Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tashi Delek!
Quick update, since not too much is really going on...
We've both finished our volunteering, Anderson's last day on Friday went well, a surprise test wasn't too much for the students to handle, although they enjoyed the crossword puzzle afterwards much more. The two weeks definitely flew by, but hopefully everyone learned a bit more about English! Had some nice class photos at the end, and some traditional ceremonial white scarves were presented to him, which was definitely unexpected.
Liz "had" to volunteer on Saturday as well, but like all days with the cute and energetic Tibetan babies the morning hours seemed all too quick, and she got to put all of her favorite babies: Rangdol - aka "Sam," "Spiderman" - due to his favorite outfit, and "Chubby" - because, well, she's a bit chubby, to sleep. Liz has even learned a children's song in Tibetan, although she's not too sure of the meaning! (Sompa sera-nam, sompa sera-nam...)
Since Saturday we've been chilling out, which has been encouraged by the heavy and daily monsoon rains. Some sad family news, we found out on Sunday night that Liz's maternal grandmother passed away on Friday from a heart attack. Hard to get such news by email, but life (and death) is what it is, and we know that she is in a better, more peaceful place. We did, then, also talk to both of our parents that night, a first thus far on the trip - and we even got videoconferencing to work via Skype with Anderson's parents, which was downright amazing!
So sad turned into happy, thanks to the international comforting of our parentals, but we obviously wish very much that we could have been at her funeral yesterday - the world is so big despite at times feeling so small.
Our good friends Chris Powell & Katie Ockers are getting married on Aug. 4 in Wyoming, so, again, we really wish we could be there, but obviously cannot. But we wish them all the best, our hearts will be with them during their special day! And they can have our jealousy too, while they soak up the sun in Jamaica for the whole next week after the wedding!
Tomorrow night we head to Delhi, on an overnight bus, which will undoubtedly be very enjoyable! Thursday night, then, we will meet our cousin Reannon at the Delhi airport, to give her an American welcome to the wonderful world of India. We can't wait to see her, and are looking forward to our month or so of traveling together, plus the fact she's hopefully bringing some much-missed Doritos with her!
So that's that, if you're in San Francisco, you should check out our friend Ben Thompson, laptop DJ extraordinaire!


PS - Tashi Delek means "Greetings" in Tibetan...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Its been a lazy rainy weekend, though this afternoon we went to the main temple again, primarily to see the attached Tibet Museum. The exhibits were well-done, though definitely disturbingly depressing at times, and we also watched a documentary they were specially screening, called "The Tears of Torture." Yesterday we also watched a Tibetan documentary, "Red Flag Over Tibet" by Frontline, which showed some good archive footage as well as what Lhasa now looks like - a "modern" concrete Chinese city.
We have organized our resumes, along with photos, and are beginning to contact recruiters for Busan, in Korea. Emailed three so far, will wait and see what they have to say concerning our "demands" - primarily reimbursement for overland travel, most other things are pretty standard (housing paid for, health care 50/50, a pension plan, bonus at the end of 1-year contract, etc.). We've been using the popular Dave's website to look for Korean jobs, so hopefully things will work out well. We'd rather avoid posting our resumes - since by doing so we'd consequently attract piles of emails from shady companies - if we can, instead contacting a few recruiters that sound reliable and will set us up with well-known established schools.
This coming week will be more volunteering, plus a trip down to the Tibetan Archives, another Tibetan museum, and maybe a day hike at some point. That last option depends on how the monsoon decides to behave!
That's that, off to dinner soon enough,

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The past week we have been primarily volunteering, though also juggling a bit of illness (for Anderson), plenty of reading, and now research on Tibet. First, the volunteering:
Anderson has just completed his first week of teaching Lha's Intermediate English class, which runs from 9am until 10:20am. All of the 20+ students are Tibetan, except for a South Korean couple on holiday who are also seeking to improve their English. Most topics have at least some Tibetan overtones, obviously, but focii thus far have been on writing and then reading English, as well as improving vocabulary and grammar. The students are "typically Tibetan" in that they are rather shy, but inquisitive and confident at the same time. So far they have written pieces on "The Future Of Tibet," and on "Things They Like" - thrilling topics indeed - but many of their paragraphs were very interesting, and today one of the students even wrote an entire parable about a thief mistaking a tiger for a cow, which in turn meant he was mistaken for a king!
About half the class actually does the homework, but they are all good-natured and definitely put out a lot of effort: they realize that education, and the English language due to its international prevalence, is the path to a better life and more opportunities. Liz remembered something from her youth, Daily Oral Language - with sentences full of misspellings, grammatical errors, punctuation errors, etc. - so that has been the daily warm-up to get every one's brain switched from Tibetan (or Korean) to English. Next week, our last here in Dharamsala, will orient more on the students' weaknesses, most importantly prepositions, vocabulary, and reading out loud. Many of the students have never attended formal school, so their confidence when singled out from the group can be a bit low. For example, forming groups of 2-3 students takes an eternity some days, as does finding out who actually did their homework (usually more people did than initially admit to it!).
Anderson also taught the Super Beginner English class one day, which proved much more of a challenge than the Intermediate class, although fortunately the game of Hangman proved to be rather popular! The volunteer teacher for that class never showed up (who does that, really?!), but another teacher has been handling it these past few days. Lha also has other projects we ca help with: Liz painted new signs for their library, which has a plethora of great books, and on Monday afternoon we are planning on assisting in rearranging the library onto some new shelves - fun, fun!
Liz, meanwhile, has been volunteering at Rogpa, Dharamsala's baby-care center for working underprivileged Tibetan families. However, unless your Korean is rather advanced, you might prefer the amusingly-translated (by Google) English-version of the Rogpa website. The 30-40 babies (all under 3 years old) that attend are absolutely adorable, hilarious, and all-together irresistibly lovable, with the only minor downside of things being the changing times! Mostly Liz and the other international volunteers (between 2 and 5, plus 6 full-time Tibetan employees) play games with the children: blocks, play-doh, singing, races, etc. Liz handles the morning shift, from 9 am until noon, so the last part of her day is a quick medley of potty-breaks, snack time, and nap time! Her week isn't over quite yet, she also has to work on Saturday, although she did have Wednesday off due to a religious holiday, though conveniently unannounced until she arrived to a locked-up building that morning... Bad news for Anderson, though: Liz is completely in love with all these cute Tibetan babies, and its rather hard as a gangly Westerner to compete with such sweet round-faced children! It's easy to awake early when there are smiling faces waiting to kiss you, touch your tattoo, and shyly play with your hair.
We will both continue with our same programs next week as well, and we are undecided on if we will depart from Dharamsala for Delhi then on Saturday or Sunday. We have both taken a break from conversation class these past few days, we each had attended six straight beforehand, but there has been an abundance of volunteers lately for that, so we aren't feeling too bad!
The monsoon is definitely here, the past couple of days have been rainy, and right now a downpour is competing with the pounding techno music from a nearby shop. Makes us very happy that we have our plastic ponchos!
Our friends Iain & Claire should be arriving here today, so that will be a welcome change - some friendly faces of fellow travelers! Though, because of our volunteering, it is now pretty much impossible for us to walk anywhere in town without seeing one of our students, or in Liz's case parents of children, which is nice versus the usual sea of unknown people we merely wander amidst.

So... currently we are debating our future plans, beyond the first few weeks of August cruising around northern India with Anderson's cousin Reannon. Nepal is still atop the list immediately afterwards (Kathmandu for sure, along with a possible visit back to BBAS Memorial School where we volunteered), but afterwards things get quite murky quite fast:
The issue of visiting Tibet is rather complex, for both moral and ethical reasons, as well as feasibility and economic factors. To share in our dilemma, here are a few links:
Facts & Allegations Concerning China
The Complexity of Travel and The Permits To Do So
A Lonely Planet Discussion re: Recent Olympic-Related Activism & Its Repercussions
Also, here's a link to a semi-humorous, in the "awful truth" sort of way, anti-Chinese Olympics website:
Race For Tibet!
There's plenty more on the web, and elsewhere, in regards to the current situation in Tibet, as well as elsewhere in China, but unfortunately due to government censorship if you reside in China, you aren't able to read any of it...
Ultimately, visiting Tibet is akin to visiting Burma/Myanmar - it is a foreign-occupied country, suffering oppression, a lack of religious freedoms, the denial of freedom of speech, a systematic destruction of culture, etc., etc. Thus, we are seeing and experiencing more of Tibet here in Dharamsala than we would in Tibet. Tibetans there cannot even speak, or have photos, of the Dalai Lama: to do so risks imprisonment, beatings, interrogations, torture, etc. The Chinese government also controls all tourism, so we would be monitored and guided virtually at all times, while paying an exorbitant price to do so. At the same time, it clearly would be very interesting and eye-opening to see Tibet for ourselves, although in many ways we feel like speaking, freely, with Tibetan refugees here in India is a much more authentic and informative experience than the alternative...
It's a tricky issue, one we still haven't made up our minds about, but obviously we are looking more so at other options than we were earlier considering. Maybe we're headed to Thailand after all, who knows?!

Have a good weekend, if you're at 10,000 Lakes we are very, very, very jealous of you!
Peace and much love,
Anderson & Liz

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our attendance has been 50/50, though not in the traditional sense - while we ended up attending no more teachings by His Holiness (due to rain, the sub par English translation, and the 2 minutes worth of excitement when he arrives), we have gone to every English Conversation class this week at Lha - so all and all we don't feel too shabby about how our last few days have been spent. Last night we went to a bizarre concert of traditional Sufi music: a singing harmonium player with a tabla accompaniment. The music was top-notch, as was the singing, but the singer/leader was thoroughly in love with his Sufi music, and wanted the audience to share that "feeling" overly much at times. That meant we were constantly encouraged to clap, sing mantra-esque phrases, and even dance. Enthusiasm is nice, and certainly admirable, but at times it was a bit much (like when he chastised one girl for not "sitting right" when she was reclining instead of sitting cross-legged). Another downside was the "halftime show" of a religious speech on opening one's life energy, but at least the accompanying milk tea drowned our sorrows pretty effectively. Weirdest concert we've possibly ever been to, but at least the (forced) group dance session for the last song was fairly fun, though totally bizarre!
Otherwise we've been eating more good food, we briefly attended a Tibetan Youth Congress anti-China/Beijing Olympics protest rally yesterday, and Liz also signed up to spend 15 days babysitting adorable Tibetan babies/toddlers. The organization is called Rogpa, is run by a Korean woman (so it is primarily funded by South Koreans, it seems), and aims to support self-sufficiency within the Tibetan exile community by taking care of children of lower-income families, for free, so long as both parents are working. While it is then, in one capacity, a childcare service, it is also an organization designed to encourage economical stability amongst recent Tibetan refugees, and therefore Rogpa has many other plans currently in the works, including a handicrafts work shop to help create jobs for needy women. The group is well organized, with excellent informative literature, as well as a cute video showing all the tasks for new volunteers: diaper-changing, game-playing, singing, snack time, picture-book reading, colored-ball sorting, etc. We are both, then, excited to begin our 2-week volunteer stints on Monday, though we will undoubtedly sleep in late on Sunday to prepare for our early rising all next week!
We've been doing some rooftop yoga lately, very nice and relaxing, with a great view of the valley around McCloudGanj. Tomorrow we plan on visiting the local "hippie hangout" of Bhagsu, which means we'll need to brush up on our Hebrew in order to read most of the signs - haha. No ill will meant, its just that Israeli tourists have created a well-marked, in Hebrew, path across "hip" places in India. Bhagsu is also home to some tasty desserts, from what our Israeli friends told us, so that should be a nice treat as well.
That's all for now,
Anderson & Liz

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dharamsala is still treating us quite well, though seeing HHDL has been somewhat deprioritized (practically sacrilegious, we know) due to the fact that the teachings are lengthy while the English translations are rather sparse. If only we understood Tibetan! So far we've only attended one other teaching, two in total, although we will go to at least one of the remaining two days, maybe even both. We have found out that at 2 pm every day there is an organized explanation of the teaching, with a Q&A session, so we will attend that as well, in hopes of getting a bit more out of the very technical Buddhist teaching.
We have spent the last 3 evenings volunteering at Lha, an education-oriented charitable trust. We are involved in their nightly "conversation class," which draws many motivated and excited Tibetans, the majority of whom are around our own age, who want to improve their English speaking. There is no set topic, it is just an hour of free-spirited discussion, but obviously politics, religion, and America have been key focal points thus far! We are learning a lot as well, possibly even more than some of our students, as we get to discuss the realities of being born Tibetan. Almost all, if not all, of our students were born in Tibet, and chose to leave their family and home behind for the freedom and education available to them in India. This means they traveled, often with a large group of fellow refugees, for weeks over the high mountain passes of the Himalaya, escaping Chinese persecution just like the Dalai Lama himself (along with the government-in-exile) did back in 1959. Other than phone conversations these Tibetans-in-exile have no contact with their families, and are unable to go back home, as they only have Indian refugee status and lack a Chinese passport. A lot of what we hear and learn is rather shocking and disturbing: to speak of the Dalai Lama in Tibet will get one arrested; most Tibetans living in Tibet have no idea about what China has done, nor about the outside world at all; almost all the monasteries and libraries in Tibet have been destroyed - remaining monasteries are essentially a joke, monks wear robes but learn little about Buddhism; families are punished when members seek refuge in India, so most of our students didn't even tell their parents they were leaving Tibet; China has been forcibly displacing ethnic Tibetans with ethnic Chinese - Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, now has more Chinese people than Tibetan people living in it; etc., etc. It is a heartbreaking education for us at times, and we consider ourselves reasonably well-informed :-(.
However, this means we are even more motivated (and excited) to go to Tibet, and plans are shaping up to join our friends Iain & Claire in October to do exactly that - hopefully things will work out! All the Tibetans we have spoke with came to India at least partially for education (something effectively unavailable in Tibet under the current Chinese military rule), and they strongly believe that we, as Westerners, ought to go to Tibet and see things for ourselves, in order to share what we see and learn with the rest of the world. It's a weighty obligation we will be happy to undertake, though going to a land full of oppression will undoubtedly be challenging at times.
For now though, while many things that we speak about are sad, their never ending enthusiasm for life and learning, combined with their unerring optimism, means we have already gained a deep appreciation and respect for the Tibetan people. Subsequently, we have decided to spend the rest of July in Dharamsala, enjoying this beautiful place and taking advantage of its wonderful opportunities to learn and volunteer. Anderson has agreed to teach an Intermediate English language class, which will meet every morning for 1.5 hours, starting once HHDL's teachings are over. Both of us will possibly also teach a less advanced language class in the afternoon, since it is also currently lacking a teacher. Liz is hopefully going to volunteer as a babysitter of Tibetan babies in the mornings - the program enables their parents to work without the concern of childcare (or lack thereof). We will also continue the conversation classes, all three we have attended have been very enjoyable and educational, although leading a discussion for an hour can be more mentally taxing than we initially surmised! We still plan on taking Tibetan cooking classes, and will probably take a few Tibetan language classes as well.
Lha also has an extensive library of English-language books, the first of its kind we've found in India, so we are taking full advantage of the multitude of excellent books they have available for free checkout - a wonderful change from having to buy a book at a bookshop, both read it once, and then losing half the value at least when we trade it back in to purchase another...
We've found an amazing restaurant, called Norling's, so we eat most of our meals there. We've tried other restaurants, obviously, but they just don't measure up :-). Norling's has great Tibetan food, an extensive menu with large portions and low prices, so we are gastronomically quite content. Dharamsala also has an abundance of street momo vendors, 5 momos for 10 Rs, so we pack in a few appetizers as well; there is also a great bakery here with fresh baked breads, pastries, and even cakes (without the "plastic frosting" problem that plagues many an Indian cake) for when our sweet-teeth are chattering!
If you are interested, here is a map of the entire Dharamsala area, that has everything labeled quite well. We are staying/living at a hotel in the village of Dasalhani, which is across a small valley from McCloudGanj, sort of beneath Bhagsu. That map is taken from a local (and free) publication called Contact, that has interesting articles on Dharamsala, plus many advertisements for all the available services/opportunities here.

In totally unrelated news, if you are at all interested in the universe around us, check out Galaxy Zoo, where you can help classify all the galaxies around us - very interesting having just read Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything, possibly the best science book ever written.

Well, that's enough links you probably won't click on anyways, hope all is well, and you ought to have some thanthuk (Tibetan thick-noodle soup) for dinner, you'll definitely enjoy it!

Peace from Dharamsala (or Dharmasala as we too often misspell it :-)
Anderson & Liz

Saturday, July 07, 2007

He entered like a radiant grandfather, with a steady but purposeful stride, the reverent crowd already fallen to their knees. Right hand up, smile wide, both salutary in nature. The primarily Tibetan crowd was excitedly respectful, or maybe respectfully excited? For his people the man transcends godliness, and has led them through years of Chinese oppression and a lengthy Indian exile. As a Westerner, this was a rare opportunity to see one of the most revered people on the planet, a religious and spiritual leader, master philosophizer and famed advocate of peace: His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama.
Due to gender-segregated searches (and corresponding lines), coupled with HHDL's apparently majority female audience, as a male my wait time was quite short, so shortly before 8 am I was well-positioned to wait for both wife and peace-warrior in the cool shaded garden outside of the main temple area. My survey of the packed upstairs hallways around the inner sanctum made a strong case for a grass chair with a view of the flat-screen TV broadcast. Best to at least see a picture of HHDL, given that his Tibetan words would be spoken over by an English-translation FM-radio broadcast. Seat well-chosen indeed, as the main man appeared mere minutes after I'd settled down! He relatively quickly, yet calmly and confidently, passed by the downstairs crowd, surrounded by a small red-and-gold robe-clad Buddhist entourage. He paused for a moment to speak with a man near me, maximizing my darshan experience. Liz of course arrived minutes later, more entrances having been opened up to handle the abundance of ladies, though she wasn't the most ecstatic to discover her timing concerning HHDL's arrival. Fortunately he is speaking for an entire week, so surreally such sightings might almost become normal.
We settled down against a tree, nature's blessed backrest, and as the cool morning turned sunny, the morning began with we non-Tibetan-speakers adjusting radios and earphones. A few Buddhist chants allowed the Dalai Lama to flex his wit, asking the chant leader if this was his regular job - apparently he missed the head-nod cues! Despite the fact that all we could comprehend was coming through an often lagging translation, HHDL's jovial mood and sense of humor became readily apparent - he also joked about an overdressed monk suffering in the heat. Soon enough it was time for the teaching, officially the topic being as follows:
Teaching in Dharamsala (H.P.), India from July 7 to 13: His Holiness will give seven-day teachings on Je Tsongkhapa's The Principal Path to Enlightenment (jangchup shoonglam) and Bestowing Boddhisattva Vow (jamdom bokjog) at the request of the Bliss and Wisdom Monastery of Taiwan.
After explaining he was going to skip his usual general brief introduction to Buddhism, the Dalai Lama dove right into the deep philosophical explanation and exploration. Like most dogmatic discussion, simplicity gave way to technicality, but deep concentration on the rampant pace shifting translation enabled most things to make sense. A nearby French-speaker was not so lucky, only English and Korean being available over the radio.
Buddhism's key tenets were examined, in a fine detail, beginning with the question of how we can eliminate the three root causes of suffering - those being afflicting emotion, attachment and aversion. Ignorance was then clearly explained as the root cause of all these poisons, being opposed to the wisdom of reality. This must be combined then, with the transcending of sorrow, being the ultimate selflessness. The remedy to combat ignorance is to seek ultimate education and cultivate wisdom. And that was just the partial explanation of the first line of text being examined!
Many of the points raised early on dealt with the dualism of reality, at one point described as a "dualistic dualism," and that while wisdom can be obtained through mere learning, it is rather the secondary learning through contemplation and reflection that needs to be cultivated in order for "immaculate wisdom to be born." This, the second line of text, combined with the first, are an explanation of all the teachings of Buddha. So simple, yet so very complicated to properly digest as a member of the audience!
The Dalai Lama's voice was clearly audible much of the time, as the translation was sparse at times, even dropping out for five or ten minutes on occasion. He sounds an awful lot like Yoda, a general low-tone crossed with intermittent higher frequencies, although HHDL is probably stronger in the force. He delivered a steady compassionate speech of knowledge and wisdom (albeit highly specific) - evidently he talks just as he walks. The teaching began at 8:15 am, ran until around 10, stopping for a brief chant-filled break to relieve ourselves, allowing HHDL to wax comedic again, inquiring about some diligent attendees at their 13th-annual post-birthday teaching: "any changes?"
The teaching was interspersed with readings from the two source texts, although based on the English-commentary it appeared that the Chinese text reader was, like the chant leader, missing his cues - evidently HHDL causes quite the case of nerves even in the Buddhist hierarchy, or else they were hung over from the birthday party the day before?
Other key dogmatic points included: wisdom with selflessness is needed to obtain a state of Buddha-hood; one must simultaneously abandon their afflictions and perfect their generosity by being infinitely cherishing of others; "all obstacles [must] be removed" to achieve realizations; one must seek the "wisdom of emptiness" - "go, go, go beyond, still beyond;" the dharma of Buddha himself is dual: profound and vast; the teaching of perfection of wisdom is the highest kind; and perhaps most importantly -- "without effort one cannot obtain enlightenment."
It was a bit of a mental adventure at times: the juggling of highly detailed linguistic intricacies with complex philosophy while also attempting to interconnect overlying themes and ideas of the technically specific Tibetan Buddhist religion. Perhaps that sentence encapsulates the entire experience in a way :-). Thus the crowd, myself included, began to get a little restless as the heat of the day increased, the experience was quite enjoyable and at moments rather amazing.
The Dalai Lama, unlike most MCs, has no need for a hype man - he's peace's heavyweight upon the international political scene: purposeful and profound. The weight of the tragic plight of HHDL, his government-in-exile, and the Tibetan people firmly lies on the Chinese government and the ever-idle rest of the world. Do your part and get informed, and "eliminate the darkness of ignorance."

* It should be (redundantly) noted that all quotes are from the English-language translation, so their accuracy in regards to the Dalai Lama's words in Tibetan may or may not be exactly precise.
Our first day of the Dalai Lama's teachings will be in the next post, which was obviously the definite highlight of the day, but otherwise all is well, we are virtually done being sick, and had an easy day today besides the teaching. We escaped getting drenched by today's rain shower (often more than one) by a mere minute, dashing to grab our laundry in time! The weather here is such that it takes forever for things to dry - our notebooks are still wet from the rain on our bus ride here! We've been eating mostly Tibetan food, although we are getting a bit of a rice craving after all of the noodles...
We bought tickets for the high school culture show tomorrow night, which should be an interesting experience - we'll just be happy as long as it is better than the awful culture show we bailed out on in Pokhara. There seems to be a lot more pride around here in particular though (maybe you've heard of the Free Tibet Campaign? Or could it be the powerful spirituality of the Dalai Lama? Either way we plan on helping while we are here, there are ample volunteer opportunities - English teaching, trash collection, baby-sitting, etc. - deciding what to do will be the hard part!


Thursday, July 05, 2007

Dharmasala... despite the rain, or perhaps even because of it, we really like this place. Once you've been traveling a while, the instantaneous personal litmus test of a place says a lot. We actually stayed in Rishikesh one full day longer, in order to end yoga on a strong note - as in we attended both classes before we left. Travel was, of course, multi-parted, first a bus to Dehra Dun, which took about 1.5 hours. Buses run there from Rishikesh every 15 minutes, but they are only micro buses, which means when one arrives there is a frantic dash by people to get seats for the trip. As overburdened ignorant whities, we missed the first bus since it was already loaded full before it had even pulled to a stop! Nonetheless, we got good seats the second time around, and soon enough arrived at Dehra Dun's sparklingly clean (for India) and well-organized bus stand. We had double doubts concerning the potential 12:30 pm direct-to-Dharmasala - first that the Lonely Planet might no be exactly correct on the timing, second that our bus wouldn't arrive on time anyways - both proved needless, as our 12:15 arrival time gave us time to spare, spent scrounging for acceptable snacks. "American Style Cream & Onion Lays," some fresh-squeezed mosambie-juice, an imported from some Arabian country "Tourist" candy bar, and two fresh-made veg sandwiches fortunately proved sufficient.
Beginning a 15-hour bus journey quickly descends into tedium - the odds of genuine sleep are minimal, those of genuine comfort arguably even less - but fortunately the hours passed, aided by some monsoon rains. For a while we had to pull over, due to vision being nil. As we began driving again, the results of the intense rain became apparent, as a decent amount of water ebbed and flowed across the bus floor, soaking feet and baggage alike. As those a-hole Westerners with a huge bag occupying the entire aisle by our seats, we were karmatically repaid by the soaking of both of our bags. Two days later, notebooks are still soggy :-).
Maybe due to the rain, though probably more due to inter-state busing regulations, upon entering Himal Pradesh state, we switched to a nicer, newer, and much drier bus, though we had to avoid the pleas for "baksheesh" from a python-carrying crazy lady. She probably isn't literally insane, though to us ophidiophobes she might as well be...
While riding, it soon became apparent that part of our 15-hour journey was a lengthy swing to the south, to stop by Chattisgarh, the only planned city within India (divided into sectors) and built by a French architect after Independence. We're not sure if it really was all that much slower, since the roads were quite smooth and flat, but on our map it definitely looked like we went a 100 km out of our way. Chattisgarh seemed monstrous, or maybe just painfully spread out, as literally an hour rolled by going through large congested round-abouts, and following the ever-changing sector numbers - the bus stand was in #42.
At some point - well, technically a very precise point - day turned to night, and soon after dark had fallen we pulled up at a Sikh-run roadside restaurant, which was quickly followed by the inhalation of a pair of 30-Rs thalis by some starving white foreigners. Sufficiently sated, it was back to the bus, where the mp3 player promptly began serenading our ears with sweet, equally foreign melodies. Most of the ride the bus had essentially been full, but by dinnertime there were at least a few empty seats, and as more and more people arrived home, presumably, more and more bus riders sprawled out to sleep. The utmost admiration is due to the conditions the average Indian bus-rider can sleep in: an awkward, half-crumple half-sprawl, with shoes undoubtedly off, knees bent to minimize space consumption, at most occupying two seats. By the time the bus was finally empty enough for us to lay out, which was pretty late, we consumed the equivalent of well over 6 seats. Anderson, an American lank bank, occupied a triple seat, with legs sprawled well into the aisle over our wet and dirty bag. Liz occupied our former seating space, a double seat, with her feet equally aisle-bound.
Apparently we may have slept a bit, although to be fair we might not have either, but a bit before 3 am we finally rolled up to Dharmasala. That's about the worst time to arrive anywhere, as nothing is open really, nor is usual transport operating. In Dharmasala the bus deposits people 10 km below McLeod Ganj, where the Dalai Lama and most visiting Westerners reside. So we split a ride with a South Korean tourist, and since he was heading to the Yellow Hotel, we figured we'd try there too. Being far from choosy and closer to woozy, due to sleep deprivation, a bit of motion sickness, lingering illnesses from Rishikesh, and perhaps some altitude sickness thrown in as well. The Yellow Hotel's presumably decent upstairs rooms were all full, and that only after 3 rings of the bell and some early morning patience, but we decided to crash in one of their downstairs, shared-bathroom dungeon-cells, since we were in no mood to wander around town in the darkness. We slept fine, but the next day after eating, concluded we needed to find a more reasonable place to call "home." The hotel was content to only take 100 Rs for our 10 hours of room usage (half the quoted, overpriced, nightly rate), so that was a pleasant surprise. After a bit of wandering, and a few hotels either full or overpriced, a guy at a tea stall, noticing our excessive luggage, asked if we needed a room. Evidently it was fate, as we took him up on his offer: 150 Rs/night with a private bathroom. The forewarned 8-minute walk wasn't too bad, and we ended up at a nice hotel, a ways away from the downtown noise and trash, with a porch overlooking the cloud-filled valley. Seriously, this is probably one of our best rooms ever, regardless of price. After settling in, we surveyed the town to get our bearings, and also registered for the upcoming talks, one week starting July 7, by the Dalai Lama. For a 5 Rs. processing fee we have personal name-badges, and presumably an assigned seat at each lecture. The speeches will be in Tibetan, but an English translation will be given via FM radio, so we must acquire one of those within the next 2 days to maximize our enjoyment. Tomorrow, the 6th, is HHDL's actual birthday, we're not sure what, if anything, will be occurring, but aside from illness we plan on wandering about to check out the scene, whatever that may mean. Illness you ask...?
At this point, Liz is mostly over her sickness (head-cold, etc.) while Anderson is firmly in the trenches, battling a runny-nose, occasional light-headedness, and all that fun stuff. Likely culprits are the awful humidity and pollution of Rishikesh, so bad that our room never really dried out during our 2-week stay there and our noses and ears were often full of a mysterious black crud. We are hoping the relaxing and clean mountain air here will help us feel better - have to wait and see!
The rest of yesterday, then, we took pretty easy, reading and eating mostly with only a bit of wandering, and today has been much the same. However, all morning it has been pouring, so we didn't even leave our hotel until well after noon! We've actually eaten all three of our meals here at the same restaurant, an amazing Tibetan place where every dish has been spectacular. Weird how sometimes the first place you arbitrarily choose is probably the best possible!
So we've been enjoying plenty of soups - today was sour pepper, like hot and sour but with more black pepper and chilies - as well as Tibetan noodle dishes (thukpa amongst others) and other tasty treats. Meat has made a much-needed return to our diet, after about a month of half-voluntary half-circumstantial vegetarianism. The mutton and chicken have both been treating us well, and presumably the protein will assist our battles against illness!
Well, time's up, and you're eyes are probably well-worked by now... so that's it for now.
Peace from Dharmasala
Anderson & Liz