Well where to start with that subcontinent ?
It’s amazing, stunning and sometimes horrific at the same time. India is completely different from any other place I’ve been to. If you travel in south east asia, cultures and traditions are alike even with differences but India…that’s a story of its own. The country is so vast that you’d need to spend a year getting around.
Most people travel to India, rushing through Rajasthan, seeing Agra, Jaipur etc. I didn’t. I skipped it and went for ‘hostile’ Kashmir & Jammu. And cold & hostile Kinnaur/Spiti valleys. If you trust foreign office’s declarations about Kashmir, you’d never go there. I did indeed and it was definitely worth it.
Srinagar is a beautiful city located in a green and prosperous valley where everything grows. Population is mostly muslim but from the kind and gentle type. Welcoming, smiling, cool. Nothing to fear. Incredible views, old bazaar streets, navigating on the lake, flower gardens, it’s a jewel ignored by all travel agencies. The valley is splendid with places like Pahalgam and its fantastic views on the mountains. It’s a cooler place with 25°C in May and the climate is really mild.
Delhi in comparison is a hot, dry, suffocating place, overcrowded and dirty. 44°C in the shadow in May is tough to cope with. Indeed, Old Delhi has its charms and the city, when you manage to look over the beggars, trash, dust and creatures of all kind you come across, you’ll eventually understand how this mess works and find it interesting if not mesmerizing. It all has a purpose : karma. You can’t change it, you’ve to cope with it.
The city itself is an incredible mess and you can easily get lost in the older part of the town. But it is safe and people are helpful. Toilets are scarce and generally speaking, hygiene is not a priority. Get used to it, that’s India. It’s a terrible thing and you’ll realize what a horrible life it is when you can’t even go for a pee when you need it. The government doesn’t seem to work on this while this is a top priority.
The north in comparison (Himachal Pradesh) doesn’t experience such hardships and seems like Kashmir, cleaner and richer. Once you’ve left the former summer capital of the british empire behind you (Shimla) you’ll enter a world of stone and water. Kinnaur valley and its depths, steep mountains covered with trees will yield ground to a mineral world that is Spiti. That area, close to China is poorly populated and offers the most dangerous roads in the world. Dirt tracks clinging to unstable mountains where you’re exposed to dangerous crossings with buses and trucks coming upon you out of a hidden turn. We stopped at 4500m altitude and that was high enough for me.
Tibetan villages are spread over that area and you’ll discover how its possible to grow things and survive in a hostile world. Temperatures are pretty low here and 5°C at night in your room is quite cold. And no way to heat as wood is scarce and considered as a very precious ressource. You’ll be surprised how strong spirituality is present in this area.
Anyway, having seen only the north I will have to go back and see more of it.
Pics are below, enjoy the virtual travel !