Travels in the Indian Himalaya

(including a week of trekking)

August 1995 - A Travelogue by ©Erik Futtrup

Summary

This travelogue is about my travels in the Indian Himalaya. We started in Delhi, then through Jammu in Kashmir, flew into Ladakh - the dry part bordering to Tibet where we went white water rafting, a jeep tour to the world's highest motorable pass, and by bus through the mountains to Manali. Here we were on a 7 day trek (with 4 horses, a guide cum cook and a horseman) up the Chandratal Valley. We also had time for a couple of days in Delhi and Agra (Taj Mahal) at the end.

Exchange rate: 1$=31rs, 1$=5.50DKK

The books we used (mentioned as the TSK) are the Lonely Planet books: India - A Travel Survival Kit', `Trekking in the Indian Himalaya', and `Kashmir, Zanskar & Ladakh - A Travel Survival Kit'

Friday, 11 August - Aarhus-Delhi

Up 5.30 a.m. and almost missed the local bus to the ferry, but made it with a quick run... Met my travel companion Lars at the quay. Lars is studying Chemistry at the university and working as a computer programmer half time. He is 25. I am working as a system developer in a small company. I'm 27. I have traveled a lot, especially in south east Asia, but it was the first time Lars traveled outside Europe.

We took the flying boat which connected with a train on Zealand to Copenhagen where we arrived at 9.45. Got to the airport at 10.15. The plane was delayed half an hour, so had good time to buy Piratos (strong liquorice). The plane was almost full in advance with Swedes and immigrants who were getting off in Stockholm (Sweden). It was a bit difficult for people to find a free seat, but after Stockholm it was more organized. We were starving though, and didn't get anything to eat until after Stockholm. We only had 3 hours waiting time in Moscow. I have just learned that Aeroflot cannot fly over Afghanistan at night any more, so people for Delhi and Bangkok will have to stay all night at the airport! The cold stone building was just as gloomy and boring as last time I was here. Lars thought it was `real Russian' as you would expect. Well, it is. We continued on at 10 p.m. Got a bit to eat, and we sat in the front end of the quite big (and almost full plane). Glad we didn't sit at the back. It tried the toilets there, and it was real `shaky'! Got a couple of hours of sleep. We had a stop over in Tashkent (Uzbekistan). Arrived in New Delhi at 7.30 a.m., local time.

Saturday 12 August - Delhi

All right, now we were here! No particular problems in the airport. We changed 600$ at a rate of 30.95rs per $. It was an frightful lot of notes - and it was 100rs notes. We took at prepaid taxi for 130rs to a guest house. Delhi is very widely spread out, so it takes quite some time to get from place to place. Well, the driver could not find the place we wanted to go to. We had much too much clothes on, and it was 34 degrees in the car (and also outside :-) Well, we then wanted to get to the Pahar ganj area where most accommodation is to be found, but got off at a wrong place (probably because the driver wanted us to get in to the hotel where he had dropped us). The driver wanted to have more than the 130rs. We gave him 20 extra. We were a bit confused; we could not find our location on our map and were getting a bit frustrated, and it felt hotter and hotter. After wandering a bit, a helpful guy asked where we were going. We mentioned a hotel. "This way, right there, on a bit..., left, .. 5 minutes". It turned out to be a parallel street to where we were - not so strange we could not find any of the places on the map. The map of Pahar ganj in the TSK is quite bad. Got an expensive double with air-cooling (thought it to be A/C to start with) for 350rs! The name of the hotel is Star View. I thought it was quite expensive, but we needed a bath desperately, and the general price level for accommodation in Delhi was somewhat higher than the prices in the TSK. Got our bath, and an hours sleep - then we were ready for Delhi! We had a day here in the capital before going on into the mountains. I had tried to go to a local travel agent around the corner to have our Delhi-Jammu- Leh tickets confirmed without luck. So we decided to go to the Indian Airline office in the Connaught area. The Pahar ganj area is really full of tourists (backpackers) and the accompanying touts and sellers. Lars bought a pair of sandals - it took 14 days before he would tell me how much he had paid for them. Well, I think the seller must have been satisfied :-)

Walked and inhaled the busy atmosphere, the warmth. Bought bananas (10 pieces for 15rs) and tried to get to Connaught. Took at wrong turn, so we took a 3W (a three-wheeler) to the PTI building. Lars' first time in a 3W. Had our tickets fixed with stamps and everything, so I think it was good we did it. Took a 3W to the Red Fort (35rs), one of the biggest attractions in Delhi. It was impressing... but closed until after independence day... The president always addresses the people from there. After a cola in a small shop, we decided to go to the nearby Jami Masjid Mosque build by Shah Jahan (builder of the Taj Mahal) in 1644-1658. We were quite impressed. Didn't seem to be used so much by Muslims (I could be wrong), but there were many tourists. You can crawl up into one of the minarets, and it might be the highlight of the day. The height of most of Delhi is 3 to 4 stories, so from here in the windy tower, one could see all of the widespread town (cost 6rs and 10rs for a camera). Also a good view of the fort. Good that not too many tourists were up here; there might be room for perhaps 10-15 people. The staircase was quite claustrophobic.

Got a 3W back. We thought we had negotiated a price of 15rs, so we had a small quarrel at the New Delhi Railway station where we got off, but we had to pay 50... When we got back to our hotel, Lars looked for restaurants in our book, and we decided to go to Connaught with a 3W (30rs) to get dinner at the El Arab. We were the only people for an hour for the very big buffet (120rs). The musakka was good. A 3W back (40rs - the driver had starving children) and early to bed. Another bath was necessary (it is so very humid).

Sunday 13 August - Jammu

Up at 7. Waited a while for our breakfast. We messed up and ordered 2 Jam-toast each and a pot of coffee - and got 2x6 slices each and two pots of coffee.

Caught a 3W for the airport (80rs). Had 3 breakdowns along the way - our driver had to clean the sparking plug a couple of times, but had to change it with his spare the third... In the airport things went fast, and we were soon off in a 737 for Jammu, a war-torn town close to the Pakistani border. Bombs were blown in the town about 3 weeks earlier and several people had been killed. The town has a big Hindu population (it has some temples as well) even though it is in a Muslim area - and there are some Christians as well. Paid an overprice of 60rs for a 3W to the Tourist-Information center. Got a room for 200rs. We walked to the nearby temple. It was an old Hindu temple with a lot of police control. It was not so impressing as the temples in the south of India, but OK. Walked to the river and through the bazaar. A lot of funny things, e.g. a parrot which could answer your questions. You asked your question, and the parrot would leave its cage and pick up an answer card from the table for you. Got a couple of Chais (a Chai is a kind of milk-tea you get everywhere) for 2rs/each. Then we walked to a church we could see from the river. It was catholic and we talked to a couple of boys there. One of them, Inderias, told us about the Christians in the area. They live en enclaves in the city, so all people in this neighbourhood were Christians. The church was all empty except the altar - no chairs. We also met the priest who were from Kerala - a southern state where there are many Christians. He also told us that there are Christians in Leh (Morovian church) and that the Catholics had just send missionaries there. For the record, Lars and I are Protestant Christians.

Interesting, we had seen no white people at all here in Jammu! It felt quite safe to be here though.

We had a couple of good mangoes at our balcony, and have dinner at the musty nearby Cosmo. No people (except the waiters) here, and no A/C anymore. It seems to be a long time since the glory days of this place. The waiter could not understand why Lars would want plain rice with his course, so he kept asking if Lars would not want some curries... The food is OK but a bit overpriced. The police station opposite the restaurant has a big poster with possible things which can cause bomb blasts - like hand grenade with watches on top - and they can be hidden in scooters and radios.

At our hotel we had a pot of coffee at the balcony. Great. A tropical night with all the exotic sounds - cicadas, puri drums from the temple, the talk from below - mixed with 20 kinds of honking and horsebells.

Monday, 14 August - Jammu-Leh

Took a picture of the amusing bomb-sign at the police station. There was also a price list for taxis - 30rs for the airport. We tried that, but the 3W-drivers would not agree to this. One had a plastic card with a price of 45rs. Well, OK with us. In the airport we got through the most thorough security check I have ever experienced. Here we met 4 other travelers going to Leh. One was not allowed to take any hand luggage with you - I found out when I asked for tags for them. Well, everything was checked; the boots, my plastic water bottle, but worst of all: I was allowed to take my camera with me, but they found out it had batteries! I had to go outside to my backpack and put them in (together with my very small pocket-knife). The passport was checked for a long time too. On the way to the plane, the tags on the water bottle, camera, etc. was checked twice for stamps and signatures, and I was body searched twice. A traveler from Switzerland told us it was Pakistan's Independence day. Well, I guess they took extra care today.

Well, of course the flight was great; both Lars and I made a run and got a window seat. The Himalaya range was indescribable - and tough luck, I had no batteries in my camera :-( Well, I have it stored somewhere in my head... You fly along the Himalaya range - a long range with white tops all the way. In the Leh valley we circled down a few rounds before landing. It was kind of strange landscape. Along the rivers it is very vigorous and fertile, but everywhere else... like a moon landscape. It was like being in Arabia when we landed. Not a cloud in sight. We were told it had been raining for a whole week - very unusual up here - so we were lucky. We wanted to share a taxi with 4 other travelers, but they would not pay 80rs for a taxi (we found out later that the official rate was 70), and the bus which came a bit later (the same which had transported us from the plane to the terminal) cost 10rs/person. Sometimes budget travelers are on a too low budget. We had to wait half an hour to save 3 1/3rs :-( Got at room at the Christian owned Bimla guest house. We saw rooms from 450-300rs. When we hesitated quite some time (our guide book said something around 100rs), we got the cheapest one for 250rs. It seems that all prices up here have risen, and we were lucky to come so early; it was soon full, and it seemed to be most days. The town was filled with travellers; no one seemed to care about the troubles in the Kashmiri area.

We went around a few of the tourist-operators and asked for a Rafting trip (see later), and the prices were around 700rs/person for the Leh-Nimmu trip (4 hours). We found out later from other people in our company that the one company which runs the trip charges 625rs - and all other are just agencies which take an extra commission. After lunch we booked for tomorrow's trip. By the way, it was completely impossible to find bottled water. Not even sodas. We had to take the running water and use our purification pills.

We decided to go for an afternoon walk. We went north through the town towards Khardung - we thought it was the way towards the palace/Leh gompa. We saw many beautifully clad women; it is so strange, even though there are many tourists here, the local people go on living as they have done for centuries. Of course there are opening businesses for the tourism, but it seems just to be an addition. Well, we did get to the gompa overlooking the town - but through a long detour. The view is great - one can see the whole town, and overlook the valley coming from the Khardung La, and going down to the Indus river. It was hot, and we both had a bit of a headache - was it the altitude? no coffee today? the food? Well, we climbed down to the town and entered around the polo-field. You can start from there if you don't want to take the detour. We walked back and went to bed.

Tuesday, 15 August - Leh (Rafting the Indus)

We had our breakfast in the German Bakery. It was OK, but the bread tasted weird compared to what we are used to in Denmark. It was also very expensive.

At 8.50 a.m. we were ready for "White Water Rafting" on the Indus river. Our team was two Germans, 3 British and the two of us. We drove in two jeeps to the river (it is about 20 minutes from Leh). The boat was pumped - and repaired (!) while we don our life jackets and helmet. We looked cute. Our leader was Ming - a 17 year old Nepalese who comes here to raft 2 months a year - every day. The rest of the year, he rafts in Nepal. He had a lot of stories about things going wrong on rafting trips :-) After we were told what to do if we fell overboard (he would throw out a floating bag with a line) we were shown how to paddle - he would say when we should paddle, like: full forward, fast forward and back paddle. We left around 10.30 a.m. For some time we did not really do anything. The river was very wide, and we just drifted down slowly. Ming sat in the back with two oars. We each had a paddle. We sat on the side of the rubber dinghy, one leg on the side, and one stuck under the side. There was a girl who sat in the middle front (just holding on). I was in front with a British guy. He was laughing in the start of how easy it was and with every small ripple he would joke: "Ugh! look, white water! Ha, ha, ha!". He was the first man overboard. It soon turned out that the front was where the most fun was. The river narrowed and the flowing got faster; we started to get wet in the turns and whirlpools, and the `full forward' commands started to come more often. In a sharp turn under a rock, a swift current with many big ups and down, the British guy went overboard and down under the raft. We saw him come up at the other side, and got a hold of him. We drifted downstream, but got him inside. He looked quite shocked and we heard no more `Ugh, look white water' that day. Now it was great fun. It is a long time since I have had so much fun. It was really a sport to paddle fast through the big splashes - and still holding on with your one leg inside the boat! Lars was the next one in. In a triple dive, he was off, but he got a hold of the string going all round the boat. He said he had his head under water, but he did not loose his glasses though - only one of the expensive sandals he had bought recently :-) We got him inside. The water was pretty cold, but the sun was shining from a clear, blue sky, so we dried quickly. The scenery was spectacular in the start and in the end - most of the time we were in narrow valleys, and could not see the mountains around. No vegetation. It lasted about 3 hours. We took a couple of pictures with a one-time waterproof camera. But I tell you, it is almost impossible to take pictures when the going gets tough! When we joined the Zanskar river (just before our destination, Nimmu), the water got ice cold! We met another raft which the British guys started to throw water on. Stupid move - they had two buckets, so we were soon all wet with ice cold water. Well, it was over for today anyway. We had lunch here (rice, potatoes and vegetables) before driving back in the jeeps who had come here. We stopped for a chai on the way. I thought is was one of the greatest experiences I have had. Lars was a bit more reserved. If you want to know more about what it is like, go and see the movie called `Wild River' (staring Meryl Streep) - it was like that (except the last stretch in the movie :-)

When we got back, we booked the 2 days trip with bus to Manali for Friday - 700rs with Himachal Tours, since they were recommended by TSK and the British guys said the same.

We wrote a few postcards at our nice guest house. I went into town to inhale some more of the great atmosphere. Bought a couple of calcite stones - when you look through them, you see all lines double (they have a `double refraction'). Most of the things you could find here was different sorts of jewelry - and it was the same you could get in all 100 shops. Maybe it is factory made somewhere. A good thing is that you are not forced into places so often (as say in Agra) - not until you ask for the price. There was a good atmosphere. In the main street there were 40-50 women along the street, selling cauliflower and apricots. All dressed like in a movie of the old days - but this was real of course. It looks so genuine. Many of the women are also natural beautiful - at least compared to most Indian women. They have Tibetan features. We had a real feast at the Nepali restaurant. It was a bit dingy and was in a dark back alley. Lars ordered 3 main courses and a desert - he was not quite familiar with the dishes yet. The food tasted great, and it was VERY cheap - the tomato soup index was only 8rs! On our trip we always looked at the menu- card to see how much a tomato soup would cost, and it was a good indicator of how expensive the restaurant was. We saw prices ranging from 8rs to 35rs. Well, we would soon regret...

Wednesday, 16 August - Leh

In the night, I was up 5 times to throw up. Lars was up first, but only twice. The whole day we were feeling so bad that we could hardly lift a finger. We were down at the terrace for 10 minutes. The only thing I could do today was walk the few hundred meters up to the post office to mail our postcards. Besides that, the headache was too severe. We did not eat anything. I did manage to write a note, if anybody were interesting in sharing a jeep up to Khardung La - the highest motorable pass in the world - the next day. An Italian couple came and said they were interested and we agreed to meet the next day. Well, days like this happens if you are not careful. It is the first time on my travels it has been this bad though...

Thursday, 17 August - Leh - Khardung La (5605m)

We were still not quite OK, but good enough to get going. We met with the Italian couple at the German Bakery and talked. They were Guido and Luciana. He had been traveling a lot so we had a lot to talk about. He was in a mountaineering club and wanted very much to go to the pass. He had been on Mt.Blanc 3 times, and the last time he had been skiing down from there. The highest place he had been to, was 6100m in South America.

Khardung La is a pass of 5605m which makes it the highest motorable road in the world. It connects the Indus valley with the Nubra Valley which has just recently been opened for foreigners (I think last year). One still needs a permit, since it is a sensitive area close to occupied Tibet. We tried to get the permit at some kind of office across the polo-field (the taxi- drivers can tell you where it is). We arrived at 9.40 a.m., where only two senior officials had come, and we were told just to wait. We had to search the building for people first. It turned out we had to wait for the woman who issued the permits. She should have come at 10 a.m. At 10.20 there was another man who told us to some, but he could not find the right formula. He said we should go to a certain place to get them, and it would take us an hour. Well, the woman turned up, and found the formulas for us. We did not have an agency (we should have), and we wanted to get going. The man could fix it for 50rs/each. So if we would get hold of the jeep, he would do the paperwork... It was not hard to figure out who would get the 200rs... We got the jeep at the taxi- stand and our gear and were soon back for the permit and our passports. No problem.

Half of the trip (30km?) was paved, and it was S-driving most of the way up. We came to a checkpoint halfway. It took 10 minutes to check our passports and permits. From there it was a dirt road. When we reached the pass, the weather was fine with few clouds, and we were only wearing T-shirts. We soon had to wear our jackets when the clouds started gathering. We were greeted by the people up there, and were invited for free chai. I thought that was neat in 5605m! Got a few good pictures, even though it is not the most beautiful pass I have been to - it looks so barren up here. There was a small temple, and thousand of prayer flags. We walked up a bit - only 25m though because it was very tiring, and there is not much oxygen in this height! We were all feeling OK. There was a short hail shower, and we returned. The trip cost 1150rs for the four of us. The jeeps have fixed prices for different destinations. I tried to eat a tomato soup and a bit of curd, but I had to go to the toilet and throw it up again.

Friday 18 August, Leh - Sarchu

We should be at the bus at 5.30 a.m. Two busses were leaving. They both looked a bit battered. Lars was a bit shocked that this was a Super Deluxe Bus. The problem was that our bus was not so strong as the other, so we were soon far behind (and the other only cost 600rs!). We were ¾ full. The drive through the valley in sunrise was beautiful. The sun lit up the snow clad mountain tops. We saw some of the gompas (which we should have seen the day we were ill) while driving - like the big Thikse monastery. We were in the third row, but Lars is quite tall, so he moved to the back so he could have two seats and more room for his legs (and so could I). There was another Scandinavian on the bus. The rest were French, British and a couple of Spaniards. Our first stop was in Upshi at 8 a.m. for breakfast and passport control. The town was fully minded for the tourist busses coming through, so you could get fast chai and whatever you needed. After that it went straight on for a long while before the trip up a valley and the S-climbs to Tanglang La - the second highest pass in the world at 5328m. We were crawling up - our bus was really bad going up! At the top there was free Chai at the only house - except a small temple and another world record: the most disgusting toilets. My stomach is getting upset just by the thought... After the pass, you drive most afternoon through a long and big plain in 4km altitude. Not very interesting. It is paved now, but you are still bumping across it. After lunch (at about 3 p.m.) you get to the river (at Pang camp), and then you start climbing up along the river to the Lachung La (at 5065m). Now it was getting really spectacular. Totally different scenery. If you have been to the States, it is a combination of Arches, Zion, Canyon Lands and Bryce - all in just one place :-) Unfortunately I was feeling worse. After the pass, you drive down, down, and further down to Sarchu, which seemed to be just a couple of houses. It was dark, and we were looking for the light on the mountain. The time was 8 p.m., and we had been driving for 14 hours. People were confused when they got out. Most of us wanted to have our passport-stuff done tonight. It was very windy - and cold. We were too tired and sick to do anything, so we took one of the tents (this was a tent-camp) for 220rs!! Outrageous, but at least it had light and two beds. A tin of cod roe (which we had brought) did good. It was the first meal I have had for days. We slept OK. Sarchu is in 4300m, so it was good we had had a few days to acclimatise.

Saturday, 19 August - Sarchu-Manali

It turned out to be a much better day, today - very beautiful and impressing. From the camp, it was not so far to the Baralache La pass (4885m). The sunrise was red and we had good views of high snow clad mountains. Breakfast in a small tent camp close to the pass. The pass is three-way, so we could see where we would come up to on our trekking trip. We came from north, going west - the third way is down the Chandratal valley to the south. We were just gazing out the window all the way down to Keylong and further around the valley. It was the first time we could see the scale of the mountains because the valley is in 3km, and some of the mountains are around 6km. We could also see a lot of glaciers and waterfalls on the way. Lunch at around 3 p.m. in Khoksar before the ascent to the last pass - Rohtang pass in 3955m. Again check of passport and visa. A long and hard drive up to the top - it took about 2-3 hours, and we had to get out a couple of times. At one point the bus was so close to the edge so a truck could pass - many of the travellers were so scared that they got out - but I don't think that the driver was risking his bus... From the pass we descent into the clouds and for half an hour we can see nothing at all. Funny, these mountains seems to be the limit of the range of the monsoon. At least these clouds could not cross, and north of here we had not had any rain. When we get to see again, a new world meets us. Between the clouds, we see lots of pines and flowers everywhere! We go down 2 km to 2000m.

We arrive in Manali at about 8 p.m. - we were told we would be there at 5! We are met by civilisation, other human beings, and hundreds (no kidding!) of hotels. The feeling was the usual Indian chaos when we arrive, with lots of touts and 3Ws. We walk towards the street with middle-range hotels. It was a bit difficult to find, but we were in a good mood, and not especially tired. Many touts had tried to get us to their hotel during the walk, but we just took a pick of the bunch, "Skylark", and even though it doesn't look especially good, we take it for 100rs. It turns out it is full of long worms (!) at the toilet, and they are also crawling into the room on the carpet! Yak. I go for a walk to find something better. "Hotel Hill View" also have rooms for 100rs (prices are off-season prices), and I check the bathroom thoroughly first. We get balcony and hot water. We move, and tell the manager of Skylark that it is OK with us if we get 50rs back. "As you wish", he answers.

We enjoy the evening at one of the many good restaurants in the town.

Sunday, 20 August - Manali

Today we were hoping to find out something about trekking. We have seen a lot of agencies, so there should be possibilities. We knew what we wanted: a 7 day trek up the Chandratal valley up to the Baralache La pass. We wanted to start on the other side of Rohtang pass - this way we save a couple of days crossing the range of mountains dividing the Kulu valley (where Manali is), and the Chandratal valley. Also, there are so many clouds here that we would have no fun climbing to a pass here.

After breakfast and a newspaper! (there are no such things in Leh), we try a few places. First we take the one recommended in TSK, but they wanted 45$/day/person +50$ for starting costs! (that is 1650rs per day!) The other three places have prices for around 700-1200rs/person/day - and no other costs. Think it is a bit expensive at first, but you get 4 horses, a horseman and a `guide cum cook' and full provisioning. Some of the places it also included a helper. The last place, Beas Travels, next to the bus station, was owned by a Tibetan (Kodak - pronounced: Cho-dak) who had two guides working for him, but he told us that one of his guides would not return until Thursday, and it would be too late for us, we wanted to get going Tuesday. First he called one of his Tibetan friends, who agreed to go with us, but his guide returned later this day, so he came with us. Kodak explained the high prices: the horsemen had made a union so a horse which cost 75rs last summer, now cost 150rs (per day). So the horses would cost around 6000rs out of the 9500rs we should pay for 7 days. I don't know if all he said was true, but we were happy to get going already Tuesday.

Now it was afternoon, and we spend the rest of the day on our balcony with fruits, writing and a trip through town, etc. In Manali it is the rainy season in July/August, and there are many small showers all the time, and the clouds are hanging low - so you can't see you are surrounded by high mountains. The electricity disappears often, so a torch is a good thing to bring. Manali is a bit weird. There was a few Indian tourists, but most were westerners. The Indian tourists are very well clad, and the whole family walks around, shops, eat ice cream etc. Supplies are quite cheap here (compared to Ladakh), you can get 1 litter of bottle water for 10rs - and that is below max. retail price!

Monday, 21 August - Manali

After breakfast, we split up; Lars went to the bank to change some money, and I took the post office and tried to get out plane tickets reconfirmed. We (me and my phone operator) tried many times - maybe 50, but did not get through to Aeroflot in Delhi. Lars had to fill out a whole sheet with the serial-numbers of all the notes we wanted to change! (it was 10$ notes) It took quite some time. He also had to pay 25rs for a receipt! We shopped around a bit, and we both bought a west for 125rs. It was raining a bit all afternoon, but we had thought about taking a 3W to see something called Naggar Castle, but Kodak said that "Naggar is nothing", and it may have been to late to go anyway. We met our guide. They were testing the burner for cooking food. We decided to go for a hike along the river, and it turned out to be quite interesting. There were empty hotels miles out of town (south). Amazing that they can fill them in the season; there must come thousands of Indian tourists. Still more were under construction. We passed several fruit plantations - apples mostly. Came to a side river coming down from the Hampta pass. This is where we would have been crossing the range, if we were trekking over.

We talk a bit with a couple from Bombay. They are seasonal workers here, so they were probably out of work for the moment, but they seemed to enjoy a stroll into town.

Trekking in the Chandratal Valley

Tuesday, 22 August - Day 1 - Manali - Gramphu - Chhatru

Up at 3.30 a.m.! The only place in town with a little life was around the bus station. We were told to buy a hat of some kind to keep our head warm when we were high up. It was supposed to prevent altitude sickness. All truck and bus drivers were also covering their heads when crossing the passes. We were waiting a couple of minutes at Kodak's shop and were a bit nervous because we were told that the bus would leave at 4.10 a.m. The two helpers also came, and we had all our gear brought to the local bus. Then we were just the two of us and Indra - our guide. He went to sleep though, since "me and by boss stay up and talk late yesterday" - until 2 a.m. this morning, he told us later. 500m from the top (vertically) of Rohtang Pass the bus stopped for breakfast, and we got our morning Chai (3rs), and we the first opportunity to talk with our guide. He was 22 and had been trekking for 10 years. Had just been on a 3 week trek - Manali- Padum (Zanskar)-Lamayuru. There had been problems in Padum (more of this later). Kodak said that people had been hit, and Indra said something about a strike. We continued on over the pass and got off at the Gramphu village (well, a few houses and a couple of Chai-places). We were going to rendezvous with our horses here. We got breakfast: chai, omelette and chappatti. Indra was a bit nervous about the horses, and looked around. We relaxed and the sun came out, and the waiting was a bit more pleasant. Then Peter came with another local bus - he was going on the same trek as us - the same route that is; he had his own guide, a horseman and two horses. Our horseman and our 4 horses did not turn up until 11.30 a.m. Our two backpacks on one of them, and the kitchen stuff and food on the other 3. We did not really need the fourth one, it was just lightly loaded.

From Gramphu two roads go each way around the valley, one west to Keylong, and one east to Chhatru, 16km away. I had thought the 4 of us would all walk together, but the horseman kind of took care of himself and the horses, and Indra, Lars and I walked in our own pace. It started to rain, but stopped again after a couple of hours. We walked a bit fast, but still had time to enjoy the beautiful valley. We walked the 16km in about 4 hours, with 5-10 minutes break every hour, and a longer lunch break - chappatti with peanut butter. Along the road, many teams of road workers were working different places. In every turn, water came down from above, and we had to do a lot of jumping from stone to stone. The rock-sides were vertical many places, and hundreds of small waterfalls came down every where.

The camp was nicely situated on a plateau above the river, and we were just our and Peter's party. I stayed at the river for some time - I named it `the abyss'. It was chaotic, fast-flowing, wild, and truly fascinating. Full pressure. It was quite narrow here, and many big rocks, and deep holes in the river. We had a good 3 courses dinner - soup, rice and boiled vegetables, fried bananas - and coffee.

Wednesday, 23 August - Day 2 - Chhatru (3360m) - Batal (3960m)

Yesterday, I had suggested to Indra to take a double stage today - 2 x 16km, Chhatru-Chota Dora-Batal. Indra had at first stared at me, but when we said that it would give us a rest day at Chandratal lake, his face lightened up in a big smile. We had breakfast (Chai, chappatis, porridge) and left at 9 a.m. We walked a bit fast; there was a jeep track all the way, but not that good to walk on. Again, a lot of road workers; the weather was fine (sunshine), and the Chhatru-Chota Dara stretch was quite beautiful; still with steep cliff walls.

Chota Dara is a couple of shepherd huts just below the path up to the Sara Umga pass which leads down to the Parrati valley. Big sheep and goat herds passes us every hour. Here we have lunch, and we are quite exhausted. Well, we had to go on even though my leg felt like concrete. We counted down on the 16km... Halfway there was a fantastic view to a 7km mountain to the south which had a glacier coming down all the way from the top to the river. It should be one of the biggest glaciers in the western Himalaya. Well, not so impressing as those I've seen in Pakistan.

We were (almost) dead when we reached Batal - physically - but OK mentally after a glass of Chai in the local shop - the last house we would see on our trip. They even had a couple of chocolate bars which we hoarded. We relaxed, stretched out and talked to Peter. His guide had changed his mind half ways when he had heard that we were going on today - and he had dragged Peter with him. Peter looked even more tired than us. The horses came half an hour later. There was a very strong wind here (Indra said there always was), and it came in jerks and we had to put guy ropes on all 4 poles in our tent - without them, the poles would have snapped in no time (or in the middle of the night). Our tent was a simple 3 person dome tent. Tonight we were tired, and we only had one main dish - spaghetti and vegetables. Peter had a headache (he never have had it at home), and he had never been higher up than 2000m (in Manali). I don't understand why his guide takes him up here in 4000m in just two days, and on to 4270m on the third... It is just too quick to ascent if you haven't acclimatised for some time (as we had in Leh).

Thursday, 24 August - Day 3 - Batal(3960m)-Chandratal Lake(4270m)

The wind had abated during the night and it felt like the legs still were OK. We had been in good condition when we left home, but had had a few days without eating in Leh. We walked a bit slower today, and again it was just beautiful - we almost got a hold in the neck by looking up while walking. A streak came down from the lake, and Indra increased the speed, and it was fairly hard going up to the lake on the winding trail. When we walked around the lake (it is in 4270m), I realised why it is called `Lake of the Moon - Chandratal' - it had the shape of a crescent moon! Maybe 3 or 4 km in circumference. It is in a small valley, but 3-400m above the river, so you can really grasp the surroundings - the whole ranges of snow clad mountains. The sun shined, and we enjoyed lunch and chai outside our tent - and the mountain sun. Peter could not enjoy it as much, but he said he felt better after a pot of chai. He would await tomorrow and see if he would have to turn back. We felt great and could just enjoy.

At sunset, I could move again, and went up to a small ridge above our camp, and what a sight! The whole mountain range was going all along the river. One could see more than 25 snow clad peaks, and the river roared just below in a gorge. Well, had to get back to dinner - soup, rice and dahl, and Indra had make a pudding for us. Indra calls us when `dinner is ready', and we come to the kitchen tent, where he is cooking with his stove (in the middle of the tent), and we sit around. He had a smart pressure cooker for rice. The package was funny; it said things like: `Ideal for newly wed or small family'.

Today's trip: Altitude gained: 480m, Time: 4.5 hours (the book said 6-7 hours)

Friday, 25 August - Day 4 - Chandratal Lake

The clouds quickly disappeared, and the sun was shining bright, so the woollen underwear soon had to be taken off (it is pretty cold here at night). Today was slap-off-day (as we would say in Danish), so there was time to a bit cleaning up, reading, eating, etc. Lars and I walked up the hill, and went all the way to the edge which goes down several hundred meters to the river. It was just indescribable beautiful. We just sat there for and hour and looked and enjoyed. I took 5 pictures, and got a 300° view. They fit beautifully together when I had the pictures developed and enlarged. Walked back and had lunch. I walked around the lake, slowly, so it took an hour. Indra had made french fries. Funny, it is the first time I have been sunbathing in 4270m - it goes fast! Unfortunately there was no running water nearby; usually there is glacier water coming down everywhere. We had to boil the lake water - and it did not taste good. My diarrhoea got thinner, and Lars had it too (see end notes). Walked up the hill to see the sunset at 6.30 p.m., but came a bit too late.

Saturday, 26 August - Day 5 - Chandratal-Likhim Yongma(4320m)

We were up at 6, but did not get going until 8.30 a.m. The book said 12km for today's stage - of which the guides laughed and said 19km. Peter was OK, and was also carrying on. We were fine too, and walked on slowly.

Today we walked most of the time with our horse man (and the horses). Up and down. Even though Likhim Yongma (the name of a side river) only was 50m higher up, we walked 445m up totally today. It was because of all the dried out melting-water canyons coming down all the way, so we would descent and climb all the way up again many times. After 3 hours of walking it started to get real fun. For a long time we walked on a steep cliff side, and it sloped right down to the wild river - great! The path was just wide enough for a foot. What was the most impressing, was the way the horses could manage this! A couple of the nearby mountains were totally purple! It looked a bit weird. Where we walked, the stones were violet or dark green. For lunch we gave a tin of tuna for the new baked corn bread.

The last stretch was over a boulder field - up and down - and finally, after 6 hours and 45m, we reached the side river. It was full of water, and impossible to cross - they are crossed in the morning where there isn't so much melting water. The site was a bit rocky, but there were great views of the 6703m high Mulkila mountain (it looks like a pyramid) right above us. We were just us and Peter's party here. I found several places with flowers here.

Sunday, 27 August - Day 6 - Likhim Yongma-Topko Gomgma (4575m)

It was quite easy to see that the water level was lower than yesterday, so we could even cross without the ropes; just off with the trousers and then holding hands across. The water was just up to the middle of our thighs. But boy, was it cold! It felt that it had just melted a few seconds previously. We soon dried up, and in 3 ½ hours we walked fast across a boring and monotonous rocky plain - lots of rocks. Later it got more varied. We tried to hurry, since our guides thought that the Topko Gomgma side river to could be crossed after noon. We gained 50m in altitude, but had gone up and down a lot, so we had actually climbed 355m. The sun came and went, so sometimes it was quite hot and the next moment it was freezing cold. A stream which in the book was mentioned to be crossed with ropes was easy, and we could jump across.

Peter and his guide had already reached the river, and when we arrived, the two guides tried to get across with the rope. They did not get very far, but got wet underpants. The river was perhaps 15-20 meters across. When the two horsemen came with the horses, they were discussing a bit, and the horses were herded across - then we could also see how deep it was. One of the horses was almost under water. The one with our backpacks luckily found a better route. Peter's guide came across by holding on to the tail of one of the horses. The rope was not long enough to span the river. Before hand I had thought that the rope should be tied to a tree or a big rock, and then we should swing along the rope - but the river was much too wide - and we had not seen a tree since we started our trek :-) After a little while, we walked upstream for a while, and tried again, but had to go on for another kilometre or so. Indra talked about walking the extra couple of kilometres to a snow bridge. I was a bit sceptical that it still would be there. Suddenly the two horsemen were across. Great, then so could we. They sat on the other side, and the guide had crossed to a small inlet in the middle of the river - which the rope could reach. We crossed halfway without problems, and then we continued by holding the rope to the other side - one by one. Peter first, then Lars, Indra and last came the other guide. It was quite exhilarating, but quite cold (!). The stream was very fast flowing, so you had to have a firm grasp at the rope. Our underpants got wet this time.

Then we scrambled up again for about 1½ kilometre, and then came to a nice grassy hillside with a fantastic view down though the valley. It was almost in 4600m. We relaxed, and could eye the big Mulkila out of our tent opening - like a white pyramid. There is also a couple of other 6-6500m high mountains around. The pass is not so much further up from here. It looks like a broad, grassy hilltop. This would be the highest place we would camp on our trip.

Monday, 28 August - Day 7 - Tokpo Gomgma - Baralache La (4885m)

It was pretty cold this night (5 degrees inside the tent). Our men took their time. The sky was clouded, so it felt very cold. We did not get going until 9.30 a.m. The first stretch was going up a lot, so we got a bit exhausted in this altitude. Then it got more flat, and not so much up and down. The pass was quite nice - lots of small flowers - red, violet, blue, white and other colours. There were also a lot of glacier views, very close by. The last stretch was more up and down, and when we met the main- river (Chandratal), we had to get our pants off, but no problem crossing. After 3 hours, we had gained 300m and reached the road going through the other two valleys meeting in this pass. It was pretty cold here since it was quite windy. The plan was to go the about 40km down to Darcha (the first village on the road), and then take the bus the next day. One car passed while we took our lunch, but the guides declined an offer to take the 5 of us for 500rs. We said good bye to the horsemen. Had talked with Peter about tipping the horsemen. We did not get the chance. Talked a bit with some Israeli package tourists. I think it is quite well organised that they could come all the way up here. 1 ½ hours passed before the next vehicle came (in the right direction). We were quite cold. A jeep came, and Peter and his guide got a lift (not room for us). The man who drove asked if one of us could drive - his driver was ill, and he was not so good at it. Well, I think both Lars and I could have done it - the only problem is that people in India are driving in `the wrong side', and it is just bound to go wrong if we should have our first try here in the mountains. Another half hour passed before a tanker came. Indra negotiated, and we could come for 200rs - if we would sit on top of the driver's cab. But then he suddenly changed his mind! But soon after came 3 other trucks where we all could come for 250rs.

We were happy, almost delighted. We got on our way at around 3 p.m. The descent was slow. Not so spectacular as the first time we were here a week ago - the clouds were hanging low and it started to rain. Good we were not sitting on a tanker. The truck was quite different inside than I had expected. There was the usual Hindu-figure with blinking LED's. A German guy was here along with the driver and CO-driver. He had been riding his bike here for 3 months. He told us about the problem in Padum (Zanskar) and that it was totally closed for trekking because the habitants wanted several demands met by the government. The Buddhists did not want to be under Kashmir, and since it was closed 9 months a year from the surrounding world, they wanted better roads, and better facilities for the tourists.

We stopped half an hour for chai. I think the drivers got some alcohol to drink. The German told us that they had had a lot of accidents during the day - the steering wheel did not work in one of the trucks, etc. He had started in Lachung La in the morning - only 100 km away.

One more of the trucks got problems, and had to stop. They had been 4 in the morning, and now only two. When the sun set, they lighted incense, and the trucks even had headlights, so we felt OK. We arrived at 7.30 p.m. in Darcha. Indra found a small room with beds for 120rs. The alternative was some dorm rooms for 50rs/person. Peter and his guide was also around here somewhere. We enjoyed a cola and dined with our crispbread, liverpate and mackerel (things we had brought). Indra preferred to have rice and dahl. The `town' consisted of 10 houses/tents with a feeling of cosiness, food and drinks - mostly for truckers and a few travellers.

Tuesday, 29 August - Darcha-Manali-(Delhi)

Was waken 5.30 a.m., and we started to pack, and two chai came. Indra came back in, quite agitated, and told us that the bus was driving. We hurried up - so no tea. The busses usually stands still and race the engine, so people can see it is almost leaving. Indra tied our things on the roof, and Peter's guide also came running. At 5.45 a.m. we drove, and Peter was the last person in. 100m ahead, we had to stop for a few minutes and show our passports. We just had time to get a few glimpses of the Mulkila from this side of the mountain range. It was dark, and we raced on. It was a good bus and a good driver, real reckless. One hour to Keylong. The clouds were hanging low, so there was not so much to see. Had breakfast in Khoksar before the pass to Manali. Indra introduced us to some stuffed pancake-like things with potatoes and quite strong spices.

It took us one hour to the pass. Much faster than the last time we were here, and we reached Manali at 1 p.m.! That was quick. We were afraid we could catch the 5.30 p.m. bus to Delhi. Beas Travels is right next to the station, so we took all our things up there. Kodak came and we had a talk, and had the tickets made for Delhi (350rs each). I had thought whether I could avoid taking my tent all the way back with me, so I asked just in fun if he would buy mine. He had just bought one this morning for 2000rs. I had paid 50$ for mine, 4 ½ years ago in USA - that is about 1500rs. Well, Kodak bought mine for 1500rs without blinking, and I got my money immediately. Kodak explained that next year, 17 young people from Oxford University would come with their teacher - or something like that, so he was in need of equipment.

We left our stuff here while going to the Hill View to take a shower - it cost us 40rs for a couple of hours. It was great (and needed) with a hot shower and a shaving.

After that, we looked around for a while and found out from where the bus departed. Finally we had a great dinner at Chopsticks (the best in town). Peter was also here - clean and neat. Got our things and said good bye to Indra and Kodak. The bus looked damaged, but the seats were OK. The biggest problem was that it was filled with smokers, and Lars and I found out we had a problem - I can't stand smoke, and Lars can't take draught... Well, we solved it by having the window less open, and Lars using his earplugs.

It was quite bumpy, and I had to take a tablet against driving sickness. Did not sleep much, and around midnight we had a flat tire (I think). They spent 1½ hours changing the front wheel. More and more Indians filled up the bus - maybe 10-15. I bet that the driver was trying to add to his income by taking them on. One thing is for sure - it took extra time!

Wednesday, 30 August - Delhi

The trip was supposed to take 14 hours, so we should have reached Delhi at 8 a.m. That was definitely an illusion. Highway 1 from Chandigarh to Delhi is a so-called four lane highway - 2 in each direction, separated by a concrete block (40cm high) most of the way. But you just drive in the side you want to, and in the side with the fewest car wrecks blocking the lane or fewest holes or least water! I was stunned. We thought that, well, there is quite a lot of water coming down and much of the land was under water. It had also rained all night, but well it was the monsoon period. We drove slow, and in the towns we passed, we saw lots of 3Ws stuck in the water and dirt, people walking in water above their waist, etc. When we approached Delhi it was the same.

We finally arrived somewhere around the Red Fort, and it was just raining cats and dogs! Try imagining someone with at Super Soaker 10000 constantly soaking you. Everything we had was soaked in half a minute after we were out of the bus, and we just refused to pay 80rs for a 3W to go the short way to Panj Ganj - and the drivers had ganged up, and would not go for less. We were left, and did not quite know what to do. We just stood under our small umbrella, and our things were getting more and more wet - it kept raining. The streets were all flooded. Finally a couple of other 3Ws came, and the first said 50rs - we got in, and he drove us right to our hotel. We got a (tiny) room at the Star View for 275rs - but we could change clothes at least! We hung all our wet things all around the room - our sleeping bags in the curtain rod, etc. The rain stopped. We thought that it had been quite hard raining (actually we had never experienced anything like it). The next day we read in the papers that there had come 132 mm in one day, and that this august was the wettest month in 34 years - 576mm.

We got a couple of sandwiches at the hotel, and went to the train booking office (next to the Delhi Railway). We succeeded in figuring out the complicated boards, monitors, papers, lines, and in half an hour we had tickets for the Shabtabdi Express (train 2002) the next morning at 6.15 for Agra - 250rs/person, including breakfast, A/C.

Took at 3W to the Aeroflot office, where we had our tickets reconfirmed. We had asked Kodak in Manali to try and reconfirm them for us while we were going on the trek, but he had not succeeded, and had sent the information about our ticket with a friend to Delhi, but he had obviously not been here. It started to get a little warmer. The good thing about the much rain is that the temperature had only been 26 degrees - 7 degrees below normal. That felt nice. We went into an Air India office to see if there was a plane coming back from Agra and which fit with our return flight from Delhi. There was, so we had tickets for Friday at 4.30 p.m. for 24$ (we got 25% discount because we were under 30 years old).

It was close to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, where we spent 1½ hours till it closed at 6 p.m. The Emporium is an 8 stories building with things from all over India - statues, clothes, jewellery. Fixed and quite reasonable prices, I thought. We bought some souvenirs here. We had a good fast-food pizza at Nirula. It was very good, Lars said. 45rs for a pizza. Enjoyed a good ice-shake too, and drove back to our wet things.

Thursday, 31 August, Delhi-Agra (Fatehpur Sikri, Taj Mahal, Agra Fort)

Got up at 5.00 a.m., and was at the station at 5.45. The train left from platform 1. We were on guard since the TSK warns you about theft/assaults on this departure. Quite a few tourists were on this train. The trip took 2 hours where we read the paper - and breakfast was served - even with bottled water. It went quick. In Agra we had thought to take a day trip. In the tourist information, they said that one started at 9 a.m. from here (the time was now 8.15). We took our luggage to a storage for 2rs/day and changed clothes. At 9 we came back, and the guy in the information said we should wait there. An Indian family also returned for the trip, and was told it was 9.45. So we asked again. "Ahh, 9.30, they come". Well, now we did not really want to wait any more. A day trip cost 100rs/person for Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and Taj Mahal - the `must see places' in Agra. A taxi (10 hours) for the same places cost 500rs. We first looked for other foreign tourists to come with us, but none looked suited. We took a taxi anyway. Then we could also go to a hotel first. There is a board with taxi-fares right outside the station, and then you pay the fare at a pre-paid taxi booth. You get a piece of paper which you return to the driver after the trip. When we started driving, another guy entered the taxi, and introduced himself as the friend of the driver - they always worked together (he said). He had a very nice English language, and was interesting to talk with. We went to the Hotel Amar, even though the "guide" (I will refer to him as our guide) said he could find much cheaper A/C hotels. We had decided to try something more expensive for our last night. The standard room was not worth 950rs, but the deluxe for 1050rs was quite good. A/C, TV and nice bathrooms with a tub, so we took it.

We wanted to get going, and started for the trip to the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, 40 km west of Agra on the border to Rajastan. On the road we saw maybe 8-10 "dancing bears". It just looked wrong with black bears in this hot climate. It was a bit clouded, but a good temperature. We got good pieces of advice from our guide, but not much that we didn't already know from the book. When we got to the village (long before Fatehpur) young guides tried to stop us, and a whole horde met us at the entrance. Young and old almost fought to be the one to show us around. We had enough in our book (TSK). The entrance fee was 0.50rs for Sikri. Just a few people were inside. We were really impressed by the red sandstone palaces, and I tried to imagine how it must have been with king, queens, and the whole court. There was just too many things, which I can't describe. The impressing thing is that everything was made in stone, so it looks like the palaces could quickly be made ready for use again. We spent about 45 minutes here in Sikri, but I think we might have been better off with a guide. We went to Fatehpur. Here it is free, so it is just full of tiring shop-owners, touts, small boys, beggars. Many just started to tell us about the things, as if we had already hired them as our guides - "No money, just look at shop afterwards". Lars thought is was quite funny with a 8-10 year old boy which called himself a student, since Lars was one too. Fatehpur is a mosque-area, quite impressing, grand and beautiful - it has to be seen. There is a small white marble tomb, which has carved marble lattice screens (jalis) all the way around - imagine big windows of stone, every little hole is carved out! We stayed here for half an hour, then we could not stand the money-hungry people any more.

Next thing was to find a place to eat, and the drivers said they could easily find a place where we just could get a sandwich. It was a bit dingy place we were taken to, but what prices! Our `guide' must have got a mega high commission. A sandwich cost 35rs, and the tomato soup index was 25!

We then wanted to see the Taj Mahal, one of the world's wonders. It had taken 20.000 men 22 years to build. The Taj was build by Shah Jahan to immortalise his beloved queen Mumtaz Mahal with whom he had been for 19 years. They had fourteen children. We entered at the east-gate, and there it was: dazzling white, and we had to wear sunglasses. Wow. We were both just so impressed. We spend some time at different distances from it, and took our time. The driver had told Lars that one hour must be enough: "Small area.", as he put it. At the entrance to the Taj we heard a voice say "Rafting, rafting, cheap rafting." It was the German from our rafting trip. We had a good talk about driving in trucks. The two other English guys from our trip had paid 250rs from Leh to Manali, and the drivers had been drinking from early morning.

A friend had told us that when we got here, we should remember to bring a torch. It was a good piece of advice. Not that it was especially dark, but to be able to see the elaborated patterns in the stones: coral, lapis lazuli, onyx, etc. from all over the world. Many Indian tourists wanted to have a look at the patterns we lit up. We had seen many places with bad architecture in India, and this somehow did not quite fit in. Many buildings look like they have been finished or half finished many years ago, and, well, it stands, so why cost more money on it, no matter how ugly it looks. The Taj was build with Indian labour. The main architect was from Iran and his assistant was Indian.

Then our guide thought that now was the time to see a "factory with Australian wool...". No, we wanted to go to the Red Fort. They did not agree. We insisted, and got there. 50 people met us with all kinds of cheap things. We looked straight ahead, and practically had to break our way through. I had to be rude and a cynical tourist, but I have just never met anything like it. I can just imagine what would have happened, if we had given one of them an inch... The Agra fort is also grand and impressing with 30m high walls around (and a moat!) and many of the inlaid stone- things which we also saw at the Taj. The pearl mosque was closed, but there was a good view to the Taj. The most exciting things here was that this was the very place that the Peacock Throne (now in Tehran's vault) had been once.

The time was now 5.30 p.m., and we just could not do any more for today, so we wanted to get back. We were not allowed to. First we had to go to this factory. I asked if we could just pay them the commission, so we could get back. That was not good enough, because the factory could give them more. Their licence would be registered, and at Christmas time they could be lucky to get a television, a radio and other things! So we would help them a lot just by going there for 5 minutes. We thought that we would never get to the hotel unless we would take a look. A terrible place. I think the prices was maybe 10 times the usual. I did buy a cushion cover at the untold price of 180rs - they also had some for 2000rs! Finally we got out, and now our driver/guide wanted to take us to cheaper places where we could get the things we wanted. We wanted to go to our hotel. They could not understand this (this way they would loose more commission). We finally got back, and they thought that they had given us a grand service !? We gave them 50rs for a tip. They had not told us anything we did not know in advance or which was in our book. Then they wanted to come and get us tomorrow for the airport for only 125rs. We thanked, but no thanks. Phew!

Up to our room and change, and then half an hour in the pool. Since the hotel was so expensive, the tomato soup index was 35, so we thought it was cheaper to go somewhere in the city. We wanted to walk, and the TSK had not marked the restaurants on the map, so we would just follow a road. That was a wrong move. Four cycle rickshaws and two 3Ws followed us for kilometres, even though we said nothing to them! Prices were called to us, and one of them said: `OK, free' - he would just take the commission from the restaurant. Now there was only two left, but then two young guys came along and talked wild and excited and wanted `just to talk'. The streets were a bit dark, but I did not feel uncomfortable. They showed us a road, which they said was the one we were looking for, and we walked along. I asked if they had sunglasses. Lars got it, and I think they also knew about the warning from the TSK, at least they laughed loud with a phoney laughter. We asked them to leave. We took the last cycle rickshaw, and said `Zorba the Buddha', which Lars had found in the TSK. How much? "As you please". I dislike these answers since they appeal so much to your character than if they had just stated a price one could negotiate. He told us that the guys had led us the wrong road. Argh! I hate getting cheated - at least not to have thought about that.

The dinner (vegetarian) was good, a bit expensive though, but clean. One could even buy books about some guru here. We took the same rickshaw back (we paid him 16rs) for which he thanked us. He would await us the next day :-)

Lars saw Masala, Bolywood film tonight. It was good to have a shower too.

Friday, 1 September - Agra-Delhi

This would then be our last day in India. We rose early so we could see the Taj at sunrise. There was only one 3W outside (!) at 5.45 a.m. The sunrise was at 6 a.m. according to our paper, the same time as the west-gate was opened. Other western tourists waited outside (maybe 20), but only a few Indians. There dawn was beautiful red, and the air was fresh. People also came in through the east gate we could see (because it was Friday?). On Fridays, there is free entrance, so we got in quickly. Wow! This was just unimaginable - if you get here, do yourself the favour to see it at either sunrise or sunset! Many had the chance to get good pictures without any people in the focus field at all (!) The water around was dead calm, so the reflection was perfect. We just walked around and sat and enjoyed for 1½ hours. It seemed much whiter in the morning. My pictures turned out to be some of the best I have ever taken. One once said: "Did you ever build a castle in the air? Here is one, brought down to earth, and fixed for the wonders of ages" (Bayard Taylor).

Returned and had an expensive breakfast at the hotel. Two plain toasts (20rs), and a cup of coffee (20rs). That is expensive in India! We spent a couple of hours packing, relaxing and taking a shower.

At 10 a.m. we hired our rickshaw man from yesterday for a 4-5 hours trip for 40rs. We wanted to see a couple of markets, and were looking for a place to get an Indian Bombay movie (on video), etc. We first rode to the Kinari Bazaar near the fort, but it was mostly tarpaulins and treads - but no tourists :-) I got my sandals repaired for 5rs (another of these `as you like' prices) - our wallah said I should have paid 2rs. Then we tried to explain we wanted to get a video film. He took us to a photo shop. An annoying owner could not understand that his blank videotapes (for cameras) wasn't good enough. He took both of us with him on a scooter (we wanted to look for our selves instead of him just getting a video film). We drove to the fort where he had a smaller shop, but there at least was a guy who understood what we meant with a Bombay, Masala movie on videocassette. Our man did not understand what we wanted that for. He quickly drove us around to different places (one place he could get one for 500rs!), but finally returned to his shop. Next to his shop was a radio-shop where he (who drove us around) could get us one for 400rs. We said it was more than it would cost in Denmark, and we would pay no more than 250rs. He said he could go no lower. We started to go with our wallah, and he shouted 350rs after us. Never. We could not even get to see the cover of the video he wanted to sell us. We went to another bazaar, and first we bought a couple of books, and then we found a video-rental with thousands of movies. Of course we could buy them, even though they were used. For 150rs a piece. We bought one each. Lars wanted to give his to a friend who was getting married. I bought a Bombay recording of Superman. It looked really bad. Later it turned out that half of the screen was covered with commercials - all through the film! Every 5 minutes the movie was interrupted by 5 minutes of commercials. Our wallah got us into a marble-shop where it was quite cheap (compared to the place yesterday), and the owner said that our wallah only got 2% in commission. We bought a few gifts. He could also drive us to a real clean place. "Other places not clean" as he said. It bet. Lars had seen the Kwality restaurant which he recognised from our book, and we went in there. Got sandwiches, and they had great home baked cake which we enjoyed with a cup of coffee. Now we wanted to go home, but now the wallah wanted to take us to different places. We said no - we had a plane to catch. He kept on, and said "only look - I get 25rs to repair bike!" We did not care (we can be real stubborn if we want to :-) and said no. All the way he kept complaining, and when we finally got him to turn into our hotel, we got a last: "now I not get my 25rs!". We paid what we had agreed on - he even smiled.

We had already checked out, so we were just getting our backpacks from the storage. The hotel could get a `very luxury car' for us. We did not want that. They then offered the hotel car for 100rs, and we agreed (it was probably somewhat too much). We had to wait a while since the airport is at a military area, and they did not open the gate until 1 hour before departure. It was a mini-van, and not very luxury.

Through the usually checks, and the flight only took about 20-30 minutes, and we arrived in Delhi around 5 p.m. Tried to ask in the information about a place to eat between here and international airport, but they were quite dumb, and said we could find a restaurant at the domestic departure hall. We then wanted to ask a taxi-driver, and got caught on our way out and dragged to a desk where we were told 280rs to go to a place on the way to the airport! We laughed loud - it was just so ridiculous. Outside we saw a waiting stand for a free shuttle to the international airport which left every hour. After 15 minutes I went to the departure terminal to hire a 3W - they can only unload here, and should then continue out. While waiting for one, taxi-drivers offered their assistance for 100rs, but I would not pay that since we only had 350rs left totally. It got hold of a 3W who would do it for 50rs (compare that to the 280rs they asked for at arrival!); he would wait outside. When I got back to Lars, the bus came, and we got in. I felt a bit guilty about the man I had just hired. At International the time was 5.30 p.m. (our flight was after midnight), we decided to go out to eat. The only place inside was the `Corner Snack' which had wild prices (35rs for a litre of water! (usual 10rs)). We found a taxi (the driver was sulky, but he said he would use the meter). We drove for a while, and wanted to dump us at a dirty open kitchen. It was just too disgusting, and we pointed towards a street in the distance where we had seen some small hotels. "You want this, or 5-Star??" he kept asking. There must be something in-between, we tried to explain to him. He drove us over there. How much? "As you like" - and he added: But not less than a hundred.". We laughed. We would pay him 30rs, but since we only had 50, he said OK. (He had no meter of course). We walked for more than a kilometre with our backpacks, and all hotels and guest houses were without restaurants! Amazing. It was probably only for staying one night. We bought water and cola in a small shop, and decided to eat from our canned food at the airport. A beautiful red sunset eased up a bit on our frustrations. We finally got a 3W (I'll spare you of the long negotiations) for 40rs to the airport. We were further away than we had thought - maybe 10km. We had to be there 4 hours before departure, probably because so many people were going on the plane. One man had had his ticket reconfirmed (with stamp and everything), but he was not on their list, so he had to go to the back and wait for everybody to be on board - we did see he got on the plane though. Then it was good bye, and I gave our last 5 rupees to a Russian who was 3rs short of money to pay for a sandwich.

End notes.

I have had diarrhoea since the Nepali restaurant in Leh, but it had not been very annoying to me. After the Chandratal lake, it got quite worse, and when we got back, my doctor sent me to the hospital to get it checked. They kept me for 3 days, and the next week, they could tell me I had two infections. One could not be treated, but would stop at some time (the one from Nepali), and the other was Giardia (parasites) which I had got at the Chandratal lake. Lars was also tested, and they found out he had the same. We got tablets, and was cured - but three weeks later I got the same symptoms, and had to take another cure - after this it finally disappeared. We did boil the water at Chandratal, but Indra washed our dishes in the water, and rinsed the fruit there, so...

Costs for 3 weeks in India:

Århus-Copenhagen (return)55$
Copenhagen-Delhi (return) with Aeroflot 800$
Delhi-Jammu-Leh flight145$
Food, hotels, domestic travel, gifts, entrance fees (hotels were 57$ per person): 400$
Film-processing:105$
Tent sold:-50$
Total:1455$
Lars also had to pay for vaccinations: 180$

Erik Futtrup E-mail:

Lars Pedersen


Go back to Erik's Homepage.