Published: February 10th 2009December 11th 2008
Feeling exhausted again after a couple days in Amritsar, we suffered the long, obnoxious bus journey to Dharamsala. Long because it required many hours, hard seats and a few transfers; obnoxious because we travelled at the same time as the beginning of some kind of local university break.
The result of this timing is that we shared the busrides with packs of loud, cocky, young men screaming in our ears at eachother across the bus, listening to distorted, too-loud-for-the-speakers Hindi pop tunes on their mobile phones, and, in one unfortunate case, reaching between the seat and backrest to touch my bum. Little sh*ts! (Don't worry, Matt knows how to take strong action when it is required. You wouldn't believe how often it is required...)
We came to a screeching halt in hilly Mcleod Ganj, suburb of the better-known Dharamsala and home to the Dali Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. We ended up staying for 10 days.
Mcleod Ganj is one of those unusual places in India that has its own not-so-Indian pace. Primarily populated by Tibetans, many of whom were born here yet cannot become Indian citizens and have limited rights as refugees--it's a pretty weird
situation and one that I certainly don't fully understand.
On one hand, good on the Indian government for granting a safe haven for the Tibetian government and people; on the other, some of the Tibetians are really stuck. They can't even get passports. There is some kind of complex, lengthy (like a year or more) process just to get a special permit to be able to leave the country.
At least the Tibetans are getting lots of help! Even during this relatively quiet winter season, we bumped into many foreigners doing various volunteer activities such as teaching English and working at daycares, hospitals and on special projects.
Of course, this has lead to more than some resentful feelings from the local Indian population as many of them are living in grinding poverty with little or no access to education and health care. As usual, it's complicated.
Mcleod Ganj appears to be a bit of a haven for middle-class Indians. A place to come for a few days, eat non-vegetarian food and have a few beers. We witnessed small groups of men getting hammered (and loud) on restaurant patios in the middle of the afternoon and young
couples indulging in public displays of affection in the corners: all very non-Indian behaviour. Hey, even Indians need a break from India occasionally.
Being December and lacking any sort of heating in the budget hotels, it got quite cold at night. But the short days were sunny and warm.
Our main complaint about the town was the dogs. For some reason, this symphony of barking would start up around 11 pm every night without fail often lasting much of the night.
We got up early a few mornings to go walking in the hills behind the town. Felt great to be out in the relatively clean air.
On one particularly clear day, we hiked up to several hundred metres and could see this line of haze in the sky. All brown-grey and smoggy below and blue above. Made us think about the state of our lungs after months in India and Nepal.
We had hoped to maybe hit the Vipassana meditation centre while we were in Mcleod Ganj, but it is closed for the winter from December to April.
Food was a highlight of Mcleod Ganj. Fed up with thalis and curries, we once
again devoured salads, real pancakes and tasty chicken dishes.
It was a little dose of normal: clean air, pleasant hikes, good food. We got good and rested for our next adventure: Pakistan.
And this, you will be happy to note, is our last India blog!
Yes, it has been a long time coming. There are many more stories to tell, but they will have to wait.
There are more photos below