Trip Journal - Dharamsala




Dharamsala -- 9 November 1998

It was a day of magic after a strange night full of weird dreams and Wishbone banging on the door in the middle of the night. I don't know how he knew we were there. (The night before we had left for Triund, Wishbone had spent the night with us again, or at least part of it. He'd barked at everything, and kept us up, and Paul finally kicked him out. But Wishbone still wouldn't stop barking. Paul picked up a stick on the balcony to threaten him. Just at the sight of the stick, Wishbone yelped like we'd mortally wounded him. It was a terrible sound. Dogs must be hit and have rocks thrown at them all the time here. Their loyalty astounds me.) In any case, we'd decided not to let Wishbone come in anymore. I went through agonies because he kept thumping on the door though.

We went to the Trek and Dine and I had banana honey oat porridge. It was terrific. The weather had definitely turned colder in the last week and it felt distinctly winterish. I wanted to take some of the porridge to Palu but didn't know how to transport it. If you ask a restaurant to wrap up food for you to take home, they'll dump it in a plastic bag, the kind you get at the grocery store. Paul, in an impressively gallant move, scooped the porridge into his hand and walked back with it. Palu inhaled it in less time than it takes to tell it. You'd have thought he was starving the way he wriggled around and cried pitifully for more, but the boy had told us that he gets up at 1:00 every night to feed him milk, so I think Palu's doing all right.

We walked down to McLeod Ganj to see if Kundun was playing. On the way, we passed the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). The road is called TIPA Road. They were rehearsing a dance in the courtyard and we stopped to watch for a little while. It was really good, one of those times when the whole experience far exceeds the sum of its description. There was magic there. The monkeys were out all along TIPA Road. The babies were at their cutest.

Kundun was playing at 10:30. We paid our 10 rs. apiece and went inside. MTV Asia was playing, which was both fascinating and repelling. A request show was on and groups like Madonna, someone called Michael Learns to Rock (Michael has named himself prematurely), and too many other vapid, insipid, meaningless songs were played. Interestingly, these same popular groups, Madonna foremost, are bad-mouthed most in the popular press, for being products of the immoral and uncivilized Western Culture. Go figure.

Kundun is about the current (14th) Dalai Lama's life, so it was interesting to see here in Dharamsala. And it was amusing that every ten minutes or so a line ran on the bottom of the screen informing us that the film was for promotional use only. But the film itself was too glitzy, too cinemagraphic, and seemed especially so in Dharamsala, in the middle of the exiled Tibetan community. In the film, everything was so clean. The fact of the matter is that Tibetans, for all their spirituality, live in a physical world filled with dirt, smoke from dung fires because there is insufficient wood, and very little water. When you're in it, the incredible spirituality comes through all that, which is one of the reasons my initial impressions of Dharamsala were so far off base. Perhaps it was too difficult to portray in a film. Also the dream sequences were too obviously reminiscent of The Manchurian Candidate. A Tibetan's concept of reality precludes such rigid symbolism, in my humble and fairly ignorant opinion.

But my biggest criticism of the film is that the maker, Scorcese, is too attached to the idea of a free Tibet, and letting go of attachments is a huge part of Buddhism. I thought it got in the way of the film's authenticity. Paul and I had lunch at the Om and discussed all this, then vegged for the rest of the day.

Dharamsala -- 10 November 1998

We had breakfast at the Trek and Dine and brought more porridge back for Palu, this time in a paper napkin, most of which got ingested along with the porridge. It was a nice, sunny day and our humble plans were to do laundry, which we badly needed to do, and hang it on the roof of the hotel, which got the most sun. We had originally talked about taking the laundry to the waterfall, and then taking it up someplace high to dry, but it seemed like a lot of work and we didn't know of a spot that would stay sunny long enough, so we settled on the sure thing -- the roof. Paul did the laundry while I sat on the roof and hemmed our new pants. Palu kept running around at my feet on three legs, demanding food and attention. Paul brought Cokes, chocolate, and Marie Gold biscuits from the chai stall. Palu had more than a few biscuits. After we'd hung the laundry, we walked down to McLeod Ganj to see if perhaps Zorro were playing. It was not. Paul wanted to go to the Om but I wasn't really interested. It was only after we got back home that I realized we hand't really had lunch and that I was starving.

We were the only ones at the Trek and Dine, although usually there are at least three or four Israelis there at all times. It as early but they seemed to want to close up -- they kept turning the lights off on us so that it was really difficult to read last Sunday's Indian newspapers.

Dharamsala -- 11 November 1998

We had intended to get up early, have breakfast at the Rest a While, then hike to a waterfall on the other side of the Galu Devi ridge, but we woke up late, and then Paul couldn't tear himself away from Bombay Ice. We'd really come a long way from the hectic, frenetic pace we'd set at the beginning of the trip. We had breakfast at the Trek and Dine, where I had eggs and toast, even though we knew that they always burn the toast. We brought some egg back for Palu and put the laundry back out to finish drying.

We finally started out for the waterfall. I was feeling funny, rubbery legs and a bit dizzy. I don't know what that was all about, but I didn't feel like I was going to make it to the waterfall.

We stopped at the Rest a While for Cokes. Paul wanted to go sit up at the Shiva temple at the top of the hill for a couple of hours. I stayed at the Rest a While, sitting on the low, stone wall, working on the journal. Paul came back at 12:30 or so and we had lunch. Then he set out for the waterfall and I stayed on the wall. A bunch of package tour trekkers came down from Triund, complaining about blisters and telling stories about Christmases past spent in Phuket. They were amusing without me having to get very involved. I talked to a couple who were just going up about Triund and beyond. I tried as much as possible to give info about the snow line but finally had to tell them that I hand't actually made it up there and then felt unaccountably guilty, as if I had lied!

Paul returned from the waterfall all clear and happy, talking about this great overhang where it would be great to camp. We had another Coke then walked back down to Blue Heaven. We brought in the laundry (and put it on our balcony because it still wasn't dry) and played with Palu for quite a while. I'm glad I was able to get over the guilt about leaving Bearful (pretty much anyway) because now dogs seem to be showing up for me wherever I go.

We walked down the hill in the dark to McLeod Ganj for dinner, wearing the Gore-Tex jackets and gloves. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill we were all warmed up. We were beginning to realize that a lot of the bone-chilling cold we were experiencing was really due to the Blue Heaven. The place gets hardly any direct sunlight and there's always water standing on the roof. The concrete rooms always feel cold. Not that it's so terrible but I tended to go out overdressed and then get warmed up and have to carry all these extra clothes around.

We saw Beth and Karen together just as we were entering the bus circle. They were heading up to a birthday party. We went to the Om and sat downstairs. The Spanish couple with the loud child and a guy who looked like Einstein (we saw them all the time at the Trek and Dine) were also there. We had a meal completely composed of comfort foods: mashed potatoes with cheese (the best I've had since we left), cheese macaroni, and cheese veg. momos. Mmm, starch.

On the way back up the hill, we got two packs of Polos (British mints that look like Lifesavers). In the U.K., we'd disdained them because they weren't enough like Altoids, but our standards have come way down since then, and besides, they were only 5 rs. a roll.

Dharamsala -- 12 November 1998

We lolled around in bed, Paul wanted to finish Bombay Ice. We took our books to the Om and had breakfast there. (They have better banana oat porridge than the Trek and Dine. Somehow it was noon before we really got moving, and we may as well have not for all that we actually got accomplished. We walked toward the Dalai Lama's temple, thinking we'd go check out the Tibetan Library and Archives. We couldn't find it, although we did get waylaid by some (I thought) extremely loud and annoying Indian boys who wanted to play 2000 questions with Paul. They didn't dare speak to me directly because it's not done in Indian culture, which annoyed me even more, but I could use it to my advantage because I could walk away.

I was surprised to see that the Dalai Lama has soldiers watching his residence. We saw two of the soldiers holding hands, which was a bit unsettling. It certainly doesn't fit in with our macho image of the military. We next checked to see if Zorro was playing (it wasn't) and did succeed in buying new wool socks and some postcards. We thought we'd write a few at the Chocolate Log while having tea and sampling some chocolate, but Paul's pen hadn't survived the change in altitude at Triund and leaked everywhere. On the way to the Chocolate Log, we'd stopped in at a used bookstore and travel agent, thinking we'd ask about a train back to Delhi. The guy there was really wishy-washy, and didn't make me very confident that he could actually acquire our train tickets. And he didn't have any good used books.

We managed to find the Tibetan Security and Welfare Offices, where you can check to see when the Dalai Lama will be holding a public audience and donate clothes, but it was closed. Then we looked around for the travel agent that Jen and Gareth had used but couldn't find it. It seemed clear that if we were going to accomplish anything, we needed to have a look at the Let's Go and a map. We walked back to Blue Heaven, did a little research into the Tibetan Library, a good travel agent and our next country to conquer, Nepal, then walked back down into town at 5:00.

Even with all the prep. work, the travel agent was still hard to find, but I liked the guy's attitude. The prices and timetable for the trains were posted on the wall and we just had to select one. He'd book the tickets for us (he also wrote down our second and third choices in case the first one was full) and said he could book the minivan to Pathankot as well. We didn't even need to come back if we didn't have time. He'd give the tickets to the minivan driver. We could even pay with a credit card. We gave the guy 200 rs. to show we were serious and once he had the confirmation, we could hand over the Mastercard and get our 200 rs. back. He even gave us a receipt. We asked for a train late the night of the 17th of November and left.

We had dinner at Khana Nirvana so that we could read their Lonely Planet Nepal book and hopefully avoid having to get one of our own. I was tired of carrying them around. And until I finished a country in the journal, I didn't dare throw them away or resell them, so I was carrying quite a bit of extra weight. We really splurged and the bill came to 255 rs. ($7.50), more than we'd ever spent on any meal in India so far! We bought some Polos and went home.

Dharamsala -- 13 November 1998

Perhaps because the day before had seemed so unproductive, it seemed like we accomplished a lot today. We managed to get down to the Om at a reasonable hour for breakfast and didn't dawdle. I had banana oat porridge of course. We'd decided to splurge and buy a bunch of wool shawls to ship home. We wanted to find someplace that took credit cards but there weren't any. A few of the Kashmiri shop owners bent the truth a little about the contents of their stores to get us in the door, but they didn't have what we wanted, so their credit card sign was no good to us. We did some math in the Temple Road and decided that if we didn't eat at Khana Nirvana every night for the rest of our time in Dharamsala, we could afford to buy ten or so shawls and ship them home by boat.

So we started at one end of the market and picked out shawls, a couple at a time, in different places. It was fun, although we very quickly became conspicuous, and as we came down the street, Tibetans would point and laugh at us. When we had 8 shawls, we walked down the road to the Seven Sisters Package Service, and planned to buy the last two shawls from our post guy, since we liked him. Unfortunately we arrived at the time he was at the Post Office. We waited outside, and Paul went to get a Coke and a paper. We'd been wondering what had happened with the Congressional elections. No news about them in the Time Magazine Paul found though. Our guy finally arrived and we ended up taking four shawls from him. We sent two bundles of shawls home and an Indian skirt to Janice in Israel. Same routine -- muslin and red sealing wax. We decided to try lunch at a new place in the market street, called Gakyi Restaurant. I had laman, which is a very long, flat noodle in veg. soup. Paul had Tibetan PBJ. We checked with the Tibetan Security Office to see if the Dalai Lama would be holding an audience when he arrived back from his trip to Washington, DC on the 15th. Beth had told us that they never tell you until the day before, even when they do know. We were told that His Holiness would probably rest up a few days before he arranged an audience. A guy there said that we shouldn't even bother to ask again until Tuesday. Too bad for us because we were planning to leave Tuesday. We let the idea of meeting the Dalai Lama go.

Next we walked down Temple Road to the travel agent, where we were supposed to get our confirmation and pay for our tickets. A different guy was behind the counter. He said the confirmation hadn't come in yet and to "Please wait." This phrase infuriates me when it's not followed by any kind of explanation or time frame at all, and it never is in India. We've learned though, we told the guy we'd get a cup of coffee at the Khana and come back. I wanted to get another look at the Nepal book anyway. The confirmation had come through when we went back to the travel agent, our first choice. We paid up and went home.

We took the journals and books and went back to Khana Nirvana for dinner, and stayed there until 9:00. Zorro was finally playing up the street, at what Beth had told us was the worst of the three movie places, but we were still game to give it a try. We were a little early, or the previous movie was running late. We went next door to a little cafe and Paul ordered a Coke. An important cricket game was on, India v. Zimbabwe, and the boys working there were all excited about it. We found out that a six is a home run and a four is out of bounds. (Paul and Beth had seen some guys playing cricket at Triund, which they claimed was the highest pitch in the world. Beth had laughed and asked what happened if they got a six, which they all laughed at. Now we knew what the joke was.) When we paid, as often happens, the boys didn't have correct change. They gave us gum instead.

We were the only ones who came to watch The Mask of Zorro. The sound and picture quality were both terrible, but I loved the film and how they produced it in the old style.