And now, from the prize clown who brought you the Moroccan epic “Going to the Sahara in the Middle of Summer” comes its sequel: “Visiting the Himalayas in Deepest Winter”. We are in Manali, it’s Boxing Day, and it is *freezing*. The title of this entry is something of a white lie (ha) – we didn’t actually get a white Christmas, but Boxing Day has done its level best to compensate. It started snowing at about 10am and hasn’t let up since – our frantic dash into town for a lunch saw us wrapped in virtually every item of clothing we own. Leila set what must surely be some sort of record with seven layers, and only the fact that I don’t actually own seven layers kept me from doing the same.
If this all sounds somewhat negative, it’s probably only my native pessimism coming to the fore, because despite the weather (or perhaps because of it), it’s absolutely beautiful here. We’re staying in old Manali, which unlike the main part of town pretty much closes up for the winter. Both old and new must be pretty dreadful in summer – they’re awash with signs in Hebrew advertising hairdressers specialisng in dreadlocks and places with names like the “World Peace Cafe” – but at this time of the year, it’s peaceful and almost impossibly pretty. When the snow doesn’t obscure our view, we look straight across the river to yer genuine snow-capped Himalayan peaks. With the sky equally white, and only the trees to indicate where the mountains stop and the sky begins, there’s a curious and disconcerting sense that you’re looking through the peaks at the sky itself.
There’s plenty of walking around here, although today’s snowfalls might put the kibosh on attempting any of the tracks for now. It occurred to me as we skidded down the hillside in a worryingly skittish rickshaw that the snow might also make an awful mess of the roads, so we might end up stuck here for a while. But then, with homecooked fresh trout and endless chai at our beck and call (not to mention ESPN showing the Ashes in the morning and the Premier League in the evening), there are certainly worse places to get holed up over Christmas.
Apologies to all who I didn’t email to wish a merry Christmas (ie. pretty much everyone) – internet access here is just as questionable as it is in the rest of India, and twice as expensive to boot. So, merry Christmas to all who value such things, commiserations to those who the festive season shits to tears… and vale James Brown.