Delhi and beyond…
We’ve found the cold. Admittedly where I am is not nearly as cold as where Keegan is heading as I type. We’re in the foothills of the Himalayas. The sun is shining on snow-capped peaks outside my window. I am in Mcleod Ganj. The mountaintop town of the Dalai Lama, and countless Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monks. As a matter of fact, it appears the Dalai Lama has returned home as of yesterday- obviously he received word of my impending visit.
From Mangalore, where I last left off, we flew North through Mumbai to Delhi- cheating perhaps, by not taking the 4 day train for reasons that could may be summed up in “4 day Indian train.” And no, do not conjure to mind visions of the Wilson brothers sipping chai in “Darjeeling Limited,” conjure squat toilets.
Upon arriving in Delhi we headed to ‘Paharganj’ area which is loaded with budget accommodation. Unfortunately when Lonely Planet refers to something as “seedy,” they aren’t joking. A few times we’ve found out the hard way that Lonely Planet is quite a serious matter. So after being incessantly hawked and stalked by drunk teenagers trying to get commission, and not particularly taking to the dank pink cell with no windows, we haggled with some ruthless rickshaw drivers to take us to “Majnu-Ka-Tilla,”the Tibetan colony, which, though less central, became our little oasis from chaotic Delhi.
The area was not much more than winding back alleys- though noticeably more clean, kempt and not to mention charming than the rest of Delhi. Here maroon robe clad Buddhist monks hung out drinking redbull, the Dalai Lama on tv. In an internet café, I found myself explaining to a monk the premise of the video game “Grand Theft Auto” that some 6 year old Tibetan kids were engrossed in. We shared a chuckle. Another was engrossed in Youtube videos of that amazing 5 year old ukulele prodigy. The world is oh-so small.
On the first night arriving in Majnu- or “Tibet” as we referred to it, everywhere was booked. Funny, because the ever charming Paharganj seemed to have endless free rooms. Completely randomly we ran ran into Andrew. Not sure if I mentioned him previously but Andrew and Juliana were a Canadian couple living in Berlin we met our last day in Hampi. Andrew had raced a rickshaw from Rajastan to Kochin. A dinky Indian 3 wheeled buggy through Indian traffic for 7 days. 7 days. And lived. Remember him? Hard to forget. Juliana had already gone back and he was leaving the next morning at 5am. Long story short, we met him for dinner and he invited us to share his double room, which was huge. Crown moulding and a balcony overlooking the river. For the same price as that little pink cell. Sweet. Over dinner we also met a Russian, “Olga,” who translated Buddhist literature and had hung out for 2 weeks in an all male Buddhist monastery, because she had a monk friend. Rad. We shared nasty “Kingfisher” beers back at the room.
While sitting in a square by a Buddhist temple I was taking a picture of, 3 somewhat raggy children approached me and asked me to take their picture. They were very excited to see themselves on the screen. They then started chattering excitedly and dragged me, sadly wary of beggars (even children) off. But they just wanted ice cream. I felt bad for thinking they just wanted my money at first, but India really hardens you. But these kids were sweet. I bought them ice cream, there now being about 6 of them. Word spread quickly. Kids began pouring from everywhere, looking at me with the most adorable eyes. Obviously I couldn’t discriminate. I have no idea how many icecreams I bought. But there was some happy kids in that square, and the ones who knew scraps of English thanked me. SO CUTE.
On multiple other occasions we bought bags of dry rice (and if Keegan was buying- cookies, if I was- lentils) for a young boy who quickly learned to seek us out.
Keegan needed warm clothing for his jaunt north so we went on several missions about the city each day, seeing everything from upscale spic/span malls to crowded/chaotic winding markets and bizaars. We eventually learned that the subway was brand new and very efficient so we were able to give the rickshaws a break. They were also very popular. Major routes made sardine cans look like desolate plains. But that’s okay, because at major stops, 50 people would surge off at once- and only 70 would surge on.
We went to the Taj Mahal. We can officially leave India. The Taj Mahal is in Agra, a 2 hour train out of Delhi. Booking said train in advance was a bureaucratic nightmare. You know that nightmare- or maybe you’ve only seen it in the movies. Where you wait in one line up to be told to wait in a different line up to be whisked off by some guy seeming to be an official, into a rickshaw to be taken several blocks away to the “official” booking office, realizing all the while of coarse that this is a classic scam, and walking back to the office, to the rickshaw drivers dismay, meanwhile being touted by a young guy claiming to be a student and not to trust anyone and that the REAL office was actually over HERE but we weren’t trusting ANYONE so we walked back, meeting a French couple along the way and waited in a long line to be told to stand in another line to be told I had filled out the form wrong and the train was booked on the return and no they were not polite. (Though at least the ladies queue was considerably shorter.)
Then we got to wake up a 430 am to make the train. It was smaller than I expected. But don’t get me wrong. Blindingly gorgeous. And yes, I got the picture I set out to take.
At an upscale mall we found a schmancy grocery mart where we splurged on granola and organic cookies. And SOY MILK. It was heaven. We appreciate the little things. Also so bought wine which was enjoyed while watching tv, flipping through beyond cheezy Bollywood channels and infomercials.
So after 6 or so days in Delhi. Oh and p.s. “Delhi Belly” is no myth. We took the overnight train North. Didn’t sleep a wink. 2 snorers one beside, one below, having a snoring contest. Though the adjacent hippo soon won out. There was also a birthday party. All night. And no we didn’t opt for the “AC” class. Squat toilets. Indian train. Delhi belly. On the bright side I finished my first game of solitaire every thanks to a man who didn’t speak English. I thought he was just staring trying to figure out what I was doing. Or just staring per usual. The world is small.
So I jumped off the train in Pathankot, Keegan stayed on till Jammu. Heading to Kashmir and hopefully Leh, if the passes are open. From Pathankot, a bent old man I named Rafiki cycle rickshawed me to the bus stand where I caught the 5 hour bus up to Mcleod Ganj. Not much to say about it yet. Lots of monks and smiling faces. Met some fellow travellors including a rad marionette puppeteer from London. With her (Sean, sp?) and her friend Jimmy went to a bar last night and had local Apple wine. Which tasted like vinegar. It was cheap.
I hope Keegan is warm. I hope I see the Dalai Lama. Both are unlikely. For now, the sun is shining, and I’m off to meet some female monks from England.