Friday, March 24, 2006

Clouds in McLeod

Delhi to Dalai
McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh


Prior to departure from Delhi (modern big city civilization; "swimmin' pools, movie stars") to McLeod Ganj (herbal tea hippy hill station) I went in for The Best Pedicure in the World. For 100Rs (about $2.50 US), Vinay restores my feet to their original colour, that of uncooked chapatti dough. It was weird having a guy work on my feet, and I have never seen an Indian man with dyed pink hair, but I had to admit he put a lot of upper body strength into scrubbing off about a year's worth of dead skin.

A tummy full of Coconut Rava Dosa, fresh lime soda (sweet), chocolate burfi and Madras style coffee from the dakshina (South Indian) joint next door completed my temporary farewell to the lowlands. I'm headed for the Himachal hills where it's roti, not dosa; chai in tiny glasses, not coffee in stainless steel tumblers; and wool shawls, not breezy cotton blouses.

Finding the HPTDC (Himachal Pradesh Tourist Development Corporation) bus on Connaught Place wasn't easy. They say that it leaves from the Chandralok Building on Janpath, but if you pull into the building lot with all your luggage, the bus is actually in a lane behind the building, and there is no through road. You will have to cart your luggage down to the bus itself. Good luck getting your auto driver to get back in the auto and find the correct back entrance - it's not gonna happen.

Why a bus to see the Dalai Lama, you ask? Why not the train or plane? McLeod Ganj, like a lot of Himachal, is too mountainous for train access. I think there's a helipad a few miles away for emergencies and Richard Gere.

A very important factor is getting a booking early enough to get in the front of the bus. They always tell the seat number over the phone; high numbers (up to 35) indicate a back seat. You do NOT want to be in the bumpy back seat going over these mountainous roads. It's not like the highways. Plus, there are spine-jolting speed bump sequences (ridges in a row) designed to slow vehicles down and you really feel each and every one in the back.

At the literal opposite end of the undesirable bus seats we have the Cabin. Sounds nice, right? The Cabin is the seat they only give you when all the other conceivable, actual seats are taken. It means you sit up in the front driving compartment with the driver, his co-horts and so on. If you get the far corner it could be okay, but in January I was crammed up behind the driver's reclining seat and kept my knees in my chest for the whole way.

In order to stay awake, the driver usually puffs beedis (cheap smelly cigarettes) and blares Hindi film music. Your options are to keep the window open and let the smoke out, but then catch pneumonia and a sore throat in the constant rush of cool mountain night air. Or, you could keep the window closed and choke on beedi smoke. Last January I opted for a combination - cracking the window, and covering my head with my shawl to block out smoke and the noise of the film music.

It's 400Rs for the 12-hour ride, but don't expect to hit the road at 5.30 boarding time. Like everything in India there is more than meets the eye. Sure, boarding time is 5.30 pm. But you won't really be getting anywhere till about 8pm.

First, we have to go all the way to Tibet Colony (half hour in the wrong direction) to pick up the majority of our passengers, Tibetans and Western Tibet freaks, then wait for them to load up the luggage. That adds about an hour. Then we double back and go north to the highway. Getting out of Delhi is an ordeal, the most frustrating part - sitting in trafffic, lurching forward then stopping again and so on....through all the sprawl and ugly highway stuff till we get to the freeway. On the freeway it's smooth sailing most of the way. Just as things seem to be getting under way - at about 8pm - it's time for the dinner stop.

Did I sayTibet Colony was "first"? Sorry, that's not first. First, we have to have a rigorous checking of tickets to ensure each seat is occupied by the person specified on the ticket. International airports should have such thorough security checks, it would solve a lot of problems.

At about 2 in the morning, we get to a really horrible part in the ride (it's too dark to see much) on twisty, hairpin up and down roads. Again, this is a lot more fun if you are not in the back. Sometimes it seems like constant up and down. there was a point at which I was sure I was going to puke (in fact a kid a few seats in front did puke, or it sounded like it). Fortunately at this point we made a tea stop and I got some breath mints to calm my stomach.

The high points of the bus trip were the fat Tibetan nun who was harbouring a tiny Lhasa Apso in her Lhap and the delicious paneer naan at the bhajan-blaring dhaba. Literal high points came about every 10 minutes or so when we'd hit a bump and I was jolted into the air (everyone else seemed to weigh a lot more so they remained earthbound, but waif that I am I got picked up and slammed down each time).

Prior to takeoff, a large Spanish contingent had a saucy skirmish with the TD (Ticket Deity) as they had decided to play musical seats and spunkily refused to sit in their originally assigned places. "Mira! Mira!" (look, look!) "Uno dos tres quatros cinquos." TD: "You listen to me." Spaniel: "No, you listen to ME." The TD had obviously mistaken the spirited Spaniards for demure Dutch or guilty postcolonial Brits and thought he could order them around. (Obviously never heard of the Spanish Inquisition.) The Latins won the day and remained unmoved. Badges? we don't need no stinkin badges.

What confuses the international visitor is that things in India absolutely must go the way they are written on paper, with all kinds of dire threats otherwise - heads will roll if you don't sit in the original seat! - unless of course that would be to the visitor's advantage, in which case new rules are made up on a whim out of thin air, never explained and the written version suddenly becomes "not possible." There is never any notice I've been able to detect regarding when the rules apply and when they are chucked out the window. The rules seem to apply all the time, 24 hours a day, until they suddenly don't. Or vice versa (they never apply until they do, at which point they emerge ironclad from nowhere). The nice Spanish family with their kids get harassed for unorthodox seatery; how come the TD didn't get upset about the drunk guy passed out under my feet in the back row?

The Magic Bus pulled into McLlo Square at 7 am. I am just now emerging from my sleepy cocoon. Paljor Gakhyil guesthouse is next-door neighbors with Kailwood; up the same long staircase, clean, quiet, bucket hot water, mouldy pillow smell, 135Rs. ("Bucket hot water"means there is no running hot water; you have to ask the "boy" to boil water in the kitchen and deliver the bucket to your door. Cost: 10 Rs, or about 25 cents.)

At 7am there are no chai stands open, just one Himachali girl and her elderly mother, sitting on a milk crate by the roadside with a butane stove, crusty aluminum pan and a few glasses. The girl's dark almond eyes, smooth ebony hair pulled away from her face, and golden nose ornament reminded me so much of their Nepali cousins.

McLeod is overcast, breezy and cool, with dark blue rainclouds looming. I've been here 24 hours and still haven't seen His Holiness - I'm still in recovery mode.

Astrological forecast: The Mercury Retrograde, with its 3 weeks of communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, ends tomorrow (26 March).

11 comments:

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Comment from Stirling in Pennsylvania:

I hate having to log in to post comments on your blog ... I
can never
remember my ID and password ... So here's the comment I was
going to
post:
What cracks me up is taking the bus to/from Mclo when the
driver asks
your name and AGE. (??). I just blurted out my REAL age
(by mistake)
and then blushed beet red. (Oops)

My theory is, they ask that so in case there's a road
accident, they
can identify the body - oh, that looks like a 58 year old
woman. LOL

Anyway, you're in Mcleod Ganj right now??? Where are you
staying?

Vijay Prasad said...

helo miss Caroline.,
how r u?
i hope all are fine there.
sorry for late answer. i tried mail to you before. but some yahoo server problem here. thats why i was not contact with you. sorry for that. how is ur life going on?
Now i am learning c, c++, and Autocad also. i want send some Animations to Mr. Robert. can you give his addres (Postel)
???
pleaseeeee...!

Take care freind.
Bye

Aadil said...

So you really think that Mercury's apparent retrograde movement across the sky would do something drastic to you and each and every one of all the people on this earth? Surely someone must have had a great day these days, I sure did today and yesterday, no misunderstandings and miscommunications either. HAHAHA!!!

Cheers,
Aadil.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Mercury Retrograde doesn't mean that no one has a great day, and no one has a lousy day. It means that generally speaking communications are strained and misunderstandings tend to be more numerous than usual. It's just a tradition, you are free to not believe in it as you choose. However, the fact that you misunderstood me tends to uphold the tradition. (smile)

King Amdo said...

"What confuses the international visitor is that things in India absolutely must go the way they are written on paper"

...however the Indian burocracy 'gets off' in the face of the dieties wheras western buracray finds this less easy. (but not impossible)

haha...laughing excitedly...I recall that journey very well Siren. I was smoking Indian Charras (as usual)..oh god no it was Temple ball from Kumoan. Sort of bending into the 'weird' as the stuff that reality is made of in English paganism...for some reason the guy that I gave some Temple ball to roll and spiff with pissed me off in some way...he was a touch too demanding I think...actually a (western) bhuddist monk. The driving crew were hunched in the cab as we hurtled through the warm night...wow I can feel it now...the bhuddist monk got up...satrted walking towards the open door of the bus...we all know that he was somehow being pulled towards the door and was going to jump outside and that happens in India and nobody would have done anything because its was thunderbolt mindfuck that was doing the magic...then at the last monet the monk realsied what he was about to do and pulled back and sat down again...


OM SHIVA!

King Amdo said...

Its a werid place for sure.

OM

I hope you get to see HH.

Inshallah.

Blessings and love to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, reincarnated diety of campassion, being of love light telepathy!

Oh I wonder if they are still doing the rave parties in Dharamsala...maybe its too early in the season...I really did think that they should be free party ethic especially there...but I guess its basically a money game thing which is a shame...(and not that interesting to me)...because the free party is where the energy and magic and 'fight the (state) power' are. If you get the magic right, the state has to back off!

Why not try and help foculize the local Tibetan and Indians to do a big free party...no charging the 'punters' and no sale of drugs...just sharing...and local djs also not white geeks. That would be a minor miricle for sure.

Maybe His Holiness would lend the Palace, and so there would be no problem with the police and so on!

OM SHIVA!

little rock said...

Aadil,

Huh? ni suo she me? What are you saying? I am not understanding?

LR
PS. Thank Shiva it's the 26th already. It's been a hell of a period, starting with Mercury in Pisces last month.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

This past Mercury Retro was The WORST; I will count myself lucky if any of my friendships survive it. Next time I will plan ahead to keep my mouth shut (ha, good luck)and give my keyboard a rest on those net forums.

BangaloreGuy said...

Came in via technorati,

As for the being thrown up and down like a ball(and forwards and backwards), there's a solution - anticipate the movements and do the exact opposite of what might happen to you(in terms of fwd and backward motion) - and to spare ur spine during crests and troughs - go up before the bus throws you up, so you can land when you're okay. (and not feel like a bouncing or what we call "crazy ball" in these parts.

BangaloreGuy said...

oh btw, I learnt that art travelling in Bangalore's autos - when the roads werent as smooth as now, and the autos were driven in gay abandon.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

How do you anticipate the movements - particularly when it's pitch black outside?

I can use this trick when riding my scooter, or a horse (it's called posting) but not when crammed in the back of a blind bus.