Staying at Leuten’s Bungalow for a single night. Bus leaves at 5:30pm the next day from Kashmiri Gate. Must leave hotel by 4:30pm because of traffic. Stuff to get done today:
- Visit the dang spice market – are the spices there any different?
- Find some good lunch
- Visit The Manor hotel to see the new InQ restaurant. Maybe stay at Manor on my return to Delhi in 50 days?
- Figure out where I’m staying when I return to Delhi in August
- Get to bus on time.
Big breakfast, 3 cups of french press. Find a tuk tuk. Go to ATM to get some Moneys. Guy is a pain in the ass, tries to get me to go to every dang tourist stop there is.
Finally at the spice market he wants me to take a bike rick shaw. Dangerous pickpockets! For your protection! Whatever. I like bike rickshaws and for 200rp I enjoyed myself.
Spice market is fine. Some shops are good, some are really pushy. The product doesn’t blow me away. I am wondering about a certain weird spice that I had trouble with in the states: Dagad Phool, otherwise known as Kalpasi. Its a lichen. The first N places I check (where N is large) they keep pointing me at other shops. Finally there’s a shop that has it. It is pretty much indistinguishable from the stuff I got in the states. Not sure how its different, if the stuff I bought was good. I dunno. Mystery not solved.
At the spice market I eat at a local place. Again food is ok but not… great? Are my standards so high? What gives?
I have lots of time left in the day so decide to go check out The Manor, a fancy boutique hotel in south Delhi. My driver has a terrible time finding the place, its in friends colony which is a walled enclave for rich people and has a single entrance on a horribly busy traffic street.
The Manor is really nice. The architecture is clean and simple. In my eyes extremely luxurious. Simple design doesn’t have a bunch of stuff placed all over for decoration: I don’t want to see vases of glass flowers. The place has a nice lawn, nice garden, nice windows and doors, nice door frames. Everything is calm, cool and nice. And the folks that work there are smart and insightful.
The place used to host the “allegedly nicest restaurant in Delhi”, perhaps in all of india “India Accent.” But India Accent has now moved to the damned Lodhi, the Manor got a refurbishment and there’s now a new restaurant that some internet postings say is supposed to be good. I bet it’d be really nice to stay at The Manor. But… it has no pool, and I’m guessing when I return from the biking I’ll be wanting a place with a pool. I am showed around and end up in the restaurant. I check out the menu and whoa… looks pretty awesome. I’m thinking I won’t stay here but could book a meal there when I return to Delhi.
After my brief visit at the manor I head back to hotel to collect my stuff and think. Where to stay on my return? Hmm.. I am searching the internet and in the end… yeah… I gotta just stay at the Imperial. I like the imperial, it has a pool, and I’ll be happy there. I find a deal for $110/night. A crazy price for delhi but would be a bargain in the states.
Pack my bags, find another taxi. Decide to head over to the imperial to drop off my gin for them to hold until my return. I’ll have no need for a bottle of premium gin. Also at the imperial I hit up the bakery for their afternoon baked goods discount, I score a loaf of their walnut banana bread for $5. Lots of money for india but a bargain for a lovely breakfast when I’m on the bus to Manali.
Shedding a tear I leave the Imperial. See you again in 50 something days!
The bellhop station had legimate concern in their eyes. “An open bottle of Gin?” I explain that its really good gin, but i can’t take it to ladakh with me and wish to enjoy more of it upon my return. This is unusual… usually we don’t accept such a thing… but the main bellhop comes through: “No problem, we’ll take care of it!”
There’s an unsaid implication that I’ll be sharing some of it with the bellhops when I eventually depart for the USA. At least that is my understanding. If anyone deserves it its them. The gin was Cao Runn. Very smooth and nice crisp bite.
Finally I stop at a pharmacy and pick up some diamox for altitude. Diamox apparently tricks you body into thinking its at altitude. It makes you breathe more, makes you pee a ton, but this also causes the body to start adapting to altitude before you are there. I figure I should start dosing myself continuously until whenever morning I will start my ride over the Rhotang pass. So I take 2 pills to prime that pump, then twice a day until the night before I start riding the Rhotang.
Arrive with plenty of time to spare. Discover a hoard of old men in hard core european biker gear. They’re on their way to Manali to ride the legendary hard core road from Manali to Leh. They’re in a group but don’t really know each other, spend their time smelling each other’s status. They are exactly like Harley owners in the US. Motorcycling is part of their identity, they’ve bought into some sort of branding thing, part of being cool I guess.
I booked the last seat on the bus, which was strangely the very back left seat. Ride is good. My seat doesn’t fully recline. The seats of the two guys in front of me are broken, will recline forever, so they’re constantly slamming their seats into my knees until I yell at them to knock it the fuck off.
The other curious behavior I witness… people watch bollywood videos on their phones with the volume at full blast. So the whole bus gets to enjoy their entertainment. Bonus points when there are 10 people doing it at once. Is there no sense of bothering people with your noise?
Otherwise its a nice ride. We stop for dinner at one of the new casino style dhabas. I have Dal Makhani and Dum Alu, 3 butter Naan and 2 cups of a new ‘tandoori chai’ which is served up like the good chai of old. It is actually pretty good, served in a old style clay cup. It doesn’t have the used tire and wet wood smell of the good chai of old, but probably the best cup of masala chai I’ve had in the past 30 years.
After a pleasant night sleep thanks to another half pill of ambien I wake in time for our arrival in manali at 8am.
Because it is high season the bus is parked far out of town. No matter to me, I need a taxi anyway to get up to old manali with my boxes.
Taxi driver says… its a good thing I arrived early in the morning. Only 500rp to old manali. Says after about 11am the price would go up to 3000rp ($40). What?! Yeah he says, because the traffic is so bad the drive will take 5 hours. OMG. I have trouble believing this. But in the next few days I discover its true.
Arrive at my hostel: Zostel Manali. Luckily I booked a bed in a shared room while in the states, the last bed in the place. $9/night? I don’t remember. I booked more days than I hoped to use. That gives me flexibility in case weather is bad or I have a bike problem.
Fortunately only 2 beds in my room and there is space in the corner for my precious boxes. I relax in the garden and have a nice breakfast. I’m the only foreigner there, everyone is a young indian tourist. It’s high season and many, many, many indians are visiting manali.
Best thing though… my first roommate… he’s a math phd at IIT chandigarh. Probably the person I’ve met whose most satisfied with indian education. And even he gave me an earful about how totally awful everything is.
We got to talk a lot of math, which was great. And i showed him his first rick and morty episode.