I started off this week with a lucky day! First I found a water bottle carrier, which I can sling over my shoulder when traveling. The water bottle is such a necessary thing on long bus trips and such an awkward thing to carry. Then, having discovered that I had misplaced my visor, I ran into Suresh, who told me I had left it in his taxi. He retrieved it for me. Next I inquired about a bus to Dalhousie and finally learned, at the third agency that I asked, that there was a non-government bus going directly there from Dharmsala every day at 8:30 AM. This was SO good because I would have had to transfer buses in the government system, plus they are much slower since they stop at every hamlet.
Then I went back to the store that I had visited the day before and, after thinking about it and where I could possibly put it, I purchased a five-foot-high solid bronze Nataraj. Supposedly they will have it arrive at my house in one month’s time with no red tape required from me. It weighs about 200 pounds!
Then I set out to visit the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, which was quite a pilgrimage. There must have been a better way to get there, but I followed a sign and, after asking several people, was directed to an ankle-twisting rocky narrow path that wound through some woods and finally came out on a road. Walking down the road, a van had stopped to pick up a couple of women ahead of me, and I indicated that I would like to ride, too. The woman said, “You’ll have to pay 20 rupees” (40 cents) which I gladly did. I still had to walk some more but I finally reached my destination. It was interesting to see the stacks of Tibetan books. A monk was reading one of them and we struck up a conversation (in slow English). He showed me an example of a wood block from which each page is printed; he pointed out books that were about the Bon religion that had preceded Buddhism in Tibet; and he showed me an example of a Chinese Buddhist book. There was a small museum here but unfortunately it was closed for renovation.
Again, I engaged Suresh to taxi me out of town a bit to the Norbulingka Institute, an enterprise started in the 1980s to preserve the traditional Tibetan art forms including woodcarving, statue making, thangka painting, and embroidery. On the way I learned from Suresh that he was age 27, married, and had two children. I asked him if his marriage were an arranged marriage and he said it wasn’t; that he had chosen his wife and she had chosen him. I asked him if the parents approved of the marriage, and he said that they certainly didn’t at the time, but with the appearance of the grandchildren, all was forgiven. In fact, his mother lives with them. Yes, he had married for love!
At the Norbulingka Institute, the thangka painters spend up to three years painting one thangka, which has to be done by a set of unchangeable rules. I had a delightful guide, Tentzin, who showed me the whole complex, which was planned by a Japanese architect and had pretty Japanese/Tibetan gardens. In the temple there were paintings of all 14 Dalai Lamas, including the one we know.
I asked Tentzin if his grandparents had escaped from Tibet in the 50s and he said they had. He was a small boy when his grandfather died, but he remembered him telling stories of their escape with many great hardships. At one point they were captured by Nepalese soldiers, but were freed when they paid some money.
I finished off the day with a Tibetan Full Body Massage. I had gotten a business card (very nice) from the hotel desk clerk, and the enterprise was almost across the street. I followed the sign in and, through signs with arrows, was led deeper and deeper into the bowels of the building(s), up steps, around and through. At one point when I followed yet another sign up some steps, a smaller sign said, “Don’t worry about the dogs!” As for the Tibetan Massage, I didn’t really see any difference from the other non-Tibetan massages that I had had. I had been feeling a little ‘off’ for a couple of days—extra tired and not hungry. I think travel fatigue sets in faster at these high altitudes, but after the massage and taking it pretty easy for a day, I was OK once again.
When I checked out of the Green Hotel in McLeod Ganj, which is the cleanest hotel I’ve ever seen in India, I asked the manager how many hours a week she works as she always seemed to be on duty. In the mornings she was cleaning all the common areas right with the staff. She’s very young (early 20s?), so hard working and such a good manager. Well, it turns out she works from 6:00 AM until 10:00 PM seven days a week—that’s a mere 112 hours a week! Wow!
After while a young boy musician boarded who played an interesting ancient instrument. The bow had bells on it, which tinkled as he played. The tone was lovely and surprisingly loud. His sister passed a bowl for donations but the bus conductor put a stop to his playing after only a very short time and then charged them ten rupees each for bus fare. Some people have a really hard life. (So does the bus conductor, for that matter.)
After 5 ½ hours, I arrived high up in the mountains at Dalhousie. The air was very pleasant—the altitude is about 6700 feet. I had called for a hotel reservation after I had gotten on the bus, and the proprietor said he would send someone to meet me. He sent two people, a porter and an escort who could speak a few words of English. I walked very slowly up, up to the Crag Hotel, which is an old house with lots of atmosphere, big rooms and peeling paint. The view from the hotel is lovely and it is very quiet and peaceful.
The next morning I retraced my steps to the bus station to inquire about a bus to Chamba for the following day. I also explored the area a little. It’s very beautiful and quiet; there are no tuk-tuks, which makes getting around on foot or in a taxi, but it also provides a respite from the urban noise that I had had in McLeod Ganj.
For breakfast I had my usual parantha, but it wasn’t usual, at all! This was the best one I had had, and it was baked in a tandoori oven. All others I have had were cooked on a griddle. This one came with a pat of butter, a side of dal, and I ordered chai. It’s amazing what kind of expertise one can develop if one cares, by doing it a hundred times a day, every day of the year! These local breakfast places are so much better than the hotel breakfasts that I have had.
I noticed a ‘Modi Inn’ on my way, and asked a young man coming out of it if this were part of the large, entreprenurial Modi family based in Bombay. He said it was, and that they had a whole chain of hotels throughout India. This is the family that I worked with at Kaiser Permanente International after I retired from my day job with Kaiser. Jim Rice had put me in contact with the daughter of the eldest Modi brother (there were five) as she wanted to work with KPI and set up a similar health care program in India. This conglomerate specializes in doing partnerships with Western companies, and at the time had relationships with Revlon Cosmetics, Goodyear Tire Co, and dozens more. Alas, the joint venture with Kaiser never happened as the Indian Government fell, and then later, after I fully retired, KPI was disbanded.
I notice the Indian custom here of touching ones hands to an honored one’s shoes, whereupon the honored one bends over and helps the other to rise. When a woman and two children got off the bus yesterday, they were met by (?) her younger brother. He touched her shoes, and then the little four-year-old boy touched his uncle’s shoes. This was the custom observed with Rajiv Gandhi years ago when he was running for office, or maybe already was Prime Minister. Anyway, a young woman touched his shoes and when he bent forward to raise her up, she blew herself and Gandhi up along with 14 others.
I walked down to Gandhi Chowk (kind of like a plaza), used the internet and then had a nice dinner of Chicken Tikka Marsala. I’m going to have to cook more Indian food at home–I haven’t been doing that much lately.
The next morning I walked up 50 uneven rock steps from my hotel to the road, carrying my pack, and felt more energized than I have on this trip. I walked to the bus station (luckily all downhill after the 50 steps) and got the bus to Chamba, conversing slightly in sign language with an elderly couple who sat ahead of me on the bus. They asked (with signs—one finger, then two) if I were alone or with somebody—a very common question.
I think Chamba is a very interesting small city. I have a really good hotel (with wifi) and good location, right by the Courthouse and the Chowgan, which is a huge open field for cricket matches, soccer, lying about and anything else. This town is off the tourist track, so has a more authentic feel to it. It also was the capital of an ancient kingdom so has many temples and monuments to explore, which I shall do in the coming days.