I feel really good. Physically, I am kinda a mess. I had to get some antibiotics today for an infection I have in my toe (blister from scuba diving gone bad) and Tiff and I both still have lingering colds--Delhi didn't help. But this is a different kind of good. A peaceful kind of good, where I know that even though I am tired and a bit of a wreck I feel better than I have for a while. Maybe it's this amazing place we've landed.
We are in a small village in the Himalayas called McLeod Ganj. It is where the Dalai Lama resides and it is a predominantly Tibetan village that the Indian government gave the Tibetan refugees when the Chinese pretty much ran them out of the country. We are staying in a nice room with a beautiful mountain view and a bathroom with hot, running water and a toilet that flushes--posh--and it is costing us each $3 a night.
Getting here was definitely an adventure. After almost falling for a scam in Delhi (we got taken to a travel agency that lied to us told us there were no trains to where we were headed for 6 days and tried instead to ship us off to some place on a houseboat--for a large commission, I'm sure), we luckily had our wits about us enough to see through it. The next day we went to the train station in Delhi--which was complete chaos and so, so HOT (did I mention that?) and guess what? We booked an overnight train ticket for that night. Six days my ass--I wanted to go back and stand outside that travel agency and warn everyone going in that they were lying con artists, but, like many of the Buddhists believe, "karma is a bitch" (sorta Americanized that) and they will get what's coming.
We got an air-conditioned cabin on a first class car of the train. It was Tiff, me, and an older Indian couple. Tiff and I had the top bunks. We slept, rather uncomfortably most of the way--we had to share our little beds with our giant backpacks to be safe, so it was pretty tight. We met a really nice Israeli guy, Ohad, on the train who ended up traveling with us the rest of the way here. After 12 hours on the train, we landed in Pantakot and then got on a public bus for an additional 3 hours to reach McLeod Ganj. The bus was unairconditioned, and very full so it wasn't the most comfortable ride. I did see two monkeys out in the wild, one in a tree and the other just walking down the street--so cool. Cows and goats in the fields and monkeys in the trees. Each time we transferred buses Ohad would have to climb on top of the bus to retrieve our packs. I don't know what we would have done without him--Tiff and I were running on fumes by then, both with sinus infections, feeling so overwhelmed by Delhi that we needed someone to take care of us a little bit and he stepped in and took over--I think he could see the exhaustion written all over us. The good news, the total cost of the trip--train and bus, was $4.50.
When we arrived here, it felt sooooo much better. The sky, although it's not clear, it's not polluted. It's simply cloudy now. We are literally sitting in the clouds. We are at about 5000 ft. above sea level and the mountains are breathtaking. Things are quieter and with all of the monks and Tibetan culture there is a natural calm in the air. We ate dinner at a Japanese (ha!)restaurant with Ohad, found our hotel and totally crashed.
Today we woke up, went to the "chemist" (what we'd call a pharmacist) I got some amoxicillin, and met Ohad for breakfast. We walked through the two main streets, in and out of all of the adorable stores/stands looking at jewelry, clothes, home decor. I keep buying stuff to decorate my apartment when I get home (going to have to find an apartment when I get home...). I got 5 pillow covers for throw pillows on my couch--they are so pretty, hand woven, bold colors--I love them. And they cost me about $8 total. In the US, one would probably cost around $40, if you could even find them. I am going to have to ship the stuff I am buying home because there is no way I can add it to my pack with my books. And I fell in love with a rug--I am thinking about it for 24 hours to see if I still want it tomorrow, but I have a feeling my parents might be getting a large fedex from the Himalayas...
Not only did I fall in love with a rug, I also fell in love with a monk. We walked through the Dalai Lamas' temple today. They were beautiful grounds--paths through the mountains with prayer flags blowing in the wind and these large, round, hand painted and carved cans on sticks that you'd spin and it's believed that each one that you spin prayers that were said into the cans are being floated out into the air for you. Nice, eh? Toward the end of the walk we heard what sounded like a bunch of men yelling at each other--which is exactly what it was. Except, they weren't fighting. It was monks debating one another on their knowledge about the ultimate truths they've learned. And after each point was made, whoever made the point would clap his hands in this certain way, to say he was done. It was fascinating to watch. And the energy was indescribable. I have never really paid attention to the energy of a specific area--I've gotten good feelings or bad feelings about places, but the energy watching these monks was unlike anything I have ever experienced. They are so in touch with themselves and the world that they almost vibrate with awareness. I made eye contact with one of them and it shook me to the core. It was like he could see straight into me, I had to look away. But I wanted to keep staring. I didn't know how to act, I didn't want to be disrespectful, because these monks have taken vows of celibacy, and I didn't want him to think I was staring for "un-pure" reasons, but I wanted more--I wanted to keep taking it in. It is really hard to explain, some feelings you cannot really put into words. The best word I can think to describe it is that I was humbled. Totally and completely humbled.
After that we went inside the temple and saw where the Dahli Lama sits and teaches when he is in town (he's not here now). I was still shaken by the experience with the monks. It's been with me all day. It's gone from stunned, to contemplative, to a very happy and content feeling. This place has a wonderful vibe and I'm very glad we are here.
After the temple we went for our first official Tibetan lunch-- momos. Momos are dumpling-like things filled with veggies, cheese, potatoes, chicken, whatever you want. And the are so good. We split up from Ohad after lunch and went to a coffee shop with our books. Tiff read, but I couldn't. I can't stop watching the people around me. So many different people. Beggars everywhere, often with no hands or legs that don't work and are pushing themselves around on skateboards, many Indians (we are still in India, after all), travellers from all over the place, monks, nuns. Its incredible. So many different kinds of clothes, so many different beliefs, such different histories. I could have sat there all day and just watched. And having learned more about the story of Tibet--knowing that the majority of the Tibetan people we see walking down the street had to flee their country to stay alive, is yet another humbling thought. God willing, I will never understand the hell they have lived through.
Tomorrow we start belly dancing classes which we are super excited for. Tiff and I both love to dance and have had many years of dance training--but nothing official for years, so this is a treat. The teacher is, ironically, a friend of Tiffany's from her yoga school in Thailand (small world). We might also take a Tibetan cooking class so we can make momos when we get home!
Maybe I've fallen in love with this place so much because Delhi was so hard. But I don' think that's it. It really has a feeling about it. We've definitely landed here for a reason. And Tiff and I have had some really good talks lately that I want to get down in writing too, but I don't want to spend all my time in the internet cafes so I hope I can remember them!
I also found out last week that a good friend of mine has cancer. He had surgery the other day and from an email I got today it sounded like it was a success. He is waiting on more test results, but from the beginning I had a feeling that he is going to be just fine--for some reason I never felt scared for him. From what he has written, it sounds like he is also starting to question what's truly important when you can put all of the crap aside. For some it takes life altering events to ask these types of questions, for others it's just inherent, and for many they don't ask, they are content with life as it is and don't wonder why they are here, what it's all about, what their purpose is--I envy those people. It seems like a much easier way to live. For my friend, Matt, I just wanted him to know that when I spun the prayer cans today, I asked that the prayers be sent out for him--a speedy recovery and to keep going down the new path he has begun.
Matty--hurry up and get better, so you really can meet me in the jungle somewhere. You name the time and the place and I'll be there. Lots of love.