I was ready to escape the heat of Rajasthan. Each day becomes harder to bear. For my final day, I made a visit to the village of Nimaj, as guest of Suresh's fiancee's family. They were great hosts and showed me around the ancient village, with its palace and old temple. The temple had been descrated by Moghul conquerors, who took offense at the displace of images. Scattered remnants suggest an artfully designed temple of great age. Two-thirds of the structure remains and is being preserved. The Moghul palace is quite old as well, and is available today for guests who want to pay the price. We were shown around, visiting some of the luxurious rooms. I am promised a stay here next time I visit.
Suresh and I caught the late train from Ajmer to Chandigarh in North India. It was an all-nigher with sleeping berths. Nothing like sleeping on a rocking train! We arrived in Chandigarh, the capital of the Punjab at 6:30 a.m. with a day to spare before we could catch the bus to Manali, which didn't leave until 11:30 p.m. We made the best of the day, by renting a nice room in a hotel, hiring an auto-rickshaw driver for the day, and after showering and getting some rest, took off to visit the sights of Chandigarh. Chandigarh is a model city by India standards. Streets are well-planned, and relatively clean. There are dust bins available for trash, and unlike other cities, it appears the residents use them to keep the area litter free. Oh, that other cities could follow suit!
We first visited the Rose Garden, which was about a month late for prime rose viewing, as the weather is now quite hot. There wree nice fountains and shaded areas. From there we took in a couple of museums--art and natural history, both quite interesting and free to the public. After a rest, we launced again into the early evening with a visit to Chandigarh's Rock Garden. I have to admit I wasn't too excited about that idea, but as it turned out, the Rock Garden was an incredible experience. A creative man collected all kinds of rocks, and began rock sculptures. Eventually his work was found and dedicated as a rock garden. There were surprises at every turn, waterfalls, grottos, creative sculptures, surreal figures. It is definitely a "must-see" for any world traveler.
After dinner, we went to the bus station to catch our bus to Manali, high in the Indian Himalayays. What a bus ride it turned out to be. The Volvo bus negotiated the narrow and winding road up the high mountains, narrowing averting being side-swiped by trucks and other buses. Around and around we went, until many of the passengers got sick and started throwing up. Luggage was thrown from overhead bins. It was all night. I peered out at beautiful mountain valleys in the dim light, lakes and gorges. We arrived this morning in the mountain town of Manali. It gained a reputation during the seventies as a mecca for hippies seeking easily-available drugs. Today it is a backpackers paradise, and wonderfully, refreshingly cool, after the stifling heat of Rajasthan.
We plan to spend a couple of days here, then a couple in another village with friends, before heading for Dharamsala to see the Dalai Lama--well, one never knows who one will bump into.
So, greetings from high up in the Himalayas, amid snow-covered peaks. It snowed here last week in fact.