After a peaceful week in Dharamsala, I decide it's time to leave, and take a morning bus to Mandi, which appears to be en route to most of the destinations I have in mind. For some reason, what appears to have been a once surfaced road has had it's surface removed and dumped unceremoneously at the roadside. Trundling through the dusty towns of the Himachal Pradesh foothills, I have my first near-death experience; the body of a man lies shoeless on the road, covered with a shawl, a blood trickling into a small sticky puddle nearby. A crowd of onlookers give their account to a local policeman. It appears the man was hit by some vehicle, or fell off a motorcycle (most Indians don't wear helmets). The episode makes me wish I'd read the chapter on "Meditations on Death" from a book I examined at the library of Tushita, a buddhist meditation centre in Dharamsala.
An hour or so later, my sense of shock gives way to an uncomfortable numbness in the buttocks, which gradually increases as the bus crawls towards Mandi. Out of the window I observe picturesque villages passing by, green terraces and apple orchard stretching down the valley towards the Uhl river below.
Eager to regain circulation in my lower regions, I don my packs and jump off the bus as soon as Mandi is in sight. With no map of Mandi in my guidebook, I orientate myself by instinct, crossing an old iron bridge and making my way through a colourful bazaar into the town proper. Emerging from the other end of the bazaar, I find myself in a bleak looking square, where most of the guest houses seem to be concentrated. My first choice from the guidebook turns out to be much pricier than I had hoped, but tired and in need of a hot shower, I take a room for one night. However, when I discover there's no water, I repack and look for alternatives.
I trapse around looking at other guest houses, mostly cheaper but pretty nasty, so I consult my guidebook for inspiration, finding one that sounds reasonable called "Rewalsar Inn". Asking for directions, I cross another bridge, walk up a hill, and find myself at the bus station. I recall that Rewalsar is a village outside Mandi. Too weary to retrace my steps, I board a local bus to Rewalsar, which proceeds to take me back the way I came and wait for half an hour just opposite my first choice of guesthouse.
By now it's dark. Fellow passengers look at me and a couple attempt communication in a broken English. The guy sitting next to me informs me he's a primary school teacher. I'm not sure if he's touching my leg deliberately or not; the concept of "personal space" hasn't been introduced in India yet. After another 30 minutes bumping up the valley, stopping every minute or so to let passengers on or off, I spot a building at the roadside, "Drikung Tsopadma Monastery - Rooms available". I ask the driver to stop and let me off, but he continues several hundred meters down the hill before paying me any attention. I trudge back up the hill and enquire about the rooms. No monks in sight, and the building doesn't seem particularly spiritual, but the room is reasonable and a friendly Indian girl prepares me some dinner, after which I take a hot shower and collapse into bed.
The following morning I walk around the village and visit the real Drikung Tsopadma Monastery (apparently my lodgings are really called "Drikung Tsopadma Monastery Restaurant"). The village boasts a large lake, sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists, surrounded by thousands of prayer flags. I sit and watch an elderly couple throwing rice to the fishies, whilst a Buddhist chants behind me and a Sadhu bathes himself in the brackish waters nearby.
Having seen everything the village has to offer in about 2 hours, I'm still impatient to move on, so take a local bus back to Mandi from where I'll head up the Parvati valley to Manali.