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India

Day 6: October 7th : A Rest Day at Jogindar Nagar.

A tour of Jogindar Nagar, organising my four day trek into the Himalaya, a key note speech to students, and a very pleasant evening dinner with Dr Naresh.

sunny 40 °C

A bit of a lazy morning and late breakfast, although at 8am, there is a knock at the door, and it’s Vikka with my strong morning coffee, he is like my own personal valet, “Morning Sir, your coffee”. I said to Vikka, “Its Mike”, he replied, “Okay Mr Mike”. He has been so helpful already.

The view from the balcony of my room at Trekkers Nest looks over the Kangra Valley, and looks down to Jogindar Nagar. The high ridges of the Dhauladhar rise steeply above. The area is very lush and green.

After breakfast I had a tour of Jogindar Nagar, a busy and pleasant town, with two main streets, a bus station and the eastern railway terminal of the Kangra Valley Railway, one of the twenty or so, narrow gauge railways in the world. Trekkers Nest Hotel will be my base for the next week.

After lunch I get my kit organised for the planned four day trek. Naresh has supplied a down sleeping bag , rucksack and tent. Robin will be my guide, and Mukesh my porter. Naresh and I go into Jogindar Nagar to buy food and supplies for my trek. In the afternoon all the kit is packed and ready.

I am invited to Naresh’s house for evening dinner. He has been a practising GP and Doctor in this area for over 35 years, including remote parts of Lahaul and Spiti. We discussed other plans for my trip including visiting Dharamsala and McLeod Ganj (the home of the Dalai Lama) and staying overnight at the high settlement of Bhagsu.

A Royal Enfield has been hired for the following week when I ride to the Kullu Valley and Lahaul, exploring the Western Himalaya's.

After a very pleasant evening, it’s back to Trekkers Nest, ready for tomorrows trekking.

Posted by Mike Casey 06:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Day 13 - Jogindar Nagar to Manali on a Royal Enfield Bullet

A 165km Road Trip through some of the most spectacular scenary in the Himachel Predesh

sunny 28 °C

I arrived in Manali on Day 13 of my trip through India after a 165km ride from JN to Manali. I have been keeping a daily diary of my trip, and have been trying to update my travel blog as I go, but sometimes you are off the radar and cannot get Internet facilities. So I am a bit behind, also I have yet to download photos and video clips, so please be patient with me.

I have had a tremendous time in the Kangra Valley, based at Jogindar Nagar for nine days. It seems much longer. I have made so many new friends here, especially Dr Naresh Singhla who has organised so much for me in the north. Naresh has in the last year set up a new venture in this area of the Himachel Pradesh called Alpine Treks and Trekkers Nest Hotel. He offers a very comfortable hotel and guided trekking in the impressive Dhauladhar Mountains. I highly recommend this stunningly beautiful area to you. Its less busy than other areas of the Himachel Pradesh, it is also a great base for exploring the rest of the Kangra Valley, and the fantastic Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. Check out the Trekkers Nest website and go there !

I left JN at 10.30am on one of the greatest adventures of my life, a 165km solo motorbike ride through the Kangra and Kullu Valley's into the very heart of the Western Himalayas to Manali. I have had an incredible journey to Mandi along the beas River Valley, riding along high contouring mountain roads. after Mandi, the road climbed high above the dam and reservoir lake at the western end of the Larji Gorge. Then the climb up and ride through the Larji Gorge, absolutley stunning. then when I came out off the gorge, the unexpected, a long road tunnel that took 15 minutes to ride through, then I entered the southern end of the Kullu Valley. The road NH20 was actually very good from Mandi to Nagar, being a military road to the border areas, but after Nagar it varied between tarmac, potholes and unmade,rough and dusty.

I arrived in Manali dusty and a bit bedraggled. My Belsfaff riding jacket did the job over the last three hours. Its been a great adventure today, even Charlie and Ewan would have been impressed. Tomorrow I will have a rest day in Manali, booking onward accommadation at Keylong for four days, my base for exploring the higher passes of the Rohtang (3980m) and Bara Lacha La (4890m), but not onto Leh as planned as the snows have arrived and further progress will not be possible.

I will therefore explore the Chenab Valley, the Chandra Valley and the Bhaga Valley, that radiate out from Keylong, and the area around Manali. The peaks of the Himalayas here rise up to 6500m. They look very impressive from the Kullu Valley. The weather is bright, blue and sunny. Off to explore Manali now.

Posted by Mike Casey 10:40 Archived in India Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises mountains skylines people Comments (1)

Day 4: October 5th: Amritsar to Jogindar Nagar

My Adventure to the Land of the Eternal Snow and the Himalayas

sunny 40 °C

The next fifteen days I was going to explore the Himachel Pradesh and the Western Himalaya in north India. It is a mountainous state, deriving its character from the Himalayas, the largest mountain range in the world. It includes high snow capped peaks of 6000m and glaciers, deep forested and cultivated valleys of the Kullu, Kanga and Patten, the mighty rivers of the Chandra Bhaga, Chenab, Ravi and Beas which flow down from the Himalaya. It has high, remote, barren and arid plateau's and valleys in the northern areas of Lahaul, Spiti and Ladakh.

I was going to explore this area on foot and by motorbike. I would visit Dharamsla, the home of the Dali Lama, trek for four days in the Dhauladhar mountains, ride a four day motorbike trip along one of the worlds greatest or "dangerous" roads through the Himalaya from Manali. Finally a visit to Shimla, the capital of HP, in the Himalayan foothills, once the summer capital of British India, travelling on its famous narrow gauge mountain railway from Kalka (one of the worlds great railway journeys).

I was picked up by my driver Lalli, who is 68 and a great man. He was great company on the six hour car journey North. We drove through the agricultural land of the northern Punjab, passing busy and prosperous towns and villages, shops, workshops and people going about their daily lives. A very green and lush area, crossing railways and canals built by the British Raj.

We reached the Punjab and Himachel Pradesh state border crossing at Chakki Bridge, well bridge is an understatement, the new one was being built, so we crossed an earth and stone bridge to the HP border post checkpoint at Chakki. “Can I see your passport and visa Sir?” We then stopped at Jyoti’s Hotel for some lunch and a break by the river post. The transition from the Punjab to Himachel Pradesh was much defined, the forested hills of the lower HP rose straight away from the river, and the road climbed up now for the rest of the journey.

We were soon at Pathankot were I saw a big military garrison and barracks, this would be typical now all the way North through the Himachel Pradesh to the border areas or “line of control” with Pakistan. The states of the Punjab and the Himachel have a long history of providing men and women for the Indian Armed Forces, it is custom that every families eldest son serves in the Army?

We have been following National Highway 20 from Amritsar or NH20. I think at this point I should state that India loves to abbreviate names, places and roads! So for example, NH20 is National Highway 20, HP is Himachel Pradesh, JN is Joginder Nagar, and I am MC Mike Casey and I ride a RE Royal Enfield and live in the UK United Kingdom.

We arrive in JN at 5pm, a long day, through spectacular landscapes. Incredible India! We drive through JN and up to Trekkers Nest Hotel where Naresh and all the staff are waiting like a guard of honour. I sit down to dinner with Naresh and we discuss my plans for the next ten days. We have a great conversation about our lives and my trip to India. This is the next stage of my adventure in Incredible India.

Naresh suggests a one day trek tomorrow up onto the Dhauladhar Range to get acclimatised, then a four day trek from Barot, into the heart of the mountains. Also a day and night trip to Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj. Then my motorbike road trip right into the Western Himalayas, up through the Kullu Valley and to the high road passes from Manali to Leh. One of the worlds great motorbike journeys and adventures.

An early night, because tomorrow my first trek up into the Dhaladhar Mountains, and high altitude.

Posted by Mike Casey 05:37 Archived in India Tagged the to pradesh himachel Comments (0)

Day 3: Delhi to Amritsar.

A journey through the plains of the Punjab to the "Pool of the Nectar of Immortality".

sunny 40 °C

Day 3 : 4th October : Delhi to Amritsar.

After a great night of Commonwealth Games celebrations in Delhi, a great meal and a Kingfisher beer, and meeting so many nice people, I went to bed very happy. My first night in India...keeping an open mind in this amazing country.

I was up at 5am, and already could hear the sounds of Delhi waking up , the constant and embracing chaos of people moving in Indian cities. Traffic jams, no rules of the road, honking horns of cars, buses, lorries, tuk tuks and motorbikes. The congestion on the roads, in the stations and markets ...everything in Delhi was flowing, it was working. So I was all packed, an early breakfast, then I was picked up at 6am by Ajay, my driver, who had given me a tour of Delhi the previous day. Off to New Delhi Train Station for the train north to Amritsar and the "Pool of the Nectar of Immortality". Delhi train station was alive and busy at this early hour, with people arriving for work or making onward journeys like myself. Delhi was on the move !

How efficient are Indian Railways! My ticket was for Delhi to Amritsar, a distance of 448km, on the 7.20 am train, the 2029/ Swarna Shatabadi Express, coach E2, and First Class 1A . The station was alive with people, passengers, station workers moving goods on trolleys, the station coolies in their red jackets carrying luggage. This really was the start of my adventure and Indian Odyssey. My first challenge of the day was getting my gear from the car to the train. Ajay immediately engaged a coolie, a bright young lad of about 18, we agreed a price of 200 RS, to carry my luggage to platform 1. I thanked Ajay for all his help and wished him well.

The young coolie asked me to follow him, as he put my case on his head and my soft bag over his shoulder. Those voices from home were coming back again “ You’ve got too much gear, how are you going to carry it ? “. I know, you are all right, but I have my coolie ! At 7am, train 2029/ Swarna Shatabadi pulled into Delhi station, with coach E2 stopping right in front of me by the sign E2, how good is that! I had noticed a white European girl with one big sack and a small day sack, and then I looked at my case, soft bag, day sack and camera bag, then at the steps up into my coach, hmmm! “Yes, Jane, Nick and Tom, you were all right! “ Well I got me and my luggage all on the train and stowed in E2 above my seat No.1 How very spacious and comfortable as the A/C circulated cool air around. The man who invented A/C is one of the greatest men ever.

At 7.20 exactly , the Swarna Shatabadi pulled out of New Delhi Station northwards to Amritsar, across the green and lush plains of the Punjab, the “Bread Basket of India”. We first move through the urban sprawl of Delhi, a mixture of tidy new houses, old neibourhoods and shanty huts along the edge of the tracks, with a mixture of open streams, drains and rubbish. People, young children, pigs and cows, were going about their daily life. This was an eye opening scene of India. The states of Haryana and Punjab are prosperous states, occupying rich fertile river plains and extensive irrigation canals that extend north towards Amritsar and the Pakistan border, and the mountains of Kashmir and the Himalayas.

The rural countryside of the plains of the Punjab is flat, green and lush, with natural waterways and man made canals (built by the British). It is a huge agricultural area growing rice, maize, wheat and corn, with white egrets everywhere. I am travelling with a family from Kerala, a man with his wife and son. We exchange greetings and engage in a great conversation about our families and lives, and my visit to India. Then the door opens and an important uniformed railway official walks in, “Good Morning Mr Casey, Indian Railways are pleased to greet you, welcome onto our train. Have a happy journey”. Wow! He knows who I am! Then a lovely lady comes offers me some sweets! Then a very smart Punjab man with a trolley arrives, "Some tea Sir", the best tea I have ever tasted, and then some breakfast. My second of the day. How pleasantly unexpected. He then returns with some neatly folded newspapers..."a paper Sir"...well I am travelling First Class 1A ! Life on the Shatabadi Express just gets better.

After spending the next five hours talking, reading, drinking, eating, dozing and watching the amazing scenery of the Northern Punjab. I arrive at Amritsar Railway Station just after midday. I notice two tall Sikh Guards in uniform on the station platform holding a long pointed spear each. I hope my train ticket is in order, and God help anyone without a ticket ! Yes you have guessed it, before I can stand up a collie has arrived to collect my baggage, God Bless the Indian family who got this sorted for me. I got off the train and was blasted away by the 40oC heat and humidity of the Northern Punjab at Amritsar. I would now seek my path to enlightenment and the Pool of the Nectar of Immortality !

I was picked up at the station by a driver from the Hotel Namaskar in Amritsar where I am staying the night. "Mr Casey, welcome to Amritsar, we have been expecting you". India knows I'm here. A short drive through the busy streets of Amritsar, and I arrive at Hotel Namaskar, I check in, freshen up, have a cold drink and a snack, then I am out at 3pm for a tour of Amritsar, which Surgi has organised in an A/C car for 1000 RS, for the rest of the day and evening. We drive through the city and out onto National Highway 1, West. My geography and sense of direction is good, NH1 runs north from Delhi to Amritsar, then turns west towards the Pakistan border at Wagha. Well I think we must be going somewhere of interest. After 25km later I see a big green sign, “Wagha Border Control - Indo-Pak”. I am blown away by this incredible surprise of actually being at this border. I’m greeted by what seems half the Indian Army of the BCR, they all seem to be 6’6”,very smart, very polite, and armed to the teeth. Is there an international incident at the border?

A very tall Sikh Army officer comes up to me and asked me for my ID and Passport, which I produce in a milli second with a nervous smile and a dry throat. “Thank you Sir, please follow me”. Which I did, if he had said “Jump” I would have asked “How high”. I followed him through three further checkpoints and into an amazing scene. Rows of tiered seats with hundreds of enthusiastic, cheering, chanting and flag waving Indians of all ages. The border crossing area had a huge Indian Gate at one end, and a huge Pakistan Gate at the other, and half way down this 200m area were two sets of manned gates. I was escorted through by an army officer into an area only 50m from the actual border crossing, it had a large sign...VIP Area ! Sir here is your seat. He saluted me and smartly left. This was a surreal and thought provoking moment.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and immediately had a multiple birth! I turned slowly around and was met by the smile of a lovely Indian girl of about 16 years old. “Hello, how are you”, I told her I was fine, with much relief. We engaged in a great conversation about me, where I was from, what I was doing etc. I soon was surrounded by the rest of her family. We I was a VIP at the Wagha Border Crossing.

Then it all kicked off ! First there were pairs of young teenage girls running the 50m with a giant Indian flag each, straight at the Pakistan Border Gates, with the hundreds of seated Indians cheering and chanting. Well two initial observations, first, do these flag waving teenage girls know what they are doing, and any potential risks?

Then second, you add several hundred cheering, chanting, shouting Indians to this scene. Are they seriously trying to wind up the Pakistan Army and supporters just 50m away through these border gates? It then steps up several gears, and I’m thinking that there is going to be a border incident in a moment. Stage right, a unit of the elite Indian Army BCR step smartly out onto the parade area, to the massive cheers of the crowd, a bit like an FA Cup Final cheer ! These tall soldiers look like they mean business. The music is beating out, then one of the units let out a chilling war cry, and two elite troopers march aggressively towards the Pakistan Border with some fancy steps and moves designed to put fear into the opposing team, the adrenaline is pumping from these guys, who then stop, out stare and come to a “I’m holding my ground, not moving halt”.

The rest of this elite unit detachment take it in turns to “attack” the border gates with menacing drill routines that are intended to send the opposition shuttling back over the Khyber Pass. Now over the border, things are bubbling, they are not so well supported. The opposing team now responds, after taking all this patiently on the chin. They respond with similar drills towards the border gate, but they are met with the chanting jeering calls from my side, which I cannot repeat, let alone understand. This goes on for half an hour, then the unbelievable happens, the Indian BCU Elite send out two of the most stunningly beautiful 6’ female troopers to “attack the gate”, well the home crowd went mental.

This attack, counter attack has been going on now for an hour, and thank God no blood spilt. Then suddenly the two inner border gates are opened! Has someone seriously lost their marbles? For the next half an hour or so we watch open “attack, counter attack” with even more impressive marching drill combinations going on between each of the opposing “teams”. This ceremony reaches a civilised finale with both “teams” seemingly respecting each other, followed by a simultaneous flag lowering, salutes and dignified stand down. Then both sets of “fans” move away quietly home. I think India had a comprehensive “win”.

This is surely one of the most amazing sights I’ve witnessed in my life. Would it not be great if countries around the world could settle any differences they have, by doing some fancy drills and footwork. Next, the drive back to Amritsar and the Golden Temple and the Pool of the Nectar of Immortality. I arrive back in Amritsar at the gate to the spiritual centre of the Sikh religion, the Golden Temple. It is the place that every Sikh tries to visit during their life, others make it an annual pilgrimage. I feel immensely privileged to visit this holiest of Sikh temples...so to the Pool of Immortality !!!

I walked through the main gate were I removed my sandals, washed my feet and covered my head with an orange cloth. I then walked through the inner gate and was met by the stunning sight of the Golden Temple, the Pool of Immortality, the white marble walkway and buildings around the Golden Temple...it was simply a stunning sight. Walking through into the temple compound, my immediate impression was that I had found a haven of peace and beauty. There was very special atmosphere of calm and tranquillity. I had to sit down on the white marble steps at the side of the Pool of Nectar, put my feet into the water, and await immortality !

Pilgrims and visitors walked around the temple in silence, stopping at shrines to pray and meditate, bath in the pool, walking along the causeway leading into the Golden Temple in the middle of the pool. The Golden Temple was built in 1581 as a Gurdwara, a place of assembly and worship for Sikhs. "Gurdwara" means 'the residence of the Guru' or 'the door that leads to the Guru'. A Guru is a teacher, guide, expert or master of knowledge. One who takes you from darkness towards light and enlightenment...I think I'll sit here a while longer.

I then walked along the white marble Parikrama,"the path surrounding the shrine", to the Couru Ram Das Sarcu, the community kitchen, that feeds thousands of people a day...for free ! I sat down on the floor with hundreds of Sikhs, to eat a simple evening meal. People are very friendly and welcoming, "Where are you from ?", "Where have you been?", " Where are you going next?"

I then walk out on to the Parikrama, and sit down on the steps of the tank, looking at the Golden Temple across the Pool of the Nectar of Immortality,reflecting on my day. I have experienced so much on my journey through India, and its only Day...and I've found immortality, peace and karma...Tomorrow I take the road north to the Himachel Pradesh, the "home of the eternal snow" and the Himalaya, with confidence, now that I've achieved immortality !

Posted by Mike Casey 05:37 Archived in India Comments (0)

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