I am now in Dharamsala, or to be more precise, the upper town of Mcleod Ganj. This is the home of the Dalai Llama, although he is not at home at the moment, otherwise I may have been able to meet him at one of the many public talks he gives here.
I will have three days here to explore the town and have spent a couple of days seeing the sights. This includes the buddhist temples, which have big bronze drums called prayer wheels that are lined up along the temple walls and you have to walk past and set them all spinning to send prayers. This causes great amusement to the local children who run alongside them slapping them to send them spinning fast.
The town is full of Tibetan Buddist monks who walk around in maroon robes. I went to one of their morning debating sessions where they debate ideas and then slap one hand on top of the other to signify that particular debate is over and to begin another. I don't know what they were saying, but they seemed to be having great fun and were laughing a lot.
The town has lots of market stalls selling clothes, jewellery and other things. There are also lots of nice restaurants and cafes to sit in and watch the world go by, or to enjoy the views over the valleys nearby. You can see the snow covered mountains in the distance from near my hotel.
However, the last place I stayed in was Manali, which is even closer to the Himalayas and I really loved it there. I travelled to Manali on a day bus from Shimla and as is often the case on the transport systems, was befriended by a couple of Indian families who insisted on buying me chai and giving me food all day long.
The journey through the hills and valleys to Manali was really pretty and as we got closer, the views of the Himalayas became clearer. Manali is on the foothills of the mountains and in a valley that is in the full bloom of spring. It is an area full of apple orchards, which looked really pretty with their white blossom out and there were thousands of butterflies and birds too. Slightly above this are the dense forests full of high pine trees, which gradually peter out into snow capped mountains.
It is not the high tourist season, so the town was pretty quiet and I stayed in a lovely old wooden framed building with a big veranda, balcony, old dining room and pretty garden with stunning views across to the mountains. Every morning I woke up and sat on the balcony having breakfast and admiring the views.
There were lots of places to walk to through the forests, along the river and up the steep winding path through Old Manali, which is full of old wooden farmhouses. The people here dress quite differently to everywhere else I have been and have a much more rustic look about them eg. the women walk around in bright coloured woolen skirts, scarves and jumpers. They seem to work on the land and walk around with huge bundles of wood on their heads or carrying produce.
I tried out snowboarding whilst I was there and found an extreme sports company to go with. Whilst I was there, Keku, a relative of the owner came in and told me he was going to the slopes with Nikil, his nephew the following day and suggested I travel there with them. This meant that I did not have to pay much at all and they kindly also brought a picnic that we ate up on the mountain.
The area we went to was through the Solang Valley and up the Manali- Leh highway, which is apparently the second highest road in the world. The valley was stunning with numerous high waterfalls pouring down the steep sides and we eventually began to zigzag up the sides. The road had landslides in many parts and would be impossible to drive up without a four wheel drive car. Also, Keku knew that the Goverment were stopping people from driving too far up the road as it was still closed further up due to snow covering it. However, we got up early enough to avoid the roadblock and drove as far as we could. We then had to scramble up the snow covered slopes carrying our boards and supplies. We went through wooded areas and trudged through the snow for at least an hour until we reached the best snowboarding area. It was incredibly windy and the terrain either slippy, bumpy or really hard. By this time we were around 3500 meters high and the altitude made your lungs hurt as you puffed and panted your way up.
We had breakfast and admired the mountain ranges surrounding us and then started snowboarding. It was my first time, so for the first hour I spent most of the time falling on the ground. However, as I got my balance and my confidence increased, I was able to traverse across the slopes in both directions and was able to start right at the top of the mountain with the others.
I managed a couple of turns when almost stationary, but that is something I will have to work on next time, rather than throwing myself on the floor to stop flying down the mountainside. It was great fun and I really enjoyed the day. By the end of it I was exhausted and sunburnt but had a fantastic time.
When we got to the road again, it had turned into a big tourist attraction, known as the 'snow line'. Lots of Indian tourists come here to see snow, many for the first time and it was a quite a spectacle watching them. They all hire huge old fur coats that make them look like characters from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Alternatively, the wear bright coloured tight ski outfits and wellies. The funny part is that it was absolutely boiling and the sun was really powerful there, so they must have been very hot. They also don't appear to like walking in snow as there are porters who push them along in carts that look like wheelchairs and they only get out to have their picture taken next to the snow and then get back in again.
I met some other travellers on the bus journey here and so have been having fun hanging out with them. It turns out that I was in the same class at primary school as the younger brother of one of the guys...small world!
I only have a few days left in India now and will soon be heading off to Nepal to do some trekking, so my mountain walks are hopefully giving me a bit of practice of what is to come.