Trip Journal - Dharamsala




Dharamsala -- 1 November 1998

Paul was feeling a bit prickly and it felt like he was trying to make me be the bad guy about something. I do the same to him. When there's only two of you, you get to play all the roles for each other. We left a note for Jen, Gareth and Harmony and went to get breakfast at the Trek and Dine. After breakfast, Jen, Gareth and Harmony still hadn't shown up (and the Trek and Dine is definitely not known for its fast service.) Paul wanted to go up to Tushita and see if we could find George, since we knew this was his last day here. But I thought it was rude to leave the Trek and Dine before Jen, Gareth and Harmony showed up because we'd said in our note we'd meet them there. I wanted to go back down and change the note. As we were having this little discussion, Jen, Gareth and Harmony arrived. They ordered breakfast and we went down to the room on some fabricated excuse because I wanted to give Paul a chance to talk about whatever he was feeling in private. After we did, we decided he probably was feeling the need for time alone and agreed he should go for a hike by himself, maybe first thing in the morning.

We went back up to the Trek and Dine but the trio weren't done yet. (Remember I mentioned the slow service?) Paul and I walked to Tushita to see if we could find George and talk him into coming down for a chai. we didn't see him and came back down to the Trek and Dine. When the trio were done with breakfast, we all walked back up again, but still didn't see George. The office was closed as it was Sunday, so we couldn't get any information. We gave up and were about to leave when a head popped out a window and said, "Hi guys!" It was George. We were so happy. We sat up on the roof and talked for a while. George had told us about a cool monastery he'd gone to in Nepal, very remote, and we asked him for more information about it so that we could visit it. Harmony had everyone drawing pictures. It became obvious to Paul and me that George needed to leave, but Jen, Gareth and Harmony didn't catch on. Finally I stood up to go. (I always do this, instead of assuming George is big enough to handle it himself.) We all went downtown. We split up and agreed to meet a little later at the Hot Spot, a little diner right on the bus circle in the center of town. Paul and I wanted to go to Bhagsu, the little village below Dharamkot, and see the waterfalls there. George had told us that they were really beautiful, and interesting, because people brought their carpets there for washing. The walk to Bhagsu was really easy, no hills. There's a temple in the village called Bhagsu-Nag whose history goes back 9000-some years. A King, Bhagsu, on a quest for water for his kingdom in Rajastan, found it in this area, in a bowl between the mountains. Bhagsu took it, but his mistake was falling asleep. He was defeated by the cobra, Nag, who owned the water. But Nag was impressed with the bravery of Bhagsu and so allowed his name to come first when the area was named after the battle. The temple had popular music blaring out of it and we saw people dancing as we walked by. Outside the temple, there are several pools where devout Hindus are said to bathe, but we saw mostly little boys, who were devoutly laughing and splashing each other. The path to the waterfall led through a hole in a fence and was blocked by a huge, immovable group of Indians on tour. They were all taking photos of the waterfall, which from here was only a trickle down the mountain. We finally broke free and made the hot and arduous climb up the path. They're in the process of building a really nice path, but a lot of it was really dicey, slippery and narrow.

The waterfall was great if a little crowded. Monks were laughing with each other as they did their laundry. Paul sat on a stone for a while, looking at the rainbows made from the water. It felt really good there.

On the way back to town, we found my shawl, and two matching ones to send to Steve and Lauren as wedding presents. We were the ones who were late this time. We had a Coke with Jen, Gareth and Harmony, waved goodbye to George on his bus to Pathankot, then went looking for shawls for Dean and Colleen. Paul also wanted to get a pair of lightweight pants but couldn't find any that fit. Jen suggested that we try a tailor, which she said should cost about 70 rs. per pair, or about $2.00. we figured we'd give it a shot tomorrow. Paul had also been looking for a book about Lama Osel, which we found at a Tibetan bookshop. There was no one in the shop to pay so we left the book on the counter and came back later. We got some snack food because I didn't feel like making a big production over dinner. We went home and worked on the journals and hung out with the Harmonious Trio. Harmony wanted some of our chocolate, which we gave her, but then she insisted she give us something in return. We tried to tell her the chocolate was a gift, but she didn't seem to get it. I wonder if this is something she's picked up from hanging out with Indian kids in Delhi?

Dharamsala -- 2 November 1998

Paul got up before the sun and left to go on his hike. I slept in, puttered around and then got breakfast at the chai stall. The Harmonious Trio were just leaving for breakfast when I got back. I went to the Trek and Dine with them for a chai while they ate, which is where Paul found us all coming back from his hike. He was in much better spirits, so I guess it did him good.

The Trio had to go down to Lower Dharamsala to get more cash. This far out, you have to apply for a cash advance one day, wait for the bank to get approval from the head office, then you can pick up your money the next day. (Jen and Gareth didn't know this when they went down, and as they were leaving the next day, it made things a little complicated.) Since this was their last night, we agreed to meet for dinner at Khana Nirvana between 5:00 and 5:30. We said goodbye while Jen and Gareth were "discussing" whether to rent a motorbike or not to make the trip and walked into town. We walked to the tailor's, which was just a little shack on the edge of the Bhagsu Road with a pedal sewing machine and a mirror. The tailor either wasn't feeling inclined to give us any information, or his signals were too subtle for us to read. It felt like fulling off someone's fingernails. It appeared that it would cost 75 rs. and we'd have to buy the cloth. I thought it wasn't worth the hassle, but Paul was willing to give it a go. We headed back out toward town to search for suitable cloth. We found pants before we found material.

We bought some snacks (Frito Lay's version of Indian chex mix, which is sweeter than the local variety) and walked back up and down to Blue Heaven to relax. Paul napped while I did some laundry. There was a knock on the door. The "boy" (that's what everyone called him, although he was probably in his 20s, and I don't know his name) was there and at first I couldn't understand him. I thought he was asking if Gareth was there. He'd bummed cigarettes off Gareth the night before. I said no and he left. But a couple of minutes later, he was back again, sounding a little clearer this time. (Paul and Gareth both thought the boy was drunk half the time.) He was telling me something about how the boss was gone and he needed 50 rs. He would pay me back tomorrow. It didn't feel right. I had 50 rs. and a few 1000 rs. bills. I told the boy I only had 1000s, then after he left, immediately felt bad about it. Why was I afraid of losing $1.20? But I got another chance to redeem myself. Just as I'd plunged my hands back into the laundry/shower bucket, there was a third knock at the door. The boy wanted to know if we would pay for four nights now (800 rs.) and he would give us the rest of the 1000 rs. back tomorrow. I was all set to give it to him, then I pulled the 50 rs. out of my pocket, acted surprised to see it and gave it to him.

We left for Khana Nirvana and then couldn't find it. When we arrived, it looked like Jen, Gareth and Harmony had been there for a little while. They were sitting at one of the low tables. There were cushions on the floor to sit on and you had to take off your shoes next to the three steps up. It was great. The Khana is a sort of oasis for people who tire of Indian and Tibetan food and long for fresh vegetables, which you can't eat in India, period. The Khana washes their vegetables in iodine so they're safe. They also filter the water (so you can have something other than Coke and chai all the time), and let you fill up your water bottle for 5 rs. (Dharamsala is littered with used water bottles and they're trying to do their part to reduce it.) The food was good, although the prices were about double what we'd pay anywhere else. We had limeade, a quesadilla, a burrito and whole wheat bread with real butter. (Yak butter is okay but it's not real butter.) The Khana is also very community-conscious, so there were books and newsletters about Tibet lying around. You could thumb through area guidebooks. I read a very sad poem about a dying puppy trapped in mud. It almost did me in. we tried to play the guitar but it was too badly warped to hold its tune. But we had a good time.

Gareth had to get the motorbike back and things got all complicated. Jen was cold (she'd left her jacket with us that morning) and they had no flashlight and it was already pitch dark. We gave them one of ours and started walking. Their plan was to take Jen and Harmony up, then Gareth would return the bike and walk back. Gareth had to borrow money from us to pay the rental guy, since their money hadn't come through yet. We got home almost before Jen and Harmony though. Gareth got the guy who rented him the bike to give him a life back and we all congregated in our room. At 10:30 I said I was tired and basically kicked everyone out. I told them the story of my friends Paige and Jimmy Dean saying, "Well, goodbye" when they wanted their guests to leave. I felt uncomfortable about it, but I said what I wanted and got it.

Dharamsala -- 3 November 1998

Paul had been planning to do another hike but we slept in. We went to breakfast at the Trek and Dine with the Harmonious Trio. They had to go back to Lower Dharamsala to pick up their money, get another shawl and food for the trip, then come back, pay for the room and then get a minivan to Pathankot, where they would get their train back to Delhi. They were really stressed and I wasn't sure they'd make their train. About 1:15 they arrived to settle their bill. The boy couldn't seem to do the math and was trying to charge them for an extra day. This was compounded by the fact that we were entered in the government book as having arrived two days later than we really had, whether by accident or design. We had paid the boy for the nights we'd stayed so far because we intended to go trekking soon. The boy had said he'd get our change for us and come back but he was taking his time. We saw him out back hitting rocks with a stick and not a care in the world. We hadn't seen our 50 rs. yet either. He did eventually pay us, maybe he has ADD.

We helped Gareth carry their gear up the path to the taxi. There was a little confusion because the taxi wasn't there as Gareth had expected it to be, but Jen had arranged for it to meet them at the chai stall. Gareth went to go get it, we loaded them up, shook hands and agreed to get together when we got back to Delhi. Then we loafed around for the rest of the day.

Dharamsala -- 4 November 1998

Paul wanted to have breakfast at the Rest a While chai stall, which was about an hour's hike up the ridge of Galu Devi. He'd gone there on his hike and had really liked it. I was game. We took the slow, easy path up. Wishbone came with us. In Dharamsala, as Brian would say to us later that morning, you don't need to have a dog of your own. One will find you. A dog we called Wishbone, because he had ears like the one on the PBS show, adopted us after we gave him some toast at the Trek and Dine one morning. He followed us all the way to Galu Devi and when we had toast and eggs for breakfast, I made sure he got some.

The views were beautiful. The hills were cut into terraced fields and it was clear so we could see ridge after ridge, each one a lighter grey than the one before it. A couple were sitting on the edge of the cliff smoking a hash pipe. We got to talking, Karen and Brian have been living here for four years doing environmental projects. Sounds like they live very well on very little money. We were beginning to wonder if we could do the same thing.

There was a small, white Shiva temple just above the chai stall, with a trident stuck in the top of it. You see these everywhere. We hiked to the top of the ridge with Wishbone still loyally following, and then took the steep, fast path back. It's a handmade road, with lots of steps and paved with stones quarried nearby. We watched guys hewing the stone out of the earth and loading it on teams of resigned donkeys. So much labor and effort goes into roads here, and so much else. I was aware of that with each step I took in Dharamsala. I hope I'll never take roads for granted again.

We walked down into McLeod Ganj. we wanted to mail Steve and Lauren's wedding present and get food for our trek. We stopped at the Om for momos and thantuk first of course.

Sending the package was a real eye-opener. The man rolled the shawls (and the card unfortunately) up very tightly, then cut a piece of plastic to wrap it in. Then he took a piece of muslin and sewed the whole thing shut. Lastly, he took red sealing wax, which I've only ever read about in books, and melted it all around the sewn edges. All this to discourage someone from being tempted to take a look inside and want to take something out before it arrived. It was very impressive.

Next we went from store to tiny store, picking up food for the trek: "macho masala" soup, sugar cubes, chocolate, Marie Gold tea biscuits, Knorr mushroom soup, peanut butter, mixed frout (sic.) jam (aka jujube jam), Indian snack food, toilet paper, and lastly, 10 Tibetan breads from the Om, each about the size of an English muffin. Not the gourmet dining we were used to, but we hadn't been able to rent a stove from Yeti Trekking (they seemed very unwilling to help unless you were booking a trek) and didn't want to have to rely too heavily on a fire, in case wood was scarce. We'd already bought a nice stainless steel "billy" can the other day. On the way home, we bought knitted wool gloves from a lovely Tibetan woman.

We walked back up the hill to Blue Heaven and read books. At about 7:00, we started lazily tossing around the idea of walking up to the Trek and Dine for dinner. Then the power went out. The boy came around and said he thought the power would only be out for a few minutes -- and he was right! In the meantime, we watched the moon rise over the ridge, a beautiful sight.

At the Trek and Dine, we decided to forego dinner and had chai (naturally) and chocolate custard instead. It wasn't Jello pudding, but it wasn't bad. We went home and packed, making the (for me anyway) very difficult decision not to bring any books, computers or journals, which meant we'd have to limit ourselves to only 48 photos.

Wishbone thumped the door and demanded to spend the night. He's not a good sleep partner though. He spent the first few hours chasing a mouse around the room. He'd wriggle under the bed, wait coiled tightly and then spring out unexpectedly (and loudly) and dash around the room. I guess he knows his stuff though. When Paul let Wishbone out in the morning, he found a dead mouse next to the door.