May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets’ towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkey’s howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches where storms come and go as lightening clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you---beyond that next turning of the canyon walls. ---Edward Abbey (thanks Trudy Hall)

Friday, May 4, 2012

Incredible (?) India (!)

Les Amir and Mustashi

April 19—After sleeping off our late night flight the whole next day’s fiasco started with, “Do you have a map?”  “Yes, just a minute.  Sit.”  So we watched them call, a man with big fashion boots came and gave us tea while we waited for a car to take us to a tourist center for a map.  He was charming and talked with us about the politics of the world.  The car came and before we knew what was going on, we had hired the car for the rest of the day and bought a tour around India.
Our hotel

Amir was our tour seller so he said he would work on it while we went to the US embassy to get more pages in my passport and then to the market to buy a salwar kameez.  As it turned out, I needed an appointment for the embassy, and they wouldn’t do it over the phone.  They told me that there was one spot left and to get it on line.  Returning to Amir’s place, he let me use the internet to do this and to print out the application and appointment document.  Amir wanted me to sign the contract (hand written) but it was wrong, so he said he would have it all tomorrow morning with tickets and all.   
New Duds
Hanuman (monkey god) in Delhi

Then we went off to the market where I got some great duds (pants, shirt and scarf) for about $6.  I felt good about that.  When we returned for the last time, he said he couldn’t be there tomorrow, but he would have everything organized the next morning (the day we were leaving for our trip: Sunday).  Hmmmmm.
Our Tour Reservation Center.  Legit?

April 20—I woke up early, mistrusting the tour company.  All I had was a small credit card receipt that I had paid with nothing to show for it.  I made up scenario after scenario about how we had been taken advantage of, and how stupid I felt for letting it happen—and I had been to India before and felt exactly the same way!  Les suggested we go to what Lonely Planet said was the only official tourist agency in Delhi and ask their advice.  The man there suggested I call the credit card company and hold the transaction until I had a contract.  The credit card folks said that if the company was disreputable, I could contest it later.  The man said that they could be legitimate, but they charged us 4x what we would have paid with another company, “You could take a personal taxi to Nepal and back for this amount.”  So we went back to the original office and I asked them for my money back.  “Only Amir could do that,” they said, and we agreed to wait for the boss to talk with him.  What do you know, but Amir showed up!  He said that there were tickets already bought that we would have to pay cancellation fees for them, and he showed us the contract that said that we pay 100% tomorrow, 50% if we canceled today. (But we hadn’t signed a contract, ugh!)  Somehow (again) Amir talked us into settling tomorrow.  We met some Spaniards (Tito y Lola) in the same state of chaos and perceived abuse.  We commiserated, and took them to the “official” tourist agency, where the agent just shook his head at us.  We went out for lunch with Tito and Lola, and it was great to share a conversation free of an agenda.  
City Scene

...with Brahma Cow
The hotel had Wi-Fi, so we checked out the prices if we had to book the trip ourselves, and it turned out about the same; that reassured us some… even enough to have him book our hotels too. Ugh!  India was supposed to be the least expensive country.  What happened?  I DID do one thing that I’ve been trying to do the whole trip—I bought a cell phone for about $24.  It’s a simple Nokia, but should work in any country with a SIM card.
April 21—We went back to see Amir, and of course he had only some of the reservations made.  We expressed concern about a Trip Adviser report of the hotel in Varanasi, so he changed that reservation.  He said he would give us the rest of our vouchers when we returned from Dharamshala.  Les was irritated with him all along because he seemed so pompous and pushy (“Look into my eyes and tell me I am lying.”), but then again, we asked him to add lodging onto our bill.  
Dawn in the North from our "Volvo" bus

 We took what we had so far and waited for the bus. “A taxi will take you to the bus from here.”   “We’ll take you to the bus, 5 minutes down the road.”…and at the time the bus was supposed to leave, “The bus will be here, across the street, soon.”  …then in a ½ hour, “Get your things, we’ll drop you off at the bus.”  Then we were on a non-descript street, with no one we knew there.  We asked about the bus.  But of course every answer to any question we ask is, “yes.”  Some tourists showed up and soon the bus was loading for Dharamshala and other places.  A VERY nice new bus!  We stopped at the Tibetan section of Old Delhi and changed busses to an older bus, still ok, with blankets.  Ahh, the memories of the bumpy windy roads came back.  This time there were no nuns puking out the windows.  Thank goodness, as the windows didn’t open on this bus. 
Emma Willard Gal, Amalia Rubin!
Dawn in Dharamshala
Surprise!  At the dinner stop, I was asking Les what is a paratha.  A young woman nearby piped up and explained in a very familiar voice about the typical bread.  I rushed over to hug her.  It was Amalia Rubin, an Emma girl who made her mark there by connecting EWS with Tibet.  And here she was heading to Dharamshala.  It was wonderful to catch up with her exciting stories and plans.
The Himalaya Mountains Above

Dali Lama's Complex from below
April 22—We arrived early morning to a new bus terminal building (cement structure) and to an old familiar town that looked pretty much the same.  No one was waiting for us, but the town is so small, we just asked where our hotel was and walked.  And slept.  
The street to our hotel
The main drag with temple/prayer wheels in the middle

Amalia shows us prayer wheels
Sacred Kows on the Kora

 As we ventured out into the street, we ran into Amalia again.  So we turned and walked the kora with her.  It’s a ring around the Dali Lama’s complex meant for meditation.  Amalia speaks Tibetan and read to us some of the mantras that were carved and colorfully painted on plates of shale.  She explained some of the traditions, pointed out the terrifying entities guarding the back of the Dali Lama’s residence, and helped us understand the prayer wheels, bells, candles and little molded pieces of human ashes into the shapes of deities, there to receive blessings.  Apparently, Amalia is quite a rock star in the Tibetan music video world!  She showed us the promo cut of her new album.  It looked spectacular.  I must say I’m impressed.  She got discovered by singing in a nightclub and the rest is history.  Even a U.S. woman we met with her dog on the street knew Amalia and her fame.  (This woman just happened to have been a professional dancer in NYC and Russia [Bolshoi] and is now a Buddhist living here.)  

Les and His Holiness

Dali Lama's Buddha
Tibetan Martyrs Memorial

Dali Lama's Temple

Les and I went back to the temple and looked at the shiny likenesses of Buddha, the chair for the Dali Lama, pillows for the monks to do their rituals, and all the millions of holy texts.  Then out in the courtyard, we were charmed by the only dog keeping the monkeys off the premises.  Of course he couldn’t do anything about them on the tent surface above.  The monkeys slid, galloped, wrestled and frolicked above while the dog, Les called “the Mayor,” looked up.  The monkey show was tremendously entertaining!
Internet and Call Places
After dinner, we walked up a street to a place where I had stayed before, and the man running the hotel was there 8 years ago.  I found his photo on my old sabbatical picture file!
April 23—Les woke up with a cold—probably caught by the man hacking behind us on the bus—so I went up the road to see if I could get an appointment with the former doctor of the Dali Lama.  Wednesday was the soonest, so I paid my 20 cents and took my number.   
After Massage Bliss
Coffee, well done!

Nearby was a massage center that I went to 8 years ago, and brought back a brochure to Les.  He agreed, and we arranged massages.  Ahhhhh.  Mine was gentle and relaxing.  Les said his was pretty rough.   I was covered in oil and wanted to get it out of my hair, so I went back for a shower while Les went out on his own.  We talk about “Indian time” as being late—not because you lost track of time or didn’t care, but because something wasn’t working or something happened that thwarted your attempt to make it on time.  So I asked how to make hot water for the shower.  I switched on the heater and waited the 15 minutes, and the water wasn’t hot.  In a ½ hour, there was no water pressure at all.  They said they’d “refill it” and to wait 15 minutes.  …a ½ hour later still nothing.   
From our hotel looking at Dali Lama complex

Dali Lama's Back Door
Monks sat next to me
Finally I got out of the shower and felt like taking a walk, so I went around the kora again (the hotel is a stone’s throw from the complex).   A monk and a nun sat next to me and started a conversation.  He was saying how wonderful the US is, and how great Christians are for the same reason: they give money to the poor and help people in need.  He said he walked from Lhasa through Nepal to get here, and that it took over a month, and that he has nothing (and how nice my camera was).  I learned the young nun was new from Hong Kong, and on the way home they practiced chanting mantras in a call and response form.  That was a pretty groovy way to end the day. (See video)

Woman who refreshes the mantras

For dinner we had delicious momos, a Tibetan dumpling, boiled and in soup.  A woman at the next table was re-painting worn out mantras she found on the cora.
Monkeys at our hotel
Other side of the ridge

April 24—I got up to take a morning yoga class, but it didn’t start until later, and we had to check out.  We moved to the “Green Hotel,” where we could see down the other side of the mountain and up into more foothills of the Himalayas.   

Indian dust mask

Later, we took a walk up the hill and passed scenes of tiny rooms of metal, plastic sheeting and rocks that was home for a mother and baby, a street musician playing a bowed instrument, guys making a cement road by hand and some fancy stores/hotels. 
Yoga Center: Class with Vijay
After that I made my way to the yoga center, and joined a hoard of Westerners (mostly) in a basement (smelled like the squat toilet) to take class with Vijay at the Universal Yoga Center.  The class was great; I enjoyed the pace, the clarity of his directions and hearing about the health results of doing certain actions.  The two-hour class was $2.  Dinner was an incredibly spicy but delicious Tibetan dish from a very small but popular restaurant.

Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, treated the Dali Lama

Dr.'s Door

Dr. Yeshi Dhonden swishes urine in a cup
Waiting room

Tibetan Pharmac
April 25—Our last day in Dharamshala we went to see Dr. Yeshi Dhondon, the doctor for the Dali Lama who is now seeing anyone who can get a number.  We had to bring our first urine of the morning in a water bottle, and he took a group of us to a sink, and one by one we poured it into his cup where he swished it around.  What he was looking/smelling for, I don’t know.  Then we went to his office and talked about our ailments.  I wanted more energy and drive.  He gave me a list of foods to avoid (including COFFEE!) and a prescription that a woman filled with her hands.  They are little brown balls that you chew and take with warm water.  It’s a 3-month supply; I think I’ll wait until my daily schedule gets more consistent.  
The whole town of Mcleod Ganj (they call Dharamshala)
I was feeling ill so we took a nice, slow walk to the Tibetan Refugee Camp.  We imagined a dog to be our escort, and a Raven wanted the almond we put out for it.   It was nice walking and sitting in the woods.
We saw a wedding scene on our way home!

Indian food court
Soon we were on the bus that left a ½ hour late.  I’m afraid I drank too much tea before I left, so when we stopped by the side of the road at 9:30 I was the first one off to go over the small hill.

I imagine his Holiness pondering, looking down this valley

Les does Bollywood

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