McLeod Ganj & Bhagsu- Oct. 11

the Indian government has done an amazing and noble thing continuing to accept Tibetan refugees into its already very crowded and resource stretched country.


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7.5 hours of almost unbroken sleep achieved!

I got out of bed at the crack of dawn again, did some asanas, bathed and was ready for the day early.  I chatted with another a lovely soft-spoken clean-cut hippie from Austin, TX with one of those exotic American names I can never remember (are you sure that’s not a car model name?) over breakfast on the patio. He suggested I check out the walk and waterfall at Bhagsu, the next village over.  I proceeded on the road out of town and thought I was supposed to take a side foot-path to get down to the waterfall… Nope.  I took some photos of MacLeod Ganj from afar, but gave up trying to reach the river at the valley bottom- it was quite a climb.  I retraced my steps back up the steep hill-side and proceeded on to Bhagsu, finding the Shiva temple pool busy with bathing tourists.

Indians don’t bother with bathing suits, they just strip down to their undershorts and proceed.  The mystery of why Indian men sport underwear on Canadian beaches solved! I noticed that there was not a single woman not accompanied by her husband or boyfriend around, and certainly none of them in the temple pool, so aside from giving my hot and dusty feet a dip, I was out of luck.  I also tried poking around to find the path to the natural waterfall down below the temple, but like everywhere else in the vicinity there was nothing but Indian men in their underwear lining the paths.So again, I gave up.

Now, normally I just do whatever the hell I like, but I found it pretty tough to proceed in this situation.  Since arriving in India, I get stared at pretty much constantly which doesn’t phase me- it’s simple curiosity and totally void of negativity. I get the sense they think I’m kinda crazy, very daring, very unconventional for traveling on my own, and all this is tolerated because I’m White.  Being stared at is one thing, but to start wandering around without a chaperone of any sort amidst half-naked dudes in a culture where women don’t do things on their own- and there were no women to be seen doing this particular thing at all, male chaperone or no- that’s another story. It’s probably a shame I missed it, however my side-track down the valley towards the river and the climb back up (at this altitude and in this heat I wouldn’t even dare anyone to not take it slow, or take rests in the shade when you find it) ate up a lot of time. That didn’t stop me from trying to get to it via another path on the way back to McLeod Ganj though. Still unsuccessful as the path came down to a dead-end. I sure got a lot of cardio this morning- up and down nature’s Stairmaster.  The views were glorious from those spots, so while the sound of rushing water mocked me, I got some gorgeous photos of the mountain scenery.

I had time enough to dry my sweaty clothes out on the back balcony of my room, have some quiet time and pack everything up before checking out of the hotel.  I booked an overnight bus to Simla rather than waste a day traveling, so today has been about keeping myself occupied between check-out time and catching the cab to Dharmsala’s bus station at 8pm.  I went to the highly recommended “Moonstruck Cafe” for a Himachal thali lunch (thali with dishes common to the state of Himachal Pradesh) and masala chai.  The dahl was very different in this thali, with a distinctly sour tang to it. I didn’t care for it at all, and I had to forgo the meat they served with it (because meat in India), but there was a yummy dessert included, sweet and fragrant saffron semolina with blanched almonds in it. I noticed sitting at the outside table that the town cleared out quite a bit- all the students went home, and with the Dalai Lama gone, many of the people who would’ve been in town to hear his talks also left. The traffic and crowds may have dissipated, but the Brahman beggars have had to become more aggressive in turn. The Brahman beggars are a very exotic sight, they dress in wrapped robes, are as skinny as skinny can be, carry begging bowls and holy symbols or icons, and paint their faces with white or yellow pigment.  I have noticed the truth to the guide books assertion that there are nearly 100 different ethnicities that make up the Indian population, so one cannot pin down a “typical” Indian person; there is so much diversity in skin hues, body shapes, facial features, and hair colour and texture.

I went back to the temple after lunch to visit the Tibetan Museum and then do a proper meditation on the temple grounds.  Oh man, was that ever upsetting- as in extremely disturbing and emotionally wrenching.  His Holiness would not approve of my hating those responsible *coughpeoplesrepublicofchinacough* as he does not condone hatred at all, but it is hard not to feel hatred towards those responsible when faced with the full scope of their actions- actions that are deliberately kept out of the consciousness of their own populace, out of the consciousness of the rest of the world so as to remain unanswerable for those actions.  Forcibly removing nomadic peoples from their ancestral lands, the land is strip-mined, used for nuclear test sites, used for nuclear waste dumps,  a culture systematically destroyed as historical and cultural sites are razed decade after decade. Cultural genocide has been and continues to be committed with the continuous jailing and murder of Tibetans for attempting to protect the remnants of their culture, for protecting their environment and natural resources, and nearly 150 young Tibetans have self-immolated in protest over the past 10 years which nobody knows about for the government has such as stranglehold on the media. In the meantime, they cynically  allow a few cultural/historical sites to remain for plausible deniability, and to reap tourist dollars. Sure, I tried to meditate after visiting the museum at the temple, but it was extremely difficult. I examined my own comfortable life in the face of that horror, a horror thought confined to history, and felt myself a parasite with nothing but a superficial and selfish take on what to accomplish over my lifetime. Forget world travel, forget achieving any semblance of personal happiness, if I was worth my salt as a human being I would be putting every extra penny I have or will ever have to rescue someone from that persecution. No matter how much I might have to sacrifice, it’s no hardship in comparison.  How does one wrap their head around winning the genetic lottery by being born in the West? One doesn’t. One forgets quickly, and we are encouraged to forget by our culture of distraction and consumption at every turn.  In the meantime, the Indian government has done an amazing and noble thing continuing to accept Tibetan refugees into its already very crowded and resource stretched country.  Although I was shocked to discover they can’t and don’t take every Tibetan person in who makes the dangerous journey over the Himalayas, I can understand it.  Before I left Canada, someone in FB land recently leveled a criticism about our taking so many Syrian refugees in simply because of media attention and hype- whereas Tibetans don’t get the same consideration or treatment because the government that will remain nameless deliberately suppresses any coverage of the their plight.  I now see his point.  We could and should be doing more. I should be doing more.  So yeah, my visit to the temple today held none of the magic it did the day before.  And it was doubly weird to see the same Indian tourists who visited the museum then blithely take selfies with the Sakyamuni Buddha in the background. It was too surreal for me. I had to sit and wrestle with it all for a good long time, looking at Buddha. Watching the monks work tirelessly in the candle house (a glass building, full of candles in little metal chalices) was actually helpful.  Why were they doing it? They were setting every single candle alight systematically, filling the space with fire.  I have no idea of its significance, but they did. They were enduring a very uncomfortable practice, with the discomfort likely a very key part of the doing.  After all, Tibetan Buddhism is renowned for gaining mastery over the body and mind both.

It rained on my way out of the temple complex, so I ducked back into the Internet office again.  It was another fruitless visit in terms of accessing my existing e-mail account, so I simply created a new one and proceeded from there.  Doing something so mundane and solving such a simple problem really helped me shake off the last of my despair. The way out is through, take each step in its own time.  When it stopped raining, I proceeded along the high road to Dharmsala to visit St. John’s in the Wilderness. It was trippy finding this very European/English Anglican church complete with Victorian dilapidated grave markers in “little Tibet”. I thought of my friends who have a taste for the macabre and gloomy, and how much they would have appreciated this particular spot.  Interestingly, the large church bell sent here from Scotland as a gift was too heavy to hang in the church tower when sent here in the 1800s, and equally too heavy for the thieves that tried to steal it for scrap in 1995 over 100 years later- so now it’s enclosed in an ugly cage to keep it “safe.” What I liked most about this site was that all of the paths in and around the church grounds to the road and along the graveyard way are flagged, and coloured stones were used to create red-circled white Anglican crosses, and to enhance the entry. The cedar and pine trees around the church are very large and thick, so have crowded out the views that made the location so attractive to Lord Elgin, the Viceroy who asked to be buried there.

The rest of the early evening was about drinking tea, catching up on journaling, and killing time before leaving for the bus station in Dharmsala.  However, I finally met and had an awesome conversation with an Indian woman over dinner.  She was an Intern working as a scholarly editor. I didn’t quite understand how it worked for her, but she was actually in MacLeod Ganj and the environs to assist with research, so we had a really interesting conversation and she gave me a good sense of what not to be worried about anymore, given where I was traveling in India “People will be too busy with their own business to care about bothering you.” Wonderful!


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