The Himalayas

McLeod Ganj Travel Blog

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Dharamsala, India

May 11, 93

McLoud Ganj

Himachal Pradesh, India


Dear Jeff,


In my manic way, this letter will reflect my complete satisfaction and sheer joy at what I sometimes encounter on these travels. (Although, I imagine a little of my confusion and a little of my habitual amateur philosophy will probably seep in--just to dispel any possibility of consistency.)


Truly, this place has paradise potential.

on the road to McLoud Ganj, India
Sometime in our travels together, sometime in the hazy future of “after now”, we will have to return together.

As for now:


After the sweat, and the heat ,and the hassle, and the continual grasping of the Gangic plains, the Himalayan air is sweet. The sounds escaping into the silent unscalable barriers and walls erected between people in the name of culture, are quieted here, where down there, despite the millions of sweaty hungry tired bodies in the press for space


         there is essentially no/body there


no room among the mixed karmas for an individual in essence.


It’s not only the poverty that is dehumanizing, it’s the mass. As if Einstein’s e = mc2 had imploded in the 45 degree temperatures.

Tibetan Mementos, McLoud Ganj, India
There is no energy left in the equation, except to badger: “Yes” “Yes Mam...” They reach out to stop you from passing “Yes taxi?” “Yes change money?” “Hello, yes”. They never leave you alone.


But the colours and the smells and the tastes… Jeff,  I am left in wonder. Spectacular, pervasive, undeniable. Almost overwhelming, definitely exotic and exciting. The women all wear bright silk or chiffon saris (even the cheaper rayon is magnificent: the chemical hues fantastically saturated, putting the lie to stories of heat, haze, grime, despair). The women have diamonds or coloured glass pierced to their noses, 5-10 bangles at their wrists, strands of delicate chains on their ankles, and, if they are Hindu and married, the mark of their faith on their foreheads. A beauty imbued with significance, so different from cosmetics.


The word beauty can never describe them


Then, as if unable to resist the blasting contrasts, there are the people on the street: the old, the young, the lepers, the deformed.

Mountain trail from cavern entrance
Begging, ragged: “Yes” “Yes, Mam” “Bak-shish Mam?” “You help?” “I have no parents Mam” ...and down one road, in Bombay, was the Indian equivalent of a road work crew: the men busy patting out the asphalt that will become a road--by hand! with a bricklayers level, inch by inch.


And, Jeff, the asphalt was being transported by women, tattered faded skirt edges tucked up between their legs, they shunted back and forth, bent and stumbling under the weight of the huge plats of mixed cement or asphalt, balanced on their heads. The black tar steaming. One hand on the plat for balance... under the heat of the midday Bombay sun! The women seem to do all the manual labour in these crews. In lieu of, or perhaps not to overwork the asses. I look over at the side of the road, many of the men squat in the shade of a tree smoking buris until it is their turn to do the tap tap with the next platful of tar.


While on my way to this beautiful mountain town, I had a 12 hour train lay-over in Delhi. My time around the Old Delhi station and the surrounding market environs came as a perfect contrast to the haven that was my destination. Delhi at 43 degrees. The streets of the main bazaar are a river of flesh and cloth and people


pressing pressing


The sari stalls hang their textiles like a flag ceiling over narrow alley streets but it can't stop the heat. Stall workers selling fried savouries call out their wares, and the Kashmiri carpet sellers’ militia of slick touts are out looking for yet more clever ways of chatting up prospective buyers.


& the bicycle rickshaws practically knock me over at every hesitation…


Now, after a 2.5 day journey to get here, I find myself in an elsewhere of unimaginable dimensions.


They say this place isn’t “Indian” (although I have also heard that India itself is much sweeter and less aggressive in the south). From my limited experience, though, I’d have to say they’re right. From this cool mountain air to the friendly smiles of the people who wander the village paths, I am thinking that, while I have a longing to see more of that other India, I may wait for another trip…. When I can arrive to gentler temperatures and perhaps when I am escorted by a burly Canadian kinda guy, who can act as a bit of a buffer.


Because I am loving this village. Dharamsala-McLoud Ganj. Where the Dalai Lama resides and is flanked by his Tibetan followers. Buddhist philosophy and friendly smiles replacing the Central Hindi hustle and the male leers. And when I wander the mountain trails, eagles and hawks and falcons swoop and glide, surfing the unpredictable currents. To the north, the snowy peaks of the famed Himalayan heights beam down on this valley, sparkling with the rarified privilege of being that much closer to the sun. & the Buddhist chants, the sonorous Himalayan brass horns, and the cymbals that accompany them, all seem to fit, somewhow. I have seen many intriguing pictures and postcards of Tibet, and would like to go there, as well. While China severely restricts access, some people here have been known to sneak across the mountain passes (it is a 3-5 day trek).


Something to think about….


Yes, this place is magic. An almost paradise, to a weary foreign girl who needed a rest, and a chance to maybe gain back a few pounds. There isn’t much to do, but that is the point. The Buddhists know that 'now' is chalk full of impressive presence, if one would just sit quietly for a spell.


A few days ago, I was spectator to a magnificent storm. The wind coming up from the valley floor far, far below, smashing into the hills and rebounding. The rain was almost horizontal and the hail stones were the size of those jumbo marbles so prized in schoolyard games. The storm would ease off to the north, only to return again, after unsuccessfully attacking the barrier of the peaks -- circling us like a mountain cat circles its prey.


       & somewhere up there a snow leopard is watching this storm too


Today the air is even sweeter as a result. Pine and hardwood trees: my breathing companions. I went walking the steeper hills two days ago. Originally thought I might make my way over to the lake everyone talks about, but I got lost. & just when I thought I was in a nowhere of true Himalayan proportions, I smile my surprise as two mongoose slid across the trail and scampered out of sight when they smelled me. Still grinning, I turned a corner and stood face to face with the shaggiest, somberest looking mountain goat I have ever seen. & it wasn’t alone. There were hundreds of goats, and very young kids, casually chomping, clinging to the slopes, finding firmness in the most unsuspecting footholds. Sometimes they would plaintively bleat out their impatience with a kid’s rambunctious interruption of routine. They looked down at me idly from varying heights


     and on the horizon: the snow capped peaks of this mighty range


The clearing I had stumbled upon looked into a mountain valley with a deep ravine, and a magnificent glacial frame. Looking closer, down the way I could just see, tucked into a corner of this pastoral, a modest ashram/temple to Siva, and the faded timber of a lean-to which, as I drew closer and could read the sign, I found out was called the “Rest a While” café.


The man inside--no guff--was playing a flute to while a way the hours!


        mongoose, sheep, mountains, ravine, flute, unexpected ashram, chai… perfect


I wish you were here...


There are millions of things to keep a body and a mind occupied. 3-8 day treks, a waterfall, a freak zone community that, I swear, isn’t a throw-back. It is the hippies themselves… reincarnated.  They inhabit a space right next to the more intellectual institutions of the Tibetan monks who offer courses in meditation, Buddhist philosophy, the Tibetan language and culture. Bookstores sell everything from Dickens and Shaw to translations of the Book of thte Dead in every imaginable language, to oriental Medicine texts. 


& the food is fantastic! Haven’t been sick for weeks.


Even the dogs in this area are content, well fed, free of mange, searching for and getting affection.


But, with all this to occupy mind and body, I am still thinking about you, Jeff. The conversations with the local people and the travelers are diverting, informative, engaging… but fleeting, and my bed is big and empty.


About Africa: write to me Poste Restante GPO Nairobi, if you get the chance. I’ll be calling you soon, anyway. Madagascar sounds the best to me. Maybe if your fly to Dar or Nairobi, we can see Tanzania, Zanzibar and Madagascar, and maybe one of the other islands.


And finally, just to bring all this dreaming down to earth, there are a few things I’m going to need again. (You seem destined to act porter for a demanding woman on the move)


1)      contact solution (Baushch and Lomb, Multi Purpose)

2)      film (About 3 rolls 200-400 speed…. The film they sell here is always cooked long before it gets into a camera)

3)      I don’t have my walkman… did I leave it with you at the airport? If not, it’s been stolen and if you bring one, we will have something to listen to on those long bus rides. My tapes lay in the bottom of my pack looking back at me mournfully.

4)      One really good book

5)      One strong broad-shouldered, deep-chested Saskatchewan male body equipped with a smile


In the meantime, take good care of yourself



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Dharamsala, India
Dharamsala, India
on the road to McLoud Ganj, India
on the road to McLoud Ganj, India
Tibetan Mementos, McLoud Ganj, Ind…
Tibetan Mementos, McLoud Ganj, In…
Mountain trail from cavern entrance
Mountain trail from cavern entrance
McLeod Ganj
photo by: Stevie_Wes