Friday September 7, 2012: Cow is the belly of God
After yesterday’s 15-hour journey, there is no urgency to overdo things today. We went to bed late, and are sleeping in late. We take our time for a superb breakfast and we enjoy the company of our family in Manali. The temperature is very agreeable, probably just below 25C, and there is a delightful breeze.
The family house is one of the older buildings in Manali. The wooden staircase, with giant steps, is very beautiful. We have a room at the first floor, with a partial view on lower Manali. In front of the house is a garden with 5 apple trees, and in our neighbour’s garden, 3 cows are grazing. What a contrast with the rest of Manali. Old buildings and apple trees are taken down to put apartment buildings or hotels. Manali is very popular with the rich Indian tourist, especially in June and July when Delhi is experiencing +40C temperatures. Also in winter, people come to have some winter sports fun.
Opposite our street, is an empty plot of land. In between the small apple trees gypsies have put up their tents. According to my host, the three brothers who own the plot, cannot agree on how to divide it.
Tenzin would like to preserve the family house. It is indeed a beautiful safe haven in between a concrete jungle. But he also realizes that this will be difficult, once his brothers and sisters will start families and be building their own life.
In the afternoon, I ask Tashi to take Sofie and me up to the higher streets of Manali, so that i can make a picture of the city. But it does not work out the way I think it should. Although we have a very beautiful walk, there is no place without buildings preventing an overview of the entire city. Higher up, a forest of gigantic deodar trees, well preserved by the governments, is also interfering with my plan.
Streets are not always streets in Manali. People build a house or a hotel, and then put a road towards it. So sometimes what seems to be a street is just a dead end leading to 2 or 3 buildings. Clean is not really the correct word, but Manali is certainly a lot cleaner than Delhi.
Once up, we follow the forest border to a place called Old Manali. Apart from the all present cows, we are having close encounters with a family of monkeys. Below us, the wild river Beas finds its way. Between the road and the river is a national park with more deodar trees. They look like fir trees, but they are a type of cedar. They look like 3 meters wide and might well go up a tall 60-75 meter. I’ve never seen any tree like this before.
We are descending now towards the main town. Sofie is getting hungry and she wants to eat momo (a type of dumpling native to Tibet, which her mother makes for her now and then). Cars are very dangerous to people, also in the center of town. But there is progress. The main market square has been rendered traffic free, and workers are laying their last hand on a beautiful pedestrian zone.
Tashi leads us to a restaurant where they serve momo. Neither he nor I are hungry, so we order a Coke, and Sofie wants to eat momo with beef. The waiter, a nice cool chap, mumbles something like ‘Cow is the belly of God’. And it takes me a couple of seconds before i realize we are still in India where cows have a different status. So I apologize for the possible offense and order lamb instead. Only now Tashi gets it. Although he has been living here most of his life. Then he tries to re-pronounce what the waiter really said, and that must have been something like ‘You wouldn’t want to eat cow in the valley of the gods.’ But since people in India do not always pronounce English the way we are used to, V is often pronounced as B (this also happens in Spanish) and the first words got lost due to attuning to the waiter’s accent.
Anyway, no religious war started, and Sofie got delicious lamb-momo in her belly.
Tashi leads us to the old market, a bazaar where hundreds of small shops all sell the same type of cloths, and there we end our first Manali experience and go back home.
We really got a very good first impression of Manali, but couldn’t make a panoramic picture of it. We would probably have to climb the East side of the valley of the gods.