Sunday, September 14, 2008

Don't leave home without your whisperlight

Greetings from Manali, India!

Here is the play by play on our three day journey:

September 10: After a late night at the Mahoney's, Freddie and I had success making it to our bus in Newburyport, then into Boston, then to Chicago. Freddie picked Ben Ditto out of a crowd while we sat at a bar waiting for our overnight flight to Delhi, and the group was 3/4 complete. Ben, though, was on his way to the counter to find out if they would hold the Delhi flight for our 4th, Pat Goodman, who was delayed in Charlotte. They refused to hold the plane, so eventually we boarded and nested in for our long overseas flight. As they announced closing the doors, Pat suddenly appeared! Yeehaw! But would his bags?

September 11, minus about 12 ours of our life from teh time change: Arrive in hot Delhi around 8 pm. All the bags show except, you guessed it, Pat's. Freddie entertains himself by sitting on the conveyor belt behind a Mountain Hardwear duffel bag, filming (part of our assignment on this trip is to use our recently acquired film school skills). We think the shot will go well with Jaws music later on. Pat runs around trying to find someone to help him locate the bags and eventually with many phone calls and near tantrums, he has promise of teh bags arriving in Manali within a few days.

We all head through customs, with the mission of finding a taxi to leave immediately for Manali, 16 hours away. This is a challenge, it being 8 pm and us knowing no one and being deleriously out of place and exhausted. We eventually get roped in by the guy who talked the loudest, and within an hour we have the bags strapped on the roof of the Toyota SUV and we are on our way, with our man, Mr. Pal in the drivers seat.

Mr. Pal loads up for the 18 hour ride from Delhi to Manali

We all go in and out of consiousness, due to exhaustion, even as we witness one of the most wild driving any of us have seen. A combination of a Mr. Pal's lead foot; big trucks to dodge from both ways; skinny, winding, unkempt roads; and the occassional obstacles of mopeds, people, cows and rivers to deal with.

September 12: We all crack a beer to toast the fact that we are actually here at around 9 am. Mr. Pal asks us if this is normal. We keep driving. We arrive in the late afternoon at the Tourist Hotel in Manali, a true retreat at the bargain deal of 200 rupees ($5) per night. We meet the wonderful host Gupka. Dinner and sleep quickly follow.

livin's e-z on the porch at the Tourist Hotel in Manali

September 13: Motived to get planning and packing for the next stage, climbing int he Manikaran towers. On our first errand in town, we that there is no isobutane, ANYWHERE in town. And we have three isobutane stoves and no whisperlights (which take unleaded fuel among other fuels if necessary) between all of us (All of us, as it turns out, had actually packed the whisperlight at home and then unpacked them at the last minute). Grr.

Still waiting for Pat's bags too. None of the phone numbers they gave him were working, no information found.

We decide these two issues were cause to take the rest of the day off. So we wandered the town snapping photos, found some cool bouldering, went to yoga class, watched the wild monkeys and had many many cups of chai tea.

bouldering in Manali

September 14 (today): Ben wakes up and writes home to get info on making a stove out of two tin cans like his family did when we was a kid, and starts creating prototypes. This inspires us to then start bribing local treking people and anyone else we can think of for butane cans and pursuing other ideas for cooking inthe mountains. We also still have to shop for food and eventually head to the market. The boys are immediately sidetracked by a big bag of fried somosas and then a barber shop where they stopped for a shave. This quickly turned into facial massages, cold creams, steam baths, face masks, shoulder and back massages, knuckle, shoulder and neck cracking and lots of laughs. Not your typical spa, as you can imagine.

Freddie at the beauty salon.

Oops. Pat gets nicked.

So that brings us to now.

We heard about the bombings in Delhi and we, and the locals we've talked to, are certainly alarmed. Delhi is a sad place as it is, the poverty and struggle is so obvious there. But the reality is that we feel almost as removed from the tragedies as you all might in your homes.

A quick word on the people here in Manali: the people are so friendly and positive and comfortable. They are willing to help and seem happy to share. Case in point was one of the shop keepers today: We had a vague list of what we needed for nearly three weeks in the backcountry, but were definitely winging it overall (I miss you Sarah!).

He rolled his eyes at first, but then started pitching in ideas of what we might be forgetting and what we had too much or too little of. He even sold me chick pea powder and told me the recipe to make chickpea pancakes as a yummy snack. This guy had no reason to help like he did, it really would have been more appropriate for him to be pissed at us for filling up his little shop for so long. But when I thanked him for his time, he said that he wanted to make sure we were prepared. He said the mountains are cold this time of year and he does not want people to go out there and be unhappy. That generosity is everywhere (but I still also feel like I am more often and commonly looked at like a big stack of money to be taken advantage of).

As I write, Pat's bags arrived, leaving our last big challenge of finding a way to cook in the mountains before we finish repacking and actually head into the mountain. Tomorrow morning we will resolve that somehow and take a ride for the last three hours of road towards the Manikaran Spires, our objective.

Freddie and Pat took us to the picture that actually formulated this is a postcard sized photo in a basement shop on the edge of town. The photo is truly inspiring, as they had been promising us the whole time we planned the trip. It looks like clean white granite spires - all unclimbed as far as we know - that will keep us busy for weeks.

There are no trails to get there, no established camps to reclaim, no good maps, etc, making this a real adventure, and I am very very excited to see what unravels.

So the next you hear from me will likely be after we come out of the mountains in early October.

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