The festival of Dasara is one of the most important in the Hindu calendar and no one celebrates it with more fervour than the villagers of the Kullu valley. In the days before the festival – which celebrates the god Rama's victory over the demon Ravana – hundreds of men pour off the hillsides bearing ornate, bejeweled statues of deities. They are accompanied by trumpeters and drummers, blazing a noisy trail.
This year, it seems as if every villager here in the Himalayan foothills has decided to walk to the festival at night, on a route that passes directly underneath our hotel window. All night the trumpets and drums rumble and shriek – enough to scare off even the most unruly of demons. Worse still, the hotel is located opposite a temple and lots of the groups stop off for some impromptu worship. From time to time, bells and gongs join in with the cacophony. Next morning, bad-tempered and exhausted, we stumble half-dazed into town to watch the festivities.
I cannot really understand what is happening but the various statues are marched past the townsfolk at quick speed. There is much cheering and pushing and at one point I fear we're going to be crushed in the sort of human stampede that earns India so many tragic headlines. Thankfully, there are enough police to maintain a semblance of order. We drink chai, nibble on mithai – sweets made from condensed milk – and wind our way past stallholders selling everything from spices to imported jeans. Everyone appears utterly energised by the celebration of Rama's victory but we're wiped out. We shout for a rickshaw back to the hotel. There, I offer my own silent prayers when we discover the temple opposite is now empty.
Path to litter and lightning
Located on a ridge at 2,435m, the Bijli Mahadev temple has amazing views of the valley's snow-capped mountains. The temple is famous for its 20m metal rod which is routinely hit by lightning, shattering a stone column fitted inside. Every time it breaks, priests fix it with butter and sand. The path to the temple will soon be famous for its litter, such is the shameful mess of crisp packets. "The consciousness about litter is not here yet. It will take 50 years," one tourist tells me later. Fifty years? "In India, 50 years is nothing," he explains. "India is eternity."
A real Indian summer
Back in Delhi, the plane door slides open and we discover India's simmering summer is still here. The taxi-driver offers to turn on the air conditioning. We shake our heads, determined to tough it out. Within five minutes of the city's grinding grid-locked traffic, we know we made the wrong decision.