Thursday, December 10, 2009

All the bumps in the road..

I'm sitting at a tiny internet cafe in McLeod Ganj, a little touristy but lovely Tibetan town just up the mountain from Dharamsala. A tibetan man and his adorable 1 or 2 year old little girl are behind me on the phone, the mouthpiece held up to her as she sings a tune for their family on the other line. A tibetan buddhist monk on the computer beside me tries to plug in his usb stick, but moves to the next one after realizing it won't work for some reason. Lots of honking, motorcycle sounds and cheerful chatter in the streets outside.

I arrived here yesterday at 7am or so after a long (12 hrs), cold and bumpy ride on the bus from Majnu-ka-tilla, New Delhi. Delhi, and specifically Paharganj was quite a place to land. I have never in my life seen so many people, colours, lights, signs, motorcycles, cows, dreadlocks and things for sale (everything you could imagine) in one little place. I still had some shopping to do for the 4 month trip when i arrived (unfortunately), and held off buying things like a small travel guitar, malaria meds and a cel phone until getting to Delhi so I could save some money. So spending 3 days running around a place like this was very exhausting, thrilling and bewildering. Just walking down the street was a feat, trying to avoid the cars, autorickshaws, bikes and wagons from hitting you as well as the many "touts" (people trying to scam money out of confused travelers) trying to grab your attention. The Paharganj bazaar is known for its merchants trying to get the absolute highest dollar amount out of tourists, so much time was spent trying to learn how to bargain down to a fair price for the things I needed. The man at the music shop where I bought my little travel guitar kindly helped me get camera accessories for a reasonable price from a shop owner he knew, otherwise I would have payed double.

A highlight though, was walking around town with a friendly young guy named Ravi who had the day off of school and wanted to practice his english with a traveler. We had chai at his most favorite and cheapest place to get it where he asked things like "can you live with a girl without being married in Canada?" and "how much does hash cost there?". He also helped me find things around town, and we shared my first auto-rickshaw experience.

Getting the bus to Dharamsala was quite a frenzied experience. The bus leaves from a small Tibetan colony called Majnu-ka-tilla about 20km from Paharganj, and i thought i would never make it. From the ticket agent, it sounded as simple as taking a pre-booked auto-rickshaw from outside his shop at 4pm and arriving at the bus around 4:30, in time for departure. Turned out the real deal in getting there meant being juggled around into a network of young kids trying to make money, which, given their situation of living in hard poverty was understandable. Along with my new Korean friend Lee, we ended up at Majnukatilla around 6pm, 2 hours after leaving Paharganj. The ride there was crazy, seeing the deepest poverty you could imagine, the scariest traffic in all of humanity and us both wondering if we were actually being taken to the bus or some dark place where we would get robbed. We did finally make it onto the bus at around 7pm, too tired to talk and happy to be making our way to Dharamsala

So! It feels great to be here, even though I seemed to have picked up a little bit of stomach trouble on the way. I think i'll be find after some rest and doing the proper healthy things. It's great to finally see and stay with my friend Rob from Halifax/Victoria, who's staying in a tiny village outside Dharamsala while studying Tibetan for 8 months. The family he's staying with there are incredibly sweet and hospitable, and i feel encouraged do pick up a little Hindi and Tibetan language myself. I'm here for a week, before heading off east to Bodhgaya by train for a buddhist prayer festival called the Kagyu Monlam. Here Rob and I will meet my good friend Alexa from Brooklyn NYC on her birthday, which i'm really excited about. She's currently in Kathmandu, Nepal in a buddhist study program.

Alright, back to the streets of McLeod Ganj to find some good food, a walkabout, and a place to meditate for a bit. It's rumored that HH Dalai Lama will be here in a few days. Still hard to believe i'm here, having never experienced life outside Western culture before and loving every minute. Miss yall, pictures soon!


Sunday, December 6, 2009


What a ride! It feels great to finally be here. I walked into the dark lobby of "Cottage Yes Please" in Paharganj, New Delhi last night at 3:30am after a 16 some-odd hour flight plus 2 hours at Heathrow airport. Although it was long and cramped, the flight was made enjoyable by making friends with two indian passengers beside me. Amrit is a grandmother to 9 children and had lots of sweet and funny grandmotherly stories to tell as well as giving good advice to a first time traveler to India. Amrit is mostly blind and I enjoyed helping her navigate through the classic Bollywood movies and music on the screen in front of her, a great way to pass the long hours in the air besides sleeping/head bobbing every so often. Then there was Ben, a middle-aged man on his way to Bombay to address a family situation, a very kind fellow who was curious about my travels to India and my life at home. I was jealous of how well he seemed to be able to sleep! He also liked his sweets, somtimes doubling or tripling his desserts when it was meal time.
Anyhow, I'm now here in Paharganj trying to navigate my way around for a few days before heading off to Dharamsala. I'd like to try describing this place on my next post...right now it's just sheer bewilderment!

It's hard to believe this isn't all a dream (or is it?).