Jul 17, 2009

Back to civilization
It's been a long time since we rested more than a day or 2, in a comfortable place we could call 'home', since Rishikesh, almost a month & a half ago. All through Uttarkahand (previously known as Uttaranchal) and Kinnaur, Spiti & Lahul we dreamed of the famous
apple crumble of Manali.
Finally, we were eating our favorite apple crumble while our dog was eating yesterday’s bread.
We quickly found a hotel room, turned on the geezer and waited for our warm showers. We missed having our own fortress – with toilets inside!
We sat in our balcony, enjoying the views of the beautiful Kullu valley and “our private valley”. Our balcony was situated exactly where Manalsu Nala, the river/valley starts climbing to Manali pass, part of the trek to Dharamsala.

Our laundry, hanging on the balcony.

Our dog
Our first few days passed in resting (Gal’s shoulder was in bad condition) and doing lots of laundry. Our grumpy Guesthouse owner resented the drying of laundry in front of other rooms, even though the guests didn’t care and were sensitive to laundry issues.
He already had an excuse for disliking us – the dog who slept on our doorstep, soiled the garden and broke few of his flowers. Our garden was well groomed, like many gardens in Old Manali. The following day, the dog was kicked out of the guesthouse. The dog stayed not far away, near the English bakery. Every time we went down to New Manali to our favorite chicken tandoori restaurant, “frontiers”, we collected bones for him. None of the dogs in the corner went near him, when he ate the bones. His diet was manly based on yesterday’s bread.
The owner of the English bakery said he’ll look for a house for him; he has a friend, a shepherd, up in the mountains near Manali.
Once Rami took the bicycles to New Manali. The dog spotted him and chased him, hoping to continue the journey (to a place with more mutton?), but, quickly disappeared behind as Rami zoomed down.
Gal saw him a bit later – there was madness in his eyes. He was in ecstasy when he saw her, he didn’t loose us yet.
Old Manali was not the ideal place for him.
A few days later, he disappeared.

Nush! Our brave dog!

The view from our balcony, the Kullu valley.
Getting a hair cut.
Nice mustache!

The lost page 03/07/09
These fascinating stories you’re reading, are first written as drafts, and only when we find a comfortable, cheap internet café, we sit for maybe 5-7 hours and update the blog; a long, intense day. Both of us sitting in a tiny cubical, fighting over the computer. We write these drafts when we have time, in our guesthouse, waiting in a restaurant or just sitting near a river.
We noticed that a page was missing… page #4 of “Argentina - Ruta 40”. The thought of rewriting it was too frustrating. We started recalling things we did since the last time we saw it – where could we have forgotten it??? But, nothing…
We went to “Little Italy” (VERY little Italy), where we ate 2 nights ago, where food arrives extremely slow – good opportunity to write. They recalled something and started looking. Desperatelt, Gal looked into the trash bin next to her. The only thing inside was page #4…

On the way to New Manali, through the woods.

Doctors 07/07/09
After 5 days of rest without any improvement in Gal’s shoulder & cough, it was time to see a doctor. Gal had a bad cough since Spiti, about 10 days ago, and her shoulder hurt since Grampoo, a week ago. Now every small movement was painful, even sleeping.
We went to a private clinic in Old Manali, hoping to avoid the government hospital.
The doctor didn’t seem so competent, but agreed on an x-ray and blood tests, Rami jumped on the opportunity and asked for blood tests for himself (Dr. Shuv insisted he checks his cholesterol).
The x-ray showed no sign for pneumonia and the doctor said the blood tests are normal. Dr. Shuv didn’t even understand in what units the results were… we were very skeptical about the lab test results – maybe the nurse swapped the test tubes, maybe a 6-year-old wrote the results. It’s not the first time we don’t trust the lab tests in dubious places.
Gal got antibiotics and anti-inflammable pills.

Blood tests.
Finally cleaning the mattresses... in the shower...
Blood test results - Does anyone know these units?
Visiting the local "bicycle shop", New Manali Market.

2 days later, with no improvement, we went to “Lady Willington” hospital, in New-Manali. The place was by far better off than our Rajistan hospital experience; it resembled a big clinic from the 50’s.
Gal was given a different antibiotic and was sent to physiotherapy. The young physiotherapist gave a good feeling. She told us about the Padum-Darch trek she did last summer, which was on Gal’s itinerary for India. She treated Gal with electrodes on her shoulder. The half hour treatment went on for 4-5 days and Gal’s shoulder slowly improved.
We lingered in Manali longer than we planned, but thank Vishnu, we had other businesses to take care of.

When was the last time they replaced the filter?
The view from our toilets, and the way to Dharamsala (trekking).

The lost wheel 08/07/09
While cleaning the bicycles, after the rough road from Spiti valley, we noticed a few cracks in the rim of Rami’s rear wheel. One of them was huge; it will not survive the Manali-Leh journey. Not to mention the Zanskar valley.
What do we do? First – breathe!
It wasn’t the original wheel. The original one’s free-hub died on the way to Buenos Aires, after 15,000km, and Tamar, Gal’s mother, brought it to us, almost 3 months ago, from Israel, when she came to visit. It was a 5,000km old wheel, the ‘super-strong’ one that was specially built in Israel and sent to us to Urumqi, West China, 2 years ago. Rachel, Rami’s mom even took it to the mechanic, who said it is in a fantastic condition. We had big hopes for it.
An obvious solution: get the old wheel with the bad free-hub from Delhi and use its’ rim, replacing the damaged rim; almost easy… We called Tak & Dana, in Delhi, asking them to send the wheel. Almost easy…
A minute later Gal mentioned that we should count the number of spokes on the wheel, just in case, still traumatic from our experience, at the Chinese Tibetan plateau, where a shop-keeper, dismantled Rami’s wheel and failed to rebuilt it, with the only (used) rim in 800km radius, due to mismatch of a 32-hole hub and a 36-hole rim. Oops…
It was a 32-hole hub – damn! Who goes cycle-touring with a 32-spoke wheel?
We quickly called Tak & Dana and told them to wait – we need to think.
While talking to Dana, Rami brought up a crazy idea: Dana has a touring bicycle (even the same Surly LHT frame that Gal gas); she & Tak cycled the Manali-Leh journey last summer. She is flying back to the USA in less than 2 weeks. Will she mind giving us her wheel? We’ll buy her a new one in the USA. She happily agreed, understanding it will save us! A wheel of this quality doesn’t exist in India, and having one sent (+ built) will take 2-3 weeks (just like it did in China). The only wheels we can get in India are simple Bontrager wheels, built in China. She also mentioned that she doesn’t dare touching her bicycles these days... It is 50 degrees Celsius in Delhi, and extremely humid.
Tak said that sending the wheel by courier will take a few days and will be quite expensive and you need to pack the wheel…
Then Rami got the ingenious/stupid idea of sending the wheel with one of the tourist busses from Main Bazar, Delhi (the center of backpackers) to Manali. We’ll check when the busses leave, Dana will arrive a bit earlier, give the wheel (and a new derailleur we left there) to one of the millions of Israeli travelers (it’s the season to visit Ladakh), with our name, cellular number and address in Old Manali. The wheel will arrive first thing in the morning, unharmed.
For some reason, everybody agreed.
We received an SMS from Dana, saying it will be done on the weekend. We were relaxed… Gal’s shoulder needs the rest and the Physiotherapy anyway.
Waiting for updates, we received another SMS from Dana, saying she had last minute problems, the wheel is ready for sending, but she won’t have the time to send it. What do we do? Shit! Priel left to Delhi less than half an hour ago…

Priel 12/07/09
We spent over a week with Priel, our neighbor in our intimate guest house, passing the time in rotten Old Manali, Gal was still sick and he was waiting for his flight to Thailand. We were mainly sitting in our balcony or watching TV.
Priel left to Delhi less than half an hour ago… and we only had his Email address, which can’t help us now.
There was still hope. Rami quickly cycled to Vashisht, to the motorcycle mechanic, where Priel rented an Enfield not long ago; the mechanic gave him a hitch to the bus station, half an hour ago. He wasn’t there, but Rami called him and got Priel’s number.
Priel agreed to the plan: when he arrives to Delhi, after finding a room in the Main Bazar area and throwing his stuff there, he’ll take an auto rickshaw to the apartment of Tak & Dana, and take the wheel; Tak will be at work, but the funny guard will have the keys. Later, in the afternoon, he’ll go to the Main Bazar bus stand…
At 10:00 Priel called us - he survived the long bus drive and threw up only once (not bad). He’s on his way to Lajpat Nagar.
At 10:40 Priel called us – he has the wheel and the derailleur. We should call him at 16:00, check that he is awake.
At 16:00 we called him – he was awake, and on his way to the popular ‘Israeli’ guest houses: “Hare Rama” and the rest. He quickly called us, saying a British guy, called Arthur, has our wheel and cellular number, he’ll arrive tomorrow morning.
The next morning Priel was on his flight to Bangkok, Thailand.

Arthur 14/07/09
Busses from Delhi arrive to New Manali private bus stand between 08:00-13:00, depending on traffic, toilets stops etc. It was obvious that Arthur will arrive to Old Manali… or was it?
Rami got up early and hanged around the English Bakery from 08:00, waiting for an Arthur, holding a bicycle wheel. Time passed slowly, it was already 12:00, Gal has joined him, many travelers coming from Delhi on several busses have arrived, but no Arthur and no bicycle wheel… and no phone call.
We started feeling stupid, especially Gal, for agreeing with Rami’s stupid plan!
Gal didn’t stop nagging Rami for not waiting in the bus stand, down in New Manali, as uncomfortable as it would have been.
Time passed slowly, no phone call… no wheel!
In the afternoon we started spreading the rumor, asking travelers about “A British guy named Arthur, with a bicycle wheel…”.
An Israeli we asked told us that he will never take something from a stranger, in India – it might be drugs… we were shocked, how naïve have we been? We recalled that Priel mentioned he was asked to open the box with the derailleur…
We started thinking that smuggling drugs, inside the hub of a wheel is not a bad idea. We started thinking that maybe Arthur freaked out and ditched the wheel before the bus even left Delhi. Maybe our $200 wheel, the best wheel in the sub-continent, is lying in the open sewage of Paharganj.
We passed time by making signs; we put them around Old Manali in strategic locations. We went to dinner with Dudu, who was still optimistic about the situation: Arthur was probably recovering from the tough 14 hour mountainous bus ride. There is still hope for tomorrow…

We woke up, feeling we need to be active – work on plan B! We called Pushpender, from Track & Trail, in Delhi, asking about a wheel. He linked us to a shop in Chandigarh, a more comfortable option for us. We ordered a Chinese machine-built Trek mountain bike wheel, far from good, but at least no Indian. The wheel will arrive in 3 days; Rami will take a night bus to Chandigarh, buy the wheel and bus back.
We tried passing the time by watching bad movies in our guest house.

Around 15:00 we called the shop again, just to check that they have ordered the wheel, not to waste more time. Just as Rami hung up, the phone rang. We were excited. Someone called from the English Bakery at “The” junction. He had our wheel!
Mysterious Arthur gave the wheel to one of the travel agencies with our note on its’ window. The travel agent brought it to our ‘headquarter’ – the English Bakery.
We called the shop in Chandigarh and canceled the order of the wheel; they havn’t yet processed the order.
We never met Arthur or had a chance to thank him. He never contacted us and was never in his room.

Dana, Tak, Priel, Dudu, mysterious Arthur and the rest of the people who participated in this complex operation – Thank you! Sab kuch milega!

With the lost wheel! at the English bakery.
The notes we made and hanged all over Old Manali.

We were sure this episode was behind us, till we noticed the rim is built for a Presta valve, while all our tubes have a Schrader valve (You don't really need to check the link; everybody knows these terms: Presta/Schrader valves). No problems - just drill the rim, enlarge the hole. Its been done before.
BUT - not in Manali!
We past through all the workshops in town, that have drills - BOTH of them! There are only 2 drills in the whole town, that has a million Tata truck mechanics!!! In our building, where we live now there are probably 5-6 neighbors that own drills. Unbelievable!
The first workshop didn't have small drills, only huge ones, for the Tata trucks.
The second had a too small drill, but twisting it around - it did the job.
We were amused that 2 Indians were needed for the job: one for the drilling and the second for holding the 2 bare wires in an improvised socket.

Drilling to widen the valve hole. What a dark place...

Little Tel Aviv
Steve brought with him a cycling guide-book for the Himalayas where the author describes Old Manali as “little Tel Aviv”. We found the nickname very funny and somewhat accurate.
It was the peak of the season, New Manali filled with local tourism and Old Manali flooded with foreign travelers, 80% of them Israelis in their 20’s. After a long time away from Israel, it was funny, unnatural, and even ridiculous. Since San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala (Lake Atitlan), we haven’t encountered such a total conquest, with signs and menus in Hebrew. Even most of the keyboards were in Hebrew!
We were very disappointed to see that most of the young Israelis redo the conventional Israeli trip – “The Israeli Salas Route”.

With Dudu, on 'our' bolder, near the Manalsu Nala river.

Fresh milk
It all started in Gangnani, on the way to Gangotry, over a month ago. We were sitting in a chai shop, talking with an Indian tourist about the tasteless chai. For him it was obvious – they used milk powder (in Hindi: “powder milk”).
India is the largest producer of dairy products in the world. You can find milk almost everywhere. Up in the mountains it can be a bit more difficult, so powder milk and long life milk are more common.
There were even talks about diluted milk!
We are used to making coffee (or the Indian version – chai), and it was a refreshing improvement when Rami first brought “Gui dud” – cow milk. 2 month later he was corrected – it’s “gui ka dud”!
The first time Rami tried going to a house with a cow (most country houses have cows here, even many houses in Delhi) and asking to buy milk, he was ripped off – 40 INR for 1 liter (half liter of fresh milk, packed, is 13 INR, if you can find one, only in towns with refrigeration). Since then, every evening, around sunset, when they feed and milk the cows, Rami went for his milk-trip, chasing every old woman seen carrying 2 buckets!
In Old Manali things were more complicated. Packed milk is sold only in the shops in New Manali, while Old Manali is filled with cows. After asking around, Rami arranged getting 1 liter of morning milk per day, from Shimrit, the owner of one of the laundry places (why is she called Shimrit? – an Israeli name).
The problem was keeping it cool. Our guesthouse owner didn’t allow us to keep the milk in the fridge of the restaurant, even though the restaurant was closed, so we kept it in the fridge of the friendly German Bakery.

After 17 days in Manali we were ready to leave (what an understatement) for the tough, 10-day journey from Manali to Leh. We even met 2 young Austrian who planned on leaving on the following day as well.
We woke up and it was raining! We had 17 perfect sunny days, but, this morning, at 05:30, it was raining!
We cuddled in bed, under our pampering sleeping bags, joking about the Austrians who probably set off, despite the rain (they did!).
We stayed in bed – there’s always tomorrow :-)

Raj, the friendly owner of the German Bakery.

Goodbye Manali.