This is the 3rd and last part of my 8 month journey in India which started in Delhi and extended to Rajhastan in the northwest, Goa in the southwest, Rishikesh in the northeast and finally to the Himalayas (Himachal Pradesh) in the north.
From Goa up to the Himalayas
In order to skip a ~40 hour train ride from Goa to Delhi, we came up with the idea to fly to Delhi and ship our bike ahead of us on a truck. After buying one-way plane tickets from Goa to Delhi for $60 usd/each, we called Gati, the shipping company our friends recommended as the most reliable way to transport things all around India.
The process was suspiciously easy and our bike was picked up and loaded onto a truck in the middle of the street in Palolim. Despite the fact that our bike arrived with a 2 day delay with a broken front guard and stolen toolbox, we were happy to pick it up from the Gati warehouse in Delhi and drive to our next destination, Rishikesh without wasting any more time in Delhi. We wanted to visit Rishikesh once again for good Iyengar yoga classes with Ashish Sharma and Usha Devi, meet some of our friends, and go to Mooji’s infamous satsangs that attract thousands of followers every year in Rishikesh during the International yoga festival in March. You can find my review about Rishikesh in my previous post here.
After a beautiful and enlightening month in Rishikesh, we packed to move to our next destination Kasol. Since the road was too long to ride on a bike from Rishikesh to Kasol, we made a one-night stop in the ultra modern city Chandigarh situated in Punjab, the state of Sikhs.
Rishikesh to Chandigarh
211 km completed in 5.5 hours.
We stayed at Oyo Rooms/Supreme Hotel for 1450 rs/night. Everything was basic and fit our needs for one night but keep in mind the hotels are much more expensive in this modern city. Also when you make a reservation through OYO Rooms, make sure you confirm the hotel is open to tourists (some have permission issues).
We found Chandigarh pretty developed and modern in a way that it made me feel like we were in an American city, with its tree lined 3-lane roads planned in grid style, chic villas, and strip malls on the sides of main streets.
We spent our only afternoon at Elante Mall that was nicely air-conditioned (a huge plus) and housed luxury brands, cafes, a beer house, Harley Davidson and Triumph (high end motorbike) stores. Later I found out that Chandigarh was the favorite retirement place of rich Indians, ex army heads, politicians, as well as the Sikhs who are known to bring their wealth with them.
And we made it to The HIMALAYAS, home of Gods!
The Hindu people consider the Himalayas as a sacred place and believe it to be the dwelling place of Gods. Also many saints regard the Himalayas as the land of holy practices where perform the penance and worship the Lord. That’s why lots of beautiful monasteries and temples found their place in this region.
Chandigarh to Kasol
292 km completed in 8.5 hours.
Our morning happiness came from spotting a Café Coffee Day we stopped at about 30 minutes out of Chandigarh for our daily dose of caffeine to get us through the ride.
Later on, we stopped at Nandan Restaurant in Nauni, Bilaspur for a beautiful view and pretty good thali, traditional Indian mix dish. Needless to mention, chai shops were available all throughout the road to service the travelers in their cars, trucks and motorbikes.
The long road was mostly uphill as we drove up to the Himalayas and was in a rough condition mainly consisting of dirt roads that became one lane in some parts. When we got closer to Kasol, we stopped several times because of cars backing up to let the buses pass as the roads were so narrow to allow only one car at a time. It is also common to hear terrifying van rides up the Himalayas so close to the edge of the cliffs that would scare the life out of people.
I also need to mention the dust and exhaust gas we were exposed to during this trip that made me worried despite my protected helmet and a mask I was wearing. Towards the end of the ride, the amazing view of the valley and mountains made me forget the pollution. But I got reminded of that with the wind of toxic gas and dust brushing my face during our frequent rides between the Himalayan villages. So if you take this trip on a motorbike like us, you should remember to cover yourself from head to toe.
Kasol (aka mini Israel) is a tiny mountain town in the Parvati Valley that owes its popularity among foreigners and Indian tourists mostly to its quality ganja that’s grown by locals and openly smoked by everyone, everywhere. It’s also a summertime venue for trance parties transplanted from Goa.
You can find shops that sell souvenirs, handicrafts, clothing and lots of restaurants/cafes serving international food.
We stayed at a guesthouse called Teji’s located right by the river for 800 rs/night ($12).
Besides its serene location, the hot spring located in our front yard made this guest house one of my favorites!
In the beginning of April, the spring had started to spring and the apple trees were blossoming slowly. But when the sun wasn’t directly shining above us, it was freezing (10 C during day and -1 to -5 at nights). While there, for a beautiful 3.5km stroll, we crossed the footbridge over the Parvati River and walked downstream to Chalal and Katagla villages.
Kasol to Manali
We drove from Kasol to Manali in 2 hours through Bunthar and stayed in Old Manali for 800 rs ($12) at Veer Guest House.
Manali is a hip town, which is also known as the northern version of Goa as most shops and restaurants have Goa and Manali locations depending on the season.
All kinds of adventure sports from rafting to paragliding, mountaineering to skiing are the main attractions.
We were in Manali in the beginning of spring (mid-April) and the temperature was around 10-15 C during day and -1 during night but it got warmer quickly towards the end of April.
We handled the cold with the second hand and North Fake (North Face knock offs) products we bought at the Manali market where a large variety of mountaineering products were available at cheap prices.
If you are planning to visit Manali, keep in mind that the season starts end of April and stretches till October. You can find lots of hotels and guesthouses for every budget.
Some of my favorite places in Old Manali:
- Sunshine Café (best lasagna I had in India!) and good Thai as well
- People Café- for good salads, especially seafood salad
- Born Free – café, Vietnamese restaurant and co-working space
Do not leave Old Manali without walking to Monkey Temple and the surrounding area where you see authentic Indian lifestyle
Bike rides around Manali we took:
- Vashist- slightly quieter and more compact version of Old Manali and a popular travellers’ hang-out that’s 2 km away from Old Manali. Indian tourists mostly come to bathe in the hot springs and tour the temples, while foreign travellers largely come for the cheap accommodation, chilled atmosphere and charas.
- Ski resort ride towards Solang Valley
- Road to Nagar, stop at Himalayan trout fish farm where you can eat farm raised trout and spot a St. Bernard, ducks, rabbits, parrots, eccentric birds and turkeys in one picture.
Tosh is a remote mountain village, which is 1 hour bike ride away from Kasol but you can also choose to hire a 4×4 that cost 900 rs or take the local bus till Barshani and walk or taxi it.
We entered to this little village by passing a little wooden bridge and hiked to our guesthouse. We stayed at Shiva Moon Guesthouse for 500 rs/night. We got a top floor corner room with lots of windows showing amazing view of the mountains from our bed and our large balcony.
Since tourism is a new factor in Tosh, everything is still raw, the houses are mostly made of wood and have slate roofs; there are also a few modern houses with tar roofs that are coming up.
There are a few restaurants that belong to the guesthouses and they are where everyone is hanging out all day. The inhabitants of this tiny village are mostly farmers, most people cultivate apples and hash (charas). This is a main source of income for the people and it is common for locals to offer it to visitors. I heard in the last couple of years, the police had burnt close to 60% of the crop in this village.
Things you can find here: Animals! (donkeys, cows, horses, dogs, baby sheep, ton of birds…), apple trees that were blooming full power, abundant green mountains, river views, and waterfalls were amazing to be around everyday.
Chillum, house music, big screen lcd tv with movie channels, large selection of food, and lots of laughter. Tosh is another town that attracts a lot of fresh from the army Israeli youth but I met an American couple and a Spanish backpacker while I was there as well.
Hike to Pulgar (from Tosh)
One of the cool things to do while you are visiting Parvati Valley, is hiking to Kiri Ganga. I opted out after hearing it required a 4 hour uphill hike but I later on bumped into many backpackers who were heading out there for the Rainbow Gathering (in summer of 2016).
Manali to Dharamsala
We completed this last leg of the 8 month trip in 7 most difficult hours.
I think this was the most challenging road we had been on during our motorcycle diaries trip in India. Bad, narrow roads that were blocked by buses and trucks that don’t yield no matter what, made me be thankful that this was our last long ride in India.
At the end of 7 hours, we arrived at Bhagsu and checked in to a large room at Sky Pie with a private outdoor space for 800 rs/night ($12).
The beautiful Himalayan city of Dharamsala is the home of the Dalai Lama as well as where the Tibetan Government in exile is located. If you are lucky, you can get a chance to see the Holiness during his lectures if he is in town. His schedule is posted on his website here.
The whole city is built on a mountain so you need to either climb up or walk down to reach to its various areas including McLeod Ganj, Dharamkot and Bhagsu.
Bhagsu and Dharamkot are the hip touristic areas offering various activities and workshops (macramé, yoga, silversmith, painting, shamanic healing, kundalini, yoga, etc..), and full with tattoo studios, cafes, restaurants and boutiques servicing international backpackers. I am gladly using all the macrame techniques I learnt while I was in India to create cool anklets and necklaces 🙂
The reason why we came to Dharamsala was to attend an intensive iyengar yoga retreat with Alex, one of my favorite teachers whom we studied with in Arambol, Goa earlier in the year.
Some attractions in Dharamsala:
Baghsu Waterfall where you can see monks refreshing in the river, talking on their cellphones and taking selfies as well as local guys during the hot summer days
A beautiful center for Peace, Happiness and Bliss. It is situated in the heart of a forest where you can take a 10 day intro to Buddhism course that is offered a couple of times a month.
If you’re not enrolled in a course, there are daily free/donation meditation classes and movies a couple times a week as well as a nice library.
- Tibet Kitchen- Best authentic Tibetan food in McLeod Ganj
- Unity Pizza in Bhagsu – very good omelettes and pizza. Also try the unity bistro salad
- Pachamama – organic vegan food and healthy shakes
- Lung Ta – Japanese restaurant in McLeod with inexpensive yummy food and quick service despite its popularity. Don’t miss the sushi special dinners offered twice weekly!
- Cafe Ri- Korean food (behind Green Hotel) – yummy Korean food selection and sushi + yummy desserts and teas
- Out of the box – try organic thali and noodle salad with green veggies
- Lhasa Tibet kitchen in Bhagsu – authentic Tibetan food + international selection
- Common ground in McLeod right above the parking lot for authentic Chinese and Tibetan food in a serene environment away from the madness of the busy market a few steps away
At the end of 8 long, challenging, amazing, sad, happy, educative, loving and compassionate months together in the back of a motorbike on the roads of India, I had to say goodbye to my soulmate in Dharamsala.
While it is really hard to be back to the States after a year spent in Asia, I am remembering and understanding better all the lessons Mother India has thought me. The most important of all is patience and acceptance. I am trying to let go of the control addiction and bring mindfulness to all my actions.
So long Mother India. Thank you for your generosity.