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I arrived in Dharamshala in a state fit for seeing His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself. The local Indian bus dropped me at 04:00 am after a sleepless night bouncing around mountain bends through Himachal Pradesh. The sun wasn't up, it was cold, and I wasn't sure exactly where I was. So, I through on a few more layers and tried to get a few hours of sleep.

A table has many circular dumpling sheets scattered on it. In the middle is a bowl of filling. Near the camera is a tray of momos ready for steaming.
Making Momos
Dalai Lama's home in Dharamsala
Dalai Lama's home

When I finally made it to McLeod Ganj, I was tired & weak, so I stopped for tea & lunch. After eating, I was still feeling ill, and my forehead was ablaze, so I set off to find cheap lodging at noon. In an hour, I was laying on a thin, 200 rupee/night mattress. I slept for >12 hours. When I awoke, my fever was gone.

The next 2 days I wondered the boring streets of McLeod Ganj--filled with mostly shops & restaurants. It only took a half-day to see the temple--the home of the Dalai Lama in exile--and the small museum outside commemorating the Tibetan people in exile. My last day I took a Tibetan moma-making class, and discovered in horror that everything pure in Tibetan Dharamshala had butter poured on it.

I booked my bus for Amritsar, which departed 04:00 am the following morning.

Himalayan Mountains in Manali

I began my ascent into the Himalayan mountains via a bus from Delhi. My stop was the last stop, Manali. The mountains were beautiful, and I was completely taken by surprise when I found myself on a Bollywood set, paid 1500 rupees to be an extra in a film.

A French couple departed the bus with me, so we shared a rick shaw to Old Manali, where we stayed in a cheap ~300 rupee/night guest house. It was November--Manali's off-season, yet there was already a half-dozen other travelers from France, Germany, and Korea staying at the guest house.

I immediately recognized Himalayan Blackberry and I could smell ganja in the air--two plants that reminded me of California.

Soon after I arrived, I started walking North along the river, basking in the peaceful sunlight in the valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. I immediately recognized Himalayan Blackberry and I could smell ganja in the air--two plants that reminded me of California.

Mikey stands facing away from the camera. A valley falls down to a town. Beyond the town are green trees. Beyond the trees are snow-capped mountains.
Admiring the Himalayans above Manali, India

I continued walking along the deserted mountain road above the river for a few hours, passed through a village where I saw smoking men relaxing in the morning and women washing clothes from a stream running down to the river. I turned, walked back to my guest house, ate lunch, and then continued in the opposite direction towards the hustling & bustling New Manali. It was an overcrowded tourist trap full of shops, restaurants, and overcharging rickshaws--a stark contrast to my peaceful morning walk. Though it was off-season, I met local that offered to guide me on a day-trek for much cheaper than the "adventure" companies charge. We had chai, agreed on a price, and a time/location to meet early the next morning.

Mikey is dressed in a traditional Dhoti for Sadhya, smiling as he stands next to 4 others
Sadhya and friends

On my walk back up to my guest house, a man behind a gated entrance with a radio earpeace stopped me. He said they're shooting a Bollywood movie, they need a foreigner to play as an extra, and they'd pay me 1,500 rupees, and feed me for my time (for reference, 1500 rupees would pay for my lodging at my guest house for the next 5 nights).

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