Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Last Daze in India!

Hey friends and family,

We left beautiful but increasingly rainy Dharamsala and headed for the flatlands, first spending two days at beautiful Rewalser Lake, another Buddhist site in a Himalayan setting where the sage Padmansbava stayed before he brought the teachings of Buddhism to Tibet. It's near a bustling important city full of Hindu temples, Mandi, and the small town of Rewalser itself is impressively diverse with small Hindu temples, a Sikh temple, several beautifully painted Buddhist monasteries. Everyone walks around the lake, many with prayer wheels, clockwise. At dawn one could hear if awakened, many different faiths very early morning hymns over their loudspeakers. One facet of India that can both charm and annoy depending on how sleep deprived one is, is the fact that there seems to be music in the air all the time. On top of it all was a brand new massive monument to Padmansbava seen in our photos, we did not get up to the unfinished site to see it, but it looks to rival the size of the Statue of Liberty. It was not there the last time I passed through this place in 2006.

On the way to Rewalser, we passed through the town of Kangra, which at one time was famous for its miniature painting school. We visited an important Devi goddess temple, bustling with intense activity, chants, incense and the ringing of bells,all of which I love and makes me feel the presence of the temple as a living entity more than looking at the beautiful carvings alone. After that visit we stopped at the beautiful Kangra fort itself. It was a very soggy visit with heavy and light rain intermittent as Kangra was not far enough from Dharamsala to be out of the cover of clouds. However, after many past trips of day after day of cloudless blue skys, the diversity of weather was refreshing, the drama of the clouds, and fog rolling in and out, and then sudden bursts of sun and lush lush fields, reminded us at times more of Ireland than India. In the town of Kangra our driver left us in the crowded bazaar area to find the temple, then told us where to find him. It was totally disorienting and we thought we might have been lost forever and were very very happy to see him. He had the best car we had driven in, a new car with great suspension for the rough roads, with a cd sound system and a 4 hour cd of old Bollywood hits he had downloaded and made into a cd which I ended up buying from him. John continued his collection of purchasing "photoshopped" mementos of the temples overlaid with miraculous images of deities and impossibly beautiful landscapes. Lucky you (and not me) who will get to live with this increasing collection he started years ago when we visited southern temples, but if nothing else, they are wonderfully if kitschy reminders of the trip.

The Kangra fort was atmospheric, with ruins of an old Hindu temple inside of it still being actively used, and plenty of monkeys to keep John amused and snapping his camera, he is talking about getting a pet monkey or two or three when he returns to California as companions for his dog Onyx. The monkeys and their antics can certainly keep one distracted for vast amounts of time!

We finally settled in Rewlasar which was the best region from which to find the last of the wooden temples on my list although we took two off the list as they were over 100 klm away, and we had had more than enough driving. The one we could see was in a village that like the rest, was not on my map but the travel agent knew where it was and gave our driver directions how to get to a small village up and up and up on a typically frightening road, one that our drivers car was clearly not up to the job, it was a logging road, narrow, rutted and finally impassible. Our driver seemed frightened also, which made me even more nervous. I tried to keep my "scholars resolution" and kept going, though secretly I was not sure if I could admit that maybe just maybe I did not really need to see this one last temple. However if not for these temple searches we would not have seem so much the "off the beaten track" parts of HP. We finally left the car behind and walked the rest of the way. The terraced rice fields in the sun (the rain stopped once we were further south,) were spectacular. We never found the temple, but as in most cases, the journey was more important than the destination.

Once we arrived in the tiny village where we were told the temple was, we encountered people living there who were strangely unfriendly, very much unlike our visits to other small towns where people were extremely friendly and curious. John's theory was that perhaps people were wary of visitors (foreign in particular) because of the ample fields of cannabis planted there for a fall harvest. We innocently were taking photos of the beautiful landscape and then became nervous once we sensed that we were really not welcome there, though nobody said a thing, it was just very stony, reports in the lonely planet speak of foreigners disappearing from HP, most likely related to the flourishing if illegal drug trade, and decided that we would quickly depart, they may have thought we were documenting the fields or maybe they enjoyed their privacy and did not appreciate strangers stomping in. If our driver had been able to make it all the way up he no doubt would have been helpful in explaining either what we were looking for or what we were doing there.

On the return journey however, we stumbled on two more temples we did not expect to see, one a small very much "folk art" temple adorned with wooden snakes, and another in a more major town, a beautiful elaborately carved and painted temple that I remembered seeing on my 2006 trip. This one fortunately had not been uniformly painted in a light brown as distressed me with so many other temples on this trip, but had been nicely repainted in bright primary colors however a new marble structure had been erected front of it that partially obstructs a full view until you are inside of it.

Next we headed down out of the mountains to the hot plains of the Punjab where we spent one night in Chandigarh, the capital city of the Punjab designed by
Le Corbousier. It is very different from any other Indian city in that it is laid out in a grid structure with various "sectors" for the government, dining, living, entertainment etc. Although tree lined, we found it strangely overly organized and almost foreboding, reminding us with all of its dreary worn concrete of a communist block city, minus guard towers, it did not have spirited colorful texture of the typical crazy chaotic Indian city that I so much enjoy and identify with India. The museum however was quite impressive as the fanciful Nek Chand "rock garden" a four acre site that in the US would be termed "outsider art" of mosaic and stone figures and forms, waterfalls, labyrinths paths all designed by a former government worker on the sly. When the Indian government found what he was doing (upon wanting to expand the city) they actually "hired" him to expand and continue the project, like an Indian "Watts towers" it is in such delightful contrast to the severe order of the rest of the city and a major tourist attraction in India, as evident from the crowds there on a Sunday even between very heavy bouts of rain.

The drive from Rewalsar to Chandigarh was very tough, luckily done on a Sunday as we passed a major city with a cement factory and overloaded trucks full of cement bags dominated the two lane highway which had to be continuously passed on narrow mountain roads and as we descended it became hotter and hotter. Indian trucks belch out exhaust from pipes on the side of the truck so each time we passed one we got covered with grime and the equivalent of smoking a few packs of cigarettes probably. We smartly opted for an AC car to Delhi.

The drive to Delhi was great, they are working on a new highway that in most parts of complete so our driver could really cruise, we arrived in about 4 hours, (it used to be over 6) though it took a bit of additional time once in Delhi as we had to stop and pick up my stored suitcase at the Fulbright house in downtown Delhi and then get to our hotel in another area. The driver had been told for some reason that we were going to the airport and the poor young guy seemed terrified, it seemed he had never been into central Delhi. It was a real test of my knowledge of the city as I had to direct him to both places and he spoke very very little English. He seemed challenged but cheerful and again entertained us with a very wonderful cd of Hindu pop, we certainly had wonderful drivers on this trip overall. We offered him additional money for the trip which he would not accept.

Driving in India is truly amazing and confounding. At one point a truck had just stopped in the middle of the two lane highway to go into a food joint to get something to eat, causing a terrible traffic jam, there was room to pull over but he didn't and was clearly in no hurry to get back into his car and unjam the traffic. On the opposite side, as if to take good advantage of the crunch, the same restaurant was out on the road serving drinks to anyone on our side of the road who also wished to stop, completely stopping traffic on both sides. This is the National highway between Chandigarh and Delhi! (in many places the new highway is 4 or more lanes fortunately) When they came to us, we were very firm in wanting not to stop for drinks and "encouraged" the people in front of us to pull over so we could pass. In another incident a truck had stopped, again in the middle of the road, and the driver was sleeping under it, at about 10 am. I'm fully supportive of truck drivers getting sleep as so many bad accidents are caused by drivers lacking sleep, but, hey, maybe a rest stop is in order?! Cows still occasionally wander on the road, which is much more dangerous when you are going 90 klm. The new highway however is wonderful, divided with a strip of landscaped trees, but very few places for anyone to pull over, no shoulder in most places, so when there are stopped vehicles it gets messy quickly.

Driving into Delhi is interesting, so many huge new glitsy malls and apartment complexes, John said it looks like Miami, most of wonderful design, and with the attempts at controlling auto emissions in Delhi, hopefully they will retain their glitz and not like so many newer building in Indian cities, look worn out in a few years. So here we are back in Hot Hot Hot Delhi on our last few days enjoying our last moments of shopping. Delhi is an expensive city so we could only afford a hotel in the grungy backpacker bazaar area which makes the heat seem even more intense. John has a interesting photo of some electricity outside of our hotel. We enjoyed a dinner last night in a "live" bar where a mixed Nepalese band played "hits" on John's request such as "Michelle", (particularly for his wonderful daughter) "Hotel California" "Proud Mary" and "Hey Jude" among others. India is indeed an often surreal crossroads which we have been so fortunate to experience on this wonderful trip. Thanks for being "computer" travelers with us, see you back at home!

One thing we have always always been strict about on this trip is attending to our cocktail hour and its about that time now!

So long friends and family, we are both looking forward to being back in the good old USA!

Kathryn and John

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lazy, Hazy Daze in Dharamsala

Here we are inside, the weather today is a indecisive debate between almost rain and almost sun and none seems to be winning, so it discouraged us from any lengthy walks as yesterday we got soaked to the skin on the way back from a morning hike. We however had a wonderful morning at Norbalinka, an institute set in beautiful peaceful gardens where young Tibetans learn the traditional arts such as painting and sculpture.

Otherwise we enjoy roaming the very very small, hilly and crowded lanes and taking long hikes out of the small town center. We are sort of lazy trekkers in that we get driven to a very very high location and then with the aid of maps, found a great walking path that took us down to our favorite river gorge. Kathryn however on the way up had a moment of panic, maybe as a result of so much pretty scary rides all along and made the car stop, she HAD to get out then and there, but it was good to walk the rest of the way uphill through tall pines and lush green glades, a little real exercise won't hurt us, but plumetting in a tin can like car with no seatbelts down a impossibly steep mountain might.

We found a terrific river gorge to walk above as well as swim in, it requires a hike out of McCleod Gang (everyone calls it Dharamsala but Dharamsala itself, is a gritty busy hot city 15 klm below the lush pine forests of McLeod, named after the British official who settled the hill town)
Anyway, we hike out of McLeod along a road above the river gorge where one can see monks in their brightly colored robes bathing and drying their outergarments (no nude monks in other words) on the rocks.

Yesterday's hike down from the mountains was one we were warned about trying to attempt by a travel adviser as the path was not that safe. We saw on the map that we could reach the the top of the waterfall that feeds the gorge, but were undeterred by the agent's warning (read - lost) and found the path, a bit dicey to say the least (lets say there are a distinctive lack of guardrails on any Indian road or path and they are not that well or at all maintained and tend to slide off the face of the mountain now and then) but it was well worth it as it was an amazing view. John of course, had to climb down the rocks a bit to have a look over the top edge of the waterfall while I clung safely to the rocks above, hoping that I would not have to be writing any unfortunate letter to Karen. I gave up screaming "don't you dare do that" many miles and cliff ridges ago, I do admire his hutzpa(read-craziness)and it makes me feel pretty boring a lot of the time. Maybe its just a "guy" thing.

Our first hike to the waterfall was early in the morning the day before and we took a dip (for me very very quick as it was colder than Lake Michigan in Chicago) but typically John was more daring and was befreinded by a nice group of young Indian boys, who all swam in their underwear. Women tend to swim fully clothed, and its not that fun after taking a dip to wear heavy water-logged shorts and t-shirt and even wearing so little is not usual in India, where Indian women tend to swim in a long tunic and pants, a Salwar Kameez or even Sari, talk about water-logged! We walked down to find a small pool fed by the more tamed waterfall and warmed ourselves on the rocks while John built some nice rock sculptures and cleaned up the empty bags of chipps floating by. The next day our pool was already claimed by monks but we found another just as nice nearby which we only shared with a lone billy goat. Other events in the pictures are walking around a path that surrounds the Dalai Lama's main monastery and Gompa, turning prayer wheels as we walked, its a difficult hilly walk, impressive to see so many people much older than us having no problems at all. We also went into the complex (taking shelter again from rain) where John has photographed monks having a lively debate there the winner dramatically slaps their hands together. There is never any anger, all seem to fully enjoy it and there are several groups doing it at once, and normally a sizable audience of foreigners.

This is a peacefully place where one is not to kill anything, John was told upon asking for a fly swatter for our rooms, to catch and not kill. The limit however with this non violent behavior was when a leech attached itself to his foot after stepping in a puddle. For me the limit was the huge spider in the bathroom that I asked John to kindly deal with (I don't know but I doubt he caught it and let it go) so we are probably guilty of killing our share of insect souls, hopefully not attaching too much bad karma to ourselves.

We have one more day here and are heading south to a beautiful lake near a major temple town, where Kathryn will find the last of her wooden temples. On then to Chandigargh and then hot hot hot Delhi and HOME at last to all of you!

Kathryn and John

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Photos Manali and Kullu

Blog going nuts

Dear Friends and Family

We cant really at our advanced ages (and probably because this IS India) figure out this blog stuff. Somehow our fist photos we were able to label nicely, now from Dhramsala (spelled correctly here) it not letting us order the photos or label them and is putting the old and new ones together. Then the computer balks and makes noises like it will shut off, so we panic. SO, here are photos from Manali, we will from now on, post photos and text separately. I think you can figure out the photos. We will post more photos later, and the SUN is out, it stopped raining and we are hitting the streets.

K and J

Manali to Dharmshala

Dear Friends and Family,

We settled comfortably in Manali and enjoyed a few days of walking around the busy modern section which we did not like nearly as much as the older part where we stayed in a lovely garden hotel. We befriended a really great family, the father a Bengali documentary film-maker from Calcutta who we both had much in common with, his British wife, an American friend living in Calucutta and five children between them. We shared Kathryn's birthday cake and gin and tonics with them on our last night. You see a view of Old Manali from across the river in the town the Lonely Planet described as "charming" we thought it was more like the spelling of it, VaiSHIT, really Lonely Planet, it was one long filthy busy shopping center of concrete without a a single old building left, but to be fair, our LP was written in 2005 and change happens quickly in India. Day trips took us to many wonderful old wooden temples, from both Manali and Kullu.
While we were exploring the old town of Manali we followed a path down from our hotel, and stumbled upon an opportunity for John to finally take a dip in the river, this a tributary of the Beas River that flows through the entire Kullu Valley. John made sure to NOT drink any of the river water. He was applauded because of his bravery, and also I think his age, by an enthusiastic crowd of Indians. Fortunately the bungee cord supporting him held up well. I was not nearly as brave and stood on the bank snapping many photos. We had Kathryn's birthday dinner a few days early as we found a really great restaurant and bar in Manali and we were warned that there were not to be such amenities in our next stop in Kullu when Kathryn's birthday would really occur. We had John's Father's Day dinner a few days before that in the same resturant.

A day stop in Nagar took us to a very charming village in the hills, this time described accurately in the LP this time, the home of the eccentric Russian painter Nichalous Roursch, whose house museum we toured. We saw, more wonderful temples and John found a great enthusiastic young man who he bought many delectable things made out of Yak and Angora (lucky you who will get theses) and the young man who is getting a degree in Sociology was very very pleased and appreciative of my interest in the old wooden temples and gave me much valuable advise on where to find them as many as we found, might be way off the main road in an Apple orchard, while some we did not expect to see were right on the main road, fortunately all of our drivers have been patient with our need to stop as Kathryn photographs these and indigenous examples of old houses and temples.

Next stop south was Kullu, not the most charming city but livley, we found one good place to eat that we kept returning to, and had a great room with a wrap around balcony, though minus the wall to wall red carpeting in the room and the sleepy staff, it could have been better. It was the best base for exploring the temples and views. Though because of no tourist infrustructure, we were subject to the extortionate feels of the local taxi union. The daily afternoon rain we encountered in Manali and Nagar, (just misty, nothing to stop us from exploring) ended in Kullu and we had a few hot sunny days. Rather than whitewater rafting which we had considered, we instead took an arduous hike 2 lkm up a mountain above the tree line, 800 steps (I counted on the way down, luckily did not know on the way up) and proved at my new age of 50, turned that day, that I was still in reasonable shape, and John is amazing, ten years my senior and a terribly good sport, as I was confused about what temple was what and he was not prepared with his sturdy Shimla bought new waking stick. As we progressed up, we kept waiting for the top to appear, but it never ever seemed to come, but when it finally did, the views from a ridge high above two valleys, was simply magic, as was the charming painted wooden temple that there are photos of Kathryn lighting incense inside of. Our legs were pure rubber after that and a gin and tonic on the wide wrap around balcony of our red carpeted room was well deserved. After a day in India, however, Gin and Tonics at the end of the day are ALWAYS well deserved.

We reached Dharmsaala by way of going south to Mandi first, then north, BUT the roads to our amazement were paved AND had stripes down the middle, suggesting that there could be two lanes of traffic, each going in its own direction! Finally off of a river bed, the lush green terraced fields gave us the impression that if our car did fall off the edge, we would bounce into soft green felt, (probably NOT the case in reality) Our progress was hindered by some of the heaviest rain we had ever encountered, and the cars we rent, though sturdy, do not have any kind of defrost, so the windows must be kept partially open and handkerchiefs used to clear the fog.

So we again have a great room in McCloud Gunge, 10 klm and very high above Dharmsala where its like a New England vacation town in mid July, many people from all over the world crowd the narrow street, barely enough room to have one car let alone trying to walk past them, hopefully when the weekend is over thing will calm down a bit, but it is interesting and there are many walks to take. Its fun to see red robed Buddhist monks walking everywhere as this is the home of the Tibetan exile community, thus the international flavor and we will visit the Dalai Lama's gompa though the DL himself is probably in Rochester or some other far flung globe trotting location continuing to talk about Tibetan independence, Free Tibet signs are everywhere, the movement continues, just to the left on our computer is a Free Tibet sign.

You can expect our next blog from Chandigargh, back on the hot plains of India, toward the end of our trip.

More from the road,
Love, Kathryn and John

Sunday, June 15, 2008

5 Days off the Grid in Spectecular Sangla and Spiti

Dear Folks,
"The End of the Habitable World" is the title of a book about HP, that aptly describes our last 5 days. We are now back in "civilization" in the resort town of Manali in north HP at the top of the Kullu Valley and are finding it pleasant, but after hardly seeing any people, aside from monks, or any other vehicles, (gratefully as the "roads" could hardly accommodate one car let alone two at the same time in the same place) it's strange to be among so many people. We are staying in a pleasant hotel with beautiful gardens, the hills surrounding us are lush with clouds hanging over the peaks, we seem to be older than most people here by at least 20 years! Lots of young "hippies" from all parts of the world and pot growing freely all over, including behind our hotel room. We will be here for a few days exploring and will head down the Kullu valley staying in a few nice sounding towns and then will head north west to Dharmsala, to meet with the Dalai Lama, if he is in town!

Back to the adventures of the last week at the edge of the habitable world. First, a long day trip down the spectacular Sangla Valley, going south from our main "National Highway" 22 route through Spiti. While the Lonely Planet is often overly enthusiastic or downright wrong about things, this time they got it right on when they described it as "the most spectacularly beautiful valley in HP" While many of the river roads drop right down to the river, in this valley there was a generous broad lush river bed full of charming small towns with traditional stone and wood architecture. Highlights were the small towns of Kamru with its haunting wooden tower temple and winding streets, and another town that was the last inhabited town close to the Tibetan border. It was the most surreal place I've ever been with its twisted roads and wooden houses along a small creek with a tower temple and another painted bright colors and covered with indigenous imagery, deities and snakes.

On our journey along the Sutlej River valley John noticed many signs about new hydro power plants and there was much evidence of construction and destruction, the roads were ghastly. He couldn't understand while they were in such bad condition as it was the heavily travelled national highway. Upon further thought and questioning our driver, Surendrer, he finally understood that in less than 5 year the majority of the road we travelled on would be under hundreds of feet of water, thus why continue to improve it. He was very saddened that this mighty river with class 6 rapids (at least) would soon become a vast lake, progress sucks, but the people here need the power. We both felt saddened and privileged, probably some of the last Americans to witness it's awesome greatness.

The next day we started our adventure through the Spiti valley, the lush green landscape changed into something looking more like a moonscape, or Martian landscape, barren, grand, but beautiful still in its own stark way. The architecture changed from wood to traditional Tibetan buildings of stark stone painted white as the religion changed from Hindu to Buddhist. We visited some fantastically located monasteries set dramatically high up on rocky hills, taking hair raising roads clinging barely to the mountain. Fortunately for us, we were able to hire a fantastic, genteel, polite, moderate and cute (this last fact probably escaped John's notice) who made the trip so much more pleasant and SAFE for us. He even changed his music from Hindu to Buddhist and we placed the Buddha statue John bought on his dashboard. We did tire of the same 4 tapes he tended to play over and over, so bought a lot more Hindi pop for him.

Tabo, Key and Nako monasteries had amazing wall paintings, Naco was not a heritage location so nobody was there and we could photograph at will, but in the other locations you first had tea with a monk, were maybe lucky to arrive when they were chanting, and then were taken to the various rooms to see wall paintings hundreds of years old. We stayed in the charming small town of Nako on a small lake John had visions of swimming in, turns out it was a drainage pond, but still pretty. We are staying at altitudes of approximately 12 thousand feet where the air is very very thin, John has developed a slight case of altitude sickness and finds it hard to sleep at night, fortunately he has had some time to acclimate, so the problem is not severe. He walks a bit slower than usual and takes deep breaths of precious oxygen. John's walking stick which previously fended off monkeys now has become an appendage that allows him to barely keep up with me, though I've gotten surprisingly winded myself at times.

Our last stop on the route was a town called Lossar, which really defined the meaning of "one horse town" or the "back of nowhere" and stayed in a very rough hewn room with an outhouse. It was run by and ancient charming man who spoke perfect English. The "shower" consisted of a spigot that did not work, a small hole in the ground and a huge pot of water outside with a small vase to gather it with. Had we stayed more the one night and had to use these facilities in earnest, it would have been interesting, plus it was pretty cold there. It was a possibility as we found that the road over the pass to Manali was closed, but opened early the next morning. It was one of the highest "inhabitable" villages in the world, we could not imagine what it would be like in winter! It was on route to the highest pass in India, Kazum.

The last portion of this trip was over two extremely high passes and then down the Kullu valley to Manali. The first pass, the highest in India, and nearly in the world, was snow covered with a Buddhist temple at the stop that we paid our respects at, it was awesome and foreboding. We must mention again the "roads" that we travelled over if indicated in a map in the US, would be classes as for 4x4 only, but these were still classed as a highway in India. We were lucky indeed to have a great driver and a sturdy Tata Sumo and to hardly see any other vehicles. There were mostly blind curves and the most severe switch-backs that one can imagine but this has been typical of our travels so far. Even though we have gotten used to these conditions the constant bouncing, bumping and twisting, takes a physical and psychological toll on our beings. Driving even 20 klm can seem like a hundred miles and takes as long. What contained to save our sanity and soul was the breathtaking scenery and in John's case, breathtaking is appropriate. We got out of the car often to photograph the scenery. I often screamed at John, "we are not stopping here, or you are not going there, or not so close to the edge" but John assured me that because the traffic was so sparse that there was very little chance of being hit by another vehicle, and he promised not to fall over the edge. In time I grew used to it, but since it was his artistry that chose the stunning locations, even the surprise rainbow to stop at, rather than merely mimic his photos, I started making fun photos of John taking photos! For all of you who regret that I have not yet found out how to post photos on this blog, we plan to do a dual slide talk in the art dept in early September when John will be in Storrs. Also, John will be working at my house to learn and put together a powerpoint presentation of his own to share with friends and family east and west.

We both felt that after we got over the Rhotang pass, the 2nd highest, we would enjoy the return to beautiful pine covered mountains and a relaxing drive to Manali. HOWEVER, this was NOT to happen as planned! The Rhotang was covered in thick fog, making visibility impossible with a light rain at first. To our amusement at the top of the hill was a massive "winter park" where seemingly thousands of Indians desperate to experience "snow" could rent or buy fake fur coats, boots and ride down the hills in contraptions that looked like a cross between an Adirondack chair and a sled. It was cloudy, foggy, rainy and the snow was nearly black with filth but everyone seemed to be having a grand time. Traffic was not to be believed and complicated by the fact that it was a one lane road in many places, the roads according to John were like the bed of a river or worse and to slow the traffic even further, an oil tanker truck had almost flipped over and blocked most of the road. We sat with the engine off for over two hours and then crawled inch by inch down the mountain. There was no evidence of "traffic control" but we are finally finally here and look forward to the rest of the trip! John is now talking to someone about learning how to put our photos on so check back soon and our breathing is much better and we are getting a chance to relax.

Kathryn and John

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Shangra-la after a sublime ride

Dear Folks
The definition for "sublime" means a terrifying beauty, and that aptly describes our rides from the past two days from Shimla to the temple town of Sarahan, to this gorgeous setting of the small village of Kalpa set in a magestic 18 thousand foot snow capped mountain peaks. Our hotel terrace which sits at 12 thousand feet, looks out at the peaks from where we watched, along with some jolly Indian and foreign tourists, a fabulous sunset. Kalpa is a quaint village that seems like time has graciously forgotten it, with traditional stone and wooden buildings, along with some of the ubitiquous concrete buildings, mostly the hotels looking over the village.

A quick re-wind back, John had a particulary exciting day in Shimla, we took a day trip to a chaming wooded area to seek out an old wooden temple, after that, on to a famed golf course where we had lunch and were treated to a concert of local musicians and dancers. On a walk in the wooded area next to the golf course, we stopped to watch a tv serial being filmed. Soon John was asked to play the part of an elderly British man with a trench coat, hat and cane, walking across the road. He was not paid for his services, but if we ever did find and watch this serial, John's name would have been in the credits! Next, Bollywood!

Driving in HP means cliff hanging roads above a rushing river, this time the Sangla river valley. In some places however, the beauty has been destroyed by hydro-electric power plants that make it look industrial and in those places the roads were terrible, a very bumpy ride, but at least then it forced our driver to slow down! Depending on a combination of factors, the type of car (bigger and sturdier is better and well worth the additional cost) the temperment of the driver (laid back or in a hurry) and his music, the ride can be tranformingly beautiful or simply terrifying. We have had both, and there is nothing more exhausting than a day of pure terror which describes our most recent all day drive, so we have learned our lesson to be more careful in hiring drivers. Today we are enjoying a leisurely day making travel plans and exploring the village of Kalpa and tomorrow a day trip on the Sangla valley to see two beautiful towns and more wooden temples that the area is famed for. Then we head out on Thursday for the real fronteir, Spiti, which was described by Kipling as a place where the gods must live because no man could. Its a remote area near the Chinese border that used to be part of Tibet long ago and has many ancient gompas with fresco paintings. We have to apply for a permit to go there. Probably no more posts for the next week until we reach the major tourist center of Manali in the Kullu Valley.

Love, Kathryn and John