India 2008 # 8: Umbrella Bashings and Momo Heaven

Today Paul, Leisa and I went to Mandi to book tickets back down to Delhi for Leisa and Ernie. We went on the local bus, which is always a delight if squishing up with many people and hanging on for dear life is your thing. Mandi isn’t the most attractive of towns. Compared to Rewalsar it was like dropping in on New York. We didn’t spend a lot of time there and subjected ourselves yet again to the usual bus stand confusion (i.e. “this bus going to Rewalsar?” “Yes, no, yes, no, maybe, in 10 minutes, in half an hour, in 2 hours”, etc…) How we actually get anywhere that we actually want to go in this country is a small miracle. I must remember to thank the patron saint of westerners in Asia for this. On the way back (yes, we actually found the correct bus in the end), when the bus had almost emptied out, some drunk guy went past and bashed me in the head several times with his umbrella, which was tied to his wrist and swinging about dangerously. Oh thank you sir, just when I was slacking off and feeling slightly comfortable, you reminded me that life is not meant to be so at all times. What was I thinking? He staggered up the front and sat next to an Indian woman. The bus driver then turned around and absolutely tore strips off this guy. I didn’t understand the words, but the meaning was definitely “Get Away From The Women You Drunken Fool”. Bless his chivalrous heart. The drunk guy went back down the bus, giving me a few more umbrella bashings for good luck and if I hadn’t been sitting down I would have been knocked over by the gin on his breathe. Naturally, Murphy’s law applied and this lovely chap got off before we did, which meant I received my third bashing and I now have a slight bruise on the side of my head as a reminder of our charming introduction to each other.

Later, back in lovely Rewalsar, we dined in a cafe on the street below our room. Now here in this town, I am in Momo Heaven. For those of you who haven’t experienced the delight of eating momo, they are Tibetan dumplings, filled with vege or cheese or mutton (goat) or whatever. You can have them steamed or fried and they are the most wonderful thing I have ever had the privilege to eat. A Tibetan guy wandered in with a large lump under his shirt and we looked at him accusingly and laughed when he saw that we had sprung him bringing beer into the cafe. It’s not a problem actually, but it was funny to spring him not being very successful at secrecy. This guy came through from Tibet in about 1985 and he doesn’t speak English so well, but gestured that he would go and get one for us also. English he might not have, and Tibetan we do not have, but we all had a really good laugh together.

They have what they call “English Wine Shops” here. They don’t sell wine. At all. They sell whiskey (this is what the Indians call wine), rum, etc and sometimes also the local brew – some of which you could run an airplane engine on. Ironically, on one of our ramblings around the lake, we found an English Wine Shop that actually sold wine and nothing else! This we have never seen before. I took a photo of it, I was so amazed.

Anyhow, at the end of the night (we have to be in the monastery gate before it closes at 10 p.m.) we tried to go to sleep to incredibly loud live Hindi music wafting across the lake. Thank goodness it only lasted until 2 a.m. And to let you know it’s the next day now, the monastery very kindly starts bashing gongs, ringing bells and blowing horns for Puja (morning service sort of thingy) at 7a.m. They are so considerate around here with their musical entertainment. This, combined with the hardest rock slab masquerading as a mattress I’ve ever had the pleasure to torture myself on meant I had a least 3 to 4 hours of sleep. Have I mentioned the splendid variety of comfort levels available here?

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India 2008 # 6: Maharaja Burgers and Mosque Minarets

Monday, we had another crack at going to Tibetan Row at Janpath. We ended up in a shop that was piled high with different brass objects. I think you could sit there for an entire day and still not see every item they have. Ernie saw a neat Galaxy system thingy made of brass, I found yet another animal-shaped padlock and some vertical prayer flags (damned hard to find in New Zealand) and we pulled ourselves out of there before taking out a mortgage was necessary. We risked life and limb and crossed the road to MacDonalds. None of us would go there normally, but they have air-con, toilets with actual doors on and safe-to-drink ice in their lemonades (I hope). Maharaja burgers are actually quite nice and I haven’t had anything with lettuce in it for quite a while so I was a happy camper.

Tuesday, we took the metro then rickshaws and went to the Jama Masjid (the largest Mosque in India). I obviously didn’t pack my brain before we left to go there, because I was wearing a scarf that had Om signs all over it. Not at all Islamic and not the sort of thing to be seen in at a mosque. Duh!

We had to leave our shoes with some guy who stuffed them into a tin trunk then enter the gate into the very large courtyard. Barefoot, stinking hot day, large open space with hot tiles – you get the picture. We were only there for ten minutes and they pushed us out the side gate because prayers were starting. Not being Muslim, we had to wait outside – bare feet, hot flagstones… About three quarters of an hour later they let us back in again. Still, in the meantime we got to watch an ear cleaning man in action (gross!) and a couple of mongooses (mongeese?) making little mongeeses. An unexpected surprise. India is so delightfully variable.

When they let us back in, we climbed up one of the minarets to look at the view. These minarets are incredibly high. There are no escalators, only spiraling steps up and up and up in a fairly dark passage. Still, the view was worth not being able to catch our breath for ten minutes. Pretty dodgy though. There’s only room for a few people at the top and the staircase kind of cuts a large hole in the floor, so you have to watch where you stand or else you’d find yourself descending the spiraling staircase in a way not conducive to having all of one’s bones intact at the bottom. More and more people kept appearing up there until we were all so jammed in the cage that we couldn’t turn around to get back down the stairs again. Something a little wrong with that system. When we did get back down though, it was funny to look back up and see all those people jammed up there. God forbid there be an earthquake while you’re in that situation. Yet another rapid descent system…

Okay, next bit or the story is about yet another bus ride, so I’ll do that later, as I don’t trust the internet system here.

2007 #12: Mountainside Audits and Goats Horn Cells

Part of the road we traveled to get to Chitkul, Himalayas.

Part of the road we traveled to get to Chitkul, Himalayas.

Finally, we got onto the final bus of our burst up the mountains. This was fun as well. We were tearing along quite nicely, when suddenly the bus driver screams to a halt after a landrover passes us. The guys got out of the landrover, boarded the bus and demanded to see everyone’s tickets. This turned out to be an audit! How about that – you’re most the way up the Himalayas and bureaucracy still manages to find you and wants to check the paperwork. Well, that’s India for ya.

The conductor of the bus told us it was not possible to get to Chitkul (where we were heading) but only to the village before it. But then we stopped at a river where the road had been washed away. The conductor got off, checked to possibility of us getting across it, and once we had made it across he charged us 10 more rupees and said they could take us to Chitkul after all. It seems that the road first has to be passable before they’ll admit to being able to take you there. This had me praying that there would be no monsoon rains for the few days we would be in this village, causing us to become local inhabitants until next summer.

Finally we made it to Chitkul. I had to kind of instruct my body how to get off the bus, because it certainly wasn’t volunteering by itself. I had no idea how tired a body can get until this journey. It was raining and cold and we were now at 3500 metres – the highest I’ve ever been. We’re talking 60 kms from the Tibetan border. Fortunately, there was a Guesthouse a few metres away. Unfortunately, they had decided to use their “summer season” to paint the place. Fortunately, they had an empty room with it’s own bathroom. Unfortunately, they were using enamel paint and this room was freshly painted. Try that after days of busrides and mountain roads coupled with complete exhaustion. We turned that room down and he showed us another one in another part of the building. If it wasn’t for the fact I was busting to go to the toilet, we may have applied a little more discretion to the choosing of our accommodation. As it was, we threw our packs down in the room and I raced off down the hall, down the dodgy steps and into the closet/dungeon they said was a bathroom. Having got that over with, I went back into the room and reeled at the smell of only slightly less fresh paint than the other room.

So we decided to go for a wander and see what other accommodation was available in this little town. Finally we found another place – Raj’s Guesthouse – after wandering up and down goat tracks for a while, and chose to stay there instead. We had the choice between the room with the curly goat horns above the door, or the one with straight goat horns. One of the ‘boys’ came back with us to help with our luggage, and no matter how we tried to explain to the owner of the first place that we just couldn’t live amongst paint fumes without throwing up on the floor of his wonderful and salubrious establishment, he still insisted we pay 100 rupees before he would allow us to book out. We hadn’t even been living there for an hour yet! In the end we paid, because we just had to get away from the fumes, and off we went back up the goat tracks to deposit our belongings in the goats-horn cell we had volunteered for instead.

Me at the goatshorn-topped entrance of our room, Chitkul.

Me at the goatshorn-topped entrance of our room, Chitkul.

Raj's Guesthouse, Chitkul. The top of the stone steps to the left is at exactly 3,500 meters from sea level.

Raj’s Guesthouse, Chitkul. The top of the stone steps to the left is at exactly 3,500 meters from sea level.