Manali (via a night bus!)
...And what a night bus it was! Surpassing all the South American ones by a mile in terms of horror, this bus had small seats that half reclined, no toilet and no partition for the driver so we could hear him chatting away to his driver mate all night (at least he was awake!), we also could hear him merrily tooting his horn to alert oncoming traffic he was over-taking on a blind corner, which alerted us to brace for the erratic swinging that slammed us into the side of our seats…. All night. In the early hours another passenger who had been swung about one time too many, started being violently and noisily sick a couple of rows behind us, which continued in spurts until our destination. When we finally exited feeling exhausted and grossed out, we noticed that to top it all off, a small amount of vomit had trickled down the bus onto the bottom of our bags. Nice!
We got a taxi to an hostel that we hadn’t yet booked but liked the sound of (called the ‘Professor’s hut’). Our taxi driver proceeded to tell us that our hostel was in a rubbish part of town set deep in the valley with no view and loud Israelis who party all night, and we’d be much better off staying in this other place he knows… we were wise enough to insist we’d already booked and paid for the accommodation, so he begrudgingly took us to the right place (or as close as we could get - we then had to walk through a maze of narrow paths between houses and cows), where we were shown to a lovely room with a beautiful view (argh the lies!), and we decompressed for a bit, cleaned ourselves up and then went out for some breakfast - scrambled eggs Indian style and a paratha stuffed with egg.
Then we joined our hostel owner who was leading a group on a walking trip to visit a nearby waterfall, and we were impressed with ourselves that we could handle the heat and excursion far better than the rest of our group who were all from Delhi! We made a few stops along the way to enjoy the scenery and ended at the impressive waterfall where we splashed about a bit in to cool down, then our host took us to a nearby restaurant for a very late lunch *DISCLAIMER ALERT: I had nothing to do with choosing this restaurant!*. We ate a lovely curry (still sticking to local cuisine) whilst the rest of the group chose international dishes from the extensive menu (warning bell one), although ate little of them (warning bell two), then we headed back in taxis and later hung out and had a few drinks on the roof terrace with everyone...
Woke feeling a little rough, which we put down to a hangover and stayed in bed… but soon it became apparent this was more than a hangover and we were both suffering horrendous delhi belly - the next 24 hrs we moved only between the bed and bathroom, and once again reached a new level of intimacy in our relationship!
Half way through the day we felt strong enough to venture out of our bedroom and check out a local temple, and even ate at a restaurant - choosing what we hoped were the blandest things on the menu, including ‘maggi’ which are the instant noodles made by the Maggi company which Indians seem obsessed with (you can find it everywhere), and they serve it in Indian style with chopped veggies and a bit of spice (seems we couldn’t avoid it), and we also had Indian style eggy bread which was delicious (and a little spicy!). We were feeling much better though and negotiated with the agent who booked our transport to change our route, so that we missed another Northern town and headed straight to Amritsar (West) to make up for lost time. We agreed to pay a little extra for a private taxi to take us all the way, and booked it for the morning, knowing better than to hope for luxury travel (but hoping for it anyway!).
The Taxi arrived on ‘Indian’ time (an hour after we’d asked for), the driver seemed nice but didn’t speak any English, and didn’t seem to understand that we couldn’t understand him, and got increasingly frustrated when we couldn’t answer his questions! He put the aircon on and we settled in, his driving was very ‘Indian’, in that it was terrifying but seemed to work, and we decided it was best not look out the windscreen at all but to absorb ourselves in our entertainment instead. We stopped at a Punjabi restaurant which we guessed was supposed to be for our lunch, but we didn’t want to risk eating anything too taxing so we stuck to some bread and snacks we’d brought, and drank very little, as bathroom stops didn’t seem to be something offered frequently! 13 and a half hours later, having driven through some sort of festival where people were covered in paint and dancing in the streets, having intermittently seen an array of animals sauntering down the middle of the road (cows, horses, dogs, monkeys and even some camels at one point!), and a massive thunder-storm which intensified the already terrifying experience, we arrived in the sweltering midnight heat of Amritsar!