(Pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/109837841352688899289)
I slipped a gear in Dharamshala, well in fact in a place called McLeod just up the steep road from there. I felt weak willed when I hoped to have felt strong, I felt cold when I had hoped to be warm, I was scattered when I had hoped to be focused and meditative .I had planned to stay for a while and recoup my strength and write, but it didn’t happen like that. The hotel rooms themselves seemed colder than the mountain air outside and although there were thick quilts on the beds there was no escape from the damp and the cold. I told myself perhaps I was just worn down, but I don’t really think that was what happened. I wasted time there and was then regretful. I was glad, I told myself later, though if truth be told I was disappointed with myself, to be heading back down to the warm plains. I had hoped for much more from the place, but really more from myself.
The journey up into the mountains of Dharamshala is now a bit of a blur, I’d got to the raucous Amritsar bus station for about 9am. The rows of buses each had a conductor stood by the rear doors shouting the name of the town they were going to, it was stirring and comical and really noisy not a place to be feeling delicate, mind you the whole of India is not a place to feel delicate. I went to the station managers office as I had no chance of understanding where what bus went when or how even. He told me 12.pm. So I stood a while contemplating taking my bags back to the hotel and having some time for some breakfast when for no particular reason I thought to ask somebody else. So I went to the nearest guy shouting and asked him, he said
“Bus to Pathankot, connect there for Dharamshala 5minutes, number 13, hurry”
I picked up my stuff and ran. It always pays to ask twice. It seemed to have been the way as people will tell you one thing and somebody will tell you another, but if two tell you the same you’re on the right track, possibly.
On the first leg of the journey to Pathankot the bus was ram packed. A huge Seikh guy sat in-between me and an old woman squashing me to the window, not his fault I suppose, he was just built like a shed and I suppose he had the right to sit somewhere. We sat shoulder to shoulder for a while neither of us able to move out of the others way. The driver was played big loud dramatic string music all the way, I thought of the London underground and wouldn’t that be a fantastic idea, to pipe music into the tube trains, it would change the whole feel down there.
I was quiet all day and couldn’t motivate myself to take photos, which says a lot about my frame of mind. Pathankpot was pretty quiet. I had an hour and a half so decided to sit and sip Chai. The guy serving took the change from me when I paid and threw me a packet of crisps instead, I wouldn’t have minded but he laughed as I walked away and my fur rose, I went back up to him and firmly gave him the crisps back and said
“Give me the 5r back now” I was livid. He looked shocked. It wasn’t funny nor was it the money, it was the principle and he’d laughed and I just wasn’t in the mood, 5r or 100r’s.
Almost as soon as the bus left the station and past the huge sprawling military base there the road began to rise noticeably. There had been a gradual increase in trees from Amristar but from there onwards it seemed like real forest sprang up, the vegetation became thicker and greener, lumber and bamboo yards began to appear, also I noticed bee hives which meant flowers, there seemed to be more produce and more variety on the stalls on the road side, there were more rivers and the atmosphere grew damp and fresh also the towns were a little cleaner, there was still the usual dumping but on a slightly smaller scale. I had been looking forward to Dharamshala.
We pulled into the bus station there around 5.30, the bus connection up to McLeod Ghang where the hotels were was there waiting . It only took about 20 minutes and we were there. I remember feeling cool and calm and strong as I walked up the hill from the bus station with my pack on. I booked into a place called ‘Green’ 400r for a single for the night. It had looked like a cool hang out and at first I was relieved to be there. But cool is an understatement, it was shivering deep down in your bones damp cold there. That night I had one of the worst nights sleep I can remember having. There was some sort of water tank above my room that started filling up at 5am. It was so loud it sounded like there was a river running right above me. I had dreams of the Golden Temple pool and me sailing in and out of its 4 entrances. In retrospect on the way down the mountain few days later, it is exactly how I felt there. I was submerged and trapped under water, the waters are our unconscious and our emotions symbolically speaking. I ended up submerged in them up a mountain, how very odd. That night, before I bedded down I had walked around the town poking my nose into doorways down narrow alley ways, ran up so many steep flights of stairs, startling Indian Hindus watching cricket and Tibetan Buddhist monks counting beads, looking for a warmer place to stay but everywhere seemed cold and everybody there seemed to be shivering. In the end I hired a fire for 100r in an attempt to warm up, but it didn’t really penetrate my being.
The town looked pretty in the dark evening , built up the side of the steep mountain the narrow streets were colorful, and busy with monks and tourists. It was also really surprising somehow to see all the Tibetan monks wandering around doing their shopping, they are just people at the end of the day same as you and I aren’t they, I just had then in my mind as being continually in the monastery praying, stereotypical of course and as the days have gone on here I am glad that idea is now gone, it somehow eases my own expectations of myself.
Next day I found a place called Yellow Hotel a few alley ways along down some steps and got a room for 250r but it was cold too and they didn’t have heaters for hire like the Green had. I sat at the Green restaurant and wrote trying to keep warm then later I walked aimlessly along the trinket loaded streets, past the alternative massage parlors and cheep guest houses, then walked the long way round to visit the Tsangpa and Namgyroual monasteries and became a little more energized after the exertion of the steep roads. There is no doubt something strong is going on, I buzzed and tingled all the time I was there watching the busy monks and old ladies prostrating themselves on flat boards keeping track on their prayer beads. It actually looked like a good exercise and would I thought kept them fit.
I wandered down to the church of St john in the Wilderness and watched Christian pilgrims praying outside its locked doors. It had been built in 1852 and had the grave of Lord Elgin the British viceroy of India who died and was buried there, but the place had obviously been over shadowed by the arrival of the Dalai Lama
I thought later as I walked through the steep narrow streets that the place must have changed beyond all recognition since he arrived. No matter where a truly holy person goes to live his light and his energy will create roads to where ever that is, he is of course a figurehead too and so sooner or later the peddlers will set up camp outside the temple which is what they have done. It is the same the world over, I was of course one of the many drawn there, but I was torn between understanding and disappointment but as I have said maybe I was just disappointed with myself. The saving grace was the food the ‘momo dumplings’ and the Tibetan soup and real coffee were wonderful but spent another cold shivering night down the stone steps at the Yellow Hotel.
I woke the next day feeling a little better and after breakfast I wandered a little happier around the busy little town watching the old Tibetan people turning the prayer wheels at the temple on the main street. It was then I came across a map in a window that showed the hiking trails and a waterfall. Ah ha, just what I needed. I memorized it and set off out of touristville and walked along the mountain road to the next town called Bagsu.
Along the way a little old man who called himself a ‘Baba’ came up to me and said
“Beautiful man” I was really taken off guard and said gently
“You beautiful man, nice clear face” he said, I said thank you. I was startled and tried to walk on blushing slightly, but he kept up with me. Then he asked me if I would like a photograph of him, and I realized what he was doing. So I said
“No thanks, but thank you anyway”
He said he was very hungry, I looked at him and honestly was a little disappointed, but gave him some money anyway and walked on. Perhaps he’d meant it, but really it didn’t matter anyway did it, it was just my vanity and at that moment I didn’t feel beautiful, he’d just taken me off guard.
A little further on a little dog just came and made itself known to me. I of course bent down and gave it the loving I was missing, she responded to the energy that flowed easily to her. So I spent a few minutes soothing her nervousness and then walked on. But she followed and so I encouraged her, and in a few minutes we were like old friends and she walked with me right into Bhagsu village. So at a tea stall there I bought her some milk and pored it out for her into a plastic crate that was laying on the roadside. She wolfed it down and from then on we were buddies. The trouble was there were lots of dogs that all had territory we had to pass through to get to the path on the other side of Bagsu village that led up to the waterfall in the hills. She was brave and I watched her bare her teeth seeing off a few snarling dogs just to be with me, but at one point she was surrounded by 5 or 6 big snarling brutes and she had to back down and ran for it. I was a little sad as I’d lost my friend.
A little further on there was a temple there called ‘the Bagsu Nag.’ I had stood for a moment just looking at the place when she appeared around the back of the temple and came cautiously towards me, I was really happy that she’d found a way to be with me again but the pack saw her too and rushed at her again cornering her, I didn’t think twice, I just waded in, feet swinging and sent them flying, I picked her up and carried her through the snapping and snarling to the gateway that led out to the countryside. The Indians couldn’t believe it, they all backed away from us like we had plague or something. A few monks too stopped and looked as we passed by. I put her down when she was out of harms reach
“There you go sweet” and of we walked into the mountains. I noticed again all the way along the Indians would recoil from her as she walked by, it was really strange. She wasn’t a big or mean looking or even dirty looking. I pulled a few people up who cussed her shoo’d her away.
“Leave her alone, she’s with me” at which they all changed tune and smiled at us. I told a few that she was a sweet dog and that was her name, ‘Sweet’ my friend.
Up at the water fall we got company of another dog who cleverly realized that she was protected and so after initially snarling at her and then I stepped in for her, he was all fun and games with me and tried to make friends with sweet. The poor thing was covered in psoriasis and so I bought them both milk and gave the scabby dog some healing too, much to the astonishment of the Indian families who were gathered at the café by the clearest water pool I have seen since I have been in India. Now Scabby was smart and Sweet got Jealous when I was giving him healing. It was funny but actually quite serious as I was with her and he was just trying to cut her out. So after I’d had a coffee I decided that sweet and I had better move on.
We walked further into the hills and I meditated by a temple over looking the valley while she sat contentedly looking down the valley. The place really reminded me of the lake district not quite the same look it was more the atmosphere, the fresh streams the rough grass the slate and scree down the sides of the mountains. I talked a lot with my dada out there and was sure he was enjoying it with me. There were a lot of goats around the hills and every time we heard a kid bleat she would prick up her ears and go into wolf mode. A little later on she ran at a few of them and made me really nervous. I called her and remarkably she responded and came back to me, in fact she had answered to “Sweet” all afternoon. I wanted to feed her something more substantial before we got to town so at another little tea stall on the way back I bought us some noodles as it’s all they had I bought her a child’s portion and some more milk, she gulped the milk down again but went all coy with the noodles, again the Indians were open mouthed with astonishment.
When we’d got down and were approaching the town I realized that we would have to run the gauntlet of the pack again, so I picked her up and we walked boldly through the gates of the town, I saw the pack laying there dozing, we almost got by, but a big one spotted her in my arms and came running at us, so I lunged toward him snarling too and he stopped in his tracks but the others came rushing in snarling and snapping teeth bared and fur raised , the people gathered at the temple scattered as I let a few well aimed kicks at them and walked quickly through, again the monks were staring at us but we seemed to have their approval after they had got over the surprise.
I had wondered what I would do later on when I got back to town as I was sure the hotel wouldn’t let me have a dog in over night and damned sure the restaurant wouldn’t. I had really grown fond of her, she had lifted my spirits for sure. But then almost in the same place where we had met she just turned and followed a couple walking the other way. I called her but she went on her way. It seemed perfect really as I had worried about what to do with her. I walked happily back into town took some great photographs and went to have coffee, momos and soup.
An hour or two later I happened to glance up out of the window and saw her walking along the lane, she was looking for something and I was pretty sure it was me. If I’d have been in England I would have gone out and taken her for sure, but I was due to leave next day and I thought that it would have been cruel, it was best just to leave her as it was, this is where she was from and I couldn’t take her with me. Maybe I hoped she’d realized something kind had occurred in her dog consciousness as I had realized she’d been sent and had been a real tonic for me up there. I had needed to give.
I had planned to stay another day and go for a serious hike next day, but I had just happened to ask a guy what the date was and he reminded me there were only 29 days in February and in fact it was the 1st of march which gave me 15 days to get to Nepal and Kathmandu for the 15th
It has been a low point for me up here in the mountains I could have made more of it but simply didn’t, sweet was my highlight. It’s been just too damp and cold there seemed no escape from it and though it was mountains I couldn’t find the thing to throw myself at, a strange time indeed. It is time to move on back into the grind and the lowlands where I hope to pick up my will, my resolve and my spirits once again.