My time in McLeodganj felt like a world away from the rest of India. Waking most days at 5:30 by either the sound of the water tank in my room filling or the Indian man next door to me hoicking… Not quite the wake up one hopes for. Ganesh, the owner of the hostel did not see the issue with the water tank waking me up every morning – in fact it was almost as though he thought I was lucky to have the joy of the water tank, perhaps something he could charge me extra for. After waking I would race to the hot tap in my room hoping that it would produce water and I could have a “shower” (the area is in quite bad drought so water is very limited). Unable to get my shower head to work, primarily because it was not connected to any water pipes, I would fill the bucket beneath my shower and then pouring that over myself (repeat until clean)… It’s moments like these when the knowledge that I will soon be in Japan makes me very happy.
When reflecting on how I filled my days I realise I did not really do a hell of a lot. I spent a lot of time walking through the area – venturing uphill to Dharmkot, Triund, Bahgsu or downhill towards the Dalai Lama’s temple (and conveniently my favourite cafe/bookshop Illiterati). I also attended a few drop in yoga classes that while not being of the highest standard were only $4 Kiwi so it seemed silly not to try them! Outside of walking and yoga I met a wide variety of travellers. Most notably, the three aforementioned Australians and a woman from America called Kate who is planning on coming to NZ later in the year.
My second venture up to Triund was a great success (no wasp sting). The walk was just as challenging and the view possibly even more spectacular second time round. Spending 2 hours at the top reading, dozing in the sun and sharing chai with various people I headed back to McLeodganj very contented.
About 1km into my 10km descent a very friendly Indian guy appeared in front of me. As I passed him he struck up a conversation. Indulging his chat for about 15 minutes I noticed that everything I did or said he had also done or was planning to do e.g. He asked me what I studied and I said law, he also did law. He asked me where I was going after McLeodganj, I said Japan, he was heading there in a few weeks. He asked me where I was from, I said NZ, what do you know he’s heading there next year – to Christchurch specifically (once he asked where in NZ I came from). He meant no harm and was nice enough but after 15 minutes I was ready to be alone again… He however had other plans. As I quickened my pace nearly running across the rocks in a manner that was almost certain to result in me injuring myself he followed suit. I could hear him gasping for air as we went while trying to maintain conversation. My answers became shorter and shorter and the guy just would not take a hint. Seeing a chai shop and my chance to escape him I asked if he wanted chai and he said yes he would love a break… I then replied saying I was in a rush so I would have to keep moving but he should stop if he wants. Yet another hint not taken… He chose to stick with me! On we continued, giving up on the idea of losing him I told him that I couldn’t talk as I had to focus on where I was putting my feet so I didn’t trip – he agreed that was a good idea and finally went quiet. We finally reached the point where people can drive to where he announced he had to wait here by his car for his friends. Asking if I wanted to wait with him I politely declined and reiterated that I was in a rush! I then entered 3km of silent bliss (aside from the regular tooting of car horns).
Returning to McLeodganj I was starving and stopped by another of my favourite cafes, Moonpeak Espresso for an iced chocolate, curried zucchini and butter naan – an outstanding combination.
Another interesting experience I had while in McLeodganj was “foot reflexology”… I am not convinced that the guy who performed my foot reflexology had any clue what he was doing however having never experienced it before I cannot be sure what it is meant to entail. As far as my experiences have now informed me, foot reflexology involves someone repeatedly punching and pinching your feet then in between twisting your feet and legs from side to side. Again, the experience cost me all of $5, so I couldn’t have particularly high expectations.
Outside of walking, drinking chai and doing yoga I went down to the Dalai Lama’s temple – He lives in McLeodganj. The temple was not particularly glamorous or beautiful as one might expect, rather it was filled with terribly noisy Indians who, in my opinion, were showing an appalling lack of respect for the Tibetan Monks who were trying to pray. While the Indians yelled at each other through the temple and took photos in areas you were not meant to, I still managed to get myself in trouble by trying to ask a monk a question. One of the things that did amuse me about the temple was the stacks of McVities Hobnobs and bottles of Fanta and Coke placed up around the statues… I asked the Monk about this and he said they were offerings to God.
Outside of the temple there was also a very interesting Tibetan Museum. While only small it had a very informative exhibition on the situation in Tibet and the state of their relations with the Chinese. I had no real knowledge of why the Dalai Lama lived in exile or why there was such a big Tibetan community in the north of India. Learning about the perilous journey across the Himalayas that many TIbetans take to escape the Chinese and the lengths the Chinese are going to to destroy Tibetan culture within Tibet gave me a new perspective on the many TIbetans I had seen in McLeodganj and the challenges they must have faced to get to this point.
As an aside – I had the pleasure of meeting an American girl who told me her name was “Lucky-Lad” (had the passport to prove it) and with her a Swedish/Irish girl who had the most confused accent I have ever heard despite speaking perfect English! The Irish-swede also turned me on to a “cross training” class held at a cafe three mornings a week with the first one being free. So, on my last day I went to this cross training, run by an English girl with 3 Tibetan men and two other traveling men attending we “trained”. The exercise was not strenuous, the girl kept saying she couldn’t believe how strong I was ha ha. But a great end result, we all finished sitting on the floor eating biscuits and drinking chai!
My last day in McLeodganj saw me spend 2 hours trying to post stuff home, an hour trying to find an atm with cash in it and about 4 hours cafe hopping hiding from the rain!
Having witnessed some spectacular dry thunder and lightening storms here I finally got to witness a wet one and my god it pissed down. As everyone ran for cover in cafes, shops and under any shade they could find, the market vendors packed away all their goods in seconds, they are clearly well practiced at this. Initially failing on the raincoat front I used my pack cover as my rain coat, thankfully my friend Jess quickly said just borrow mine, you look ridiculous (and I did).
Farewelling my newfound friends I boarded my 12 hour bus to Delhi (a journey of just under 500km)…
With a very shanti shanti approach to departure we left McLeodganj 1.5 hours late and in the first half hour of travel we managed to cover only 4km. This was due to the quality of the roads being worse than post-earthquake Christchurch with half the width and twice the amount of traffic. At one point, trying to pass another bus moving in the other direction the conductor of the bus stood with the door open telling the driver how close he was to the cliff edge while the driver focused on not taking off the other bus’s wing mirror. As the conductor continually said “chulo chulo” (meaning keep going/go) I realised the margin for error here was minuscule. However, as I have said to myself many times in India, it is also in the driver’s best interests for the drive to not end with us crashing – his life is equally at risk to mine! Deciding the easiest way to deal with the situation was to immerse myself in my two favourite travel companions – my kindle and music. Putting Tracy Chapman on as loud as I could I tried to pretend I was just on a normal family road trip where nothing would go wrong.
My bus ride was generally pretty good, I had a fair amount of sleep and the man sitting next to me didn’t smell, both good results. A few people however did not fair so well. Winding downhill in a very haphazard fashion there were plastic bags handed out to those who were going to be sick. Then much to my alarm/disgust/relief at one point the conductor invited those who had been sick forward, he flung the bus door open and told them all to throw their sick bags out the door… Only in India eh?
Time passed surprisingly quickly and before I knew it I was being yelled at by the driver as we had reached the final stop without me realising. Being shoved off the bus and the driver insisting I go straight to the airport (despite me asking not to as it was 6:45am and my flight wasn’t until 1:20) I was shoved in a rickshaw and off I went through the streets of Delhi. I am now sitting here receiving updates that my flight to Chennai will be delayed (currently only by half an hour)… this may end up being a very long day.