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  • Writer's pictureYak Pack Theatre Project

The Yak Pack News #1 - Journey

EDITORS NOTE: We've just realised that our first news update only appeared on Facebook, as we hadn't yet set up Indian phone numbers and internet access in order to do these blog posts. So just rewinding 3 weeks to post this here!

Saturday 1st July

By the time I started writing notes for this update in our minibus en route from Delhi to Manali, the road had already started climbing up from the endless flat plains of the Punjab, into the Himalayan foothills. My pen skittered over the pages as I tried to write, the driver whirling the minibus round endless hairpin bends, fearlessly overtaking the trucks grinding slowly upwards, swerving away from collisions at the very last minute amid much honking and flashing of lights. The minibus rattled and shook, the engine made loud whirring noises whenever we went uphill (which was most of the time, obviously), and the occasional whiff of hot clutch added jeopardy. A fatalistic mindset is mandatory.

Out of the window are the lush, forested foothills of the Himalayas, peppered with tiny villages surrounded by their hard-won terraces carved into the steep hillsides, the scattered houses painted cheerful blues and greens and pinks.

In a month or so these roads will be full of apple trucks, collecting the precious cash crop from all these rural communities.

The road winds in and out of valleys, along the contoured hillsides, down to cross bridges over monsoon-swollen rivers, up again, and up, and up.

Our minibus is full of chatter as we catch up with each other, having traveled separately from Delhi to Chandigarh. Penny and Arjuna have been exploring Delhi for the past week and are ready for a more relaxing stint in the mountains. The Lindsey-Clark family arrived in Delhi on Saturday morning, having flown via Kuwait, where the airline decided that the plane was overloaded and removed 2 of our back packs from the hold!! We have a big back pack each, about half of which is filled with books, costumes and props.

The 2 backpacks which got left behind in Kuwait contain about 40 books, 2 peoples costumes, the detachable wolf tummy (lets just say it’s a rather bespoke prop!), and the entire craft workshop kit. When this was discovered in Delhi we had an interesting hour or so….. Apparently they will be flown to Delhi on Sunday, and be couriered to us in Manali on Monday. We’ll see. In the meantime, Ollie and Lou only have the clothes they’re standing up in, so could be rather ripe by then.

It’s a relief to be winding upwards through the cool green hills, away from the griddle pan of the Indian plains. The monsoon broke in Delhi this week, so although that’s reduced the temperature a bit its still 35-40 degrees, and drippingly humid. Low distant thunder rolls round the valleys, fat raindrops hit the windscreen. We stopped in a roadside café, and in the loo I spotted a poster urging people headed for the hills not to drop litter, and especially to use refillable water bottles. Good to see.

The road we’re on goes through Mandi, then along the Kullu valley, all the way to Manali at the head of the valley. Just yesterday this road was blocked for most of the day by a landslide just before Manali, but apparently its been cleared now. Landslides are the biggest hazard on this journey.

The valley sides are steep and loosened with monsoon downpours, causing great chunks of rock and vegetation to come down on the road, blocking it until a tractor comes along to shovel it all away down the mountainside.

And climate change is making the downpours even more destructive.

We’d all left Delhi in the early morning, met in Chandigarh about 2pm, and as day turned to night, the journey started to feel interminable. We stopped for chai, ate in roadside curry houses, drove along fast roads and rough tracks, swerved round cows, people, tuktuks, lorries and more lorries, on and up. As it got dark I saw a high pinprick of light, thinking it to be a star until I made out the dark smudge of mountain top skyline and realised it was actually a house, in an impossible perch, difficult to imagine what the life was life for the person who lived in such a remote place. A farmer? A hermit? Someone who REALLY needed to get away from it all, with a view to die for.

We finally reached Manali about midnight. The streets of Old Manali are very narrow, even 2 small cars struggle to pass, and I think our driver regretted starting to drive up through the village as soon as he’d committed to doing it. There is nowhere to turn round until the top of the village where the road ends. There was an extraordinary amount of vehicles coming the other way, considering it was midnight and a dead end. Every meeting was a crazy squeeze past and my admiration for our driver increased even more. It took us about 30 minutes – and all our remaining patience - to navigate the 1km to the top of the village, execute a magnificent 11-point turn, and roll back down to our hotel.

We’ve got 4 nights to acclimatise here at 2000m above sea level, before the next big hike up in altitude on Wednesday. While we’re here we’ve got a list of props to source and make, not to mention 2 backpacks to locate. The Yak Pack have arrived!

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