The Amritsar-Manali bus was 16 hours long and left at 2pm – they actually swapped driver once along the way which was nice to see (the 12 hour Dharamsala bus had only a single driver..). The first stretch of road from crazy hot Amritsar was actually dual-lane, though that’s no guarantee here for avoiding oncoming traffic. At one point, with two lanes each direction separated by a grass barrier, there were two buses coming our way against traffic – blocking both lanes with one overtaking the other… Our driver, who looked like an Indian Che Guevara dressed in green and everything, used the horn so much during the first 10 hours that I don’t expect my full hearing back for 2-3 days. This was one of the regular state-run buses that we just narrowly avoided on the last trip.
The road got progresively worse as it started to climb up into the mountain towards Manali in the night, though I did manage to scrape out some sleep (I can sleep in even the most appaling conditions..something I still need to thank the Swedish army for). Once I woke up I realized I had been much better off sleeping – it was the kind of road that makes you quickly forget the “don’t hold hands in public”-rule, and not in a good way. It was dark, but we could see the lights from the villages hundreds of meters below us in the valley, the road a narrow strip between the vertical wall to the left and the sheer drop to the right. At least the road was unpaved and in pretty bad condition! (..meaning the driver had to go at least slightly slower than he otherwise would). Unfortunately he seemed to know the road well though, at least judging by the speed that was still about 20 times faster than I would have driven. At one point he actually left the bus and went running to chase away a Himalayan rabbit that had been stuck in the headlight for about half a kilometer (there was simply no left or right for it to run to). Great that he was getting some fresh air I thought…and also liked the fact that he showed some indication for wanting to preserve precious life, seeing that ours like that of the rabbit was firmly in his hands.. For the last couple hours there was hardly anyone else left on the bus at all, and at one point the driver stopped to snooze for half an hour.
We arrived to Manali in the rain and the dark (when it had started to rain the driver and the ticket-guy had spent several seconds trying to get the wipers working before giving up and continuing half-blind..) – it was 5am and the driver had shaved a good hour of the trip, even when counting his sleep-break.
As we didn’t fancy moving again for a while we decided to spend some time in Manali..
Manali at 2000 meters altitude is a charming little town, in an area the guidebook describes as based on apple and cannabis cultivation. Most of the tourists seem to be here to support the latter – in every restaurant people are sitting around smoking charas, chillumns and hookahs. It’s also a honey-moon spot for Indian tourists, as well as a center for trekking and rafting and other adventure sports. I however found a completely different activity altogether to keep me occupied for a few days…
Amoebic dysentery. I should probably have adopted the diet of most other foreign visitors here – “only that which can be inhaled”. I was in bed for a couple days but Edel got me some medicine in town that sorted me out fairly quickly. Think I was lucky to escape a full three weeks actually, since poor Edel had caught the bacterial version already once in the first week back in Dharamsala. Once I felt better we booked a jeep safari to the Spiti valley for 9 days, and then tickets to fly to Andaman after – now have plans for almost a month ahead!
Before leaving Manali we did some walks to the more traditional upper Manali village, and in a little forest reserve by lower Manali town. There we chanced upon a small animal sanctuary with some Himalayan pheasants and other birds. The owner came over to talk to us and walked us over to a small enclosure with an adorable Himalayan black bear that was busy trying to put it’s head inside an old torn-up basket ball. The bear was named Baloo and he had arrived very young after its mother had died – the owner told us that when it arrived first and was smaller it had used to follow him around freely in the park all the time..he seemed like such a sweet person – could really see him just stroll around in the park all day long with his Baloo bear. Baloo was bigger now so had to be in a cage, though the enclosure was designed for pheasants so he still escaped every now and then and went climbing the trees in the park.