Penjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand...

11th and probably last trip to India...

From March 17 au March 22 2023

Although very attached to India, we had ended our trips to this continent:

  1. -for more than a decade, India, like Sri Lanka and other Asian countries, has been building a system of toll highways that criss-cross and disfigure the entire territory, in response to economic growth but also to the local tourism of a booming middle class, in search of relaxation and a change of scenery.

While the old roads made it possible to discover rural India which interested only foreign tourists, with its villages, its small agglomerations, where life and traditions persisted far from the smoothing of globalization, for some time, whatever the agency, it is impossible to escape the routes on motorways.

Agencies talk about saving time, driving comfort and safety.

  1. - as for the drivers, they have become taxi drivers who transport tourists from one city to another at 80/100 km/h, without knowing the particularities, or sometimes the language of the regions they are crossing. The time when a driver took pleasure in helping people discover a market, a particular street, a particular craft, an authentic place, which he knows from experience, seems to be over.

Before definitively abandoning India, we wanted to review or deepen three regions: Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand which we had crossed too quickly, hoping that it might be different. We wanted to know the foundations and values of Sikhism, see small Himalayan valleys, meet their people, immerse ourselves as much as possible in rural and laborious India.

07 March 2023  Nice - Delhi via Dubai

It is with relief that we were able to board and fly to this ultimate Indian experience (national strike in France).

08 March 2023 Delhi - Talwandi Sabo - Bathinda - 320 km

If we had the chance to leave, the sequel turns out to be risky. At 04:20 in the morning we take the flight from Dubai - Delhi, due to arrive at 08:55. At the time of takeoff, the captain announces that we cannot take off following an oil leak in the right engine. The plane returns to the tarmac where technicians attempt a repair, while we remain on board for 04:00. Repair seems impossible. We are transferred to a bus which takes 45 minutes to reach the terminal where we wait an hour for a new plane to be assigned to us. Our telephones not allowing us to call the international (except wifi), Khana Taron, Indian banker, disaster passenger like us, proposes to call the driver and the agency to inform them of the delay and the time of expected arrival.

Boarding at 9:20 a.m. for take-off at 10:10 a.m. and arrival in Delhi at 2:20 p.m. instead of 8:55 a.m. Normally this type of delay (more than 04:00) gives rise to significant compensation. Arrived in Delhi, we thought we were expected at the exit of the airport by the driver Rajeev Joshi with the usual sign Mr and Mrs What's-his-name.

Although he was informed of our new arrival time, no one. We wait a bit and redo the tour of all the drivers with signs, no one. We call the driver, answering machine! We call the agency, Loverpreet contacts him, 5 minutes later, Rajeev arrives, saying he was waiting for us at another door! No luck there are officially only two and we did both! As we had to leave Delhi early in the morning to reach Talwandi Sabo which is considered an important holy place in Sikhism: it houses one of the five Takhts, major temples of this faith, we have to cancel the visit and content ourselves with go straight to Bathinda.

  1. Puce Motorway to Bathinda. Along the way, Rajeev asks if we want a tea. Why not, we like masala chai. Stop at a highway dhabba. Upon paying, as we ask the waiter how much we owe, Rajeev replies 45 rupees. Having seen that the tea is 15 rupees, it means that he makes us pay for his tea automatically.

We put it down to the first day and the distancing...

We overtake a tractor that rolls on the rear wheels pulling a trailer inflated like a balloon. We stop to take a photo. The two peasants were completely drunk, driving an overloaded tractor in the middle of the highway...!

Although everything is well marked and has a GPS, the driver stops several times to ask if he is on the Bathinda highway.

Throughout the journey he talks to us about his faith, his god who protects him, chaining with mantras that he repeats all along the way: Om Sitaram, Jay Jay Ram, hare Krishna etc...

We put it down to of the Holi celebration which took place the same day. From that day on, every day, he floods my Whatsapp messaging system with images and religious messages, until our return to France to the point of having to block his contact.

We put it down to of the Holi celebration which took place the same day. From that day on, every day, he innds my Whatsapp messaging with images and religious messages, until our return to France to the point of having to block his contact.

Arriving in Bathinda at 9:30 p.m., it took us 45 minutes to find the hotel. Rajeev stopped at least 8 times to ask for directions to the hotel.

Arrival at the Sepal hotel at 10:16 p.m.: 7:00 a.m. to travel 320 km of motorway, where we drove between 80 and 100 km/h. Find the mistake !

Following this observation we want to leave the next day between 08:00 and 08:30 to enjoy the day in Amritsar. Rajeev imposes his schedule: departure at 09:00. Non-negotiable ! Every day it will be 09:00, as for the majority of drivers in India.

Bathinda is located 225 kilometers west of Chandigarh. Formerly known as Tabarhindh or Tabar-e-hind, meaning "Gateway to India". It was dominated by the kings of the Bhati Rajput family (Ottomans) who reigned over the region. Today, the city is booming, it has 2 thermal power stations, an oil refinery and a fertilizer factory. It is also one of the most important markets for cotton and food grains in the north of the country. The city is dominated by its fort.

  1. Puce Hotel Sepal Goniana Road,  Parjapat Colony, Mata Jivi Nagar, Bathinda, Punjab 151001,  +91 93560 60512

09 March 2023 Bathinda - Amritsar 190 km

Having been unable to change money the day before because the agencies at the airport have the highest rate in the country €1 = 81 rps, the banks being closed for the holiday of Holi, Lovepreet suggests crediting the account with Rajeev of the amount we want to change at the rate of 1€ = 85 rps. Which turns out to be practical and interesting rate.

Rajeev offers to go back to visit Talwandi Sabo. 30 km one way and 30 km return to add to the road to Amritsar. We decline the proposal and suggest taking a quick tour of Bathinda. We take 45 minutes to find the fort which is in the heart of the city. A huge fort of clay bricks, of which only the thick walls remain, testifying to the presence of invaders of Turkish origins, then Mughals, and finally Sikhs.

It was in this fort that the only Muslim woman to have reigned over Delhi was imprisoned: Razia Sultan. Although she accomplished many actions with regard to the local populations, her personality and her modernity posed a problem for the Turkish dignitaries who fought her and made her captive, in Bathinda.

She reconciled with Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-din Altunia, occupying the fort where she was captive. She ends up marrying him and, with him, tried to reconquer the throne. She would have been assassinated by a peasant who hosted her.

Within the fort is a Gurdwara erected by the Guru Granth Sahib. Very popular because people believe the shrine fulfills the wishes of those who make them here. As in all Gurdwara, there is a langar (canteen) with a service of volunteers who distribute meals to all who come. Having just had a delicious breakfast at Sepal, we were offered a very good chai massala. We discover young Sikhs dressed in blue carrying swords and spears. Rajeev is unable to explain to us who they are apart from saying they are saddhus!!! We were impressed by the friendliness of everyone we met at this fort.

Highway to Amritsar. Wheat fields, sugar cane fields, brickyards and chimneys as far as the eye can see. The area is very green.

  1. Puce On the edge of the highway many merchants offer freshly squeezed cane juice and orange juice. The orange displays were so appetizing that we couldn't resist. Delicious apart from the fact that the Indians put salt in their orange juice!!! The juice is 60 rps. When paying, Rajeev announces 180 rps, automatically imposing on us to pay his, as if it were normal!

A little further, at the height of the village of Chander, we stop to visit the workshop of Gurpreet Singh who produces sugar (jaggery) by hand from cane juice which is heated until it thickens and crystallizes. It is the sugar used by Indian housewives. An unrefined sugar with a caramel taste.

As in the past in our cities and countryside, people like to show what they do, share a moment, fascinating exchanges despite the language barrier. The driver is of no use, he doesn't understand half of what we say and he doesn't speak Punjabi!

  1. PuceLunch break at the Jalsa highway restaurant.

  2. Puce When paying for our meal, since our last trips to India we systematically ask for the bill, we find that a bottle of mineral water that we have not used and the driver's meal are charged to us. We refuse to pay.

The driver who took his meal outside arrives saying that he will pay his meal.

I point out to him that his fees are included in the contract with the agency.

He replies that they are not included. I inform him that in this case I will tell Lovepreet that she is lying, when I meet her.

He rectifies immediately and says that the costs are included. He tried !

  1. Puce A little later on the highway, Rajeev suggest a tea break. When paying he   

    intervenes again to say the amount to be paid and again requires us to pay for his tea.

Being used to this kind of incivility with Indian drivers, we start to lose confidence in Rajeev from the second day. While feeling uncomfortable, because 15 or 40 or 60 rupees is not big thing.

It's their way of doing things that bothers us, as if it were normal to pay for them, without leaving us the choice to accept or refuse, without leaving us free to invite them or not. We are customers, not childhood friends nor donors!

During the journey, he asks questions about what we do for a living, about the things that interest us. To our surprise, he won't let us finish our sentences, and changes the subject or starts chanting mantras... Either he asks questions to seem interested, he doen't mind, or he doesn't understand English and picks up as soon as the conversation gets deeper.

At the end of the highway, he stops several times to inquire and make sure he is in the direction of Amritsar.

We arrive at the end of the day and want to see the Baba Atal tower.

The tower is 200m outside the Golden Temple complex. With its own ceremonial tank, the octagonal Baba Atal tower was built in 1784 to commemorate Atal Rai, the son of the sixth Sikh guru Har Gobind, who, according to legend, raised a playmate from the dead and then gave his own life in penance for interfering with the purposes of God. The nine floors each represent a year in the short life of Atal, who died at age 9.

Rajeev took almost an hour to find this tower. The sun was setting, we just had time to take a few pictures without flash!!!

Leaving the holy place, we visit a small night market. A woman on a scooter, who hears us talking, stops and speaks to us in French. She works at the Alliance Française.

We observe this busy crowd strolling in the middle of the illuminated shops. We find the India that we had known a few years earlier.

  1. Puce Rajeev offers to drink tea. Chai walla is very proud to have his picture taken. Rajeev takes the opportunity to get paid for his tea, once again !

Then he takes 45 minutes to find the hotel which is in the city center, 800 meters from the Tower. It was me who recognized the street from photos I had seen on the Internet.

We end the day with restrained anger. Impression of being ripped off at the driver level ! He hardly speaks English, doesn't seem to know the roads or the region we're visiting, and he's not honest! That makes a lot...

We start talking about him to Loverpreet.

The next day we planned to visit old Amritsar, its old quarters, its alleys, on foot. We ask the driver if he knows a little about the city to help us discover it. He replies that he will help us to discover the city. Meet at 9:00 a.m.

  1. Puce We have dinner in one of the temples of local gastronomy: Bharawan Da Dhaba, a delicious kulcha.

  2. Puce Surestay Heritage Walk Best Western, downtown, in a walking street  Jalian wala Bagh, Amritsar +91-911 541 2333 | +91 183 503 1111 550 m from Golden Temple. 

March 10, 2023 Amritsar

Amritsar is a walled city in northern Punjab, near the Indo-Pakistan border. Founded in 1577 by Guru Ram Das, who discovered a pool renowned for its therapeutic virtues.

Capital of the Sikhs, Amritsar has one of the most beautiful religious buildings in India, the Sahib Harmandir, the Golden Temple. Only competitor of the Taj Mahal, made of white marble and gold.

It is the spiritual and cultural center of the Sikh religion.

Amritsar was marked by several massacres: April 13, 1919, the Indians demonstrate en masse against the British colonists to denounce the economic difficulties and English policy. They attack Europeans. During the Baisakhi festival, General Dyer orders his troops to fire on the crowd gathered at Jalianwalla Bagh. The day ends in a bloodbath, there will be 379 dead and around 1200 wounded.

September 22, 1947 a train containing Muslim Indians fleeing following the partition, was attacked by Sikhs who opened fire on both sides of the track. Men, women, children were massacred by the Sikhs who invaded the train. The massacre left 3,000 dead and 1,000 injured. Sikhs and Hindus fleeing Pakistan suffered the same kind of attack from Muslims.

June 3 to 6, 1984, Operation Blue Star launched by Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister, to eliminate the separatist (independence) Sikhs who had taken refuge in the Golden Temple. The insurgents were accused of having stored weapons in this temple. 490 dead according to the authorities, thousands according to the Sikhs. Indira Gandhi's Sikh bodyguards would later assassinate her in retaliation.

But Amritsar is more than stories of massacres and Golden Temple: its hidden side deserves to be discovered.

Former fortified city, the narrow streets of the old city form a labyrinth, where one has the impression of getting lost, with houses (havelis) with balconies from another era, interior courtyards reminiscent of certain havelis of Rajasthan, businesses that seem to have survived the centuries.

The heart of the old town is teeming with street food with the local specialty: the Kulcha: roasted pancake, made of flour, water and a spicy mixture of potatoes, cauliflower or panner cooked in a tandoor and served with a portion of butter or ghee. It is accompanied by choley, chickpea curry, pickles, sliced onions, raita.

Shops are grouped by specialty: there are the streets of jewelry stores, those of wedding items, those of tinsmiths and kitchen items with their containers of all sizes, those of bracelet shops, those of fabric stores with the tailor who is never very far, and the shops that can be found everywhere, where they sell everything from laundry detergent to sweets, snacks, vegetables, and light bulbs...

To make the visit we use a detailed map with different points of interest and their explanations (Heritage Walk).

Rajeev pretending to know the city, we start the journey by the Gurwara Saragarhi which is on the right 200 m from the hotel.

Rajeev inquires, he seems not to understand what people say or he asks something that people don't know! The Gurwara Saragarhi is a small, uninspiring gurdwara.

Then we were supposed to head to the Qila Ahluwalia, a fortified gate that gives access to the heart of the old city, a few hundred meters away.

Rajeev inquires with local tourists, rickshaws, he can't obtain effective information. It's hard to blame him, he's a driver, not a guide.

Afraid of spending the day looking for, we decide to stop and go back to the hotel. This will give him a day off !

We show our plan to the reception of the hotel which gives us explanations to make the discovery by ourselves. Everything is in the area around the Golden Temple. We go through a lot of small streets, each one narrower than the other, where scooters, rickshaws and sometimes cars sneak by loudly honking their horns.

A small place attracts people: it is the Jalebiwala shop. People line up to taste this sweet treat made from sugar, butter and flour. It is true that it is good.

We miss the Udasin Ashram Arhara Sangalwala. In this maze of alleys, it is not easy to identify the sites to discover, because they are often hidden among the shops, such as the Chitta Akhara.

We walked past it several times without seeing it. An ordinary door barricaded by a grate. We open the gate, an old man comes to open the door for us which opens onto a house with an interior courtyard which dates from 1781, impressive. Still the impression of being in Rajasthan.

We seek the Darshani Deori. Nobody seems to know until we meet an old bookseller who rolls his eyes. It is a balcony from which passing gurus could see the sanctuary of the Golden Temple, before recent buildings obscured the view.

Raising our eyes to follow the gaze of the old man, we find that almost all the facades have balconies in more or less good condition, in carved wood or wrought iron, overlooking the alleys. The India of yesteryear! We discover the cobwebs of electrical and telephone wires. But how do they manage to get there ?

We miss the Thakurdwara Dariana Mal, because people don't know. They have a business in these very busy streets, but they do not live in the neighborhood and are not interested in heritage.

We pass the crawling street where General Dyer, in retaliation against the Indians who rose up against British colonization, forced people who took the street to do so by crawling on pain of being whipped in public.

  1. Puce As I observed during our stays in Rajasthan, and more generally at the level of world history, the barbarism of the colonies should not obscure that of those who preceded them.

Many maharajas used to mistreat enslaved populations. Many are the Indians who died while building their palaces, and those who fought to defend a "master" or extend his power, long before the English. Whatever the country, the world has a short memory ! Before the English, it was not paradise in India!

We cross the old passage and its shops, a veritable cave of Ali Baba, to end at the pretty Khairuddin masjid, built in 1876 by Muhammad Khairuddin.

It was from this mosque that imams called on Muslims to rise up against British rulers. Built in white marble, decorated with calligraphy and green miniatures, this mosque is photogenic and relaxing.

There is the same welcome as in the mosques of Singapore. Respectful and warm. We are far from the Islam of France !

Even if we missed some visits for lack of information, we do not regret this long journey through time, full of noises, smells, with this atmosphere that we only find in India.

We end our tour with an afternoon at the Golden Temple. There are 10 times more people than in 2016. Very few foreigners, many Indians. It has 4 entrances symbolizing openness to anyone, of any religion, of any caste, a symbol of brotherhood and unity. It may be true inside or on the paper, but once outside everyone takes back their place !

Many Sikhs make the pilgrimage to the shrine at least once in their lifetime. The 18th century building welcomes all pilgrims, whoever they are. 

The sanctuary has two real gold-plated floors, surrounded by a 5.1m deep artificial lake. It is closely watched by a very active security service.

The temple lives on donations that maintain the premises and serve free meals every day to thousands of people. You can also stay there free of charge.

Men and women must cover their heads, have their shoulders and legs covered, they must take off their shoes, near the entrance there are dozens of counters that act as shoe lockers, then they must wash their hands and soak feet in a footbath.

We do not find the fraternal welcome of 2016, perhaps because of this overcrowding. A security guard asks to check our photo bags, while thousands of Indians enter, even with suitcases, without being searched !

Significant work has been done to enlarge the Guru Ka langar (huge free canteen on 3 floors where more than 100,000 vegetarian meals are delivered per day).

We visited the kitchens where hundreds of volunteers work. Each plate is checked one by one after the dishes.

We visited the shrine covered in gold which is in the middle of the water feature. A queue is always full from early morning to late at night.

Instead of advancing gradually, quietly, many people force the passage by jostling, bruising the ribs with their elbows, crushing the feet, trampling the children, until we give in to them. It's violent!

The worst being the old men and women. We are far from values of respect for others, solidarity, well-being, blah blah blah...We imagine what can happen in case of panic...

A man seeing how badly we were treated made people step aside to let us breathe, and it worked. We were able to do the last part of the course without violence.

The ordeal lasted 01:30. Once in the sanctuary we saw some fanatics followers in tears...

We waited for dusk to attend the illuminations. The place becomes magical, hypnotic, captivating. We sat down to let ourselves be overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. As we were sitting on the steps, at the edge of the pond, like many Indians, an ordinary man came to order us to move! More discrimination! It's crazy the power that gives religion and testosterone!

  1. Puce Dinner in another temple of local gastronomy, just next to Bharawan Da Dhaba, Brother's Da Dhaba. Noisy but cheap and good.

Returning to the hotel we are impressed by the crowd wandering in the streets, and by the number of street vendors. A debauchery of gadgets, made in China, souvenirs for local tourists. All these people who don't have much spend money on futile things. Impression of being in a carnival rather than in a holy city! It lasts all night, under the loudspeakers which broadcast the chants of the priests of the Golden Temple.

March 11, 2023 - Amritsar  and around

We thought we could visit the Shri Durgana Mandir, a huge Hindu temple, with an architecture similar to that of the Harmandir Sahib. This temple takes its name from Goddess Durga, the main goddess worshiped here. It is known as the Silver Temple because of its gates.

Given the poor knowledge that the driver has of the area, adding a visit risks compromising the rest of the day, especially we are expected at Loverpreet'house for lunch.

We take the road to Gurdwara Bir Baba Budha Sahib (20km from Amritsar) Beautiful fields of rice and cereals as far as the eye can see. Located on the Chaabal road, near the village of Jhabal Kalan, Baba Budda is known as one of the great Sikhs of the Guru period. Baba Budda had the privilege of being blessed by the first six Gurus. He spent a large part of his life here. Sri Guru Arjan Sahib Ji also visited this place. The Gurdwara honors and commemorates Baba Budha (1506 - 1631), the venerable Sikh of the time of Guru Nanak.

It is a beautiful Gurdwara of white marble, with its tank and a magnificent garden.

Is it the fact that it is in the countryside: its atmosphere is much more relaxed and warmer than in Amritsar or Anandpur Sahib. We find the Sikh welcome that we experienced in 2016 in other temples in Punjab. Visitors are smiling, trying to communicate, going so far as to exchange a Whatsapp address for "keep in touch. Some actually do it.

Stupor: we saw a woman drinking water from the footbath!

We regret that we are not accompanied by a driver who speaks Punjabi and is familiar with the Sikh religion and habits.

Fewer and fewer people speak English in India, which sometimes gives us the impression that we miss a lot of things without being able to understand them or have them explained to us. Damage.

The garden is surrounded by buildings laid out like a cloister with columned galleries. As in monasteries, cells are occupied by meditators who come to devote themselves to reading the sacred book. Retreat of one or more days. Thanks to Loverpreet for his explanations.

It is moreover at her place that we go after this visit. She lives in a small village in the countryside. Pretty house in a timeless village. Great moment shared.

Impressed by the professionalism and maturity of Loverpreet in our exchanges on internet, we imagined her to be older, as very experienced businesswoman.

We take advantage of our meeting to talk about our setbacks with Rajeev, avoiding to talk about the problems of honesty. Given his boderline personality, we don't want to suffer his reactions. She will talk to him.

After an interesting visit to the village, friendly encounters with the inhabitants and a delicious meal prepared by Loverpreet's mother and aunt, we take the road to visit the Gurdwara of Tarn Taran.

Fortunately, Loverpreet's aunt guided us on a motorbike, otherwise we would have arrived there in the middle of the night. Even to find the parking lot, she had to intervene.

The Tarn Taran gurdwara is a miniature replica of the Golden Temple with a golden shrine, pool and night illuminations. The atmosphere there was less pleasant than at the Bir Baba Budha Sahib.

  1. Puce Dinner at Brothers Da Dhaba.

Return to the hotel. There are always so many people in the streets, pilgrims and vendors.

March 12, 2023 Amritsar - Mcleodganj

From today, Loverpreet provides us with a pre-paid mobile wifi box. Awesome. This will at least allow us to use our own GPS. It still needs to be recharged and the hub to be available, Rajeev using a lot of the USB socket to listen to his religious songs and movies.

Leaving Amritsar, we pass several elephants led by aggressive mahouts. If we have the misfortune to take a photo, they are very vindictive in demanding money. We also come across many riders in midnight blue costumes equipped with spears and sabers. There would be a religious festival in town. Difficult to know more. We had met some of them at Bathinda Fort, the driver was unable to translate and explain!

In Amritsar, we met 4 of them at Brother's Da Dabha restaurant, who spoke a little English. We took the opportunity to ask who they were and what was the difference with other Sikhs.

One was a businessman, the other farmers. Seemingly rich considering the number of wads of 500 rupee notes they pulled out of their pockets. They explain that they are the guardians of the Sikh laws that they ensure that they are respected, they are freedom fighters, ready to sacrifice themselves for their community. They receive religious training, but also para-military training with combat training.

After research, they are Nihangs or Akalis. Dressed in distinctive midnight-blue garments and tiered turbans adorned with metallic symbols. They carry knives, sabers and spears. Weapons that would only be symbolic to remind them of their membership in the warriors and militia of Guru Ginbind Singh.

Every year they move, especially in March, to go to religious gatherings. This is an opportunity to recruit new followers, distribute clothes and food to the poorest. They also have the mission of arbitrating conflicts and ensuring the protection of other Sikhs. They are also part of the security service in the various gurdwaras.

Drive to Dharamshala/Mcleodganj. The state is building a highway between these two destinations. An imposing construction site guts and disfigures the villages and towns that are in its path.

The driver stops in a roadside dhaba (SK Dhaba) to have breakfast. He started work at 9:15, he could have taken it before. It is a waste of time which is added to his wanderings.

On this road as on the highway from Bathinda to Amitsar, we saw many establishments intended to host wedding receptions. We are in full season of weddings, decorations and false palaces, big cars, debauchery of luxury. Marriages are often an opportunity to display the wealth that we have or that we do not have in order to impress the gallery.

In the countryside of Gurdaspur we stop on the side of the road to visit a traditional farm. House of beaten earth and straw. Although we discover the great destitution in which this family lives, everything is clean, tidy, decorated. The interior walls are decorated with hand-moulded friezes. The family lives from herding cows: selling milk and dung as fuel. Bilugujar makes us visit his place of life. When we share a moment with a family, we usually give a gift like when we go to friends, generaly some money to parents (sometimes it helps), sweets, small games, articles schools to the children (it's always a pleasure). On the other hand in the street or public places we never give anything. Thanks to Bilugujar, Rishma, Radia for their welcome.

  1. Puce Stop for lunch in a roadside multi-cuisine restaurant: Daawat Restaurant.

I wanted to arrive early to take a Tibetan cooking class and finally succeed in making momos. The only interesting address being closed (Lhakpa Tsering) due to theatrical trip to southern India, there remains an address for which I did not have much information. On the web it is indicated in McLeodganj. In reality it is 6 km from the center of Mcleodganj, in Bhagsu Nag, above the Old German Bakery restaurant. The lessons are given by an Indian, Mrs. Rita Kapor, the prices are high for momos ! It will be for another time.

Mcleodganj is the residence of the Dalai Lama, ten kilometers from Dharamsala which is the capital of the Tibetan government in exile with its parliament, its court of justice, and its museum which wants to be the memory of the Tibetan people.

Mcleodganj, which has been a mecca for "new age" tourism, with centers for meditation, yoga, Ayurvedic massages, bed and breakfasts and cheap eateries, has become a joyful mix of Buddhist monks, Tibetans in exile, Indian tourists taking the city for a health resort, Western travellers, still "new age" but rarer than before.

There is still Tibetan market, restaurants, shops in Mcleodganj, but there are also more and more luxury hotels, fast food, souvenir and gadget shops, art galleries, a heaps of yoga classes, meditation classes for "trendy" tourists, pastries and ice cream parlors, strong alcohol shops: whisky, vodka, tequila, local wines etc. whose owners are more Indian opportunists than Tibetans .

At the end of the day, it is not uncommon to meet groups of young Indians who have come to spend the weekend and party!  We were surprised to see the difference between 2016 and today: we went from the spiritual atmosphere to the ski resort atmosphere. Soon the karaoke!

Even at the level of the monks, there are more in the streets, in the bars, in the restaurants than in the monastery, look for the mistake!

We were unable to visit the Kalachakra temple which is still closed.

  1. Puce Dinner at Tibet Kitchen, one of the best Tibetan restaurants in town, right in the center. Varied menu of typical Tibetan dishes, low prices for satisfactory quality. We are far from the junk food served everywhere. In addition, this restaurant offers free meals to people in difficulty, it is writen  in the entrance: free food for needy people.

  1. Puce Hotel D'S Casa ClubHouse Road, near Liason Office, McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh 176219,  +91 98571 18380, 300 m from Temple road, 500 m from Tibet Kitchen.

March 13, 2023 Mcleodganj

Before leaving the city, a final visit to the Tsuglagkhang Complex: the residence and the monastery of the Dalai Lama. Apparently he is there, many people in traditional costumes waiting for an audience. Many more are waiting to get a ticket which entitles them to a net of provisions "blessed" by the Dalai Lama. There are far fewer monks inside, no wonder since they are all outside!

We are "yelled at" by an English tourist who does not support that we take pictures inside a prayer room ! We are used to go to temples and monasteries and know how to behave properly. Mind your own business, Miss !

The signs that covered the entrance walls in 2016 with photos of Tibetans and Chinese torture have disappeared.

Although his communications department tries to downplay the matter, we were shocked by the video from February 28, 2023 where we see the Dalai Lama asking a child who wanted a hug, to suck his tongue. This reminds us of a television report on a hearing given by the Dalai Lama to families and victims of abuse (particularly of a sexual nature) in the European Buddhist sect, OKC, visited and approved by the Dalai Lama. His denial and attitude towards the victims were equally disturbing. For us, "his holiness" falls from the pedestal.

We planned to go around the monasteries that we had not visited in the region.

Each monastery requires a search time, round trip, to find the site. We have to use our cell phones and GPS. It is all the more complicated as the roads are so narrow that you have to give way to other vehicles. Not respecting any priorities, it is the big cars that impose themselves on others, forcing them to back up to a wider place.

In Dharamsala: right next to the parliament in exile and the museum, the Nechung Monastery considered the seat of the State Oracle and the protective deity of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. When the medium enters a trance state, the patron deity takes possession of their body and gives advice and predictions to the Dalai Lama and Tibetan leaders in exile. Six monks managed to escape to India to continue the complex traditions of the Nechung Institution.

A small monastery overlooking the valley. Luckily, there is parking right next door.

We take the direction of the Norbulingka Institute at 11 km. An educational and training institute founded in 1988 to preserve Tibetan culture, literature and art, it is named after Norbulingka, the summer residence of the Dalai Lamas in Lhasa.

Just before the front door, a painted wall on the edge of a river: the portrait of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican surrealist artist, completely unexpected in this place. Nice tribute.

Built in a traditional Tibetan style in the middle of gardens and ponds, the site is very photogenic. The main sections of the institute are the Academy of Tibetan Culture, the Literary and Cultural Research Center as well as the Arts Center.

The institute also has the "Seat of Happiness" temple set amidst Japanese-style gardens. It is known for over 1000 Buddha murals, frescoes of all the Dalai Lamas and drawings from the life of the 14th Dalai Lama. We arrived at noon, the workshops are closed.

Discriminating entrance tickets again: the price for foreigners is 10 times more expensive than the price for Indians, knowing that the majority of Indians who are vacationing in the area have incomes far superior to ours!

  1. Puce We have to wait until the end of the meal break to visit. We take this opportunity to visit the temple which is magnificent and have lunch in the institute's fast food restaurant. Cheese pasta. There is an overpriced vegetarian buffet.

At 2 p.m. the workshops open: it is interesting to observe these men at work. Metal sculpture workshop where they create statuettes of Buddha with impressive dexterity. They do by hand what others do with lost wax molds. Their work is much finer and more detailed than cast statues.

Thangkas workshop where students (young people and adults) learn to make works of art that date from another era. These are the famous paintings on canvas, in vegetable colors, with extraordinary details representing deities, demons, images from the Buddhist tradition.

They first learn to reproduce the images by pencil, to scale. When they have mastered the gesture, they pass over the canvas which they stretch over a frame. The details are so subtle that they sometimes paint with brushes that only have one hair. Real works of art that require several months of work.

These are not Chinese-style mechanical reproductions. Everything is made in a single copy, by hand. We spent some time with Lobsang Tenzin the art teacher who learned the technique in Tibet. He told us about his exile in 1992 with two months of walking to cross the Himalayas. His work in different temples to make or redo the paintings, his demonstrations in Europe where he presented this art. He has been teaching since 1993. Thank you for crossing paths with us and introducing us to this noble art.

Wood painting workshop. While some pieces of furniture have very Asian colors (red and gold), others are much more refined with very fine designs. Here again we discover the precision of an unknown art.

When you see one of these pieces of furniture in a window, you are far from imagining the work it represents. Unique pieces, sometimes made to order.

Woodcarving workshop. Jewelery box, incense boxes, statues with richness in detail.

Leaving the institute, Rajeev who was waiting for us outside asks if we want to drink tea. As he spent the afternoon on the café terrace, we thought he had plenty of time to drink his. When it's time to pay, he speaks instead of the server and makes us pay his again.

  1. Puce Fifth time he makes us pay for his drink. What irritates us the most is that when we go to the waiter to ask how much we owe, he intervenes to impose the price on us.

From that moment on, we decided never to accept having tea or eating with him again.

On the Tour India with Driver website it is written that during individual tours, one bottle of water and snacks are offered to customers per day. Having only had a bottle of water on the first day, given his lack of honesty, we report it to the agency who will do the necessary.

We head to the Gyuto Monastery 13 km from Mcleodganj, in Sidbhari on the main Palampur road.

This monastery is famous because it specializes in the study of tantric meditation and tantric ritual arts.

It was founded in Tibet in 1474 by the disciple of the first Dalai Lama, Jetsun Kunga Dhondup. After the Chinese Communist invasion in 1959, the monastery was established in India. It is the home of Karmapa, the leader of Tibetan Kagyu Buddhism.

The main room of the monastery has a majestic statue of the Buddha with the backdrop of the snow-capped mountains of Dhauladhar. It is home to nearly 400 monks who practice the main tantric texts including Guhyasamaja, Chakrasamvara and Yamantaka.

Visitors can participate in Wednesday and Saturday prayers.

In the West, when we talk about tantrism, we often refer to a practice aimed at developing energy of a sensual nature, with exercises and rituals designed to develop vital energy. Most training centers ask that you come as a couple. From where sometimes a confusion with a sexual gymnastics.

I wanted to know exactly what there is in tantrism to clean up ideas received and conveyed in the West.

What is the relationship between Tantrism and Buddhism? The various books that I have read on Buddhism, even old ones, do not mention Tantrism. Then if it is a question of vital energy of a sensual nature, what does that have to do in a monastery, where there are only men with a vow of chastity?

Out of 400 monks none speak English, none to answer my questions, apart from the cook monk who spoke a few words to make me understand that it is indeed sexual energy and that if they are subject to chastity, nothing prevents them from dreaming... But do they only dream?

I will not have a satisfactory answer to my question. The monastery is huge, a real campus. The prayer room is grandiose, many monks study the sacred texts with a stabylo in their hands. An older monk goes from one to another to explain words, passages.

There are many very young child monks in this monastery.

Back to Mcleodganj, we wanted to visit the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute MenTsee Khang. No luck, it had just closed and tours don't take place every day.

  1. Puce Dinner at Tibet Kitchen. Other dishes, other flavors. What is good about this restaurant is the calm. In hippie times it would have been full. Today, the young Indian generation is not fond of this cuisine, preferring junk food.

March 14, 2023 Mcleodganj - Rewalsar - Kullu

One more time Rajeev is late: telling "there was no restaurant open for breakfast". Many Indians working very early, there are usually plenty of street food stalls opening very early. He lies.

Road to Rewalsar Lake: there are three roads to get there, with about the same distance (160km). Two direct routes: one which passes through Nadaun, another which passes through Sujanpur Tirra. The third route goes through Mandi.

The problem is that if we go through Mandi, we will then have to go back to Mandi to go to Kullu. Waste of time. As we are already losing a lot of time due to the driver's incompetence, we suggest taking the most direct route. He refuses and wants to take the one that goes through Palampur and Mandi.

We stopped twice to take pictures of snow capped mountains as we left Mcleodganj.

We cross Palampur and its tea plantations. When we saw those of Darjeeling and Kerala, those of Palampur really have no interest. Dry, poorly trimmed. No stopping.

Leaving at 09:30 we thought we would arrive at Rewalsar for lunch (160km).

But, without a lunch break, we arrived in Rewalsar at 3:30 p.m.: almost 7 hours to cover 160 km on a road in good condition, partially occupied by a motorway construction site !

Visit Rewalsar at a run, before the sun disappears behind the mountains that surround the site.

It is one of the most beautiful places we have visited on this trip. There is something serene, relaxing, peaceful about this city. Rewalsar is photogenic and endearing. The Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh temples are interesting, the alleys and the atmosphere are special.

We couldn't visit everything for lack of time. If we had been able to plan, we would have made it a night stage as the city is so pleasant.

For Buddhists, Rewalsar is related to the magician Guru Padamasambava. His statue dominates the city. Legend has it that after having initiated the Indian princess Mandarava, her father, mad with rage, burned the Guru alive. The lake was then formed in place of the stake and Padamasambava would have come out on a lotus (Tsao Pema).

For the Sikhs, the tenth Guru, Gobind Singh, came to Rewalsar for negotiations, seeking help from the Raja of Mandi against the terrible Mughal conqueror Aurangzeb.

We just have time to visit the pagoda-style Tsao Pema monastery with its 4 colored facades. The prayer room is very intimate. Nice place from where you have a nice view of the lake.

We visit the Zigar Orgyen Choekorling monastery overlooked by the huge 42m statue of Guru Rimpoche (Padamasambava). The prayer hall is beautiful. From the terrace of the monastery one has an impressive view of the city and the lake.

The sun disappears on the horizon, it is time to take the road to Kullu (5:00 p.m.).

We go back through Mandi (50 km for nothing). Surprise, a highway construction site is underway between Mandi and Manali. Some portions are finished, some are not. Alternation of fast lanes and ordinary lanes.

Rajeev takes the wrong route several times. We arrive at the hotel at 9:15 p.m. The hotel being completely isolated and far from the city and having not lunch, we ask the guard if there is a vegetarian restaurant in the vicinity. The receptionist who heard replies "they only have to eat at the hotel restaurant". This is precisely what we wanted to avoid. Cool as a welcome!

  1. Puce Emergency dry meal in the room.

  1. Puce Hotel Apple Valley Resort Bhuntar - Kullu Road, Village, Mohal, Himachal Pradesh 175126, + 91 92186 60001 The worst hotel we had in India. Isolated, dirty, poorly maintained, unwelcoming. Avoid.

March 15, 2023 Kullu valley

The beautiful valley of Kullu with its legendary orchards, its old wooden farmhouses with slate roofs, its small carved wooden Hindu temples, is on the verge of extinction: the highway and speculative hotel construction projects are in the process of ravage it.

Indian middle class mass tourism is killing this natural heritage.

Apart from the usual sports activities popular with the "geek generation": Skiing, sledding, paragliding, rafting, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, there is very little information on the internet that can help to visit this valley.

Some influencers, who do not have to travel often, compare the Kullu Valley to Goa mountain version, suggesting the presence of junkies with its side effects. I saw none of that and even fewer foreign tourists. On the other hand there is a crowd of local tourists in search of release.

Due to a lack of information, it was difficult to plan visits. Not having the chance to have a driver who knows the area, we made do with what we knew.

We wanted to see Ragunathji Temple from Sultanpur. Rajeev says we will see it on the way back, this temple would be on the road from the hotel.

3 km from Kullu, we will see the Bekhli Mata Temple (Bhakhali Jagannnathl temple) pretty little mountain road with spectacular views of the valley.

The temple was built over 1500 years ago, it is considered to be one of the oldest temples in the Kullu Valley. The main deity of the temple is Mata Bhubaneshwari Devi, sister of Vishnu.

The architecture of the temple is influenced by the local-Pahari style. All woodwork is carved.

A few families come here to make offerings which they share with us. A plaster tiger guards the entrance.

On the road there were plenty of flowering trees. Pink to purple in color. It was really beautiful. We ask the driver what it is, he answers "flowers".

Yes, but which flowers? Why ? you want to buy some? No, it's to find out what trees they are, there are plenty of them in the valley.

He asks a passerby, "these are khoobaanee". Thanks to the translator on our phone, we discover that these are apricot trees, one of Kullu's specialties.

We had planned to see the Buddhist Dhapko Shedrupling Monastery, but considering the number of things we want to do and the time we waste looking for the places, we cancel the visit.

We go to Naggar to see its castle and an old temple. We finally leave the highway and cross pretty villages. If there are many recent constructions, there are still many old wooden farmhouses with slate roofs.

The people who live in these farms are quite different from the others, they look like Tibetans, but are not dressed like Tibetans. Rajeev does not know ! The surrounding mountains are covered in snow. With the sun and the carpets of flowers covering the valley, it is truly magical.

To go to the Naggar Castel, Rajeev gets lost again. We get out of the car to ask the locals ourselves, showing them our road book and photos of the places we want to see.

Without speaking a word of English, a young man told us where these places are and how to get there.

The Naggar Castel built by the Sikh rajas of Kullu in 1460, is an example of Himalayan architecture, with its alternating layers of stone and wood. Transformed into a hotel in 1978 by the last raja who had financial difficulties. If the hotel cannot be visited, there is a small museum on the ground floor with a discriminatory entrance fee for foreign tourists.

We are however the only tourists not to have huge SUV.

We wanted to see the old temple Trioura Sundari Devi which is on the left 200 m from the Naggar castle.

We give the information to Rajeev. He ignores it and asks local tourists for directions to the temple. The tourists reply that "there is no temple".

Rajeev heads to the right to leave the scene. We order him to turn left. Seeing our nervousness, he turns left and 200 m further appears the temple Tripura sundari Devi.

A temple probably even older than the first, in wood, in the shape of a pagoda. It looks strangely like old Hindu temples that we had visited in Indonesia.

We want to quickly visit Manali and its Tibetan market before returning to Kullu to visit the old town.

To reach the Manali highway, we take a small country road. Want to stop everywhere to take pictures so beautiful.

An old two-storey wooden house. Families of peasants, herders and farmers. The welcome is warm, too bad we don't have an interpreter to discuss and discover their lives. At the exit of the village, an old gentleman in a very British costume poses for the photo.

A field of yellow mustard with a backdrop of snowy peaks, it's so beautiful !

Once back on the highway, we realize that we are passing Manali. We ask Rajeev where he is going. He replies that he wants us to see something! What ? "You will see". He is driving at 20 km/h on the highway. All vehicles pass us by. We point it out to him. He replies that he cannot drive faster with a taxi car on this section.

We take 45 minutes to cover 15 km. Then he stops us in front of a shop to buy ski suits. We do not understand. We are not here to ski and moreover it is not our cup of tea!

We arrive at a huge parking lot, where there are hundreds of big cars and hundreds of Indians in ski suits. They come there to go paragliding, skiing, horse riding. Solang Valley.

We refuse to get out of the car. Rajeev insists that we go and have a closer look. He says he stays at that spot in the parking lot. We go down in shirt only to find that there is nothing interesting to see.

Barely 2 minutes later we return to the car, frozen. The car has disappeared. We waited 15 minutes for Rajeev to reappear, laughing. He wanted to drink tea!

  1. Puce We are in a black rage and cannot bear it any longer. We are beginning to believe that he is psychologically disturbed.

We return to Manali at 20km/h. He will have made us lose two hours. It is late, we still have to visit the Hindu temple of Kullu and the old streets before dark.

  1. Puce We quickly walk the central street of Manali and have a meal just as quickly in a local restaurant.

On the way back, we wanted to see the work of the women who weave the famous shawls of the Kullu Valley. We go to a shop whose sign indicates that there is a weaving workshop, which turns out to be a scam to attract customers.

The owner, who doesn't speak a word of English, explains to Rajeev that the women work in a nearby village. A "normal" driver would have asked in which village or an address so that we could meet them to be able to drive us there. Nothing !

Arrival in Kullu at the end of the day. We stop at stands selling products from the valley on the side of the road. Apples, dried fruits, jams, fruit wines and even artisanal chocolate made in the valley with cocoa that comes from South India.

The young seller speaks good English. He explains to us how the apples are preserved so that they can be sold all year round.

I take this opportunity to ask which ethnic groups live in the valley. There are Mongols, Tibetans and Arian Indians. 50% are farmers, 40% live from tourism and 10% are civil servants. He should work as a guide or driver!

We wish to see Ragunathji Temple in Sultanpur. Rajeev goes to a parking lot, he takes us to an old wooden Hindu temple without interest and says that this is the Ragunathji Temple ! It does not look like the pictures we have seen on the internet at all. Once again he takes us for idiots. (gaslighting).

He leaves saying that he is going to drink tea ! As there are plenty of old houses with wooden verandas, richly worked doors, old balconies, we take some pictures in the dark. It's night.

In the parking lot where we are waiting for Rajeev, there is a large gate. We enter the courtyard and discover an old palace, the Rupi Palace. It belonged to a Raja (sultan) who ruled the valley. His descendants still live there, a young woman comes to tell us that we are on private property. Apologize.

  1. Puce We wanted to dine at a vegetarian restaurant outside of Kullu, the Tasty Bite. As there is no restaurant near the hotel, we ask Rajeev to take us there. We give him the address. He inquires and begins to turn. We give him the restaurant's phone number. He calls them. They explain where they are and where to go. He turns. He stops about ten times to get information, leaves town, takes the highway, goes back, calls again, it lasts almost an hour.

We decide to stop going around in circles and ask to drive us back to the hotel. It becomes painful. So he finds it. We are going to dinner. He stays in the car, then enters the restaurant, turns around our table to show that he is with us. The owner ends up offering him a meal ! Return to the hotel.

March 16, 2023 Kullu - Anandpur Sahib 210 km

Road to Anandpur Sahib which we had already visited and wanted to see the Gurdwara and the people again.

On the way, we wanted to see the wooden bridge (suspension bridge) of Aut.

On the internet it is indicated in Aut, but people made mistakes. In realitythe bridge is in Hanogi. Because of these bad information, we searched, wasting a lot of time.

Finally we find this bridge which must have been really photogenic: the river is impressive, the landscapes are magnificent, with espalier crops. It connects the two banks and can only be used by pedestrians and motorbikes.

Unfortunately as for the whole Kullu valley, since the photos published on the internet there are many changes. A cement bridge has been built right next to it to pass cars and trucks, and the backsatge a huge highway construction site that pierces the mountain to dig tunnels.

We arrive at Anandpur Sahib in the middle of the afternoon, without taking a meal so as not to waste time.

We would like to see the Takht Sri Keshgarh Sahib, a Sikh temple which was built on the spot where the first Sikh baptism, the Amrit Sanskar, took place.

It is on the site of Fort Kesgarh where the Khalsa brotherhood was founded in 1699. The mountain on which it is built gave it its name: Kesgarh.

This gurdwara is the main temple of the city and one of the five most important of Sikhism, hence its attribution of the name: Takht. The current building dates from the years 1936 to 1944, it is very imposing with a langar (community restaurant) a sacred pool, a sarovar. It is made largely of white marble.

Rajeev inquires, gets lost, he drops us in front of a huge white gate saying that it is the gurdwara we are looking for. We don't recognize it.

He says he is waiting for us in the parking lot. Not recognizing the gurdwara  we ask people, no one understands. Maybe it's a different entry.

No luck, it's not the right address: he dropped us off at Quila Anandgarh Sahib. Once again he takes us for idiots. (gaslighting).

  1. Puce Furious, we get out and go to the parking lot. The car has disappeared. Having no wifi, we can't call. We wait 20 minutes. It's getting crazy!

We talked about our difficulties with Loverpreet, she seems to understand and will change drivers.

We stop the visits, we don't want to look for the gurdwara anymore and ask to go to the hotel because we can't stand it anymore.

Along the way, we stop in front of a village of straw huts, with narrow dirt streets. These are families from Bihar (about 100 people) who fled from the floods. They leave for a few weeks each year to see their loved ones.

They are mainly agricultural workers who work for excessively low wages (40 Rps per day = 0.44 euros).

As in the first earthen village, the earthen courtyards and the interior of the huts are clean and tidy. The welcome is warm, almost friendly as if we already knew each other.

These people are always surprised that people are interested in them and take pleasure in talking about what they do, their worries, their way of life.

They have a small solar panel to power a light bulb. Thanks to N.Ramcapra, Zuginder, Kunti Devi, Chapthlala and Chotelal Kevat for their fabulous welcome. The driver doesn't understand half of what we tell so he could not have served as an interpreter to make our exchanges richer.

We are invited to drink a massala tea. We accept, not knowing that it has forced them to buy milk. Then they offered to have dinner with them. It would have been nice, but we were too stressed and wanted to get to the hotel and leave this driver as soon as possible.

Loverpreet messaged that a new driver was meeting us at the hotel.

We leave Rajeev reluctantly giving him a decent tip. Usually with this kind of driver we give nothing. This is the strength of manipulators who practice gaslighting: you end up feeling guilty when they are the ones who are twisted.

  1. Puce Dinner at the fort prepared by the young Bholu, absolutely delicious: cucumber, tomatoes and onions salad, rice, dhal, taro root curry, hot kadai paneer and chapati, all without chilli and pepper, delicious rice pudding for dessert.

  2. Puce Bharat Gar Fort bharatgarh.fort@gmail. +91-94170-25638 A royal palace like in Rajasthan, with old furniture, family photos and spacious bedrooms. The bathrooms are modern. The delicious meals. We should have scheduled an extra day at Bharat Gar rather than Kasauli.

March 17, 2023 Anandpur Sahib - Kasauli

Very pleasant breakfast: fresh fruit plate, curd, roti, poha, massala omelet, tea, coffee and delicious cakes from the hostess.

We meet the new driver Panjab Singh. Living in the area, he arrived early this morning. He was waiting for us in his car. Rajeev was sitting with him. He would have spent the night here.

We explained that we will first visit the village on foot with the steward of the fort, Manjeet.

A soothing visit, as we like them: full of contacts, full of hellos, full of smiles. The village of Bharat Gar is a little treasure: India without globalization, India of the last century, as in so many other towns or villages when you leave the main tourist routes.

The streets are narrow, impossible to go unnoticed. We stop at each business to greet people, to find out what they are selling or what they are doing.

A smell fills the street, it comes from the Barfi Wala shop. He reduces milk and sugar in a large bowl, stirring constantly. He makes Barfi that you find everywhere in India, these little sweet diamonds that are very pleasant when they are not industrial. To thank us for being interested in him, he offers some to us.

We salute the pharmacist who sells tablets at retail, the barbers very busy at the start of the day, one shaves with a straight razor, the other plucks his beard with a taut, impressive thread. And so many oher people...A family came to present their daughter, another came to show us her adorable pedigree dog, as if we were neighbors. We visit the village gurdwara where we are welcomed as if we were from the area. Thanks to the people of Bharat Gar.

I have long dreamed of being accompanied by someone who can serve as an intelligent and reliable interpreter to speak with all these people we meet. In all the villages and all the Indian cities, we observe these small businesses. They don't have a lot of products to sell, they don't have a lot of customers either, how do they survive? Many seem proud to hold these businesses, even if it does not bring much. Is social recognition worth more to them than material wealth? Lots of questions I'd like to ask them.

Back at the fort, we pay for our meal the day before. Surprise, the driver's meal is charged to us again.

Rajeev left without paying for his dinner: 250 Rps. We refuse. We contact the agency to inform them.

  1. Puce Although having decided not to talk about Rajeev on the web not to harm   

    Tour India With Driver, it's the straw that broke the camel's back.  We will let know how unhealthy this driver is. We have met too many drivers like him in India. It is because of them that we end up no longer wanting to visit this country.  If this can be useful to other travelers, avoid this man.

If this is the responsibility of the agencies, in their defense it should be noted that educated, intelligent, cultured, serious people prefer to do other professions than drivers. In Punjab a large part of the youth dreams of immigrating to Canada. There are advertisements everywhere for immigration agencies. It must not be easy to recruit good drivers. But that's no reason to let it go. Fares are not lower because the drivers are incompetent.

We take the highway for Kasauli, without having much to visit. The new driver does not seem to know the region better. We have to rely on our research on the internet.

Kasauli is a mountain town of Himachal Pradesh, located at 1927 m above sea level, surrounded by dense forests. The little information we have mentions a brewery considered "the oldest distillery serving whiskey in Asia" which would have made the reputation of the city. Contrary to what is said on the internet, the brewery cannot be visited.

There is also talk of a fort: the Gurkha Fort: built by Amar Singh Thapa, a leader of the Gurkha army. The main reason for its construction was to fight against the British army during the Anglo-Nepalese war, this fort serves as an emblem of bravery. However, the Gurkhas were defeated in the war and the region later came under British rule.

The Manki Point or Monkey Point with a spectacular view of the whole valley, and the Sutlej River flowing below. Without interest, the valley is much less beautiful than that of Kullu.

The Krishna Bhavan Mandir, a popular shrine for Hindus built in 1926. This temple looks like a church and is considered an architectural marvel. Another famous temple is the Shri Baba Balak Nath temple, dedicated to the local deity of the region. To visit them you have to leave the car in a paying car park and take a city taxi (paying). Other vehicles are not allowed to drive in the city center.

The "so-called" Kasauli Tibetan Market: the lower road in the center is dotted with a few so-called "Tibetan" shops selling small handicrafts, woolens, hand-woven shawls and scarves, a wide variety of jams and marmalades, for local tourists. Without interest. The only Tibetan is a cook who makes momos for a small Indian restaurant. The center is overrun with aggressive monkeys that attack anyone carrying a bag or food. Paradoxically, posters inform that feeding the monkeys or annoying them is punishable by prosecution and a fine of 2500 rupees.

In reality Kasauli is a health resort for weekends and holidays of the middle class of Delhi and its region (see the license plates).

Hence the plethora of luxury hotels with people who eat their meals in the rooms, who talk loudly until late at night, who telephone in the corridors, preferring to disturb neighbors than their relatives, who block the road for an hour to pick up their teenagers in badge jackets when leaving international private schools. Luxury hotels, luxury colleges, nothing interesting for foreign tourists. The hotels have adventure trails, modern fitness rooms, swimming pools and tennis courts, and well-equipped conference rooms.

  1. Puce Winnies Resort Tehsil, Village Sanawar on Main Dharampur Kasauli Road 1 Km after Pinegrove School Sanawar Resorts, Sanawar, Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh 173202 +91 98056 33007 There is nothing nearby.

March 18, 2023 Anandpur Sahib - Patiala 114 km

Highway to Patiala without much interest. The advantage of the new driver is that he knows how to use a GPS, and that he drives regularly. What a time saver. Every day we take half a day to reach the stage against a day with Rajeev.

We planned to do the old Patiala walk (Patiala Heritage Walk). The driver not knowing the city, we ask the reception to help us. The visit of the old town can be done with an official guide, free of charge. But because of weather conditions (rain) it is canceled today. Mohit, the receptionist, offers to organize the tour with the rickshaw Pawan Kumar Sharmer, + 91 6283 576 120, 700 939 4488. We negotiate the price and leave for a 3 hour tour. The new driver being completely different from Rajeev, we offer him to accompany us. Apparently he seems to like it, he took lots of photos.

As in Amritsar we walk through the old streets, with an alternation of havelis, old well-preserved palaces such as the Shahi Samadhan, resting place of the royal family, which has become the mausoleum of Baba Ala Singh, his tomb being in the main building behind which are the cenotaphs of different members of the royal family.

I note that all the inscriptions on the walls and on the tombs are in Arabic.

It is surprising to note that we talk more about British colonization, while India was colonized for centuries by other invaders to the point of no longer making the difference between the original Indians and the others ! It seems to happen all over the place!

The rickshaw then takes us through streets where timeless shops abound, with a lunch stop in the Pammi Puria Wala restaurant, where we would not have stopped if we had been alone, to taste the specialties: Pooris and Chole Bhature, a puffy maida flour bread served with a chickpea curry.

We continue through the Bartan Bazar and its utensil shops, the dyer, the Pulkaris embroidered fabric shops, the Chhatta Namumal, an arch overlooking the street where the Diwan Namu Mall (adviser to the Sultan among the Ottomans) gave audiences to hear the grievances of the p
ublic,  the Darshini Deori fortified gate that overlooks the small Rajeshwar Shiv Mandir temple and its square, the street of the merchants of Jutti, embroidered and decorated slippers worn by women, which are found everywhere in Punjab.

The apotheosis is the Qila Mubarak, a gigantic fort dating from the 18th century, built under Baba Ala Singh, a delirious fusion of Rajput and Mughal style.

As in many palaces of Rajasthan, there are traces of Arabic culture in these architectures. Which raises questions about the origins of these royal families who reigned over India, to the point of wondering who lived in India before these great invasions.

Qila Mubarak is one of the largest forts on the continent. Everything there is gigantic. Too bad that we have to limit ourselves to visiting the courtyards. Through the glass doors you can see silver cars, crystal chandeliers from Europe, traces of excessive luxury. A guardian speaks of the harem, where the males of the royal family maintained hundreds of concubines (a mild understatement for naming captives). We find there the same paradox as everywhere in India: you can take pictures with a phone, but not with a camera. Knowing that many phones take photos of the same quality as cameras! The guards who ensure the respect of the places are unable to explain the difference apart from saying that it is the regulation.

We missed the Lachman Jhoola a beautiful suspension bridge built over a small man-made lake. Replica of famous Lakshman Jhula from Rishikesh. The Lachman Jhoola connects the Sheesh Mahal to the Banasar Ghar.

Return to the hotel which lights up with the fall of the night transforming itself into palace of the thousand and one nights. We should have scheduled an extra day in Patiala instead of Dehradun.

  1. Puce Neemrana's Bardari Palace  Baradari Rd, Baradari, Patiala, +91 175 230 4433

March 19, 2023  Patiala - Dehradun  114 km

Road to Uttarakhand known for the beauty of its landscapes. Largely covered by the Himalayan mountains, it is also the most forested state in India. It is in this state that the Ganges, the sacred river of India, has its source. It is also famous for being the world capital of yoga in Rishikesh.

Travelers come from all over the world to perform a spiritual retreat and gurus to recruit new followers.

On the road we wish to visit again the Sikh temple of Paonta Sahib on the banks of the Yamuna river, which had marked us with its beauty and its welcome.

Under construction, you no longer enter by the long cement rise on the side. We enter from the back. As in Amritsar, there are 10 times more people than in 2016. Because of the works and the crowd, we do not recognize the place. The reception is no longer the same. We even got "yelled at" by a pilgrim for taking pictures. Whereas before, people encouraged us to take pictures!!!

As in Amritsar the streets leading to the temple are crowded with shops selling gadgets, souvenirs, toys for local tourists.

We wanted to see Vandana Shiva's farm again hoping that this time she would be there. Navdanya Biodiversity Farm/Bija Vidyapeeth at Ramgarh Village/Shishambara Old Shimla Road, P.O Sherpur Dehradun - Phone: 91-135-2693025 / 2111015

The last time (2016), we were warmly welcomed there by Mr. Pawan Singhal, and Bija Didi, guardian of the seeds. We were even offered to have lunch there with them. This year, at the end of the mango orchard, a guard blocks the road, we do not appear in his logbook.

We insist, he phones the office. An employee informs us that we cannot enter the property because we have no appointment ! She didn't want to hear anything. What happened to make it change so much?

Dehradun is the capital of Uttarakhand. It's a big city with hellish traffic. At the end of the day it is practically impossible to cross the Rajpur road because the traffic is so dense.

Rajpur road is one of the main shopping avenues of the city with modern malls, many luxury boutiques and restaurants. It feels like being in Dubai or New York.

We visited the Pacific Mall: the temple of the local middle class. Same shops and same signs as on the Champs Elysées or Châtelet in Paris. Same fauna, same clothes, same junk food chapels than everywhere: Taco Bell, Mc Donald, Pizza Hut, Belgian Waffles, Domino's etc...India at American time!

At the entrance to one of the clothing stores, there is a guard armed with a machine gun...Cool !

The contrast between this India of the boulevards and the one we encountered in the countryside, in the villages or in the old towns, is so strong that it makes us want to flee.

We can understand that India evolves, develops, it is normal, but that it loses its identity to the point of resembling any capital in the world, disturbs us.

The steamroller of globalization is at work to the detriment of everything that made each people special.

We are happy and lucky to have known India in the 20th century...Rajasthan with its small villages, its wells with earthen buckets, its women in flamboyant sarees and their copper pots on their heads or on their hips, the kalarippayatt schools of southern India, the toy train of Darjeeling...

The next day we had planned to visit the Rajaji National Park. A reserve where you are more or less guaranteed to see tigers in the wild (we were disappointed not to have seen anything during 3 safaris in Ranthambore).

We call to book, the person who answers does not know the rate for foreigners. She inquires and gives us a price: entry + guide + jeep = 5100 rupees for two. The driver inquires on his side someone gives him another fare 6500 for two foreigners.

For Indians, divide by 10 = 650 rupees. When you see the luxury of cars circulating in the region, this discrimination is difficult to pass.

That the "little people" who live in an austere, even miserable way pay little, it is normal. That the rich pay the same price as the poor but 10 times less than foreigners is unbearable. We cancel the visit.

Who would dare to imagine that the French pay 30 euros to visit the Eiffel Tower and that the Indians pay 300 euros, because if they are tourists in France it is because they have the money. Who would find that normal ?

  1. Puce Hard to find an affordable restaurant serving local meals. We dine at the hotel restaurant, a simple inexpensive meal.

  2. PuceSkyking hotel 152, 2B, Rajpur Rd, Jakhan, Dehradun, Uttarakhand 248001, +91 98732 42322

March 20, 2023 Dehradun - Rishikesh - Dehradun

Dehradun not having much interesting to see or do, we decide to spend the day in Rishikesh which we had visited too quickly in 2016 due to the incompetence of the driver at the time.

On the road, a lot of trucks with sugar cane, waiting to go to the factories.

We again appreciate Panjab's ability to use its GPS, he reaches the destinations and sights we want to see without wasting time.

Although the International Yoga Festival has passed, there is a crazy crowd in Rishikesh.

Always a lot of "baba new age" in search of guru or spiritual retreat, but above all hundreds, even thousands, of Indian tourists.

There is always so much advertising for yoga classes, meditation, Ayurvedic massages.

There are still as many guru looking for followers, but there are also many shops selling rafting, paragliding, trekking, bike on rent, camping, the favorite activities of the Indian middle class.

Unlike health resorts, it's not only people who have big cars. There are many villagers who charter buses, trucks or tractors with trailers traveling in groups.

We wanted to see Chaurasi Kutya, Maharishi Maesh Yogi's ashram where the Beatles had stayed, and a bunch of other celebrities of the time.

It is part of our cultural heritage. Thanks to them or because of them, but not only, I experienced this movement closely with the transhumance towards this "spiritual" India supposed to help us build a better world ! (I came to India in 1970, by land with the other young and old of the time).

If some ended their trip in Poona with Rajneesh, others in Benares with a lot of crooks who were rampant at the time, others ended up in Kathmandu, and many others in Rishikesh, a lot with funny guru Maharishi Maesh Yogi (meditation transcendentale), some with more serious basic yoga teacher Swami Shivanda (Divine Life Society).

For me the "Trip" ended as volonteer with Mother Teresa in Calcutta and Windey in Guntur  (Andra Pradesh).

Although having done research as part of my studies on the sectarian movement "Transcendental Mediation" its excesses and scams, seeing this place was like stepping back, looking for a missing piece...

You have to cross the suspension bridge Janki Bridge, turn left. The site is managed by the same company as Rajaji Park, with the same discriminatory prices: 150 rupees for Indians, 75 rupees for Indian seniors, 40 rupees for school children, 600 rupees for foreigners.

The welcome is rather surprising in this kind of place: the staff is in military uniform, with rummage through our bags at the entrance, only foreigners !

Apart from the military clothes, you would have thought you were in the "Transcendental Mediation" temple in Paris, same rigidity, always on the defensive.

In a huge wooded park on the banks of the Ganges, the ruins in very poor condition of hundreds of individual meditation domes, with toilets and showers on the ground floor and meditation room upstairs. Even more degraded are the living quarters for the Guru's disciples. Rooms of different standing depending on the place of the followers in the hierarchy. There is the guru's residence, which must have been luxurious. Teaching rooms, kitchens, a canteen, a printing house which published the books of the guru, a garden which produced vegetables and perhaps other herbs !

The ruins allow us to imagine how far the delirium of Maharishi Maesh Yogi went and the blind submission of those who believed in his gaslight theories. The guru went so far as to use pseudo scientific research to confirm the effectiveness of his method, which is nothing more than gaslighting imposed to credulous and sometimes fragile followers.

This is where the Beatles wrote the White album. It is also here that John Lenon wrote Sexy Sadie, in which he criticizes the guru for his affinity for young female adepts, of which he was fond.

A moment of intense emotion in the large room with walls painted with the effigy of the Beatles with an auditory hallucination while my guitar gently weeps which reminded me of a certain February 12, 1970. Life passes so quickly...

If a few post-ashram artists have tried to brighten up these ruins with sometimes successful works, I was shocked to see how much visitors have despoiled this place: tags, graffiti, voluntary deterioration on the majority of the walls and buildings. It's not my bag that needs to be rummage through but the pockets of young indian visitors to confiscate their pencils and and felt-tipped pen. Too bad.

A group of teenage girls from good families take selfies in front of an evocative tag "bitch" on the wall. Recklessness or provocation? We are far from Peace & Love!

Unlike Rajeev who disappeared each time we stopped for a visit, Panjab is always where he dropped us off, whether it was one or three hours later.

We have to make a big detour to reach the other bank, the Lakshman Jhula bridge is being repaired.

The banks of the Ganges are interesting to browse, alternating shops, meditation centers, yoga classes, ashrams, temples, restaurants.

The gurus abound, the followers also. Many local tourists do what they call rafting: they sit in inflatable boats with helmets and life jackets to go 800 meters on a Ganges which is nothing like a rushing river at this place. But they can take some selfies!

On the other bank are the Impressive 13-storey orange temples Swarg Niwas and its annex Shri Trayanbakshwar, works of the congregation of another delusional guru Kailash Anand.

  1. Puce Lunch at Bandhari Restaurant, massala Uttpam or indian pizza. So tasty.

We cross the Ram Jhula bridge to reach the bleachers where pilgrims dip their feet in the Ganges.

We meet a group of villagers who came from the Bamer region of Rajasthan, a village between Jaisalmer and Mount Abu. With their vermilion red saree, their nose and forehead jewels, their strong voices, women do not go unnoticed.

We had a great time with them. The whole group boarded a boat for a ride on the Ganges.

Return to Dehradun in the late afternoon.

  1. Puce Dinner in a pizzeria next to the hotel, junk food but most affordable prices on the boulevard.

March 21, 2023 Dehradun - Delhi - 266 km

Highway from Dehradun to Delhi Airport.

As we arrive at the check-in counter, the computer system fails. We wait an hour for it to be fixed to be able to check-in.

From beginning to end, the bad star seems to have accompanied us.

March 22, 2023 Dubai - Nice

Eight hours of transit in Dubai, fortunately this time there are free elongated seats. We try to rest a little.

This trip was rich in beautiful encounters. He reassured us about the possibility of seeing India as it was before the smoothing of globalization, while being convinced that this will not last in many regions.

The highways with their targeted tourist destinations will widen the gap between rich India and poor India, between business India and rural India.

Forgetting that to eat their junk food there must still be farmers who grow wheat. If their computers allow them to make "wheat", they are not yet able to grow it.

It will be up to foreign tourists to seek authentic India, but perhaps they will only be able to do so with small specialized agencies that agree to go to the villages. Big agencies having sold their souls to the devil.

Despite all the professionalism and kindness of Tour Inda With Driver, we wonder about the meaning of "With driver".

It's hard to blame them, all the agencies we have used have been operating in the same way for at least 15 years.

All the drivers we have had in recent years are of the same type taxi drivers:  good drivers (except one who didn't know how to drive before being hired), but most of them completely incompetent in terms of tourism (8 out of 12), with added problem of honesty (for the last two: Rajesh Tiwari and Rajeev Joshi ).

There was a time when some drivers took pride in their job which was a passion which consisted of introducing foreign tourists to India.

Today this is no longer the case apart from those who have created their small agency and who still work as drivers.


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