Posted 16.4.2009, updated 28.04.2009, updated 01.05.2009
21.03.2009 - 28.04.2009 15 °C
I have been in Dharamsala for 3 weeks now. Or more precisely in McLeod Ganj. Dharamsala is a small town down in the valley and McLeod is a village up in the mountains. There used to be nothing here, until His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile chose this location to settled down in 1959, 10 years after the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet. Now it's a growing village full of Tibetan refugees, Tourists, and Indians. There is also a sizable amount of Indian beggars who rely on the generosity of the Tibetan refugees, which is a weird situation. Of course the tourists help as well. I met quite a few interesting people here, from Celtic druids to Tibetan doctors. Fortunately I am well and healthy, so I didn't had to try any weird medicine yet.
After a few days I went to find my friend Chok, the Head of the Translation Department of the Tibetan Library, whom I had met in Mumbai. He was quite sure that my skills might be used in the Science Department of the Tibetan Government. So he arranged a job interview for me with the Director of this department, an elderly lama. I don't remember his name. I came in and explained what I could do and how I thought I might help. The guy immediately blocked off and told me there was no work for me here. The whole meeting was over in 2 minutes. Surprised at what happened my friend Chok debriefed me on the meeting and told me I did it all wrong. Turns out in Asia you have to be very humble during a job interview. Figures. I definitely failed that part. Since I came in all western style, I came across as an arrogant bastard. Oh well, lesson well learned. I'll keep that in mind if I ever interview for a job in Asia again.
I really don't know how I spent 3 weeks here. I didn't volunteer (many tourists that stay longer than a few days work some kind of volunteer job here), I didn't work, I really don't know what I've been doing. McLeod is just one of these places where you spend your time talking with people endlessly and time just flies by. There's a jam evening on Mondays, political discussion on Tuesdays, jam session on Wednesdays again, Pizza evening on Fridays, and the momo (Tibetan dumplings, really tasty!)-party on Sunday evening. In between we occupy ourselves with playing pool and chess, and of course eating and drinking :-)
I also met two American girls and we went trekking in the mountains for three days (see next chapter).
Anyway, here are a few pictures of McLeod Ganj:
Here's a view from one side of McLeod:
This is the view towards the mountains:
This is in the hills around with Simon (the Druid) and Michael:
These people are walking the Kora while praying. It's a path around the Dalai Lama's residence. The original one in Lhasa is many kilometers long, but this is a smaller reproduction.
This is on one face of a stupa. It's part of a larger story, but I kind of liked this part:
I am now sitting in a bus going back to Dharamsala and trying my best to type despite being bumped around in every direction. I am doing one of the most absurd things in my life. I met a local trekking guide in Dharamsala. He's going to try out a new route for a 5 day trek to Kulu with two other guides and they take me and two other couchsurfers with them at no extra cost, we just pay for our food. Great, but the route goes up to 3800m and I only have the small shoes I bought for 10 Euros in Tel Aviv. I went through all the shops in Dharamsala and McLeod, to buy some trekking shoes, but there's just no way to find any size greater than US 9 (43 in Europe) and my feet have size 11 (45). People told me the only place I can get shoes of that size is in a big city. So I spent 9 hours in a crappy overloaded bus to go to Chandigarh, which is the capital of Punjab, bought trekking shoes that cost the equivalent of 30 Euros, and took the bus back 90 minutes after arriving. Super, 18 hours of Indian bus just for a pair of shoes! I really hope they don't fall apart after one day :-D
I spent the days since the Kullu trek walking in the mountains around McLeod (Renata and I finally made it to Triund with Sachin and Mudita, a girl from Delhi). I can't really decide what to do next. I have three options: One is to go on a 10 days meditation course. There are two options in retreat centers in the forest. One is an intro into Buddhism and meditation (Tushita center), the other is pure meditation (Vipassana center). In the latter you basically spend 10 days meditating, starting at 4am and going to bed around 22pm. Sounds hardcore, but since I have no experience at all with this kind of activity, I think it might be worth a shot to see what everybody around here's talking about. The second is to hang around until mid-May and go on the next trek with Raja and his boys (starting date will depend of the weather). The third is to finally get out of here and go to Amritsar, Kashmir, and Ladakh before my visa runs out.
As usual when I can't decide I try to get everything. So I registered for the Vipassana meditation course which starts on May first, in the hope to be out of there before Raja starts the trek. Then I still have June to get a look at Kashmir. But I am number 71 on the waiting list and my chances to get in are slim at best. There's a Tushita course that starts on May 6th, but I don't think I'll wait until then. I strongly feel the need to get moving again, so if I don't get into Vipassana, I think I'll jump directly to option three and leave here for good.
In other news I spent the last night throwing up my dinner. This is the first time I have to vomit since I started this trip, Either my resistance from previous voyages was starting to wear down, or there was some really nasty microbe in that butter chicken!
Well, fate has decided and I didn't get into Vipassana. So, screw meditation, I'm off to Amritsar and it's Golden Temple. From there I intend to move to Srinagar and hang around Kashmir for a while. At the end of May most of the snow on the road to Ladakh should have melted and they're going to open the road, so I'll probably spend early june in Ladakh. Then mack to Delhi, Varanasi, and finally Kalkutta from where I want to fly to Thailand. My visa runs out in mid-July, so I'll leave the rest of India for the next time...