India expedition part 2

Trip Start Jan 08, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"You can either have capitalism or a habitable planet. One or the other, not both." Robert Newman

Oh, before I talk about India I want to ask if anyone wants to come to Everest Base Camp. I am organizing a trip to take some friends there in April 2007. It should take about 20 days and the in-country cost will be around US$1000. I hope Kanchana will come also. We will be doing a "tea house trek" and taking guides and porters. I would like a few more people for the trip, so if you are interested please let me know (be quick though).

OK, back to the India trip. Last time I was mentioning how good Himalayan Adventures were and that we had started the trek and project phase of out trip. We camped one night at Boh and then from there walked to a small village on a hillside called Kanol. Here we stayed for about 4 days teaching English and painting the classrooms in the local school. The girls did a great job teaching and the guys from Himalayan Adventures decided to call them the Heads and Shoulders group as they had heard that song sung so many times.

It was pretty cold at Kanol at night and at first I found that I had to get up in the middle of the each night to go to the toilet. It is always such a struggle to get out of the sleeping bag, get dressed, got out of the tent and walk to the toilet, but putting it off just means no sleep. Luckily by the end of our stay I had starting sleeping through the night without having to get up. YAY!.

The people at Kanol are Hindus and work as farmers and shepards. They are all from a lower caste of Indians but within the village that doesn't matter, although it was interesting that they were shy of this fact when speaking to Indians from outside their village. The caste system still exists in India. Life in the village seemed pretty hard but they were tough people. Most seemed pretty happy and there were no obvious problems that could be seen in the village other than there was no spare money and the health care and education available was quite poor. Arranged marriages were the norm but they seem to work quite well here.

The Sydney girls had raised an enormous sum of money for the school and so a village meeting was held to decide what to do with it. Money was given to build a new classroom and pay for an extra teacher for a year. The village's high school also got money for a computer and the school at Boh got money for a computer and extra teacher. There was still money left even after that and so two more schools along the way, the orphanage at Manali and Tschokoling Monastery also received some financial help. Still more money was left and the group plan to pass that to a Tibetan charity. It was really great to be part of the team for this reason. They made quite a difference to the places they visited.

We had Christmas in Kanol and my negative feelings towards Christmas remain. On Christmas morning the Kanol kids had a day off from school and so early in the morning they came to our tents to see what we were doing and spend time with us. "FUCK OFF!" was the first thing I heard from the Australian girls as they found it annoying that the Indian kids had turned up so early. But then to each other they were all sweet and "Merry Christmas" etc. We gathered for Christmas breakfast in the food tent. Us, the rich white people on the inside with all the snack foods that we'd brought the day before and the poor and hungry Indian kids on the outside of the tent barred from entry. Again more of the sweet merry Christmas act whilst stuffing our faces while outside the local people get nothing. Typical of Christmas all around the world I suppose. Luckily it didn't last too long, breakfast was over and we packed up. Time to leave Kanol.

It seemed all the village had gathered at the school to see us off with songs and dancing and hats for everyone. The girls had done a great job teaching and painting and the fund raising was so much appreciated. I think the village was very happy to have us and sad to see us go. But go we did for the second day of our trek (the first day being the walk to Kanol).

In the afternoon we arrived at the next picturesque camp site and the girl's Christmas spirit was still in full swing. They sat on their arses whilst Emma, Belinda, the trekking staff and I put up their tents. A quick village meeting was held to decide what this village could do with their allocation of fund raising and then we had dinner. The girls were in a better mood by then. They had each brought presents to hand out for Christmas and this was done in a really nice way with some genuine feeling involved. However it was our Hindu and Buddhist trekking staff that really showed the most compassionate attitude. They prepared a great meal for us but also secretly they had cooked a cake on the camp fire. They didn't have the right ingredients, they had never made a cake before and I am not sure if all of them had even tasted a cake before but they did their best to give the girls a wonderful surprise for Christmas. It tasted great and the team went to bed very happy (except the sick ones).

The next day, the evil Christmas feelings (of faked pleasantness and selfishness) were gone and everyone was back to normal. Miraculously much of the home sickness was now gone and people were generally feeling better. The next few days were trekking and stopping off in or near small villages along the way. The day we reached a shop with chocolate and coca cola was a highlight to much of the group who spent up big. I must admit I quite liked it too. Gradually we got higher in altitude until one day we found ourselves above McLeod Ganj. Many of the girls refused to believe that we were almost back to where we had stayed a week ago. We had taken most of a day to drive to the trekking start point and here they were already back. Some took quite a bit of convincing that they had actually walked that far.

We eventually reached Triund, our highest point and were met with stunning views, shops with chocolate, occassional snow and tired legs. Triund was pretty and we had planned to stay there two nights, however the glacier that we were to visit on our rest day there has receded due to global warming and so we couldn't reach it. There was little to do and the walk to reach a water point to feed us and the horses was now too far. So the next day we started our decent, which was done over two days instead of one.

On completion of the trek we drove to Manali, home of our trekking guides and for us to a very flash hotel for hot showers, washing, shopping and New Year's eve.

I love walking as you get to experience local life and the climate and environment, but the drive to Manali and all drives through India were amazing. So much fascinating sights in such a short space of time.

Manali was pretty nice. I like McLeod Ganj better as a town, however Manali seemed to be an adventurers dream come true. It would have been good to stay longer. The para gliding looked particularly interesting as Manali is surrounded by snow capped mountains.

We farewelled the Himalayan Adventures team which seemed a shame. They were really good. On one of the last nights a few of us went to Kapil's house where had had a drink and a philosophical discussion on the existence of mind / spirit and on reincarnation and also talked about arranged marriages. I really enjoyed talking with these guys. Oh, I forgot to mention that we visited a Hindu temple at Prasher Lake at the end of the trek. Some of our guides were Hindu and others Buddhist and others there own mixture but it was interesting and good to see how easily any of them can go to a temple of either faith and perform the correct rituals and feel relaxed and at home.

New Year's eve was pretty uneventful, lots of coke and junk food (and so some girls were sick the next day on the drive to the orphanage that we visited) and most didn't actually make it to midnight (good - more sleep for me).

I decided to start the new year by fasting. On the 1st of Jan I only drank water. I did this:
For health reasons - system detox and loose weight
To get into the good habit of being thrifty and saving money
To remind myself of hunger, poverty and suffering
To develop mental strength and self discipline.

I think in the year that I am getting married it is good to be healthy; to not waste money, but instead keep it for my family; to be compassionate (always good); and to be a self disciplined person who can control my mind and wants.

It actually wasn't too difficult to go with food and only when I was bored did I feel like eating. Actually fasting was much easier in India than Thailand or Australia as when offered food or drink, in India it is possible to decline and explain that you are fasting and this is considered a reasonably normal thing, whereas in many places you are looked at as if you are a freak alien lunatic.

Anyway from Manali we headed back to Delhi and to Agra. In Agra we stayed at Hotel Chanakaya which I recommend (clean , cheap, good location, friendly staff, good restaurant). We saw the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort which was good but for me not as nice as seeing mountains and forests. Actually, my favourite part of seeing the Taj Mahal was going across the river and playing with some local kids who were selling camel rides. All the Australian girls that came over the river had a ride and at the end the local kids also gave me a ride.

On the way to Agra we discussed with the girls about what they have experienced and learnt so far and what their feelings were. Many mentioned that seeing poverty had affected them and that they were now more appreciative of what they have and will perhaps have different feelings about indulgence and excesses when they are back in Australia. The when we were at the Taj Mahal the group brought a group photo from someone (about 80 cents each). The person selling the photos accidently gave them an extra photo that they hadn't paid for. They were quite delighted by the fact that they had got something they hadn't paid for. I suggested they return the photo or pay for it. They were disgusted with my stupid suggestion and refused to pay the extra 80 cents to a poor person, living and working in a third world country. Hmmm, the girls have done well during the trip and they are nice people but 4 weeks in Inida isn't going to change a life time of being self induldent and living in a greedy selfish culture.

From Agra back to Delhi. Stuck in the biggest traffic jam I have ever seen. A day to explore Delhi and have a final dinner or two and then leave. In Delhi two of the girls had their bags slashed open while walking in the street, but nothing was taken. And that was it.

Back in Sydney I was hoping to find some money in my bank account (QANTAS owed me money) but I didn't have any, so I spent a night sleeping on the floor in the airport which was interesting and then flew to Melbourne to do some work with the Army.

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