I may have only been here 24 hours, but I’m a bit fed up with McLeod Ganj as I write this. when the traffic noise and honking finally stopped, all the local dogs started to bark unceasingly until very, very late (or very, very early depending on your perspective). I remember this same experience from the town of Cahuita, Costa Rica, but it’s still tough- especially when jet lagged and sleep deprived. After my nightmare, I woke up once again at 0400, so I’m back at Nick’s Italian Kitchen having a pot of tea to keep myself awake. But I’m getting way ahead of myself…
I absolutely could not stay in bed after 0540, so got myself up, washed, did some sun salutations and dressed to watch the sunrise over the mountain with camera in hand, which proved to be a longer and colder process than anticipated, so I advise layering up. It is a totally worthwhile and wonderous experience to have. By the time the sun cleared the peak and shone directly into my room, the town was officially awake. I had watched monkeys, crows and kites hunting diligently in the pre-dawn, and heard all the morning birdsong. I happily noted (being a crazy bird lady) a small cardinal-like bird with white cheeks, and a pair of birds whose wings had circles of white near the tip so they flashed merrily like winking eyes as they flew and soared. What a lovely, cheerful sight!
I breakfasted on the patio of my own hotel, enjoying tsampa (Tibetan barley porridge, much like cream of wheat) with a handful of golden raisins and honey, a glass fresh pressed beet, carrot and apple juice (slightly earthier flavoured than I would like, fingers crossed), and an Americano. THIS is how you get good coffee in India- EUREKA!
Unfortunately I broke the string of my mala (Buddhist/Hindi prayer beads) while getting dressed and ready for the day as well, so I popped into the shop of a Tibetan jeweler to have it re-strung. He made improvements on it adding a larger 108th bead, a vertical keeper bead, and wove lovely end decorations at the bottom of each strand- it’s better than new, and I have a special Tibetan memento within my trip to India. I like it! We chatted while he worked, and he was excited to hear that I am Canadian. A couple of his friends received refugee status in Canada and are very grateful to be living there- he himself has applied a couple of times, but it’s very hard to get in, he told me.
I walked to the Tsuglagkhang temple complex, and home to the Namgyal Gompa monastery where H.H Dalai Lama resides. I thought the views were beautiful on my walk there, but I hadn’t seen anything yet! The Tibet Museum is closed Mondays (today), so I went straight to the Tsugagkhang temple, and it finally hit me- I am in India and visiting the temple at which the Dalai Lama lives and teaches! So tears streamed down my face continuously as I looked upon the Sakyamuni Buddha, Avalokitsevara (Chenrezig in Tibetan; the bodhisattva of compassion, Tibet’s patron deity), and Padmasambhava- the Indian king sage believed to have brought Buddhism to Tibet. I was still overcome by the atmosphere, the reverberation of the presence of the Dalai Lama, and realization of a personal dream when I ran into Corrine, the former RN I had met on the plane yesterday. We were having a similar experience, crying but not crying, overwhelmed yet fully in the moment. It was difficult to talk. Also touching to a lover of books and learning like myself was the glass-faced cases stacked completely with scrolls in between the altars. The Tibetan grandfathers’ devout prostrations within and without the temple proper to the Sakyamuni Buddha was humbling and amazing to watch. Upon leaving the temple interior, I received a little sweet puffed rice candy from a monk- I ate only a little, and stashed the rest to pass on the blessing to friends. I took the prayer circuit around the temple, touching and turning each prayer wheel inscribed with the fundamental Tibetan mantra (and my mantra of choice) “Om Mani Padme Hum”- Om the Jewel of the Lotus”.
I took some time to come back to myself and watched the monks of different ordinations (in different coloured robes, of different nationalities I think) practice at their debates in pairs in the courtyard outside, sometimes with monk onlookers sitting on the ground, listening. The air was lively with voices and the impassioned “final word” as the monk finishing his point would step forward stomping his foot down and simultaneously clap his hands in front- almost a contemporary dance step. “I have spoken!”
When I finally exited the temple complex (after taking photos of the surrounding mountain peaks), I got a kick out of passing the Tibetan grandmothers in the town streets with their smiles and open “Hallohh” greetings to me. Impossible not to smile in return. I popped into the little Indian spot (the name escapes me) recommended to me by Kim the American Buddhist nun for a thali lunch (a large lunch of several dishes of different Indian foods with rice chaval and papadam or chappati bread), and it was deliciously spicy and cheap! I had a friendly chat with some visitors from Mumbai who mentioned to me there were so many Indian university students and junior high-school aged kids tourists in McLeod Ganj because it was a long-weekend from school. They were surprised I was eating a thali. I said “Of course! I’m in India- why wouldn’t I? Indian food is delicious.” They were also impressed I traveled all the way from Vancouver, Canada. What to say to that? “Thank you. India is amazing.”
I visited the Internet place and discovered that Internet security measures to protect your public domain email accounts (like Gmail) are a total pain in the ass. Hotmail asked for my phone number or my alternate email (my Gmail) to confirm my identity, and Gmail asked for my phone number or alternate email (my Hotmail) to confirm my account- and I hadn’t brought my phone, and even if I had there was NO WAY I was going to use my Canadian SIM and incur global data roaming charges- like most sane people, I would have bought a temporary Indian SIM… so, no e-mail. This process is something my father would refer to as the domain companies “playing silly buggers.” This is frustrating because all of my future hotel stays have my hotmail email address on record, and more pressingly I recalled I had not printed out my bus ticket from Dharmsala to Simla for tomorrow’s journey. Hmmm…
Lonely Planet book to the rescue! I found the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation- you try saying that fast 3 times!) ticketing office right at the 5 point intersection. The young Indian men working there looked gobsmacked when I approached them (as most of them do, wherever they work – this might be the effect of blue eyes and white skin). For a little baksheesh they printed my ticket for me because technically they were “not authorized” to help me in that way. That’s the spot to get cabs as well, so I’m all sorted! I backtracked a little bit to observe the hustle bustle of the town, and to visit the interior of the cheerfully and riotously painted Chorten Temple. Inside is an equally cheerful golden stupa (that’s the proper noun- it’s a Buddhist thing- these tall, kinda abstract, globe sculptures sometimes on pedestals- I don’t know why) or chorten in Tibetan (hence the Chorten Temple). It was fun trying to take an effective photograph in the very close quarters. This temple, too, has brightly painted prayer wheels to turn “Om Mani Padme Hum” along all it’s outer walls. By that time, it was 1430 and I was exhausted. I went for a rest back at the hotel and had a read on my back balcony, listening to thunder rolling around the mountains. I neatly avoided being caught in the daily afternoon downpour.
So now I am back at the beginning of this entry- at Nick’s drinking tea. I tried to look for a different place to eat supper, like one of those restaurants closer to the “star” intersection, but the constant and chronic honking of car horns drove me back to Nick’s, whose patio just so happens to have the best view of the mountain peaks anyway. Having eatn a massive piece of chocolate mousse cake (which actually has a consistency more like chocolate ganache), I predict I’ll have less trouble staying up past 2000 tonight.
The Tibetan jeweler opened his shop again this evening, so I popped in with a Canadian nickel as a good-luck token for him. I told him about the beaver’s hard work and ability to create lakes through their dam-building efforts, so maybe it would be the right energy in assisting him to finally get authorization to come to Canada as a refugee or immigrant. There were a lot of other customers browsing, so I excused myself afterwards despite his gracious offer of sitting down for a chai. Instead I tried a saffron tea closer to home (a whole 20 feet down the road) and chatted with an Israeli woman before retiring for the night. After my shower, I found I had managed to stay up until 2130. C’mon sleep!