Dharamshala, the story, the life. .

Trip Start Feb 19, 2006
Trip End Oct 01, 2006

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Chilling out for a couple of days here, I guess I will spend one more night here before setting off for Manali, which is meant to be even a little more crowded with westerners than here.
Manali will be a stop to try to get some gear for the high mountains, which may just come in handy. As there are loads of trekkers passing through there, I think I will have to try some of the street vendors to try to pick up used mountaineering supplies.
When I was younger, I would have winged it a little more, but now being older **ahem. . .**and hopefully a bit wiser, I have learned to be prepared, but with minimal gear.
The road to Leh, in Kashmir is meant to be 488 km of potholes, traffic, and high elevations, with a 360 km stretch without petrol, therefore it will be necessary to somehow bring at least 5 liters of petrol with me, though Rocinante's tank, when full, should go over 450 km. One never knows what to expect above the treeline, at least weather-wise, I have been caught in some hairy situations in the American rockies, and the himalaya is a different story. The elevations of the passes themselves are higher than the highest of the US mountains. .
It is for this reason that I will nick another day and night here in peaceful Dharamsala, as one must prepare mentally (rest) and materially, though most of the supplies I need will be found in Manali.

I made it here to the big "D" in one day from Ambala, quite a few hundred kilometers for a day's journey, not to mention that a lot of the morning was spent barrelling down the highway at 70 km an hour, the monsoon rain like tiny needles on the skin, and with numb hands. I had left Ambala around 8:30 and arrived here finally at 8 pm. A long ride, and I usually don't like to land in a town after dark, but knowing that Dharamsala is a touristy place, I also knew that finding a room for the night would be not a problem.
I stayed in another slightly smelly place called the "yellow" house, near the clogged circle that is the main junction point for Mcleodganj, the main Tibetan area, and the place most people of the western persuasion visit. An unlikely name, Mcleodganj, part Scottish highlander, bastardized with hindi. At the least apt for one of such highland warrior descent, and these are high lands here as well, with some terraced plots being farmed in the areas not overrun by tourists. It has been a little quiet here as of late with many of the tourists apparently following the Dalai Lama, who is giving talks somewhere south of here, and has not returned yet.
An e-mail later and I was in bed. The morning reply showed that Linda had ended up in a guesthouse just up the hill a couple of hundred meters away. In all of Mcleodganj. Good to see her again, and we shared the cheap rent of 130 rupees for the days that remained for her here, and indeed in india. Last night, after 4 days she waved at me from the bus window, goodbye for now, and beginning her journey back to the tight-assed country of Germany. Perhaps we shall meet again, who knows? The world is both large and small, and life is long. One does tend to miss another a bit after sharing so much time and experience with each other, but when something ends, another thing begins.
Farewell Linda, and Godspeed!
Spent the evening writing and contemplating, again solo, again preparing to embark off into the unknown. I grow weary of Western company fairly quickly here in this country, and soon need to be in the backwaters again, solo, with just me, an open heart and mind, and the diversity and chaos of India Proper.

There is a strange mix here in this town. Here one can eat chinese, japanese, korean, continental, italian, tandoori, tibetan, and a multitude of other cuisines. Strangely enough it is kind of hard to find a proper Indian restaurant here with chapati, masalas, thali, and the like--the food I have grown accustomed to in the heart of the real India.
Beer here is not cheap, 90 rupes a bottle, and not worth the price. Himachal Pradesh, however, is the "apple capital" of India, and there is hard cider here, same price as the beer, which is very nice when cold, as good as many ciders in the States.
Also, for a hundred rupes, there is what they call "country liquor" which comes in a 750 ml for that cheap price.
Always one to sample the local hooch over the imported or imitation stuff made to please the western tourists (who can't seem to detach from their western ways of eating and drinking), I bought a bottle. Still have about a third of it left after 4 days. It is strong, (50%) with a light body and a nice apple taste. Really reminds me of spanish Calvados, which, if you know what is, is a bit like an apple-grappa.
Quite nice, actually, would go well with a splash of soda over ice, and at a hundred rupes for a fifth, it is the only bargain around here. Also it is much cleaner and less insanity-producing than Fenney, or Urrak, or most of the other local regional "moonshines."

There is, of course, a large Tibetan (and other) Buddhist population here, with temples abounding, and Tibetan culture and people everywhere. I have made a couple of friends here, and many tell stories of trekking over the mountains, into exile, fleeing the hungry machine of China, which is, as we speak, cleaning out all that is precious from their homeland. At least here in India, they can live without that kind of fear.

The temple at the top of the hill near the square has those cylinder-shaped things that one walks by and sort of spins by brushing the hand (always the right hand, and in a clockwise direction), ostensibly bringing luck and blessing to the spinner. The main temple is also meant to be walked around clockwise, and has a couple of rooms, one with a huge golden Buddha, and other rooms with other purposes, all of course, with a picture of the Dalai Lama himself in each, and the core circled by meditating and praying monks. A good mixture of westerns and other types of buddhists are around there as well, and it seems to be an area in which old people meet, to catch up and pass the time. A nice calm vibration is there, but I thought against sitting in meditation for myself, as this (or any other) is not my religion, and prostrate worship is not in my vocabulary. (that's "prostrate," not "prostate," there, wise-ass)

The monks are mostly good-natured people, and help to keep the feel of this enclave shanti, though many seem to have "strayed from the path," and wear fancy shoes, have cell phones (?!?) and I have even seen and talked to them in the pool hall, playing snooker, which Linda has so recently taught me to play.
Sitting with one of them and watching his fellow monk sink a good shot, still the both of them dressed in the long maroon-colored robes, I turned to him and joked, "So, that's what they are teaching in that monastery these days? That's my kind of Monastery!" The monk just about doubled over with laughter. A good joke is always appreciated, especially by those who have some peace in their hearts. . .
Apparently there is a time in a monk's life and studies when he is allowed to make a choice and go out into the world for a time. Perhaps many of these younger monks, being so influenced by the pull and desires of the western competetive world will drop out. In a way it is sort of unsettling to see a traditionally dressed monk as such, who is supposed to be learning to renounce the desires of the earthly plane, talking on a cell phone, chewing Guthka (betel nut), and playing competitive games with others. Perhaps they will be reborn again and again into the cycle of Samsara until they realize the wisdom my own father imparted to me long ago: "If you're good at shooting pool, that just proves you're a loser who hangs around in bars all the time. . "

I have been giving back a little here by teaching one of my Tibetan friends some chords on the guitar--he has owned one of the Indian made "Ebiphone" guitars, and actually one of the rare ones that will actually tune up. Last night he stayed up until 1:30 in the morning practicing, he told me as I had my coffee at his shop. Hell, by next year, he'll probably be shredding away. . .

As much as I like the laid-back atmosphere of this place, my feet continue to grow itchy, the road calls, and I must be on my way soon. The real mountains beckon, and it always takes a long journey to reach the summit. Also a longer one to come back down to the earth. . .
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