Indian ramblings

Jain temple
In a Jain temple at Mount Abu


My family and I visited India in 1989; it has no doubt changed since, but I can't imagine India ever not looking and smelling like India.

We saw a little of New Delhi, Simla, Kulu Valley, Jaipur, and Mt Abu; a tiny part of the great, fascinating country.

India has great beauty, enormous complexity, large numbers of cultural and architectural sites well worth visiting; and can be hugely frustrating. It has many and highly developed cultures; and it is often miserably hot. There is a huge amount that tourists love to visit and the Indians seem to make travel much more difficult than it needs to be.

This page was created in December 2002 and underwent a major modification on 2009/02/05.
Minor editing 2021/07/21
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

Simla train
Narrow gauge train to Simla
View from train
Looking back from the Simla train

Simla train

This little train travels along a winding narrow gauge railway through more than one hundred tunnels on its leisurely way from Chandigarh up the Himalayan foothills to Simla (sometimes spelled Shimla or Simle). As the crow flies the distance is only about 60km, but the journey takes a couple of hours.

Only one compartment of the last carriage contained Westerners. There was an English couple as well as our family; yet if this railway could be transplanted to Australia it would be packed.
The track that the train has just passed over can be seen lower down the hill. The train zig-zags its way up through the mountains.

Simla (Shimla to the Indians) used to be the summer capital under the Raj. At 2000m above sea level it is comfortably cool.

One of the steeper parts of Simla
Building in Simla
A building in Simla
Jackoo Hill
Monkeys at temple on Jackoo Hill
 Monkeys on a roof in Simla
A view of Simla


Built around the side of a hill is well wooded country Simla is attractive in some ways...
...ugly in others.

One wonders what the history of this building would be. Who would feal safe living in it?
Jackoo Hill overlooked Simla. On it was a little temple and around the temple were monkeys. My son was interested in the monkeys and the local man was interested in watching what the white sahib boy was doing.

White tourist children were not often seen in India. Considering the difficulties and upset tummies that we encountered, that is not surprising.
These monkeys were photographed out of the window of our room in the Simla YMCA. They were cheeky enough to come into the room looking for food if a window was left open. We had heard that they could carry rabies so were careful not to provoke them.
If I remember correctly, the octagonal building was a Chinese resaurant, and quite a good one.

Simla airport
Simla airport
View from Simla Airport

Simla airport

The airport is something like 20km, perhaps more, from Simla; with a dare-devil Indian bus driver on Himalayan roads it might have seemed further than it was.

As the airport was close to the Chinese border and relations between India and China were 'delicate' in 1989, the Indian government ban photography around the airport. I didn't notice the signs until after taking several photos.

As can be seen from the Simla photos, the region is very mountainous; even the airport is built on very steep ground, as can be seen by the earthworks in this photo.
I don't think I've ever seen hills beyond hills beyond hills to the extent of these at Simla airport in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Kulu road
A side road at Kulu
Kulu Valley
Kulu Valley
The main road through Kulu

Kulu Valley

The Kulu Valley is also called the Valley of the Gods; if you visit it you will understand why. The valley floor is at an altitude of around 2000m; higher than all but Australia's highest mountains. Within sight of some places on the valley floor are mountains up to 6000m tall. (Everest is 8800m.)
The road to Manali, further up the Kulu Valley.

The Bias river that runs through the Kulu Valley is one of the tributaries of the Ganges.
It might have changed since, but in 1989 the town of Kulu had little to attract the tourist. We flew to Kulu from Simla, stayed one night, then travelled on to Manali.

We picked out what looked like a reasonably clean restaurant for dinner, ordered and ate our dinner, then noticed rats chasing each other through the crockery stacked in cabinets near our table.

This photo was taken on our bus journey out of the Kulu Valley. The car had a flat tyre and blocked the road; all the traffic had to wait while the tyre was repaired and replaced.

Manali hillside
A Manali hillside
Manali slum
Slums on vacant ground in Manali
Julia doing road maintenance on trail to the holymen's cave


Low clouds on a hillside at Manali. Manali is a very popular town with tourists at the top of the Kulu Valley (the valley of the Bias River).

There were good restaurants in Manali (clean so far as we could tell compared to those in Kulu).
Seen from the Manali hotel that we stayed in.

From the very simple slum-tents that can be seen in this photo came immaculately dressed school kids, in uniform, every morning. How the kids and their mothers managed to get and keep the clothes so clean and fresh looking was beyond our imagination.
We walked down the valley from Manali and climbed a hill to find a holliman who lived in a cave. This was the view part way up the hillside.

In fact there were two holymen in the cave. One seemed to be low cast, poorly educated and spoke no English; the apparently senior of the pair asked the other to make tea for us all.

The senior holyman had sworn to not speak; he communicated with us by writing with chalk on a slate.

Manali hill climb
Climbing a mountainside, Manali
Hadimba Temple
Hadimba Temple near Manali
Manali mountains
Above the Kulu Valley near Manali

Climb up mountainside from Manali

With a local guide, my family and I climbed a hill. It was not easy going, the hill was steep and we climbed a long way.

The locals had hard lives. We saw a few women carrying milk down to the town, presumably from small dairies in the mountains. At one place we saw where timber cutters had been sliding logs down a very steep gully.
Hadimba Temple, on a mountainside above Manali.

There were many intricate wood-carvings on the temple; our guide told us that the carver had his right hand cut off after he finished, so that he could never produce a more beautiful work anywhere else. Such are Man's inhumanities to Man.
The view from the highest point we reached in the walk. We were nowhere near the top of the local mountains.

Lower part of climb
The lower part of the climb to the pass
Rohtang road
A small section of the road
Rohtang road
Part of the climb up the lower cirque
Rohtang shops
Shops half way up the climb to the pass
Rohtang Pass road
Around the side of the upper cirque

Road to Rohtang Pass

The mountains in the Kulu area are on a very different scale to anything in Australia; indeed, on a different scale to most other mountains anywhere in the world.
This road connected Manali, at 2000m, to the Rohtang Pass, at 4000m. Some of the switch-backs can be seen here.
This bit of the world impressed me more than I can say. The zig-zag road in this photo climbed up the face of a huge cirque. The point from which the photo was taken was near the top of the cirque.

Having worked our way up the first cirque we were to discover that there was another, perhaps even steeper ahead of us.
At the top of the first cirque was this little 'town' of shops that catered for the travellers. As can be seen the shops were very basic, living conditions would be hard for an Australian to imagine I suspect. Our bus stopped here for tea and snacks.

The lower section of the upper cirque can be seen in the background, with some sections of the switch-back road just visible on the left.
This is a section of the road around the side of the upper cirque; there is no room for mistakes by the bus and truck drivers.

Rohtang Pass
Looking down on the top of the pass
Top of the Pass
View from the top
View from the top of the Pass
Source of the Bias
Source of the Bias River

Rohtang Pass

The top of the Rohtang Pass is at 3978m. My son and I couldn't go to 3978m and not climb up at least another 22m so that we could say we had been above 4000m.

The wind was very cold here and some people were having some problems from the thinness of the air, but it didn't seem to effect Ken and I in the short time we were in the area.
The marker at the top of the pass; note the snow and ice in the distance. This view is looking away from Manali if I remember correctly.
A view from just above the pass
India is a land of people of many religions. Some of them are into pilgramages; I suppose the source of the Bias River has some religious significance; perhaps especially so since the Bias is one of the major tributaries of the holly Ganges.

Jaipur observatory
A small part of the Jaipur Observatory
Jaipur Observatory
General view of Jaipur Observatory
Maharaja's Palace in the background

Jaipur astronomical observatory

Typically of India, here is a pre-telescope astronomical observatory of great historical interest, perhaps the best example in the world, with badly run-down buildings adjacent.

India, of course, has huge financial difficulties, but there seemed to be a great potential for tourism going to waste.
This photo was taken from a ramp (I forget the technical term for it) like that on the left of the photo; you can see that the camera is very high, giving an idea of the size of the structure.

The structure in the background could be the Ambur Palace, but I'm not sure of that.

Ambur Palace
Elephants take visitors to the Palace
Ambur Palace
Entrance to the Ambur Palace
Garden in Ambur Palace
A courtyard garden in the Ambur Palace
Wall in Ambur Palace
Decorated wall in the Ambur Palace
Ambur Water Palace
Ambur Water Palace, in a lake near Jaipur for a little relief from the heat

Ambur Palace, Jaipur

The Ambur Palace overlooked Jaipur from a hill. Whether it was built on a hill for defensive reasons or for the slightly cooler climate this resulted in due to more breezes I don't know; probably it was for both reasons.

Most tourist got up the hill to the palace on the backs of elephants. Elephants and other working animals are like working people I suppose; if they don't have employment in this Man-dominated world they suffer.
Some of India's many palaces have been allowed to deteriorate. Since independence what used to be the ruling class lost most of their hereditary rights, and could no longer force the common people to work for them with very little pay.

While tourism often does harm to the places the tourist like to visit, it is providing some income that can be used to provide employment and help to maintain the palaces that the tourists come to see.

Mt Abu
Recreation lake at Mount Abu
Jain temple
Detail of Jain temple in Mount Abu
Jain temple
Detail of Jain temple
Jain temple
Tourists and worshipers in the Jain temple

Mount Abu

Most of India is hot. The other bits are very hot.

OK, I'm not being entirely honest, there are parts of India in the Himalayas that are high enough to be cool even in the summer, and some other parts do have some sort of cool season.

Mount Abu, if I remember rightly, was some distance south of Jaipur in a lowland part of India. We travelled most of the way from Jaipur to Mount Abu in a 'First Class' train with no air conditioning; it was a hot journey. (Interesting the Second Class train that took us most of the way from New Delhi to Simla did have air conditioning.)

The train station was at the base of the mountain. From there the only way to the top seemed to be by taxi.

At around 1200m, Mount Abu is significantly cooler than the surrounding countryside.
So far as we could see, the biggest claim to fame that Mount Abu had was a temple built by the Jains. The stone carvings had to be seen to be believed; neither my words nor photos can come close to doing justice to the beauty of this temple.

While terrible things have been done in the name of religion (although so far as I know the Jains and Buddhists both have relatively clean records) at least some religions have caused beautiful works of art and architecture.