Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Llama in exile


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Asia » India » Himachal Pradesh » Dharamsala
August 2nd 2008
Published: June 21st 2017
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Geo: 32.2207, 76.3188

I took an overnight bus from Delhi to Dharmsala last night. It wasn't comfortable. The flights between these two places are routinely canceled because of too few passengers, and there isn't a train. The bus was really my only option. I tried a bunch of different travel agents to try to book the most expensive/luxury bus I could. I've yet to meet a travel agent in Delhi who hasn't looked me in the eye and told a HUGE lie. I don't trust a one of them. So I bought my ticket from the least seedy agent I could find, paid twice what my guide book said to, and got on an old busted up bus for 14 hours. Not fun, the windows rattled all the way, there were no lights, so once the sun went down -- good luck! In Delhi they filled the isle of the bus with bags of cargo up to the arm rests, so every time we had a pit stop we all had to grip onto the overhead bins and walk on top of bags and boxes of whatever to get off/on. Good thing there wasn't a fire on board. When I sat down in my seat, it immediately layed all the way back into the lap of the tiny Japanese girl sitting behind me. I apologized and sat up, and after a few minutes of fiddling realized my seat was broken; as was the seat in front of my seat mate. So the girl in front of him had the same problem as me. We asked the man taking our tickets to help, and he said that all the seats were full, and then tilted his head like 'Sorry, you have to sit there'. The idea of spending 12-14 hours without being able to lean back was not sounding good to me, especially when I imagined it at 4 in the morning. Nope, not gonna happen. So my seat mate and I got up and moved to the empty seats across from us. The ticket man came back and yelled at us, a lot, and suggested that we could stay in the new unbroken seats for Rp200 each. (My ticket cost Rp700). We refused to pay, and got yelled at some more, but whatever. Enough of that....

I was awake for the sunrise over the foothills of the Himalayas, surprise. It was so beautiful I forgot all the harassment, lies and general yuckiness of the travel agents and dealers in Delhi. We traveled up this windy road, twisting along a river and getting higher and higher. I'm usually the one comforting whoever is next to me about the road conditions and abilities of the drivers when traveling in foreign countries, but I confess that I really would have liked to have someone comforting me on this ride. I've read that the death rate in traffic accidents in this country is not to be rivaled. I've seen more car accidents in the past month than maybe ever, the best bit is that for the fender benders no one even bothers to stop, they just bump into each other and keep going. (My Mom was in two accidents with me while she was here, and gave me this look like, "really, you're kidding, we all have whiplash and after a quick hand wave and a few curse words, we're off again." Welcome to India.) So I digress, we are driving on this winding road, thousands of feet above a ravine and a little river down there, and climbing...and there is no road railing, and the roads edge ends with the pavement crumbling into little pieces falling down; and the inside of the road is littered with big boulders that have clearly just fallen from above; and the road isn't wide enough for the bus at some points because so much of it has crumbled and fallen away down into the ravine. I'm not relaxed. But we made it there, alive, and in one piece.

Arriving in Dharmsala we got a nice adieu from our bus driver, our luggage was held ransom. The ticket guy literally stood in front of the luggage door of the bus with all of us around him and refused to open the door until we each paid an additional Rs10 to him for the additional weight of our bags, which he decided en route were too heavy. It's 8:30 in the morning, all of us have not really slept on the bus, we are hungry, tired, caked in dry sweat from Delhi, stressed and have the task of finding out hotel/hostel/guest house in front of us -- never easy in India. We pay him, he acts like we are still terribly inconveniencing him, takes the money with a pitiful sigh and opens the door. Whatever.... Good-bye dude.

Everything that happens after I leave the nice Punjabi bus man is the exact opposite. The Tibetan people here in Dharmsala are SO generous and kind my mind has whiplash from the experience of them hopping up to assist me. I ask directions and a nice Tibetan man walks me all the way down a steep path to the Monastery I am trying to find. After I discover it's the wrong monastery (there are a lot of them in this town) the monk who runs the office offers to call me a taxi to the right monastery, then carries my backpack and waits with me on the road to instruct the taxi driver for me. The taxi takes me to the right monastery, and after three more really nice Tibetans walk us to three different places to try to help us check in, we find the office and find out the lady who was supposed to vacate my room has decided to say on so there is no room for me. (Side note: This Monastery is the one that is part of the main temple in town, the main temple of His Holiness the Dali Lama, and the same monastery that shares the courtyard with His Holiness's house in exile.)

While we are walking around the monastery grounds trying to find the office, we meet a nice lady who is staying here, she's from New York (small world) and has been staying here for 11 years. I guess the rooms don't come available that often and there are only seven to begin with. The monk who runs the office here offers to call the monastery next door to see if they can accommodate me. So nice, he insists I take a seat on his couch and has a young monk fetch tea for us. (I'm with a Venezuelan girl, Natalia who I met on the bus. She has no accommodations set up and is tagging along to see if she can get a room wherever I end up.) I compliment the young monk on the tea, it is sOoOooO good, and not just because I'm cold and filthy and sleep-deprived and needing some comfort. He tells me with pride that it's so good because it's real cow milk, then points out the door and says proudly, 'we have our own cow and we get our own fresh milk (then makes a milking gesture)'. Wow, real fresh cows milk, yum! (I immediately think about the fact that it isn't pasteurized, whatever that is, and hope that I won't get sick. I don't.)

The monk in charge returns and says the monastery next door has a room available and says he will take us when we finish our tea. I'm so happy. We finish our tea, and the nice monk walks with us up the path to his friends next door. People on the street stop to bow and greet him, he is kind and modest and stops to acknowledge each of them. He must be well admired here, and he is walking little old us to a room. We reach the monastery and a monk is out front waiting with a key, he walks us to a room and I check it out. It's so great, I'm so happy to find a place to stop and clean and rest for a bit. They even have another room for Natalia downstairs, so we are both good. The monk excuses himself and says he'll tell our taxi driver (waiting down the hill) to bring up our bags. Thank you doesn't seem like enough to day to him.

My room at the monastery has a balcony that looks up to the Himalayas and down to the Indian planes below. The view is so big and open, the air is so cool and clean, the mountains so green, the people so friendly, I instantly love Dharmsala. I have a room with a desk, three chairs, a private bath with a western flush toilet and hot water. It's CLEAN, maybe I can pretend all those Delhi bathrooms were just a bad dream, and two single beds pushed together for one big bed. It's Rs180/night, like $5-ish. I think I might stay here a month. Then I sit on the bed, it's a mat on top of a board. Umph. Ok, if I can find a nice masseur I'll stay a month. (I do, and I will.)

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