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  • Writer's pictureYak Pack Theatre Project

The Yak Pack News #2 - Preparations in Manali

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

Sunday 2nd and Monday 3rd July - Manali

We’re on a mission! This is the list:

· A broom, handheld, for sweeping the floor and tickling the toes of children

· A basket for Little Red Riding Hood, suitable for gathering plastic flowers in, and transporting cupcakes of course, to her beloved Granny’s house.

· Poles for the ‘trees’ – our scenery is 5 trees which assemble a bit like a tipi – and the bamboo poles we used in the UK now have beans climbing up them! We need 20 poles ranging from 120cm to 250cm.

· 2 holdalls for all the Yak Pack props, costumes, scenery and books, the same size for equally balancing on the back of a donkey

· A small plastic box for stashing the water pistols in

We also need to collect plastic rubbish here and re-make all the flowers for Tick-Tocks hat and the flowers which grow in the audience – unfortunately that requires the craft kit, currently in Lous backpack swanning around Kuwait somewhere…

Old Manali is a very easy place to stay for travelling foreigners in India. Its cafes and hotels cater to a back-packing crowd, there’s a laundrette, money changers, café bars with live music, shops with hippy clothes and souvenirs. But no useful shops that will help with our shopping list, so its off down the hill to the bustle of New Manali, to search out our prop list in the markets and back streets.

As soon as we started to walk round the market we realised our error. Sunday. Most of the stalls were shuttered and the normally thronging market was remarkably peaceful. Still, we spotted some useful looking holdalls, which Ben insisted in rigorous zip-testing before pronouncing suitable. 1 down, 4 to go.

Around a corner, and past a row of tiny greengrocers all selling the same selection of plums, bananas, carrots and enormous cauliflowers, we found brooms. Penny had 3 styles to pick from, and just like that Mum was ready to do Wednesdays sweeping in the show. 2 down.

We were gradually realising that the bamboo poles were probably a bigger challenge than anticipated. Sitting down to take tea, we quizzed the chai seller about his bamboo fencing, a bit like a garden screen made of split sections of very fat bamboo poles. Other locals joined the conversation with dark mutterings about it coming from Mandi, or Punjab, or other places less than useful. Finally, one of them offered to take us to a possible seller of poles, buried in the rabbit warren of back streets.

[pic - Chai seller]

Arjuna and Ben shouldered the task, and Penny, Izzy and Lou started looking for a basket.

You’d think finding a woven basket would be really simple, but we went around the entire market, following various directions which were all equally unhelpful, and completely drew a blank.

Eventually we gave up, needing to make our meeting point on time. Our phones don’t work here of course, so it’s back to old school travelling rules – you plan to meet at a place and time, then you have to stick to it otherwise you’ll never find each-other again! There’s an imposing statue at the head of the main street in Manali. The former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, originally from this area, immortalised with an upraised arm expending his benevolence over the town. That’s our meeting spot, and we needed to be there at 5pm, so had to abandon Mission Basket.

Arjuna and Ben turned up at 5pm too, buzzing with news of a reclamation yard and a man who promised to split a bamboo scaffolding pole into sections for us tomorrow.

Altogether a pretty successful initial foray. We’d also managed to turn buying a few pairs of black trousers to go under our costumes into a lengthy visit in a Kashmiri tailors shop. Before we knew it there were wonderful fabrics flung out on the counters, a rainbow of beautiful colours and designs, and enjoying the experience of having clothes made to measure, we’d soon chosen our outfits to pick up tomorrow.

Back in Old Manali the electricity had come back on. Torrential monsoon rain overnight had fried the electrics so there had been intermittent electricity and internet all day. Now the weather had cleared, though the clouds are still low. Just behind the high green hills all around us rise the stark black teeth of the high Himalayas with their contrasting snowy tops, a monochrome backdrop to the vibrant green valley. The clouds have been low since arriving, and its strange to think these monoliths lie just out of sight.

In the streets, stray dogs snooze all day, lying on the warm tiles, fast asleep and undisturbed. As the day cools into evening, they wake up, perky and ready for a night of adventures. Izzy collects the uneaten pieces of chapattis from our dinner to feed them on the way home.

Next day heading down into New Manali for Part Two of the props mission, Ben and Lou decided to walk through the forest reserve which separates the Manali’s Old and New. It’s a peaceful walk next to the river, with tall pines stretching skyward, and with little undergrowth there was a lovely open feel to the forest. It would make a gorgeous camping place. The piles of rubbish heaped up against the wire fence at the perimeter is a reminder of the enormous problem presented by plastic waste.

Near our meeting place at the top of town, we discovered a ‘Water ATM’. The sign said you got 1 litre of drinking water for any coin. There was nowhere to put a coin in, but I put my water bottle under the spout and pressed the button anyway, not really expecting anything to happen. But to my surprise it worked perfectly, and the water tasted great too. What a good idea. Almost better than a traditional water fountain, the ‘ATM’ styling made the water seem more trustworthy as a drinkable source.

Arjuna surrendered himself to the attentions of a local barber, as did Penny with the lure of a head massage while she waited. Freshly preened and ready for anything, they set off with Ben for the timber yard.

The yard itself was in a concrete shed, above which a house was being built. When we arrived, the chaps from the timber yard were all in a trench, possibly foundations for the building work, using a hosepipe full of water as a spirit level. What clever simple technology.

They had a 3-metre-long bamboo scaffolding pole for us as promised. More of a bamboo trunk then the slender stems we’re used to finding in garden centres! Using a machete and a lump hammer, they skillfully split the pole into 8 long sections. Arjuna was in his element, wielding a machete, sanding, slicing, whittling. Before long we had our 20 poles – a little rough and ready for the moment, and probably in need of further smoothing before they’ll slide into place, but the difficult part is done.

Meanwhile, the search for a basket in a now bustling marketplace, still only led us to one single stall, with one single basket option, run by a singularly unpleasant man. He must have known that the small plastic handle-less baskets he had were quite literally the only ones in Manali, because 250 rupees (£2.50) seemed completely extortionate, and haggling wasn’t an option he was prepared to entertain. Traders everywhere have that sixth sense for a desperate customer I think! We paid the 250 rupees and will make a handle ourselves.

A watertight box for the water pistols was the easiest item on the list, and with a 5 out of 5 we all headed back up the hill, Arjuna hanging out of the side of the tuktuk, clinging onto the bamboo poles.

We returned to the hotel to discover a photo of our backpacks leaning against a post in Chandigagh. They were on their way to us, the right bags, headed for the right town. A small miracle was in progress.

Having them couriered to us by the airline sounded very glamourous – actually its some poor chap doing the same epicly long journey as we had just done – but he was doing it on public buses.

They are due to arrive at 2am.

Ben has managed to get himself a job tonight singing for his supper in a local café, so we spent the evening feeling a bit nostalgic as Ben played his familiar campfire repertoire.

Being 2000m above sea level doesn’t seem to make a difference to his singing ability – hopefully that’ll hold true at 4000m.

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