The severe dedication to avoid Delhi Belly

1st March

I’m squatting. For once, not squatting over one of India’s famous hole-in-the-ground-toilets, but I’m squatting next to an open fire, helping a lady who is dressed all in blue. I’m helping her make chapatis.

I’m outside the Judge’s Court Hotel, situated in the Heritage Village of Pragpur. My rolling-pin technique isn’t quite as speedy or efficient as the lady in blue, but her white smile is warm and her kind eyes tell me that she is grateful for my help and my company. She doesn’t say much but her aura is peaceful and content, so much so that it is contagious – whilst throwing raw dough onto the orange flame and sitting (squatting) by her side, I feel a calm happiness in my head and through my entire body.

Our dinner that evening was incredible and I definitely over did it. I waddled up to the bedroom feeling like I was about to give birth to triplets. Triplets cushioned by garlic naan and swimming in a platter of vegetarian curry.

2nd March

7 hours drive to Shimla. It’s only 200km away, but it’s all narrow, twisty roads, heading up the mountains. Jesus Christ the driving was hairy. It truly is the real life Mario Kart experience – who doesn’t love over taking on bends? But each time we overtook, we beeped the horn three times so we’ll be safe, right? My knuckles were white for most of those 7 hours (made worse by one too many coffees this morning – stay strong little bladder. Stay strong!) I feel really bad that I don’t know our driver’s name. We’ve been with him these last 5 days, but it would be too awkward to ask now.

Good lord, Shimla is cold. Much colder than I expected. Wearing practically the entire contents of my backpack in an attempt to keep warm, fashion has completely gone out of the window. I currently resemble an unfashionable 14 year old that would be found in a French GCSE text book.

Shimla is beautiful though. It’s much cleaner than any of the other places that we have previously visited. Smoking is prohibited and there is a ‘no spitting’ rule. The roads are steep, the forest trees are tall and the glowing sunset resembles an acryclic painting, painted by a talented optimist.

3rd March

Today I saw a girl get attacked by a monkey. She wasn’t hurt, so it’s OK that I laughed, right?

A temple visit and then some more monkey shenanigans, I later purchased the best thing since sliced bread – a Yak wool scarf from a kooky little Tibetan charity shop. #FreeTibet !!!

After mopping up my plate of black dahl with fresh chapati, both my tongue and my stomach reached a level of satisfaction so much higher than is possible with the foods back at home. I’m being daring with trying new flavours and spices (I love hot food), however, I’m being extremely cautious of all uncooked foods – especially fruit and veg. And even though I’m the gelato queen, after reading up on food safety in India, I’m staying away from ice-cream too. And it goes without saying – bottled water, always bottled water (and make sure it’s sealed! Sometimes they have been sneakily refilled and sold on).

Upon recommendation from a local, I went to Baljeet bakery to try one of their famous ‘Barfis.’ I opted for ‘coconut barfi.’ It was sweet and delicious but unfortunately the after-taste took a dramatic turn, resembling what I can only describe as ‘sour milk.’ I quickly rummaged for a soft mint to try and mask the taste of stale vomit in my mouth. Note for next time: BARFI = BARF. (Although I would like to brag that for someone who usually has a sensitive stomach, I manned it out, wasn’t actually sick, and therefore feel like an invincible warrior).

7 days in. Touch wood, Delhi belly has not yet arrived. However, my intestines are having a new experience. For example, they love love loved a fragrant pea, yogurt and cashew nut curry that I ate on March 1st, they loved it so much, they did not hesitate to remind me of that fragrance all throughout March 2nd. And the 3rd.

BUT I’M NOT ILL YET SO YAY ME.

Time for rest. Tomorrow is a full travel day to New Delhi. And then the next morning, I might do a half marathon. Because, well why not?

A beautiful old man, stray dogs and snow-peaked mountains

I paid a grand total of 10 Indian rupees (about 12p) for a roadside chai tea masala (with extra ginger please!) The cardamom circled my tongue and went down a treat. As we drank the sweet tea in little paper cups, under the star light – we were joined by an old man, who proudly told us that he was 70 years old.

His smile was crooked and his voice was soft and sounded like a nightingale’s song. After speaking with us for a maximum of 30 seconds, he touched my head and gave me his blessing. He then said, “tomorrow, you be here.”

“No, I’m sorry. We leave Amritsar tomorrow.”

“No, tomorrow, you be here.”

“No, sorry. We leave and go to Dharamshala tomorrow.”

“No, tomorrow you be here.”

He really wasn’t getting it, was he?

But before the 70 year old man got on his scooter and rode off into the moonlit side road in central Amristar, he touched my head once more, blessed my precious life, and said for the final time, “Tomorrow, you will be here.” He tapped his heart whilst saying this. “You will always be with me here.”

27th February

Today we venture further north to Dharamshala. It is in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and it is a place both Mum and I are struggling to say. It is supposed to be Dar-am-shall-ah, but so far it has been Duh-haram, D-haram-salla, Daram-sall-shalla…

Yesterday Mum told Gobind, “We’re going to Dar-am-shlow-mo tomorrow.” — That is definitely not correct.

Dharamshala, Dharamshala, Dharamshala. We practice and laugh.

After a five hour drive, we arrived at our hotel in between upper Dharamshala and lower Dharamshala. I guess you could call it, ‘middle’ Dharamshala. (Man, I’ve said Dharamshala too much). It’s almost 3,000ft above sea-level and apart from the loud, barking dogs, it’s rather quiet. The place we are staying at seems more like a house than a hotel – it’s old Indian style – quite grand but in a ‘could-definitely-do-with-a-lick-of-paint’ kind of way.

We spent the afternoon hiking to upper Dharamshala. Mum got a bit cranky and did not appreciate my springy, hiking enthusiasm.

The nights are cold. Freezing in fact. After an Indian feast I returned to the chilly room to find that a kind member of staff had put a hot water bottle in my bed. Ah, they know the way to my heart.

***

February 28th saw us trek a different, more beautiful way to upper Dharamshala. We walked amongst yellow mustard flowers with splendid mountain views, admiring their snowy peaks. We were privileged to visit many temples and learn about 3 million facts regarding His Holiness The Dalai Lama (who lives in exile there). Our guide liked facts. He liked facts a lot.

***

Ever had rice pudding but instead of rice, it’s noodles? I have. Dinner was an intriguing, triumphant feast once again. The staff kept coming out with more and more, loading your plate with fabulous flavours. I thought it was fabulous anyway, however, a British man who sat opposite me would disagree. I soon learned that his name was Stan (his wife Barbara enjoyed saying his name after every sentence).

“I want fish. Where’s the fish?”

“There’s no fish, Stan.”

1st March

It was a silly idea to attempt a run really. After about 6 strides, 4 stray dogs were jumping up at me. They were skinny and looked hungry. I had a mild heart attack but did my best to stay calm. It took me right back to last year, in Indonesia and Thailand, when I had some awful experiences being alone with stray dogs. Breathe. Breathe. Close the gate. Of course, they jump over the gate. Breathe. Breathe. Back in the room. Alive. All good.

We venture to Pragpur today and will be staying in a place called The Judge’s Court. It’s in a Heritage Village and has a rich history. Founded about 3 centuries ago, Pragpur has held onto the essence of an earlier era – unchanged shops, cobbled streets, ornamental village tank, mud plastered and slate roofed houses. I hear that The Judge’s Court will be grand and have that ‘croquet on the lawn’ and ‘more tea Ma’am?’ kind of feel.