RCPTA - Himachal Tour of India 25th April to 3rd May 2017

The bus arranged to transport those participating in the foreign tour to Bandaranayake International Airport left Royal College main gate around 4.00 am on the 25th April 2017. The flight left on time and we were greeted with garlands of Marigold flowers at the Indira Gandhi International airport by the tour operator in India. After lunch at a local restaurant we left for Rishikesh. Rishikesh is a city of the Indian state, Uttarakhand. Located in the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India it is known as the pilgrimage town and regarded as one of the holiest places to Hindus. Hindu sages and saints have visited Rishikesh since ancient times to meditate in search of higher knowledge. Due to the religious significance of the place, non-vegetarian food and alcohol are strictly prohibited in Rishikesh. Rishikesh is famous for ayurvedic treatments. Many ayurveda centers are run, where classes are given by ayurvedic doctors. Despite the pollution of the Ganges, the water in Rishikesh is relatively unaffected by the pollution as the major polluting points are down the course of the river in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. Rishikesh, sometimes nicknamed "Yoga Capital of the World” has numerous yoga centers that attract tourists. It is believed that meditation in Rishikesh brings one closer to attainment of moksha, as does a dip in the holy river that flows through it. We arrived there in several tri shaws which were packed with 6 of us in each. We crossed the Lakshman Jhula Bridge which is an iron suspension bridge across the river Ganges to visit the yoga center but unfortunately we were told that the meditation centers were closed at that time. It is said that Lakshmana crossed Ganges on jute ropes between the places where this bridge is built.

After 260 kms coach ride we arrived at Hotel Godwin where we stayed overnight.
On day two after breakfast we were on our way to Shimla. Shimla, also known as Simla, is the capital and largest city of the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. In 1864, Shimla was declared as the summer capital of British India. After independence, the city became the capital of Punjab and was later named the capital of Himachal Pradesh. It is the principal commercial, cultural and educational center of the hilly regions of the state. Shimla is surrounded by beautiful forest of fires, pines, oaks and rhododendron. As we travelled along the winding road up the hills it was a feast to the eye with beautiful mountains and valleys. The Ganges flowing by in a trickle rushing through the snowy white balls of stones.

Shimla provides well developed facilities, easy accessibility and a number of attractions which make it one of the most India's popular hill-stations. The houses of locals are made of stone and mud with thatched roofs. Several materials are used for the roofs but the style is always similar. The roofs slant down on both sides of the houses. This helps the snow to slide down during the winter and the roofs are mostly colored bricks green or red.

After a long journey from Shimla we were to arrive at a reasonable time in Manali. But unfortunately on the way we encountered a problem where the buses we were travelling in could not proceed for some reason. We were made to understand due to a blockade on the road the big buses were not allowed to proceed. We were transported with our luggage in small vans to the hotel in Manali around 12.00 midnight. Some luggage could not be unloaded in the rush and some had to sleep without their nightwear till the luggage was brought the following morning.

Next morning on Day 4 when we woke up our eyes were in for a very pleasant surprise as our hotel was surrounded by beautiful snowcapped mountains almost at arm’s length.

Manali is an important hill station of Himachal Pradesh. It is situated in the central part of Himachal Pradesh. It is located at an altitude of 2050 m above sea level. Manali is surrounded by towering peaks at arm’s length and is famous for its proximity to snowline. The majesty of the mountains and the glaciers can be seen at their best if you go along the Rothang Pass. Unfortunately for us that road was closed and we were not able to get a glimpse of the Himalayas. But that didn’t stop us from climbing up to the snowcapped mountains with the help of a stick we bought at twenty Indian rupees. Though some dropped behind a few of us were able to reach the snow. What a beautiful sight it was! We tried sleeping on the snow. What an experience that was! Coming down was much easier but at the base of the mountain the woman who sold the sticks to us virtually grabbed the sticks from us to be resold. What a way to make money! Manali has a flourishing orchard industry but apples were not in season when we were there. Manali has been a popular destination for honeymooners, trekkers, mountaineers, rafters and skiers. A tour to Himachal Pradesh is incomplete without a tour to Kullu - Manali.

On Day 5 we arrived in Dharamsala, popularly known as the "Queen of the Hills”, It is divided into lower and upper towns with a difference of 457m (1500ft.) between them. The mountains enfold 3 sides of the town and the valley stretches to the south

Dharamsala is now the seat of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.
An earthquake once wrecked Dharamsala in 1905. Since 1960, it became temporary headquarters of the Dalai Lama and has risen to international repute as “The little Lhasa in India. Tibetan environment has been created in the high altitude, and more than 3000 Tibetans have made Dharamsala their temporary home On Day 6 after breakfast we visited the war memorial, an art museum and then stopped for lunch. We then proceeded to Amritsar to watch Flag Retreat Ceremony- Wagah which is an army outpost on the Indo- Pak boarder 30kms from Amritsar where the daily highlight is the evening “Beating the Retreat” ceremony. The ceremony starts at 5.30pm, unfortunately we arrived there around 6.00pm. We decided to stay overnight and watch the ceremony the following day and proceed to Chandigar after dinner. It was to be a long journey in the night and with much hesitation everyone agreed to do so.

“Beating the Retreat” ceremony was something to watch. Soldiers from both countries march in perfect drill, going through the steps of bringing down their respective national flags. As the sun sun goes down, nationalist fervor rises and lights are switched on marking the end of the day. One is made to feel that at the gates of the boarder animosity is shown by both sides with soldiers of both sides with clenched fists smartly throwing their feet at each other. Finally it ends with a thunderous applause from the crowd.

Amritsar, is also home to the Golden Temple and now a Portal for the Punjab and Sikh Community. Amritsar, literally meaning "holy pool of nectar" is the spiritual and cultural the center of Sikh Religion. There is such a spiritual embodiment of the higher being that even the non-believer is seduced by the hypnotic melody of the Paath. Nobody is allowed to enter the temple without covering their heads. There was a long queue to enter the main temple. Day eight we arrived in Delhi and had a little time for shopping after a city tour of the India Gate, The Parliament House, etc An interesting sight in the heart of Delhi was a huge garbage dump almost in exact size of the Meethotamulla garbage dump.

There was one unfortunate incident where one of our members had to be hospitalized for breathing difficulty due to altitude and her personal health condition. She had to be sent home safely.

Day nine we returned home after a strenuous but a memorable tour. RCPTA is grateful to our secretary Mrs. Ramya Dharmawardana and her husband Mr. Jinawara Dharmawardana for organizing the tour which we all enjoyed.
(Location descriptions were obtained from the internet)
Mrs. Manel Munasinghe