A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Mike Casey

Day 21: October 22nd: Manali to Shimla.

Time to visit the old Colonial Hill Station and summer capital of India for some R & R

storm 18 °C

Up early again for my 8.30am departure from Manali to Shimla by ‘luxury coach’, I think that term is a little over the top, but certainly better than the state run bone shakers. The Hotel Kunzam staff had been so helpful and had looked after me so well, I bid them farewell, a man even carried my bags to the bus station.

We departed bang on 8.30, and the only other passengers where an Indian family of four, so we had loads of space. The weather had been changing over night, I had seem clouds moving in, and over the high ridges and peaks last night, snow had fallen, this morning was cooler, the winter season had started. I had been very lucky with the very good weather trekking and on the motorbike tour in the Himachel and Western Himalayas.

The journey to Shimla was about 240km, and would take about 8 hours. I settled down and relaxed contemplating my journey and adventures so far, “all’s well that ends well”. The weather then really changed, heavy rain, hail stones, thunder and lightening. It was like that all the way to Shimla. Going though the Larji Gorge at the southern end of the Kullu Valley was spectacular. We emerged at Mandi, and then the road slowly climbed again to wards Shimla through some stunning scenery, despite the weather. The last hour or so though the mountains up to Shimla was very bad weather.

Finally we arrived at Shimla, and my tourist hotel, The Hotel Peterhoff, a splendid former Colonial building. I checked into this wonderful place, my bags carried in, and then the biggest, loudest and most spectacular thunder and lightening storm hit Shimla. The winter season had arrived. My room was very comfortable as settled in and relaxed with a hot shower, followed by dinner and a cold Kingfisher beer, and an early night.

The storm banged and flashed through the night, but by morning it had blown out, and Shimla was in bright blue skies. I looked out over the long crescent shaped ridge in the Himalayan foothills that Shimla is built on at 2200m, with the snow capped Himalayan peaks in the distance, with the panoramic views of Choorchandani on the front side, Dhauladhar ranges on western side and Kinner Kailash on the eastern side. ...time for breakfast. The Peterhoff was a building in Shimla which has housed at least seven Viceroys and Governors General of India during the British Raj, and now I am in residence !

Posted by Mike Casey 03:59 Archived in India Tagged shimla Comments (0)

Day 22: October 23rd: R & R at Shimla

A day exploring Shimla, a stroll along the Mall, afternoon tea and exchanging gossip at Scandal Corner !

sunny 24 °C

After the incredible thunder and lightning of last night, the dawn broke with a clear sky. After a very pleasant breakfast, with very attentive staff, it was off to explore Shimla.

Shimla, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, is one of India's most popular hill stations and is often referred to as the "Queen of the Hills". The town flourished during the reign of the British Empire. The British started flocking there in the 1820s when it was a nondescript village, and by 1864 it was declared to be their official summer capital. The Government of India stayed there to escape the very hot weather on the northern plains, only returning to Kolkata (Calcutta) and later Delhi, during the cold winter months. Hence, Shimla has an interesting history and distinct atmosphere of grandeur about it, with many well preserved historical buildings and houses, built by the British

Shimla is located on ridges in the Western Himalayas. From a small mountain village it became the ‘Summer Capital’ of British India, from those heights almost one-fifth of the of the population of the world was ruled for over a century. Shimla has a great colonial history, this is also reflected in its architecture and culture, with some very splendid buildings. Shimla is now the state capital of the Himachel Pradesh.

During my very pleasant first day, I explored Shimla. It is built along ridges and the hillsides of its seven hills.The town stretches out along a ridge, making it perfect for exploration on foot. At one end is the Viceroys Lodge, and at the other end, the main square. The route passes through Shimla's Heritage Zone, where there are hundreds of prominent classic buildings and homes. Shimla is a maze of narrow streets, markets, small local houses with corrugated roofs, grand Victorian houses and government buildings, The Mall on the Ridge to promenade along, enjoying stunning views of the Himalayas.

I visited St.Michael’s Catholic Cathedral. Here I spoke to Father Ignatius and a very nice church lady, from Kerala. I told Father about my adventures in India. We then went into a special building were the church feed the very poor and needy people of the area. What a great thing the church does?

I then visited Shimla Railway Station to book my ticket from Shimla to Kalka, and from there I pick up the main line back to Delhi. It will be an early start tomorrow, up at 6am, train station for 7.30, and then train leaves at 8.30 for Kalka. This is the famous “Viceroy’s Toy Train”, one of twenty mountain railways in the world, and five are in India. It will take five hours to reach Kalka, and then from there, the 300km train journey to Delhi.

It’s time to pack some gear away before my departure tomorrow from Shimla to Delhi on one of the worlds great mountain railways. I enjoy a splendid evening dinner in the colonial style Hotel Peterhoff , a relaxing G&T, then an early night before an early start tomorrow .The journey continues!

Posted by Mike Casey 05:06 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 2 : Arriving in Delhi - My Indian Odyssey begins

The trick is to not tell people what you are going to do, but what you did. My journey to enlightenment...

sunny 38 °C

An odyssey is a long and eventful or adventurous journey and experience. My Indian Odyssey is about to begin.

Its 5.30 am and sunrise, flying at 39000’ over the Arabian Sea to the sounds of Led Zeppelin playing “Stairway to Heaven”, how cool is that? “A new day at dawn” as the song goes, I’m quite excited about this adventure. Breakfast has just been served, potato pancakes, Anda Masala, poached curried eggs and coffee. Very nice.

We are soon making our descent to Delhi and land into a sunny, very hot and humid 38oC . The airport and Delhi is unusually quiet, into customs and passport control, paperwork and visa all okay, "Welcome to India Mr Casey" . In the airport arrivals area I scan around the many taxi drivers holding name cards...I then spot a card with my name "Mr Casey" . The driver politely greets me " Mr Casey I am your driver in Delhi and will take you to your hotel, Hotel Jennifer. So a welcome shower and freshen up, then off on a guided tour of Delhi. Down its wide and empty boulevards of the old British Raj, its many fine old buildings including Rajpath, Jama Masjid mosque, India Gate and the famous Red Fort, Delhi’s most famous monument.

Why is Delhi so quiet? The opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games opens in a few hours. There is no evidence of the chaos and unfinished preparations except for a few road gangs completing tarmac and painting kerb edges. Delhi is looking very tidy. But I did discover an answer in the Hindustan Times which might shock you, first all shops and local markets were closed down by the government, to the disgust and anger of local traders. Why? Then second, and more shockingly, 40,000 beggars, semi skilled and casual labourers were systematically harassed and moved out of Delhi by the police. A sizeable population. Those without ID cards were trained or trucked out of the city, and packed off to their home states. I will let you make up your own mind on this!

In contrast to this the opening ceremony was a dazzling success and a spectacular start to the 19th Commonwealth Games. I had a great lamb curry and a well needed cold Kingfisher beer that was smuggled into me (it was a dry day, opps !) I resorted out my gear again, and realise I could loose another 25% of it, but I am a late starter into adventure travelling, and yes my family, “You are right”, I hear them reply, “We did tell you”. Thank God for coolies at the station.

Tomorrow is an early start. Up at 5am, breakfast, a 6am pick up to Delhi Station for the train north to Amritsar in the Punjab, for the next leg of my journey...to the Pool of the Nectar of Immortality !

Posted by Mike Casey 06:25 Archived in India Comments (0)

Overland through India in 42 Days.

From the Himalaya's to Cape Comolin by train, on foot, by car, autorickshaw, bamboo raft and a Royal Enfield motorbike - What an Adventure, What an Odyssey !

sunny 38 °C

Its the end of my Great Adventure in India. I have travelled from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. by train, on foot, by car, in a auto rickshaw, on a bamboo raft, in a boat and on a Royal Enfield motorbike - What an Adventure !

After seeing the sunset and and sunrise at Cape Comolin, I dipped my feet in the three oceans, the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. This was a symbolic act, marking a very significant moment, end point to my trip. I then returned to Thiruvilla and spent two nights in the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary in the Backwaters of Kerala, to relax and reflect on my incredible adventure, overland through India from the Himalaya's in the north to Cape Comolin, the southern most tip of India.

Highlights, there have been many. The trekking in the high Western Himalayas. My journey from Manali into Lahaul on a Royal Enfield motorbike, on one of the world's great motorbike journeys, over the Rohtang and up to Zingzingbar. My five days exploring Periyar Tiger Reserve. Finally reaching Cape Comolin, the very southern most point of India. Meeting with the King of Kerala, the Maharajah of Tranvancore. Seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise and sunset. My journey exploring the Golden Triangle , Agra, Jaipur and Amritsar. I have met so many interesting people on this trip, often in the most unexpected places. Few countries in the world have carved such a deep, profound and lasting impression on me.
My experiences in India will be life long.

The people I met throughout my journey were genuinely kind and hospitable. The places I visited and journeyed through were amazing. From the remote Himalayan mountains and valleys, the lush green plains of the Punjab, Periyar Tiger Reserve, the desert of Rajasthan. The iconic sights of the Golden Temple, the Taj Mahal, the Dalai Lama residence and the Namgyal Monastery at McLeodgnu in Northern Himachel, Wagha Border Crossing in the Northern Punjab.

The food alone was a reason to visit India. Travelling through India from the Himalaya's, south, each region had its own distinctive flavours and dishes. Mixed spices were in all dishes, giving a range of flavours. Rice was always the basis of meals in the south and east, whilst wheat, nuts, fruit and lentils, were typical of northern dishes. Southern India used fish, North India used meat. Vegetables were used throughout India, and often as the main meal. I have to say that I was almost vegetarian throughout my journey...I was never ill from food !

Food was very much part of the journey and experiences throughout India, it was a time to meet other people, to relax, to eat in unexpected places and be part of the rich Indian culture. For example being invited into the Guru Ram Das Sarcu Dining hall in the Golden Temple of Amritsa and sit down with hundreds of Sikhs and eat a simple meal, in a welcoming and friendly way, or eating a simple omelette in a small village, high in the Himalaya or a fine fish curry Kanniyakumari in the south.

Religion and spirituality was integral with every day life in India, practised with public ritual in a temple, to private devotion at a small shrine high in the Himalaya, all with peace and quiet or noise and colour, the length and breadth of India. Throughout my journey I observed the rituals and practice of Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Christian faiths...I felt very privileged.

I left my base at Thiruvilla yesterday for Cochin, were I would spend my last night in India before flying home via Dubai, the hub of the planet. I am a bit behind with my Blog and photos, but that will be completed when I get home. I have used up all my brownie points now, so Jane will have a list for me. I now have a serious condition , its called the "Travel Bug". I have proved that I am safe to be let loose on the planet, with no great mishaps or misadventures, only that bad day on the Rohtang Pass. My travel kit will be reduced by over 50% next time. I have made many new friends on this trip from India, Sweden, Germany, France, Spain and Cornwall.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone back home with my traveller tales, blog , photos and video clips. There is much to do when I get back home, to complete this travel blog, contact all my travel companions.

My thanks to Peter and Travellerspoint.com for their support and use of what has been an excellent Travel Blog website, to record my travel diary into a travel book. My thanks to all the emails during my trip from my family and friends, they were a real tonic and well received. My thanks to Gordon May for sowing the great adventure seed, and the idea of riding a Royal Enfield in India, along one of the great motorbike routes on the plant. To Naresh and Subrah for all the planning, help and support in India, and making it a great trip. I am very grateful to you both, and thank you for your friendship

My thanks to all the really nice people I met on my great adventure in India from the Western Himalayas through India to Cape Comerin. I enjoyed your company and friendship on my journey in so many unexpected places. People are genuinely friendly and helpful, and want you to be there, they want to know where you are from, and what you think of this amazing continent. I found throughout this journey that people want to help you. Other people, particularly those who have little, but share their richness in so many ways, “How much do I owe you for fixing my Motorbike”...”Nothing, you are my brother and a guest in my country “ (Ajay, motor mechanic, Keylong, Lahaul, Himachel Pradesh, on the Manali-Leh road NH21, 3082m)

Everyday day gave me new experiences, encounters, views, people, places and landscapes, often having a spectacular place or view to myself, if only for a while, especially those places that were so remote and beautiful...I found nirvana, that place of perfect peace and happiness many times in India, that state of enlightenment which you find when you have no suffering or worries, a total feeling of peace and contentment.

Finally my grateful thanks to my wife for giving me the freedom to follow this adventure, and to my sons for their sound advice to their Dad.

An adventure has got to be something that takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you. Then you come home and tell people what you did...where next ?

Posted by Mike Casey 05:00 Archived in India Tagged india overland journey an through Comments (0)

Day 1: Overland through India

North Yorkshire to Dubai, A Tale of Excess Baggage

sunny 32 °C
View Overland through India on Mike Casey's travel map.

After months of planning, emails, paperwork, visa, booking hotels and flights, the thorough planning support , knowledge and experience of Merrygo Travel Company, in Delhi... the "Grand Depart" on my big adventure to India had arrived.

After a major kit review by Tom, "Don't need that or that, or that..............." as I cried and pleaded for mercy? Then Nick arrived, the terminator, no mercy shown with his ruthless seasoned traveller advice to me. Then finally, Jane "We will not pay any ransome demands for your father!". Thank you my beloved wife and dear sons. By 9am the zips of my bags were closed and secured with every Pacsafe device known to man, and loaded up into Tom's car, we drove north to Newcastle Airport.

Soon I was checking in with my baggage at the Emirates desk and was immediately served by a lovely Emirates lady. I smugley looked down at the 100's of Ryanair passengers waiting to check in, I felt sorry for them ! I then glanced over at the empty and very civilised Emirates bag check in. All was going well with another lovely Emirates lady until she said "I'm sorry Mr Casey but you are 3kgs over weight" I thought cheeky person, but she was referring to my baggage, 3 kg over and £50 extra ? Jane, Tom and Nick shook their heads, thinking will he make Delhi?

Any way it was now time for goodbyes, hugs and kisses as I took on the next challenge, Security ! No problem, straight through, no body search or off with your shoes, I felt a very savvy and experienced traveller as I looked back at my Family. I would soon be cruising at 39000' heading for India.
Soon I was feasting on oriental shrimp and noodles salad, chicken in coconut sauce, lemon and cream torte, and a lovely chardonnay. So onwards and upwards to Dubai, landing at 12 midnight and 32oC !!!!

I hope these travelblog diaries of my trip will be strong on spontaneity of my experiences rather than sober reflections I hope that they tell my story of discovery, adventure, people and places that I meet and see as I journey "Overland through India" over the next six weeks.

Posted by Mike Casey 06:10 Archived in United Arab Emirates Comments (0)

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