The Kullu Valley is full of apple trees. The small apples are particularly
sweet and can be just picked off the trees and eaten.



Apricots are the fruit of choice in Ladakh and can be bought as fresh juice, dried, chopped, stewed or raw.

Cafes, apparel, art and music shops cater to the to the party atmosphere
in Old Manali. Many signs are written in Israeli.



No problem finding a place to stay in Manali just like most of the major towns in the Himalayas.


My friend Erin was standing outside a mosque in Srinagar.
Visit the mecca cola web site here.



As you can see the rates are pretty reasonable for sight seeing in Aru Wildlife Sanctuary, Kashmir.

Usually guides can provide food during a trek, just be prepared to share.



If you are going into the mountains for an extended period of time you will need a rain jacket like the one my friend Paul is wearing here.

The Alliance guest house in Naggar is run by an expatriot frenchman
and his family. The guest house is mentioned in the Lonely Planet and
is well maintained.



Usually you have your choice of Indian or Western toilets. Sometimes things get clogged up though.


Boat Houses like these are parked all over Dal Lake in Srinagar.
However, the novelty can wear off quickly.



Horses can carry your gear or you. If you are not accustomed to horse riding,be prepared for chafed legs and a sore back if you ride for too long.


Sometimes called the Venice of the East, Srinagar has convenience
sellers in boats who will paddle up to your guest house selling you
everything from chocolate to shampoo.



The McLeod Ganj taxi stand in Dharamsala. The restaurant in the distance is where the actor Pierce Brosnan dined.

Off the beaten road you will find astonishing beauty but also landfills
of trash like this, less so in the Buddhist areas. Please do not inherit
the local mentality of just letting your trash drop wherever you are.
Proper disposal places may be hard to find so you may have to carry
your trash with you until you return to your guest house.

We hiked to a waterfall in Dharamsala where an entrepreneurial young man had set up a small cafe near the waterfall to provide food and shelter from the rain. Supplies like soda and bottled water arrived on horseback from the town.



We experienced numerous long delays on the roads leading to Leh,
Srinagar and Manali due to roadwork. Workers fight a losing battle
against severe weather conditions and landslides. These roads close down
completely after the summertime.

Although a sight like this was rare, it is still a reminder to just how dangerous the Himalayan roads can be. Flights also operate regularly between Srinagar, Leh and Delhi.


No place on earth can match the scale and height of the Himalayas and the diverse terrain captures the beauty from many regions of the world. At the foothills of the Himalayas, the town of Rishikesh guards the entrance to the higher peaks. In the morning from Anand Vihar Bus Terminal in New Delhi, bus conductors shout like a ringing bell, “Haridwar, Rishikesh!” a beckoning echo that can follow you all the way up to the mountains.

Like much of Uttaranchal, Rishikesh is an adventure paradise where you can mountain climb, repel, trek into the foliage covered hills, raft in the river Ganga, paraglide and bicycle your way around just to start. I met many travelers who simply looked out into the distance and said, “I think I'll climb that mountain today." It was a feat that could be accomplished with ease as there are beautiful rolling mountains nestled on all sides within a few minutes stroll. Rishikesh has numerous hidden temples, ashrams, beaches and gathering places off the beaten rode. Waterfalls cascade down the northern banks and sadhus live alone for years in the nearby caves.

Some mountain trails lead to specific destinations, but many continue for ages. Few locals venture into the abandoned Maharishi ashram on the opposite bank from Ram Jhula, but this is where the Beatles stayed. For a bird’s eye view of the town, climb up the hill to the Neelkanth Temple. Haridwar is a more bustling, pilgrim centered town and is just a 45 minute jaunt by rikshaw. Also it can be fun to watch the Lakshman Jhula bridge where visitors from all parts of the world negotiate the traffic of animals, motorcycles, carts and prasad stealing monkeys. The German Bakery across the bridge serves up the best view for this.

It is easy to find a guest house catering to Western tastes if you are so inclined, especially in the outlying and less populated areas of Ram and Lakshman Jhula. These twin bridges are up a steep road from the main town and have spectacular views of the Ganga, the hills and opposite banks. Most foreign travelers stay around these two bridges or higher up along the road away from the river. Hotel Divya is a fairly clean guest house and most places you will find have in-house internet access (very slow), restaurant, laundry and travel service. More spacious rooms with air conditioning are pricier. Shiva Resorts near Ram Jhula is a bit more upscale and has a nice Nepali restaurant and friendly staff.

Since Rishikesh is close to Delhi, all the major amenities are available including ayurvedic toiletries, electronic supplies, ATM machines, international cuisine and apparel. Being the Yoga capitol of the world, posters and advertisements for Yoga classes, retreats, massage courses, vipassana and all sorts of spiritual advice and healing can be seen everywhere, with accommodation for most time schedules. Following recommendations is usually the safest bet.

I learned First Degree Reiki from Shantiji, a Reiki master who has been teaching in Rishikesh for many years. Sitting peacefully in the German Bakery during lunchtime overlooking the Lakshman Jhula bridge, Shantiji easily blends in with the other travelers.

Ved Niketan holds a monthly back to back course on Yoga and Indian philosophy which gives a wide ranging education for a skeptical mind. Swami Dharmananda may be stern, but compensates with clear elocution and a willingness to entertain questions. Countless travelers and friends of mine attended this course for just one day and ended up staying for a whole month, myself included.

I would also recommend Surinder Singh, an amazing Yoga instructor who teaches at the Raj Hotel. Surinder is so popular with foreigners that you will have to come early to find a space and a yoga mat. His manner is quiet and graceful, hearing his patient instructions can sooth the mind just as much as the postures themselves. A true Yogi.

Between Surinder Singh’s Hatha Yoga and Swami Dharmananda’s theory, for about $4-5 a day, you can have a wonderful time learning the science of Yoga with plenty of hours left to swim in the ganga, discover mountain trails and hang out with locals and travelers.

After exploring Rishikesh and the outlying areas, I took a train to Pathankot and then a shared taxi to Dharamsala. The train was bogged down with travelers and I found two people already occupying my seat when I arrived. However, they were friendly and we spent the night chatting.

Dharamsala has a completely different energy from Rishikesh and perhaps boasts the most eclectic and excellent array of eating establishments in the Himalayas. Ask around where the best bowl of muesli can be had, and perhaps you will be directed to “The Exile Brothers Café.” For many people, this may be their first introduction to Tibetan delicacies like momos and thukpas. Movie stars and political figures visit McLeod Gang frequently, where the Tibetan government in exile has set up its headquarters. Although I forget the actual names, it is quite eerie to see buildings like the “Department of People's Welfare,” or the “The Tibetan Government Waterworks,” in such a low key and unassuming environment.

Monks and lay people lead a seamlessly intertwined life with most families having at least one family member who is a monk or has been. Monasteries sprinkle the hillsides where red robed monks and women wearing traditional Tibetan garb roam the paths. Trinket shops will sell boiled water and hand out political pamphlets. It is not uncommon to be turning a prayer wheel while hip hop music blares at the next corner. Women have a tremendous amount of freedom and operate many of the businesses on their own.

The fine Tibet Museum is a must see stop on the way to the main temple. It was really sad to see old photos of Tibetan Resistance fighters in the snow fighting an against all odds battle with China. Movie halls in Mcleod Ganj screen well made documentaries along with pirated versions of recent blockbusters; so take a break and bone up on the latest activities of the Dalai Lama, Tibetan history and what some organizations are doing to counteract the various nefarious activities going on in the world.

Dharamsala and particularly the area of Mcleod Ganj can be another very steep place and just walking around from the outlying areas of Bhagsu and Dharamkot can be a climb in itself. Accommodations are much better than in other areas of the Himalayas and, in general, I found that areas with a Buddhist influence, such as Dharamsala and Ladakh, had cleaner and better housing, food and environmental regard.

Then it was on to Srinagar which was an overnight journey by shared taxi. Many are aware of the political turmoil in Kashmir and travelers should be wary of the occasional violence against tourist bystanders. Several tourists where killed in a bomb blast in Pahalgam just days before I arrived in Srinagar. After I left, I read in the newspaper of an Australian tourist who had been kidnapped on a house boat.

I traveled in a group of eight people with a mixture of passports from American, Canadian and Israeli. Other than the penchant of the average Kashmiri to try and sell you anything from saffron to pillow covers, we traveled for three weeks unscathed. The draw of Srinagar is the house boats, which are supposed to be luxurious vestiges of colonial times. However, some houseboats can be very decrepit and as a matter of course, a traveler becomes tied to the host for even simple things like a ferry ride to the road.

We stayed at a house boat called the Dream Palace which also arranged our treks into Pahalgam and Lidderwat. The family owning the guest house was knowledgeable and friendly, although they were aggressive in trying to lead us toward dumbed down package tours of the surrounding areas. Food in Srinagar, and Kashmir in general, is a step back from Dharamsala especially for a vegetarian. A house boat will usually provide meals and cook whatever a guest requires but the food may not be the most healthiest or diverse. Kashmiri saffron tea is a nice change from the usual milk tea that is served throughout the rest of India.

Gulmarg, Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Lidderwat, the Kolahoi Glacier, Aru and Amarnath are just a few of the main destination points but even places outside the tourist track are real attractions here. In general, almost the whole area is breathtakingly beautiful with constant mist covered hills in the distance, green rolling pasture land, rivers and streams at every turn. But you will need to come out of Srinagar to see most of this, and it is a good idea to pick up a more detailed map of the mountain ranges from a local shop. The cost of treks can vary greatly but it is probably wiser and cheaper to travel in a group. Guides can usually arrange for everything and can even double as a cook sometimes.

The journey to Lidderwat and the Kolahoi glacier led me, for the first time, into the invigorating and serene peaks of Kashmir. Our horses meandered down the trail through heaps of shaved rocks and a panorama of pine trees and pale peaks in the distance. Glacial streams carved themselves down the valley, where a river alternately gurgled and roared in the center. The Lidder Valley has a tremendous depth and distance and you can see the valley curving around for miles in front of you towards the glacier. We arrived within eyesight of the glacier but could not proceed as heavy rains soaked us to the bone.

In Sonamarg we trekked to Vishansar Lake, which is one of many high altitude lakes that serve up some of the most chilling, solitary and euphoric experiences that can be had in the mountains. Vishansar collects water from the pristine glacial mountains, and the water is so clear and isolated that it appears to contain a small universe in itself.

I was sad to leave Kashmir, but I never expected what was to come next. Ladakh is dry and rocky and amazingly different from Kashmir in the texture of the mountains and people. Ladakh has snowy peaks, sand dunes, desolate stretches, gompas (monasteries) impossibly carved into rocky mountainsides, lush countryside and some of the highest roads and passes in the world. All this is packaged with strange weather where you can be frying in the sun one minute and freezing the next. The roads into Leh are hair raising to say the least. You pass arching stupas closely camouflaged against the rocks, large precisely carved canyons and glimpses of colors and rocks that continue as far as the eye can see. You lose all perspective of time when you see the aged architecture and lost in time look of Lamayuru or Thiksey Gompa in the distance, or a shepherd driving a yak in a lush valley that seems to come out of nowhere.

The Indian army has a strong presence throughout Kashmir and Ladakh and half the trucks on the road are military operated. Army camps usually serve as checkpoints for tourists, and expect to show your passport and sign your name several times. Lone solders can be seen perched on hilltops, where there would be otherwise no one around.

You can be pretty smashed by the end of the day when by the bus reaches Kargil, a lonely outpost that is the halfway point of the journey to Leh. Roaming the streets of Kargil, you observe people with Central Asian features and Muslim names like Mohammad and Iqbal. The locals speak Hindi, wear salwar kameez and kurtas and cook up fried noodles and momos on the streets. There's not much to do in town, but you can get a decent night's rest at one of guest houses that cater to the bus route. The people seem peaceful and simple and it's hard to believe that a war occurred here between India and Pakistan in 1999.

If Dharamsala has nice eating establishments, Leh has some of the best tourist infrastructure available in the Himalayas, especially during the summer months. It seems that nearly every building has been converted either to a German style bakery, urban outfitters, travel agency, authentic eatery or guest house. The accommodations are clean, the food is good and Ladakhi people are out of this world friendly and engaging. Leh is at an altitude of 3500 meters above sea level and most travelers experience some sort of altitude sickness, especially those who fly straight from Delhi.

It is easy to just kick up your feet and enjoy the resort atmosphere of Leh in summertime, though you will run into many travelers who are doing NGO or volunteer work. The Women's Alliance is a small building close to the main bazaar, which supports the local based economy and screens interesting films about the effects of globalization on Ladakh and the status of women. Trips to neighboring towns like Choglamsar and attending the numerous festivals during the season are a great way to introduce yourself to the culture.

I almost didn't get a chance to visit the Nubra Valley because I came down with dysentery in Leh. However, as soon as I recovered I hitched a ride with a tourist jeep headed in that direction. I had to sit in the back seat of the jeep for the whole ride but it was worth it. The Nubra Valley has only recently been open to tourists and features scenery that you are not likely to find anywhere else in the world let alone India. Driving into the valley entails climbing over the famous Khardung La Pass. The roads are tricky and full of switchbacks, leading up over Leh until you are almost eye level with the snow capped peaks in the distance.

Another army operated pass, Khardung La is bleak and inconspicuous except for a large monument stating that you are standing at the highest motorable pass in the world. After driving down from the pass, the sand dunes begin. The stretches of silvery gray with wafers of green cropland make for a very two toned landscape. Also the patterns are so uniform and geometric that, at first, you are not exactly sure what you are staring at. It is only when you go down into the Sumur or Diskit that you realize that the valley is full of lush greenery and plants; much of the food you eat in the guest houses will be home grown. Double humped camels wander the dessert and you can go for a camel ride if you like.

The outstanding gompas are perched atop plateaus in the sand or chiseled into steep cliffs. From afar it is hard to make out Diskit Gompa against the sandy colored mountainside, but as you approach you begin to appreciate just how seamlessly the entire backdrop appears. Imagine a Minis Tirith in the dessert with multitiered shrines and living quarters. Below at a neighboring school the crimson robes of young monks flap in the breeze as they perform their morning chants and exercises facing glacial mountains on all sides. It seems incredible for someone who has lived their whole life in the flatlands, though one can only imagine how living here year after year would feel.

After returning to Leh, I rested for several days preparing for the ordeal that was to come. The Leh to Manali Road is a harrowing once in a lifetime experience that leads you over passes 5000 meters high and then drops you into valleys thousands of meters below. It is not uncommon for travelers to get stuck on this road due to bad weather or ill health and be forced to stay in tent camps or walk. In fact, we left one Israeli girl in an army camp because she could not stop vomiting and panicking. Your body is relentlessly tossed and thrown off the seat due to the neverending descents and ascents, switchbacks and braking. The road crosses streams, canyons, rattling bridges, uneven stone and gravel and sometimes hardly seems like a road at all but like what you would find in a Universal Studios Tram ride. Not to mention the fact that the bus often steers just a foot way from chasms that would mean instant death. The journey takes two days with a stop in Keylong for the night.

Like an ant confronted with an alien landscape, the view can only be absorbed in small bites. Above me the mountains were obscured, but I didn’t need to strain my neck to see the staggering scale of the crags in the distance. Even below me the weather hewn rocks and featureless foothills continue as far as the eye can see. The millennial stillness of the scenery and the snow conjures a desolate peace, yet on closer inspection a peculiar ecosystem and wildlife survive at every change in altitude. Frozen waterfalls turn to muddy rivers, canyons crop up look like prehistoric teeth and billowing peaks leave no flora or fauna unturned. Look out the window on these mysterious roads and you can be sure to encounter nearly every type of landscape you can imagine.

The Rohtang La Pass is an impressive juncture into the Kullu Valley with cloud encircled mountains literally staring you right in the face while you wind your way up and down. Kullu is a refreshing sight with its moist air and green hinterland coating compared to the dry dessert of Ladakh. Manali is a tourist trap if there ever was one, with tripped out foreigners and honeymooners clogging the beautiful parks and roads. However, there is a certain feeling of returning to civilization in Manali, and a return to “real” India with its rikshaws, swarms of people and carefree sense of cleanliness.

Naggar is an addicting little hideaway in Kullu where you can avoid the crowds and experience the idyllic life of the villagers. The people are about the nicest I met in India and lacked the artificial sense of hospitality I sometimes felt in Leh. You can just walk around Naggar, up over the hills and wander through villages where children play and eat apples off the trees. Women walk with baskets full of fruit on their back while both men and women fix broken patches of road. Hardy grandmothers with colorful scarves wrapped around their heads herd cattle, pluck hay, or simply squat on the sides smoking. An important landmark here is the home of the late artist Nicholas Roerich, converted into an art gallery, with quaint and rambling gardens.

Please continue to page two for impressions of Varanasi, Sarnath and Bodhgaya . . .