happnin' dharamsala, india - monkey watching

Yolanda’s bit
24.11.99 Wednesday. Managed to upload first pages of baxka.com! at the Golden Gate Internet Palace in the bazaar. Luxurious maids made sure things were under control every 2 minutes while moving their enjewelled members in belly-dance mode. It is sooooooooooooooo slow. At 5.30 Luxury bus will take us to Dharamsala where we expect to chill out for a few days and get rid of our London flu (it can't be Malaria, ain't it?)

13 hours of non-stop torture. After the first hour relief of getting away of Delhi and shaking last poor begging kid away from me in the bus, the lights go off, driver decides it's time to sleep. What follows is best described as being beaten up all night in the cold. Jumping up to the ceiling every 2 minutes as a reaction to the driver happy maneuvers and the amazing curvatures of the road -in every possible of the 4 dimensions-.
Some stinky passengers next to us made the trip even more interesting. I had a laugh attack at some point for my companions' shock. Every time passengers seemed to have quieted down and got to half-sleep, the driver turned the lights on for no apparent reason or stopped and made us all get out for a bit. Chai tea.

7am. After last set of extremely pronounced curves with bus surfing sideways up the Himalayan hill, we arrive to the little square, bus stop and hall of this fantastic town McLeod Ganj. We are exhausted, the whole body aches. Too early for anything, we find the open and welcoming café Shambala where we share our westerners complains with other travellers. Blond English goddess has acquired that peaceful-in-the-clouds look and talk of someone who's been in India for a while and tells us about places. People keep talking about Hampi. We must go there. I wonder what her life's like back in cold soggy London. We check in at the Om guest House and go straight to bed.

Days drift away pleasantly on this mountain above Dharamshala. Days are warm, nights get chilly and invite to gather round a fire in nice conversation or to go to the "movie house". Everyday at sunset, there's a crowd at the terrace of Om Hotel where we stay, den of heaven. It overlooks the India valley with mountains at both sides and the high Himalayan ranges behind.
The setting of the red fire sun behind a false horizon is indescribable.

Travellers as well as so many Tibetans in exile here, have tea and chat happily. There's always laugh in the air. Only by accident we were involved in the welcoming back of the Dalai Lama as he passed on his car on his return to his residence just a few minutes further up. His smile is enchanting, actually McLeod is full of little shops of Tibetan crafts and institutions of support/information about Tibet free.

We met this Canadian bloke who's been filming in Tibet and explained how you just need to escape a day tourist tour to Tibet once you are in there and having arranged a Chinese visa beforehand in your country, you can stay more or less easily for a while. Of course agencies -not all- who sell these tour tickets -tours are designed to let you escape anyway- as well as the Chinese government are making money out of these.
There's also lots of choice in meditation courses-Vipassana concentration camp, for example-, and quite a few massage places, ayurvedic treatments, contact healing, yoga classes, Buddhist philosophy sessions and stuff.

Every now and then the Dalai Lama gives a public audience (private ones have to be booked months in advance). There was one yesterday but I had an appointment with the Dalai Lama Tibetan doctor. It was pretty weird. He's this really really old monk sitting on a mezzanine in lotus position. He takes your pulse with 3 fingers, asks a few questions through his interpreter and gives a diagnosis. The treatment is Tibetan medicine which is composed of plants, minerals and precious stones. I also bought some of those rare "Wish fulfilling precious jewels" pills to be taken in very special occasions and following some very strange procedures.
I couldn't help buying some other magic ointments and books.

And another pleasant day, another sunset, another movie,… We met this American girl who is here for a few months teaching English to Tibetan kids. There's a great demand of that. Of everything really. Tibetans are really grateful and friendly, we found ourselves helping out with computer stuff more than once. There's something really mysterious and secretive about them though, and something truly beautiful.

We've visited a few charming villages above McLeod in the mountains -Daramcot, Bushi- and the Dalai Lama temple that without being monumental is welcoming. Too busy chilling out though.

Miles’s bit
This first paragraph probably contains far too many exclamation marks. We left the city! What an enormous relief!! Delhi was a maddening place to be, I wasn't sure that I wasn't enjoying it until we left, then I realized, that Delhi is an interesting place but fucking awful at the same time! If you've ever going to India and you've not been before then don't start in Delhi.

Anyway, our 'deluxe' bus (a relative term I decided) left at about five-ish (time is starting to become less exact already, from 4.45 to 5.15 becomes 'about five-ish'; 5.15 to 5.45 becomes 'between five and six' etc). After a few hours on the highway (and discovering that the 'deluxe' feature of the bus was that the seats reclined 2 inches) we started trying to settle down, there was not much to look at apart from the occasional recently overturned truck or lorry (four in all on the one journey!)

After a short toilet/refreshment stop we hit the fairground part of the journey. Nine hours of bumpy, hilly, pot-holed winding road as we climbed up into the Himalayas. I've never felt travel sick before but as morning neared I was having stomach pains from the constant motion. I didn't get a wink of sleep, largely because about every 4 minutes we'd hit a 'biggy' and you get thrown out of your seat! A great addition to these journeys would be seatbelts to keep you in place. Somehow Yolanda managed to wedge herself into her seat, lucky.
We arrived at about sevenish the next morning, sick, tired and the London Flu we'd brought with us had worsened and was really kicking in, but the journey had been worth it. The sun was rising and we could see for miles down in the lowlands below us and we knew we were in a good place. We found a hotel with a great view (the Hotel Om, heh-heh), and crashed out for 2 days to recover and get better.

We've been here nearly a week now (Mcleod Ganj) and are going to stay a bit longer. The place we're in is really friendly, the food is good, it is very peaceful and its pretty cheap. We've gone for a few short treks and seen a few things. One of the biggest features is the Tibetan influence: the Tibetan Government in exile is located here, as is the Dalai Lama so there are loads of monks wondering round. It doesn't really feel much like India.
We saw 'His Holiness" drive by when he arrived back a few days ago, I caught just a glimpse of his face as he zoomed by, he had the same beaming smile on his face as he does in all the photographs of him. Funny that. I totally failed to take any pictures/movies of him with the Vaio as it crashed coming out of suspend mode 2 minutes before his arrival and I was restarting as he passed!!

Had breakfast with a funny Tibetan Monk the other day. He was very curious about my stuff, trying on my sunglasses "hmmmm, fine Western lenses" he purred, prodding my Italian made boots "high quality boots, hmmmmmmmm!" Very much reminded me of Yoda meeting Luke for the first time....
We're leaving soon, back south, back through Delhi (arrggg) back to the heat probabbly, must find some beaches soon.