A little about my arrival in Delhi- I was horrified. In the airport, people were laid out on their belongings wherever they could to sleep waiting for their flight, and any part of the airport not enclosed was teeming with mosquitos and flies. The air was as thick with bugs as it was with smog- I couldn’t tell if the haze over everything was the usual pollution of Delhi or the fact that the area was completely infested following the monsoon rains. My hotel shuttle driver didn’t warn me, and I would have really appreciated a head’s up. I was actually pretty grateful I was still in my heavy westerner clothes, too thick to get a bite through. I tried to put my hat on before getting bit on my scalp and or face, but I’m certain I wasn’t successful. It was pretty scary, with me just having taken my first dose of anti-malarial meds, and no protection against Dengue. As we walked to the car, any light source we passed was surrounded by thousands of jockeying, swarming brown bugs. I really felt for anyone who didn’t have a good home in Delhi at this time. Imagine having to deal with that for days on end!
Although I wasn’t in my hotel room until 0100 this morning the hotel was perfect. “Hotel Airport Residency” is close to the airport (important since I have to go back for my flight to Dharmsala), India clean (towels and bed sheets clean, but slightly dingy, and everything else clean, but fixtures a little worn and hard-water stained), extremely spacious and very well appointed- the shuttle cost includes the return to the airport, too. The service from the extremely young workers (they can’t be older than 19!) and Indian breakfast this morning was great! Instead of porridge, I had the traditional masala dhosa– a large savoury crepe stuffed with spiced mashed potato. I was also faced with the Indian version of coffee- instant Nescafe! Leave your discerning coffee palate behind folks! But I was back at Delhi airport by 0800 clean, in my new Indian clothes, and comparatively well-rested.
The flight to Dharamsala happens on one of those small charter planes that you bus out onto the tarmac to board- really fun. The curried egg sandwich they tried to serve me on this flight was not exactly the classic mattar paneer (unfermented cheese and pea curry) and chaval (rice) they served me on the plane from Mumbai to Dehli last night. Oh well. My seat neighbour was a lovely lady, Corrine, who had been an RN in her past (and hated it for the same reasons I did), has been to the OSHO resort, and is visiting Dharamsala for the first time. We were both at the end of our traveling tethers and so relieved to arrive. The view from the plane, once away from the Delhi smog and sprawl was amazingly beautiful, for a glacier-fed lake surprised me. It was fun to trace the runoff river paths down the mountain with their rapids, falls and flats- all visible from the sky. The drive up to McLeod Ganji from the purely utilitarian town that is Dharamsala proper near the airport was equally charming with wildflowers and villagers, and challenging to my vertigo with its unbelievably steep, narrow and twisty way. Of course traffic went both ways along this narrow track, and the drivers have reflexes like lightning. I continually avowed my faith that existence would see me arrive safely at my end destination.
My preconceptions of McLeod Ganj were quickly shattered as it’s a CROWDED place on the weekend. I think this is something I had to see before I truly understood about being in any part of India; this area is a bustling tourist town, home to all the monks and nuns in residence or visiting here, AND all the Indian and Tibetan people as well. The streets are constantly full of vehicles, animals and people on foot- there is no such thing as a sidewalk here. The 5 point intersection at the centre of town with roads leading back over to Dharmsala over a high road (I took the low road up), and over to nearby Bhagsu and Dharamkot is a seemingly a mass of taxis and scooters, and a constant cacophony of beeping horns and the traffic policeman’s whistle. Oddly, a lot of restaurants are situated at every point of this intersection, and they seem to be quite popular. I guess people enjoy overlooking the chaos they themselves had to go through to get to their respective hotels!
After settling in my hotel, I took a little walkabout. Yes, there are cows in the streets, hawks and kites overhead on the wing, dogs, monkeys and even a lone chicken hanging out at a public dumpster not far down the road from “The Green Hotel”. I watched monkeys clamber up through the trees and over rooftops equally today. My room’s balcony faces the mountains, so it’s lovely, but the room itself is nothing fancy. Bring your own padlock for added security to your door as there is an additional bolt you can secure upon leaving your room- and ALWAYS close and secure your balcony door unless you want monkeys ripping through your stuff! Hotels in India don’t provide maid services- they clean between guest stays and upon request only. Remember that before you track the dust (made up of countless different species of garbage and dung) into your bedroom or bathroom areas. I went to the famous “Nick’s Italian Kitchen” for lunch and shared the table with Kim, a Buddhist nun from Montana- and proceeded to talk her ear off after inquiring after an Internet place in town (closed today). It was really lovely to chat with her and hear her story of how she came to becoming ordained as a nun. I didn’t get much else done. By the time I finished my lunch of spinach and tofu momo (Tibetan dumplings), it was nearly 4pm and it was nice to feel settled in my room. I am really looking forward to my visit to the Tsuglagkhang Complex tomorrow and taking lots of photos of the interesting things I’ve spotted already. Kim mentioned that sunrise is absolutely stunning here, so hopefully I’ll be up for that, for I want nothing more than to go to bed.
Kim also mentioned I had missed H.H. the Dalai Lama’s talk today as I sat in my taxi today, and he leaves tomorrow for Europe. Of course I’m very disappointed- that layover in London and Mumbai robbed me of an opportunity it would seem, but how could I have known about this talk a year ago? However, he will give more talks here and elsewhere (even in Vancouver), and I have been in His Holiness’ presence before- the memory of that day and recollection of how his presence literally feels in my body stays with me and sustains me to this very day. In the meantime, washing my socks in the sink and giving myself a facial it is- tee hee!