The guest house we found had a small pond right next to it, and it was a bit challenging to get around it. You had to walk through some narrow trails and across small water channels to make your way to the guest house patio and entrance.
I took a room with Orlin, we organized our stuff, and then we all went to the main tourist area to get some lunch. We set in a cool restaurant I had heard about called ‘Cnaan Cafe.’ That’s when I spotted the first disturbing sign from these new friends of mine.
As soon as they opened the menu and saw the word ‘pork’ they completely crucified the restaurant. (Which is quite a funny word game considering the fact that everyone at the table was Jewish, don’t you think?) Again, as a Jewish person I could understand the need for some people to eat only kosher food (like my parents on flights), but what are the chances to find a completely kosher restaurant in such a small rural place in India?
Pretty soon I realized we are not going to eat anywhere because my friends were on the lookout for a ‘Veg Only’ restaurant, which is apparently the supplement for kosher places in times of need. Unfortunately for them (and evidently for me as well), these were nowhere to be found in Old Manali.
We ended up eating again at the ‘Israeli House.’ I figured that it was the closest thing to kosher food after ‘Chabad house.’ There I had the first chance to finally try Indian food. I had ‘Aloo Gobi’ - a dish made with potatoes, cauliflower, and Indian spices - and it was fabulous.
When it started to get dark we went back to our guest house. That’s when I realized that there was absolutely no lighting in that area. There was no way to leave the guest house without a flashlight, which I didn’t have.
When we reached the guest house I heard guitar sounds coming from the back. There were some people sitting around on a wooden patio and singing. I decided to join them and hopefully I would be brave enough to sing a bit myself. I set there listening to someone sing quite poorly and knew I could do a lot better than that; after all I’d been taking vocal lessons for only about a decade.
Being shy is something that always made me think twice before opening my mouth. Especially when it comes to singing which is something I consider to be a very intimate thing, almost like flashing your bare naked soul. I don't know what it was that made me start; maybe it was this friendly group, maybe the fact that nobody knew me, or maybe just the sound of a familiar song. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was completely red, but I was singing like there was no tomorrow. Everybody was cheering for me, and so enthused, I didn’t want that moment to end.
While I was singing my heart out, I noticed a really cool couple sitting there, looking madly in love. They had that ‘India backpackers look’ that I so wanted to adopt; especially the girl who had some really colorful clothes and dreadlocks to complete the look. I thought to myself that it would probably be fun to hang out with them and that I should try to join a group of similar people. Finally, after almost two days in India I was enjoying myself and things were looking up.
One of many guest houses in Old Manali (Image by Orly Abugov)
At some point, Tammy came to me and said that she and our other three companions were going out to eat something for dinner and asked if I wanted to come. I was having so much fun, there was no way I was going to leave in the middle of all this excitement. I told her that I wanted to stay and I would find them later. This new confidence suited me well. I really enjoyed the concept of moving from one group of people to another.
Not long after Tammy left, this new group of people on the patio started to split up. People were heading to their rooms and I figured it was a good time to join Tammy and the others for dinner.
I took some money, locked the room, and started walking along the trails that got us here. Complete darkness - I couldn’t see a thing. There was nobody to ask directions from or to follow to the main tourist area. I decided to try to get there anyhow, and started making my way along the paths. I took small steps trying to feel my way out of there.
They usually say that when one sense is disabled the others get sharpened, and so it was. From the darkness I could hear loudly and vividly the sounds of the animals living in and around the pond. Frogs, crickets, owls and dogs that barked in the distance, it was like being in a horror movie. I was stuck there.
I went back to the guest house, sat near the lake, and waited for the group to come back. A smiley Indian guy came to me and introduced himself as the owner of the guest house. He asked me if I wanted to eat anything and so I ordered Dal and rice, another well-known Indian dish, for the first time. That’s when I learned that in India, If you have money, you don’t need to leave the guest house at all. You can get anything you want, whenever you want it, as long as you pay for it.
The owner saw that I was bored and offered me a book from their small library. I thanked him and he went on to his business. I wasn’t in the mood to read, or to do anything, really. I was sad and frustrated, it felt like the others had been gone forever. This was not the way I wanted my first night in Manali to end. Suddenly, traveling alone didn’t feel so glamorous. If I couldn’t be independent then what was the point to all this? That’s when I decided: