Thursday, December 22, 2005

Postcards from the Ganj

Dec. 22
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh

Dear Mom and Dad:
I just went to the McLeod Ganj post office to mail some cards to you. Email is nice but there's nothing like a letter or card you can actually hold in your hands. The post office is just a tiny grubby dimly lit room with rotary fans and Hindi bhajans (devotional hymns) playing on an old radio in the background. It was funny in this town full of Buddhists to hear the Hindu religious music I'm so familiar with from elsewhere in India. It's so dark in there I don't know how the 2 old guys actually see anything, maybe their jobs are so routine they just do them without actually looking. I sent one to you and one to Carter - total cost, about 35 cents (8 rupees per card).
The stamps feature the Indian painted crane. I asked for what they call "philatelic" stamps (special picture ones, some are magnificent) and they regretted they don't get them at this branch office. Stamps here are not lick and stick; you have to affix them on the card with a bit of rubber cement or paste, usually kept on the countertop in an old jar with a daubing stick. I glued them in place, trying to wipe the excess dry round the edges. The man behind the counter cheerfully placed them in a "go" batch, but I asked him (with a combination of English and sign language) to postmark them before my eyes. This is a standard precaution here; if you don't, the postal employees may peel off the yet-unmarked stamps, keep them for their own use, and your card will get thrown in the trash. Uncle obliged me and I then asked to see the postmarks. They were half in Hindi, half English, reading "Kangra Himachal" (the district, sort of like the county; and state). When I was younger I used to cherish any international mail that came through the office, running my fingers over the postmark, picturing the far-off place and exotic locale where it had been stamped and dreaming that someday I'd be there.

My friend seemed to think we got a great deal on the room, $5.60 a night for a toilet that doesn't flush, no carpet (extra freeze factor in this region) and no TV. Today I found a room with mountain view windows on 3 sides, bathroom that works w/24-hour hot water, room service, worn-out carpet and cable TV - not to mention a balcony where I can do yoga in the morning - for the same price, so I am shifting there tonight. It has full morning sun, which makes a big difference staying warm. There is no heat to speak of in most hotels, so it's direct solar heat in the day, heap on the double blankets and thermals at night. With all this talk of cold, I should mention that it's still about high 56 in the day, low around freezing - warmer than Tennessee. I'd like to get there before sunset (5.30 pm) so I need to run.

On Christmas Eve I may attend the Caroling service at the church of St John's in the Wilderness, an historic site with stained glass windows. McLeod Ganj was once a British administrative center and hill station, and the church is one vestige of those days.

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