DAY 28 - MANALI/DHARAMSALA
Unfortunately, James wasn't feeling 100% on our last day in Manali and decided to get some rest, so I resolved to spend my last few hours in the area visiting the nearby hill town of Vishasht, a popular backpacker hangout during the peak season. After catching a rickshaw up, I made my way straight to the town's two main temples located in its centre. Although small, they were both nicely designed and cast great views over the surrounding hills. I then had a look at the hot spring baths in the temple complex, eventually deciding, despite being tempted, not to have a dip myself, instead enjoying the friendly atmosphere as women washed clothes and men (including a fair number of sadhus) lounged about against the backdrop of the mountain rise behind. After purchasing a very cheap collection of Jeffrey Archer short stories (actually pretty enjoyable and perfect for travelling), I chilled in a cafe for a while, reading and drinking tea as the street flowed seamlessly past, interrupted only by the occasional groan of a passing Enfield. Upon walking down Vashisht's main road, I noticed the number of hippy joints floating around with names such as 'The Peace Cafe', 'World Peace' and 'The Freedom Restaurant'. Along with the many street murals painted on the walls, quoting Bob Marley and the like, they added to the relaxed, backpacker feel of the place. After getting a rickshaw back to Manali's model town, I walked back up to the hostel to meet James and pack ahead of our coach trip. After arriving at the coach station in a bit of a rush following confusion over our departure time, we eventually set off and began the 10 hour journey through the mountains to Dharamsala, passing villages and small towns, the blinking lights of which merged perfectly with the bright stars looming over the mountain tops in the distance. We stopped off for a simple dinner on the way before being told to disembark, to our complete bemusement, about 10 km or so outside of Dharamsala at around 3 in the morning (in keeping with the chaos of the country, we were not informed of this changeover prior to catching the coach). From there, it turned out, we were to get a taxi ride (free, ofcourse) on to Dharamsala. We were given the option of paying a bit extra to go to Dharamsala's northern town of McLeod Ganj, our ultimate destination, so we accepted, glad that we wouldn't have to go through the trauma of trawling around the region's steep roads with our backpacks in an attempt to find a taxi in the middle of the night. We briskly ascended the steep mountain roads and arrived at the hometown of the Dalai Lama at around 3.30, shacking up in one of the very few hostels still open at that time. Once in our room we collapsed on the bed and, having failed to get a wink of sleep on the bumpy coach, slept soundly until morning, utterly exhausted.