India 2008 # 14: Tibetan Tea, Prayer Flags, Feelingless Limbs and Buses on India Time

Tibetan momos. Yum!

Tibetan momos. Yum!

Paul and I ran around like blue-bottomed flies trying to find some vertical prayer flags in Rewalsar, which appear to be as scarce as hens teeth no matter where you are. So while I was in one shop organizing some to get made, he was down the road doing exactly the same thing! So we ended up with two sets. That’s okay though – we got to watch the guy actually printing the design onto Paul’s flags – a huge wooden printing block with a picture of Padmasambava and Tibetan writing on it. Interesting stuff. Continue reading

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India 2008 # 13: Kissy Fishes and the Nemesis of the Naked Chef

A local Tibetan woman in traditional apron poses for me. Rewalsar, India.

A local Tibetan woman in traditional apron poses for me. Rewalsar, India.

Today is our second to last day in Rewalsar and it’s going to be a wrench to leave here. It’s absolute heaven (even aside from the daily access to momo).

Last night we sat up in the secret place on the roof again, played Pink Floyd by candlelight, watched lightening AND looked at stars – pretty awesome combination – and had a gin or two. Little fireflies flitted about and so did the bats who were chasing them. We even had a dog up there with us. The canines round here seem to be part mountain goat. We actually ended up talking until dawn – due to the fact, I guess, that we have such a short bit of time left and wanted to savour every moment. Of course we weren’t aware that it was nearly dawn until we heard the puja and wondered why they were so early. Whoops – outside (we were back in our room by then) the light was dawning. They weren’t early, we were late! But somehow that doesn’t matter when you can sleep in till midday then go and order your breakfast. I could really get used to this life. Continue reading

India 2008 # 12: Uncle Chips and Penguin Spit

Before dawn I was woken by the sound of what seemed like the Tibetan version of
the bagpipes coming from the temple. Of course, that started off the dog packs
who accompanied this strident sound with what they thought was rather a nice
rendition of the Barking Symphony Number 3 in C Minor. Even that may have been almost tolerable had it not been for the monkey packs singing their Screech
Symphony Number 8 in D Sharp. As any musician will tell you, these particular
notes go not together. Finally, thank goodness, the Tibetan bagpipes stopped
– ‘insert sigh of relief’. Alas, too soon. Horns started up, replacing
the bagpipes, with an accompaniment of drums keeping beat as loudly as
possible. Okay, at least the horns weren’t being played at as high a pitch as
the bagpipe thingys. But I didn’t reckon with the pending cymbols about to be played at a definate clash of tempo with the drums. Conches then competed this cocophony of sound. Continue reading

India 2008 # 10: In Which The Magic Stick Is Sadly Missed and the Rewalsar Diving Monkeys

We walked around the lake with Ernie and Leisa and had breakfast at a different monastery. There were a couple of wallahs across the road selling little round things that they poked holes in, put a few chickpeas into, poured some kind of spicy liquid in and this you toss down in one mouthful. I have no idea what these things are called but they’re quite an interesting taste. Continue reading

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?

India 2008 # 7: Once More Into The Mountains

Tuesday 15 July –

We got on a bus to go up to Mandi, which is the entrance way, so to speak, to the Kullu Valley – up in them thar hills. We were told to meet at the guesthouse next door to us at 4 p.m. for the bus. We waited (as you do here) then traipsed around corner after corner and across a busy road to wait some more. Three or four different buses arrived and there was great confusion as to which bus we should be on. Many people waiting, bus loading guys cruising around with i-pods in their ears with not a care in the world (of course not – it wasn’t there bus to miss!) and a guy collecting tickets who looked perpetually worried and didn’t ever give clear answers about whether we were on the correct bus or not. In the end we just got on what seemed like the right one and claimed seats then sat there melting for half an hour. An ice-cream seller, a boy selling cold water and some beggars were working this strip and doing a roaring trade. One of the beggars, a girl of about 10, had a badly burned face, another could do unbelievably bendy things with her body. Watching out the window, after we had all got on, they were seen counting large wads of money between them. They knew the secret to prosperity alright – location, location, location. They’d bought themselves an ice cream each, relishing them as only a kid can. Nice.

Sitting upright for 1twelve hours in a hot bus is not the most fun thing in the world to do, but finally at about 6.15 am we landed in Mandi. Some more confusion in the Mandi bus stand and we found a bus which apparently went to Rewalsar. Another hour of winding roads and finally we got to the end of our journey. The approach was just mindblowing. There’s a huge statue of Padmasambhava (sp?) or Guru Rimpoche looking over the town which surrounds a small lake. This statue is so big it’s just impossible not to be impressed. Apparently it’s taken five years so far to build and they haven’t finished the base yet. Guru Rimpoche is the guy that took Buddhism to Tibet and this town, Rewalsar, is where he started from.

We booked into a monastery here, which is beautifully painted and has a temple, small outside rooms with glass sides and ever-burning butter lamps, a really tall pole smothered with Tibetan prayer flags and, as a nice juxtaposition, lots of thug monkeys. The view from our room looks over the courtyard at the temple and flags and it’s the most watchable view I think I’ve ever had. Tibetan buildings etc are so beautifully coloured. They really have a lovely sense of style.

We wandered around the lake (clockwise, as is the tradition here) and bought some food for the tame fish in the lake. There are hundreds of these fish and they all flop around, half in and half out of the water. For a little more baksheesh (yes, money) the old ladies here will beat the monkeys off with their long sticks so you can feed the fish. Some cunning monkeys a few feet away have learnt to dive for these fish biscuits. I’ve never seen a swimming monkey before, so that was somewhat novel. A nearby cow has also caught onto this whole fish bicky business and took a real liking to Ernie (and his biscuits) – it was actually smooching up to him adoringly. Must have sensed that he’s a farmer I think.