Head in the McLeods

Trip Start Nov 01, 2006
Trip End Oct 31, 2007

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Just a few words about where we are before we tell you what we've done. As we already said in a previous entry McLeod Ganj is where the Dalai Lama is exiled. That means that lots of Tibetans have also fled here from their home country, so the population is much more Tibetan than Indian and it's easy to forget that you're still in India. It also means that you get much less hassle because the Tibetans seem to be a much more peaceful people. However, after 5 days here, we're ready to leave and get back to India proper, yes, even to the hassle. We're certainly ready to be warm again because as soon as the sun goes down here it's really cold. So onto what we've been doing:

Sunday 12th November
Today we took a Tibetan cooking class. This was different from what we had expected - much less hands on, and basically involved 15 of us sitting in a classroom watching the teacher, Sangye, do the cooking for a couple of hours. It was still interesting though; we learnt how to make Momos which are Tibetan dumplings - a flour and water dough, rolled out to small circles, then a filling of vegetables flavoured with ginger, garlic and soy sauce is put inside, they're fastened up again and then steamed. They're quite complicated to make at first, but they're actually quite simple food, but quite tasty. We got to do some kneading of the dough and then the rolling and filling which was fun. The rest of the day we just relaxed.

Monday 13th November
Today we did a short trek/walk with a guide. At least it was supposed to be short... The previous day we had visited a travel shop to organise a one-day trek. The first one we were offered was to a place called Triund, near the snow-line, which would have been about 18km altogether. We thought that was maybe a bit too far as it would mean climbing quite high as well, so we asked if there was anything shorter we could do, and we were told there was a walk around local areas of interest that would be about 7-8km. So we went for that and hired a guide to meet us at 8am the next day (today) to take us on the walk. Anyway, our guide obviously had different ideas from the man in the shop, and took us on a walk of about 15km. So we may as well have gone for the long one in the first place! Still, it was quite an interesting walk, first round some local villages, then to a temple, then to a waterfall. I found it a bit scary at times though, walking to the waterfall, because the path, such as it was, was most of the time very narrow, and very rocky and uneven, with very steep drops off to the side, that one wrong step might have sent us tumbling down. And the watefall wasn't even very impressive anyway, so didn't really make up for the fear I had felt on the walk. Apparently the best time to see it is in the Monsoon and we're a bit late for that. The best bit of the day, for me, was getting back from the waterfall part of the walk and having a lovely (but very simple) lunch of rice, potatoes and cauliflower sat in the sun feeling pleased with ourselves.

Tuesday 14th November
Today we did another cookery course - Indian this time - and enjoyed it much more than the Tibetan one on Sunday. Partly because we're much more interested in Indian food, and partly because there were only 4 at the class, as opposed to 15 at the other, so it was much more intimate. Again, we spent about 2 hours watching the cook make the food. We learnt how to make Dal Fry (lentils with fried onions as a base), Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower) and Palak Paneer (Indian cheese, a bit like mozarrella, with spinach). It was amazing to see what he was capable of cooking in what was an incredibly basic kitchen - just 2 gas canisters each with a burner attached, and one small sink, and that was really it. The food was fantastic, and didn't seem too complicated so we'll hopefully be able to replicate it when we get home (although of course by then we'll have forgotten it all) and at the end of the 2 hours, it was all reheated for us and served at a table so we could dig in.

Wednesday 15th November
Whilst we were on the walk on Monday to the waterfall, Tim decided that he would really like to do the trek to Triund, but I really didn't want to. Call me a coward, (and you probably will) but scrambling over fallen rocks, on paths only a few inches wide, with perilous drops to the side, is not my idea of fun. So we decided that for once the best thing would be to do something separate, and so today Tim went off on the trek (along with a guide and 2 other people we met who wanted to do it with him) and I had a day to myself in the town. I'll let Tim tell you about his day, but mine was great. Firstly it was brilliant that I felt happy enough to have a day on my own, because if you'd told me a week and a half ago that I'd soon be spending a whole day on my own in India, I wouldn't have believed you. But I had a lovely time. The highlight was that when I went on a little walk of my own (about 8km, so that I didn't feel too guilty lazing around whilst Tim was climbing mountains) I shared my orange with a cow! It just came towards me looking doe-eyed and lovely whilst I was eating my orange and I felt sorry for it so decided to share my food. I'm not sure if cows are supposed to eat oranges but it seemed to enjoy it and I figured that if they can eat rubbish (which is what most of them seem to do most of the time) then surely they'll be fine with fruit. Cows are everywhere in India because they're a sacred animal to the Hindus (although allowing animals you view as sacred to be so in need of food that they need to eat rubbish seems strange), and I rather like the sight of them wandering around the streets like any other pedestrian. (R)

A bit about my walk to Triund then. We gave ourselves a head-start with the aid of an early morning taxi to Galu Temple (having already done this bit of the walk I didn't want to repeat it and decided it was better to conserve energy for the 3 hour climb ahead). I went up with Elsa, a friendly French girl, and Lek, a very interesting gentleman from Thailand, both of whom we'd met at the Bhimsen's excellent Indian cooking course the previous day. Our guide, who was all but superfluous and simply slowed us down by demanding to stop at every hut we passed for a cup of chai, was nevertheless friendly enough and got us to the top. The view that greeted us once we'd reached the meadowed plateau of Triund - the Dhauladar mountain range - a sheer wall of ice and rock, was really stupendous (and I'll show you if we get to a portal with sufficiently quick i-access and USB...). At the top we met Charlie and Theresa, who joined us for a scratch lunch and then accompanied us on the walk down. The few decent walks R and I had done in the previous days really paid off and I wasn't nearly as tired getting back into MG as I'd feared I would be, after 16 or so kilometers of fairly steep ascent and descent and the best part of 7 hours walking. The views at the top were just what I'd been dreaming of and for me made the long haul north from Delhi to the Himalayas worthwhile. We all met up again for an excellent dinner at Gakyi Tibetan restaurant (the star of the McLeod Ganj culinary crown), and we picked up some great tips from our new acquaintances for our forthcoming travels in South America and Thailand.

Like Rach, I'm also looking forward to getting back into the thick of it all. Come all ye touts; come ye garbage; come all ye traffic mayhem. Aye, say I; "bring it on!"

Finally, a note on our further education: I've just finished Under the Greenwood Tree by Thos. Hardy and have started The Old Man and the Sea, by Hemingway. Rach has just finished Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, which she enjoyed even though it was all about football (at least it was Arsenal...) and has started a bloodthirsty murder mystery by Elizabeth George. An eight hour train journey back to Delhi beckons, from which we head to Agra and the Taj, so no doubt there'll be plenty of page-turning tonight. (T)
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