Nov 4, 2010

Completely normal everyday life (in India)

Every night, those two stray dogs that have claimed my floor in the monastery as their territory, fight furiously to keep the floor clear of the invasion of monkeys. Sometimes the growling and fierce barking mixes with screams when some courageous ape dares to touch the floor. After about a week of disturbed sleep I start hallucinating about how the monks are really shapeshifters who take on a canine form to guard me through the night.

Morning starts before sunrise when the gongs call for meditation. I ignore them and wake up well after sunrise to the creaking of cicada mixing with the traffic that sounds like it was denser than it really is. I grab my water bottle, toothbrush and -paste, the essential strip of toilet paper, lock my clanging metal door with a padlock and head for a cold shower and the hole in the ground.

To get anywhere, I have to walk up and down in a town that seems to be solely made out of stairs and hillsides, located almost two kilometers higher of my normal habitat. The first five days I have no appetite and breathe heavily while struggling uphill on the streets. After only a few days I suddenly find that the way to my room is fairly flat. Then the panging hunger arrives, leaving me bouncing between the endless variety of restaurants and culminating with a bucket on my bedside the night before I plan to climb the nearby 3km high pretty hill.

My way towards chai and a meal goes through the theoretically left-hand, but in practice the-biggest-bossiest-and-loudest-car-hand traffic. I arrive at the usual meeting point past construction workers dressed in colourful saris carrying bricks on their heads; swarms of red-cloaked monks and nuns on their daily walks; shoe doctor and rice porridge salesman; cows and goats having breakfast in rubbish piles; dog mafia that keeps a keen eye on their territory by fighting outsiders and befriending humans; and monkeys doing, well, monkey business.

I have a rendezvous with some other sleepy lone travelers who have happened to stick together since the first night in McLeod Ganj. Before moving on, we buy sweet milk tea from a hole in the wall and bread wrapped in newspaper from a wrinkly old man sitting on the street. It's 6am, the sun has just risen, and the plan for today is to walk almost an hour through the forest to attend the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Children's Village school and hear the Dalai Lama speak.

On the way uphill two dogs join our pack. They want to hear the speech too but need protection from the schoolyard gang and they will not be easily deterred. Once the speeches begin we all bundle up like a litter of puppies to snooze in the stinging hot sunshine on the school stairs. All the school ceremonies in the world are the same - deadly boring. When the Dalai Lama finally starts speaking, it's clear that the boredom doesn't derive simply from the incomprehensible Tibetan language: although I still don't understand a word I find his speech captivating. I conclude that it doesn't matter what you say at all until you know how to ooze charisma.

When evening falls, at 6pm sharp, we meet again in the community cafe called Cafe Panda to eat the absolutely heavenly chocolate-peanut butter momos, drink more chai, cuddle the cutest ever week-old puppy called Panda, help some old refugees learn English, watch the reflection of the sunset on distant snowy peaks, then see a more or less documental movie about Tibetan struggles for independence or enjoy an open mic session. Other options include Italian restaurants and excellent pizza, open air bars that serve the best banana lassi in town or a French bakery with a view on prayer flags and green hills. All that comes accompanied by frequent electricity blackouts. Sitting in a dark cafe in the monastery waiting for dinner is something to live for.

There's so much life going on in McLeod Ganj that I have no real reason to leave. Additional benefits of the higher latitudes and altitudes include clear air. When I first arrived in Delhi, I could look straight into the orange sun with the naked eye and closely observe the movements of grey air creeping into my lungs. The glimpses of roadside lush greenness seen while hanging halfway out of train door was mostly in my imagination as the green didn't quite show through the thick layer of dust. Up here, we have views! I can see not only the sun but also the lopsided moon and the stars forming familiar constellations at weird angles. Also, I still have that mountain to climb before I can move on.

No comments: