#4 India, June 28, 2012

Well, it seems Manali has the following categories of people:

1. BACKPACKERS

2. TIBETANS

3. HOLY MEN

4.  INDIAN TOURISTS

5. MOTORCYCLISTS

6. ALL OTHERS

Manali is kind

of a unique

place in India, although maybe I’ll see more like this as I move north. Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot, especially the almost perfect weather.

Leave it to my niece, Laura. She researched ‘Gauri and Shankar,’ the temple statues in Naggar, and found that they are as “two heads joined as one to promote unity, harmony, peace and marital bliss.” I can support that! Thanks, Laura.

Sunday, I took a tuk-tuk to the ‘private bus station’ (as opposed to the ‘gov’t station’) and found my small 14-passenger bus that I had booked to go to Dharmsala. We left at 10:00 with only eight passengers. The bus was not great (no A/C) but much better than the government buses that I had been taking, and the driver was excellent. But how hard they work! The bus had a manual transmission, and with the hairpin turns, the mountainous terrain and the horrendous traffic, he was required to manually shift gears about every five seconds, literally. The roads often had only one lane of asphalt down the middle, which was shared with the oncoming traffic, requiring the bus to have the left wheels (they drive on the left side) on the gravel shoulder, often only a foot or two away from the dropoff, and often without a guardrail. I also learned that the driver drove this route from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM in the daytime, then got about three hours sleep; then drove back the same night from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM; slept for three hours; then repeated this for a total of four eight-hour stints within two days. Then he had 28 hours off for a rest. He had been doing this for nine years! What a life! Yet he was totally cheerful and pleasant the whole time. He was also skinny as a rail (no time to eat?).

The scenery was enjoyable—lots of rice farming near Dharmsala (I think there’s a town called ‘Basmati’ near here, too) and at one point I could again see snow on mountaintops.

Dharmsala is where the Tibetan Government went into exile when China invaded Tibet in the ‘50s. Actually the Tsuglagkhang Complex where the Dalai Lama lives, along with many other Tibetans is in the nearby town of McLeod Ganj, which is higher up the mountain from Dharmsala.

When we arrived McLeod Ganj, the traffic was unbelievable, forcing the bus to a standstill. We finally were let out of the bus and told to walk the remaining half-mile to the bus station, which I did, in the midst of cars, buses, motorcycles and pedestrians (what a mess!). I didn’t have a room reservation although I had tried to get one by both email and telephone. Luckily the Green Hotel had a room available and soon I was settled in, pretty exhausted.

The next morning I found a very good breakfast parantha and chai (Indian tea—where the tea is cooked with milk and some cardamom—-umm, good).

Then I explored the town a bit, walking very slowly as it’s at almost 6,000 feet elevation, and I really can feel it! Actually I wonder if it isn’t higher than that, huff, puff.

The next day I visited the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which is a surprisingly modern structure, but with traditional temples inside. There were many monks chanting along with lay people; some penitents were prostrating themselves. I also perused the Tibet Museum, which tells the heartbreaking story of China’s invasion of Tibet. Unfortunately with their policy of wiping out all Tibetan culture, they have destroyed the majority of monasteries in Tibet, taken many political prisoners, killed thousands of Tibetans, raped the country of it’s mineral resources and dumped their nuclear waste there. What an unhappy story. China has brought in many Chinese to own the businesses, do the government jobs, and manage the economy to their advantage. Unfortunately, they don’t develop and educate the Tibetans to do these things, so 80% still live in rural areas with a poor standard of living, non-existent health care and not much hope of bettering their lives.

In the meantime, I’ve been listening to books on my iPod. Here’s what I’ve been ‘reading:’ Fiction—“Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. She read her own book, and has quite a young girl’s voice, which surprised me. I liked the book very much. “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormick McCarthy, which I also liked a lot. Non-fiction: “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch. This had an interesting idea but was very tedious to read. “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Lisa Randall. I had seen her on Charlie Rose’s show—again, worthwhile information but tedious to read. “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell—a very interesting book and nicely written—enjoyable. “The Social Animal” by David Brooks. I was disappointed in this one as I like David Brooks’ columns and appearances on Public TV, but this was not all that interesting, I thought. Of course since I often listen at night in bed, they have to be really interesting to keep me awake!

I hired a taxi to take me to Kangra to see the Brajeshwari Devi Temple. My  taxi driver’s name was Suresh and he was such a skillful and considerate driver. Often cars come down the road honking high-intensity horns for several seconds at a time, meaning, “Get Out of My Way!” Suresh beeped a little only when it was important for a pedestrian to know he was there, or when possibly meeting cars on hairpin turns.

This temple is one of 51 Shakti Peeths, which mark the sites where body parts from Shiva’s first wife, Sati, fell when she was consumed by flames. This particular temple is revered as the place where her left breast (!) fell. It was destroyed by a 1905 earthquake but has been rebuilt in the original style. Yellow seemed to be the operating color at this place. It was a very busy temple with many people ringing the bells as they entered and, as always, required one to leave one’s shoes outside. There was a sea of flip-flops and then my hundred-dollar sneakers—too much of a temptation? Well, no, they were still there when I exited the temple. Leaving them always makes me nervous—how would I get back to the hotel?

On the other side of town was the magnificent Kangra Fort, which also suffered damage in the 1905 earthquake.

The whole jaunt took 2 1/2 hours and was very pleasant.

I’m finally getting used to the horrendous traffic in this town and it’s accompanying noise. Certainly the views of the mountains are spectacular!

Carol

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