it for about an hour...absolutely torture!
Once the bus stopped it was about midnight and we had no place booked, we were absolutely shattered and all we could think about was jumping in to a bed...any bed!

We left in search for a place to stay with a Korean girl that had been on the bus with us. After searching for quite a while we realised that nearly everywhere was fully booked. Our taxi driver said his uncle had a guesthouse that we could stay in, we had mixed feelings about this but didn't really have a choice so decided to go with him. He parked the tuk-tuk on a road and made us follw him down a really dodgy alley (during the daytime it turned out to be a wonderful alley...but not now!)

We reached his uncles place and his uncle wasn't the nicest of men and only had one room available, so we decided to share the room with the Korean girl and find another place the next day. Then we finally got to fall into the bed!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Nubra Valley (Ladakh continued)

We were up bright and early to start the long journey to the Nubra valley. The jeep collected us at our guesthouse and then we were off in a different direction from when we went to Pangong Tso. Today we would be driving over one of the highest drivable mountain passes in the world...altitude tablets at the ready and we were off!

Something I've noticed about myself the older I get is that I am much more prone to getting travel sickness now than before. Especially when we are driving at extremely high altitude. As we began to get higher and higher I was feeling quite sick and tried to focus on the incredible scenery outside the window to keep my mind preoccupied. About an hour in to the journey we came across a big traffic jam (which is quite random on the Ladakhi roads) But it was because the only road to the Nubra valley and its surrounds was closed because they were bomb blasting on the mountain. We had to wait about an hour at this random military stop for them to finish which suited me just fine because it gave me time to get over my travel sickness. The main thing on everyone's mind at that stop was trying to use the toilet and it was also here at this stop that I used the worst toilet (if you could call in that) in my life.

The incredible views as you are leaving Leh and making your
way up the the Khardung La.

A beautiful monastery that we passed on the way.

and another view of it...

I know I shouldn't really be talking about such disgusting things as Indian toilets in this blog, but sorry, I can't help myself! There were quite a few tourists at this stop and the only toilet available was a shower cubicle, yes a shower cubicle with a tiny drain in the corner which meant that there was just a huge puddle of pee (among other things) in the cubicle. With a scarf covering up my sense of smell I entered and managed not to vomit which was great (Incidentally I did vomit while using a toilet in Cambodia because of the smell)

Anyway, moving on...after waiting about an hour for the bomb blasting to finish we were off again on our way up the mountain to get to the Khardung La mountain pass. I must mention here that this drive was most definitely the most beautiful drive I've ever been on! We drove through such a diverse landscape. But right now the landscape was rock and snow, still beautiful. After getting to the top of the pass (having passed a few vehicles that weren't too luckily and had toppled over the edge of the mountain road in the past). We took a little break and had a chance to climb a bit higher up to get some incredible views and some photos with the many prayer flags that were around the pass before the altitude hit us.
Up on the Khardung La pass.

View from the pass.

So many prayer flags!

Some stupas at the top.

After the break we headed down the other side of the mountain and after another hour or so we were driving through incredible canyons and valleys, very different from the snowy mountain pass we had been on earlier. The scenery was really like something from the Grand Canyon. Very arid and beautiful! It was hard to think that anyone could live out there but every once in a while we would come across some patches of villages that had planted grass and trees in the area.
The views as we got closer to the desert.

You really can't take a bad photo in Ladakh!

A random mini festival in the middle of nowhere that we drove past.

Beautiful scenery!

It almost looks like a painting.

Taking a break to enjoy the views.

Me overlooking a town in the desert.

As we were getting closer to the Nubra valley we began to notice huge sand dunes and a beautiful waterfall. We then got in another traffic jam as we had to wait for more bomb blasting on another mountain. But we had an otherworldly view so none of us minded. The scenery in this area really felt like we were back in a time when dinosaurs roamed, it was so beautiful. After only about 30 minutes we were on the road again and getting closer to our destination.
The waterfall.

The views while we were waiting for the bomb blasting to finish.

Traffic jam.

The sand dunes.

Once we arrived we decided to go camel riding before going to our guesthouse. Honestly after going through the experience I don't think I would recommend the camel riding here. I felt bad for the camels as they didn't get much rest time but I'm hoping that they were treated well. These camels ancestors used to travel through Tibet and on to the Silk road. It was quite strange riding the camels and mine wanted to make a run for it a couple of times but it was a good way to see the sand dunes. One of our camels had a baby so he would just run after his mom no matter where she went and if she was going too fast he'd let out the cutest little wail for her to stop.
More sand dunes.

The area where we would be camel riding.

Camels sitting in wait.

Ilze all set to go.

Me getting ready.

And we are off!

Baby camel.
Sand covered mountains!
Once we were finished with the camel riding (which was hugely popular among the Indian tourists) We were off in to the beautiful country roads that had trees and flowers everywhere (strange considering we were in the middle of a desert) and found our beautiful newly built guesthouse. Ilze decided to take a walk around the area and the rest of us decided to relax in the garden and enjoy the last of the sun while playing some cards. It was so peaceful there! We had a great Indian buffet for dinner and then just relaxed for the rest of the night.

The next morning we were going to take a look at one of the impressive monasteries that are jutting out of the mountains, see a giant gold Buddha statue and then begin the journey back in to Leh. The monastery was so impressive! The monasteries in this area are so beautiful because it's not just one building but it's almost like a little village of buildings, the views from almost every part of the it was equally impressive, something I won't forget for a long time to come. Each building has it's own purpose and finally at the very top of all of the other buildings is the temple itself. There was a very friendly monk there (let's face it, what monk isn't friendly!) The building itself was so beautiful and in a dark back area there were paintings that were thousands of years old. There were also photos all around from when the Dalai Lama went to visit the monastery. Myself and Jason had been wanting to buy some prayer flags and incense for quite a while and decided that this was the perfect to buy them, so we now have some beautiful prayer flags hanging on our balcony here in Korea.

The beautiful monastery that we visited.
and again...
Jason taking in the surrounding views.

One of the prayer wheels.

The Buddha statue.

Walking within the monastery area.

There were many inscriptions on the stones.

View from the temple.

After our time at the monastery we went to take a look at a huge golden Buddha statue that was close by...again it had an incredible view of the impressive scenery of the area.

Drew and Bec trying to recreate the pose.

Myself and J posing Korean style ;)

Once we had our fill at the Buddha statue, it was time to make the long drive home, we were hoping that there wouldn't be any bomb blasting or diversions this time around. There wasn't any bomb blasting but there was a crazy mishap that had us delayed by over an hour.

After about 3 hours driving we were beginning the climb up to the Kardung La mountain pass again. This time around the sun had been shining for the last couple of days which meant that quite a few streams had began to form from melting snow. One stream in particular was pretty bad, when we arrived at it we found that a car had gotten stuck in it. Our driver and some work men managed to free the car from it and then another car went through just fine. Then it was our turn...unfortunately our jeep managed to get stuck in the worst spot possible. We were stuck there for about 30 minutes with crowds beginning to form and do what they typically do in India, just watch. Poor Jason and Drew had to stand in the icy cold stream trying to get the jeep unstuck. At one stage this sweet old Indian man had asked Drew to take some photos of him, while taking the photos the man exclaimed "Watch me dance!" and broke out in to a full on dance. This whole situation just had me laughing so much, finally the army came and after a lot of standing around they managed to help us out and we were off back to Leh.

More bomb blasting on our way back.

One of the local workers that helped to free our jeep.

The dreaded stream!
More and more people gather.

At least we had the beautiful views...

And another one gets stuck!

The wonderful man dancing for Drew.

and again...

and again...

We thought help was here...but they just drove past us.

More of the beautiful landscape!

Once we arrived back at our wonderful guesthouse (for a third time!) we decided to stay a couple of more days in Leh, partly to relax and prepare ourselves for the crazy 26 hour journey that we would be taking out of that region and also because we genuinely didn't want to say goodbye to this awe inspiring place!
We spent the rest of our days organizing our transport to Manali and eating lots of food (including some good Korean food that we were craving and lots of yummy homemade cake).

It was so sad to say goodbye to this place as we both truly had the time of our lives. Saying goodbye also meant that our wonderful travels were finally coming to an end with just a couple of short weeks left...

Getting there and away:

This is probably the toughest part about Ladakh is getting there. There is only 1 option for 9 months of the year and that is flying which can be quite expensive. During June, July and August the snow is cleared on the mountain passes which makes driving possible. It's a long journey that took us about 26 hours on our way home. We had heard that many jeeps take 2 days to do the journey which we would have preferred but there was nobody offering this option when we were trying to book our way out of Leh.

We flew up from Delhi and then drove back down.

Travel agent: 

For the life of me I cannot remember the name of the travel agent that we used to book our trips while in Ladakh. He was a really nice man and genuinely seemed interested in keeping costs down for us. His shop was on the main street and right by the delicious bakery/restaurant that everyone frequents while in Leh. (I hope that helps a little) He organized a jeep to and from the Nubra valley and Pangong Tso lake for us.

Where we stayed:

In Leh: Oriental Guesthouse: We moved to here after leaving our ice box of a room at the previous guesthouse. We had seen that this place had excellent reviews on tripadvisor. We definitely weren't disappointed! For the same price as the other place we had a beautiful room that had the most wonderful views of the mountains. It was about 15 minutes walk away from the main area of Leh, but this walk was down wonderful small streets with beauty all around. I 100% recommend staying in this part of town, it was an amazing experience!

In the Nubra Valley: Unfortunately I don't remember the name of the guesthouse in the valley. It was quite new and our jeep driver brought us to it. But tripadvisor has some really nice one's on their website.