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