After breakfast, we boarded the bus and headed south again, away from Manali, the town known as “the end of the inhabitable world!”
Driving south we descended quickly in altitude. We saw how the vegetation becomes lusher and more and more tropical. Passing through apple and apricot orchards, into areas of palm trees and warm air.
The gorge at the bottom of Kullu valley is steep and the Vyaas river narrows to a deep channel, separating the whole valley from the southern areas of India. I’ve heard that some Indians don’t even really consider Himalayan people as Indians, but as mountains tribal people. The road cuts through a long tunnel through the middle of a mountain. Then, emerging, the road becomes very twisted and narrow and the bus crawled along amongst green valleys, little towns and high cliffs overhead.
Hours later, we arrived at Mandi, the city at the start of the Punjab state. We just happened to be passing through Mandi on the one big day that Mandi celebrates the festival of Lord Shiv. Mountain people take their town gods out of the temples, carry their unique gods on palenquins, accompanied by horns blowing, drums beating and a parade of village men, to the grand festival on this holiday celebrating the lord of absolute bliss.
As we watched by the roadside, the groups would stop and blare their horns and blaze their pride of their own god arriving.
In town, we made our way through the crowds to where we had lunch. It was fun to walk through a lively town, abuzz with excitement of the evening festivities and music.
After Mandi, we stopped at a Shiv Temple that was fully decorated with garland streams of marigolds. This temple is said to be the oldest temple in northern India, having been built by the Pandav brothers of the Bhagavad Gita fame. We went into the temple grounds and right into the center of the temple where a priest was preparing for the rituals that would go on all night long. Shiv Ratri is the darkest night of the whole year and people traditionally stay up and celebrate all night.
We managed to get out of town before the hoards arrived!
That evening we got to Taraghar Palace in Palumpur. This is one of the houses of a local King and photos hang on the walls of old British Rajas standing with the Indian royalty, playing polo and tiger hunting. A new wing of the palace has expanded the older part of the palace. We ate in the big dining hall, another yummy Indian dinner. After a group of us met in the “Blue Chandelier Room” where there is a big blue glass chandelier! We sang Hindi and Sanskrit traditional and devotional songs, mostly for Shiv, until the evening was late.