No Escape from “Progress”

Early morning we put Kullu behind us and ride two hours up into Manali, the last town before the great Rothang La mountain pass which leads up into the great heights of the Himalaya and towards the Ladakh Plateau.

To my disappointment I hardly recognize the place. A lot has changed in the last seven years and the beautiful green river valley is now dotted with countless hotel complexes, guest houses and shop stands. In a conversation with a local I find out that seven years ago there were about two hundred hotels in Manali – now there are about two thousand!!

Riding along the main road towards the Rothang La my heart sinks – alas progress has inevitably made its way here too – and I am filled with the temptation to motor onwards and upwards to meet the great desolation beyond the Rothang pass. Of course I don’t do this because I know what kind of roads lie ahead, so we turn around and decide to check out the small village of Naggar, about 16km down-valley, to find a bit of nature less tainted by the human hand.

On the way we stop for breakfast at a small road-side cafe called Cafe Sunshine – fried eggs, chapati bread and double strength Nescafe is just what we need. As the only guests, we get talking with the owners, Mark and Anna, a lovely couple in about their forties by my estimation. Having made their fortunes in the property business, they are near retirement and own a cottage on the river bank across the street and also a house in Shimla and Goa. They move between these places every few months and they run this store for their own pleasure.

cafe sun shine

Mark is a very interesting guy: following some incidents in his past, he became obsessed with study of the holy scriptures of the major religions (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Judaism) and claims to have studied these for fifteen years – which seems evidently true listening to him!  He is not a follower of any particular church – he detests them – yet he is clearly a man of deep faith. We lounge at the shop under an umbrella for hours, enjoying perfect weather and having long, deep conversations about the past and present of various religions. Listening to Mark is a real education and I truly enjoy it. Conversing with him is like getting a compact summary of all the bibles I have never – but have intended to – read, plus a whole lot of historical background which would never come to light without the due research.

We exchange contacts, they offer us a place to stay with them any time we care to visit again, and we say our goodbyes and head to Naggar. Naggar is small and all the roads are narrow and steep. I am really impressed with the Enfield’s stubborn grunt pulling us and our luggage up these hills. It’s afternoon now and we’re tired, but we check out several guest houses in the area, most of which we do not like and some of which want to charge us an arm and a leg. But eventually we find a beautiful clean room with a beautiful view of the valley at a very reasonable price, in the Poornima (Purnima?) Guest House.


purnima hostal naggar

We freshen up and go for a drink at a nearby roof garden restaurant and then take dinner at the guest house, as prepared by the owner’s wife. We take along the rest of the pint-bottle of whisky as we’re both looking forward to a few drinks and I am hoping to annihalate the bout of diarrhoea that caught me somewhere before our arrival in Karsog.

purnima hostel naggar

purnima hostel naggar

A dinner of black dal (lentil), red rice, mixed vegetable and chapati bread is served on the roof-top. We are the only ones there and right in front of us in the darkness are thousands of tiny lights on the massive mountain sides and the valley and a clear starry sky and a half-moon. It’s spectacular, it’s romantic and the meal is the best we have eaten in India, hard to compare with the exquisite Tiger Prawns we had in Arambol.

The dishes aren’t spicy at all, which is very unusual for India! We sit, we talk, we eat and get a tad drunk as we finish the rest of the bottle of whisky with coke. It’s a perfect evening!

purnima hostel naggar