Friday, December 4, 2009

Himalyan Home...

McLeodGanj is now "home" much as I have felt at home anywhere in the
past few years.
Shopkeepers great me pleasantly when I walk by in the morning. There is
no more pressure to buy souvenirs or "just look" at their merchandise.
I am learning how to be a local. Learning where the best prices on fruit,
snacks, and clothing are. Learning how to speak basic Tibetan (there are as
many if not more Tibetans than Indians here, thankfully, as this IS the home
of the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government and many refugees.

I am volunteering as a conversational English teacher every weekday with
the Tibetan community at L.I.T. (Learning and Ideas for Tibet)...follow the
link to find out more!
Help stop the human rights abuses the Chinese are inflicting on Tibetans!
There is a real community here, both of locals and westerners like myself who
are getting involved with the Tibetan cause.
Actually, I have been selected to choose the topic for Monday's
conversation class, and I am having a bit of a dilemma, but have a few ideas
which I'll run by some other volunteer coordinators.

In other news, I trekked to Triund 2 days ago with a nice girl from Finland
who I met at L.I.T. We started at 7:20am but had a few stops for tea/snacks en
route. The distance is roughly 5 miles one way, starting from 6831 feet
climbing (steeply at times) to 9514 feet.
We reached the summit at about noon, rested and took photos for over an hour,
and started down at about 1:30pm
We made great time coming down until we encountered a fellow trekker who
pointed back the way he had come and told us it was a "shortcut" to
Dharamkot. By this time we were all for shortcuts, so we decided to go for
The slate ledges were steep and loose in many places, and often the trail led
in several directions, so we were never certain we were going the right way.
I was in tremendous pain and on the verge of a panic attack when we
encountered some Tibetan Buddhist monks sitting in front of simple stone
cottages. We asked "Dharamkot?" and they pointed, and a little white dog
sitting with them suddenly bounded off in front of us. Every time we'd lag behind,
the dog would stop and wait. I am pretty sure he thought we were taking him to
town for biscuits, and thereby showed us the way!
We should have been to the village by 3:30pm but the short cut added at least
an hour and a half, so it was nearly 5, the shadows long and leading into dusk,
by the time we came back to McLeodGanj!

I had my first Tibetan language class yesterday afternoon, and today boldly
introduced myself to the assembled group of Tibetan students in their
language, partially to help the girls in my group who had never spoken
English publicly before feel less awkward! If I could say some phrases in
Tibetan...anything was possible!
After class today, I hung out with two other western volunteer
coordinators and a group of Tibetans at the tea shop connected to the
ex-political prisoners association. Somehow the topic turned to relationships,
and everyone wanted to know if we wanted Tibetan boyfriends.
We all agreed that Tibetan boys are very cute, but one of the other girls
boldly said, "Yes, but I have heard Tibetans are very bad lovers!" so I
said, "Well then we just have to teach them!" Everyone loves to joke and
laugh. And now I have three Tibetans playing match-maker for me!
So cute

Well, life is good, and I can't wait to see how things develop.
Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

McLeodGanj...Peace in the Himalayas

After a nightmarish 18 hour journey from Jaipur to Dharamsala via
Delhi, including an over-sized drunk male seatmate who passed out
on me for a few hours overnite after Chandigarh, I arrived, tired but
in decent spirits, to lower Dharamsala at 8am.
A brother and sister couple, Mumbai born but he residing in Texas
with a very US accent, helped me get on a local bus to McLeodGanj
(upper D'shala).
After another brief unpleasant encounter with a cheating guesthouse
proprietor, I got a fellow named Sergei from St Petersburg Russia to
help me carry my bags back up a steep stair to the main street and
found myself a new home at Mount View Guesthouse on Jogibara Road.
I rested about an hour, took a hot shower, and set out to explore my
new environment.

McLeodGanj (pronounced Mik-Klee-owed-Ganj), is best known as the
home of HH the 14th Dalai Lama, affectionately known locally as Kundun
(literally, "presence"...and you can truly feel his presence here), and the
seat of the exiled Tibetan government.
The place is full of red robed Buddhist monks and nuns, often, incongruously,
talking on mobile phones.
People here actually SMILE, and most of the local shops were very low
pressure, totally unlike those I visited in Rajasthan.
I encountered a few beggars, but even they were not over-bearing like the
ones in Rajasthan (who would crawl and claw at car windows at stop lights).

From my hotel room, I can see Triund Peak in the Dhauludar Range of the
Himalayas, plus three other snow capped peaks. It is technically the foothills,
but totally impressive, nonetheless, and I still cannot believe I am here.
The chest cough and sinus infection which plagued me the past month is
almost totally gone, though in the morning I still have a cough until after
my hot shower.

Since arriving, I have started smiling again, sometimes maybe too much.
I like to start the day by turning the prayer wheels at the stupa in the middle
of town, after having tea on the rooftop terrace at my guesthouse.
I have begun reading a daily inspirational guide by the Dalai Lama, as well as
his short introduction to Buddhism text, purchased at the Tibet Museum
I have visited the main temple once, but it is confusing as I know nothing
about the dieties depicted there or the appropriate protocol.

There is amazing shopping here for traditional prayer box pendants (ghau),
prayer wheels, clothing at very reasonable costs, and so much more.

Feeling bolder by the minute, I had my hair cut by a local barber. He did a
great job for only 50 INR about $1 USD), but I had to repeatedly refuse his
offers of a head and shoulder massage!

In the evening, I met a guy who has been voluntering at L.I.T,
Learning and Ideas for Tibet, and he took me to their offices, where I met
Lauren and Mary, western volunteer coordinators.
After a short discussion, Lauren recruited me to come to the weekly Tuesday
Tibetans Talk, where refugees and former political prisoners tell their stories
with an international audience, to take notes and begin writing articles for the
organization's website.
I am also considering an introductory Tibetan language class and also basic
Tibetan cooking (momos!)
fyi Tibetan food is really yummy!
This MAY be my life purpose!
woo HOO

This morning, tired of being stared at and perceived as a young blond, I dyed
my hair back to its natural dark brown color.
I will now let the grey grow out naturally and stop denying my age.
I think this will also gain me greater respect here. Older women are treated
with much more respect than solo young western ladies.

I am now at my new favorite hangout, MoonPeak cafe, a WiFi cafe on Temple
Road, and have finished my pot of lemongrass herbal tea.

Dharamsala is feeling like home. I have random repeated thoughts of
staying on indefinitely, returning annually.
I will be here until at least the end of January, barring any more unforseen
negative experiences.
I will read and write here and walk in nature and do my best to make some small
difference in my own life and that of others (as HH the Dalai Lama advises).