So, I have now been in India for just over 3 weeks and it’s already been an exhilarating eye opener! I managed to navigate a mere handful of the sights of Delhi I planned to, although I did add yet another international metro card to my collection so if and when I land back in London, Porto, Delhi, Seoul then I can jump on the underground system without fear of being charged the overpriced tourist rates! The best thing about the Delhi subway system is the first carriage on the train AKA the women only train, combined with the AC it makes subway travel a rather relaxing experience! After 7 days in Delhi and various meals that did not go down well (retrospectively I’ve been told it was probably linked to the paneer) I took a sleeper train from New Delhi station to Haridwar.
Presumably the reason I got a bed was because the train left at midnight, a seat would have sufficed as it only took 4 hours! So i found myself in Haridwar, north of India at 4am! The station was crammed with sleeping bodies and as soon as I stepped outside of the platform area I was surrounded by rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers trying to charge me extortionate prices to travel the hour to Rishikesh. Luckily I found Grace. Grace who had ridden the same train from me had been told about an early morning train that went from Haridwar to Rishikesh. We found a ticket which cost a mere 4 rupees per person, found the platform and waited for the train. It may be useful to know at this point my train from Delhi cost around 600 rupees. What can I say when you pay 4 rupees for a ticket you are greeted by 4 rupees worth of a train. A stinky tin can where we sat on our rucksacks tried to not gag from the smell of urine and shit and were stared at by 4 Indian guys. Pleasant was not a word I would describe that hour! When we arrived at Rishikesh station we were once again surrounded by rickshaw drivers however atleast now it was around 530 and the train had somewhat woken me up. I had booked a hotel for the first night and had been told a shared Vikram rickshaw should cost no more than 20 rupees each. Obtaining that rickshaw was somewhat difficult as drivers tried to charge us up to 250 rupees each!! Eventually we gave up bargaining at 50 rupees.
Rishikesh is a town however most of the ‘action’ takes place two kilometers up the road in the areas of Swarg Ashram over the Ram Jhula bridge or Laxman Jhula over the err Laxman Jhula bridge. I was headed to Ram Jhula. The Bridge itself is for pedestrians, motorbikes, cows and monkeys. It’s too slim for anything else so you have to basically walk it. After around 20 minutes of walking over the bridge alongside the hordes of Hindu Pilgrims and foreign tourists and navigating the roads (eyes on the ground at ALL times) I found my hotel. After a week in a 300 rupee a night hostel that was, in fairness, rather grim and with plans to stay in an Ashram the following night I’d splashed out on a big room with AC, hot water and a western toilet. I got into bed at 7am, ordered room service at 10am again at 6pm and pretty much slept and had numerous showers! The next day I went to investigate the Ashram I planned to sit in silence in. I’d seen it en route to the hotel and thought I should better investigate before I committed… A wise move on my part and instead of finding myself sitting quietly and meditating I moved into a cheaper hotel next door where I found Grace again!
Rishikesh is quite hard to sum up… I planned to stay for a month and ended up staying six days… it’s good fun if your enchanted by Hindu pilgrims and obsessive western yoga devotees however I am not and despite my efforts to embrace the Indian culture and the Hindu culture specifically I didn’t find many openings. Saying that the Aarti ceremony that occurs outside Parmarth Niketan every evening is well worth a visit and I also bought some awesome trousers from Laxman Jhula town. I took some nice photos and managed to avoid getting attached by monkeys (if you have even a slightest dislike of monkeys this is not the place for you!) So instead I decided why stay in a place I wasn’t a fan of and booked a bus ticket to Dharamsala, followed by a place on a Vipassana meditation course taking place in Dharamkot just north of Dharamsala and crossed my fingers.
When I say Dharamsala, I mean McLeod Ganj and it was the best decision I have made. I’ve been here for nearly 10 days and I have no plans to leave until after the meditation course finishes… around the 15th September.
I knew little about the area before I came. I knew it was home to The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile and therefore alot of Tibetan people. I didn’t know that much about Tibet apart from the fact that the Chinese had invaded and forced (as they like to do) their communism and ideals onto the Tibetan people, who then escaped Tibet. I also heard it was beautiful.
It is incredibly beautiful, partly because of the Tibetan people and the various ‘Clean Upper Dharamsala’ projects. Unlike the rest of India there is almost no need to even scan your eyes on the ground for there is no rubbish. In McLeod there are… bins!! Tibetan people are also some of the most respectful, considerate and charming people I have ever met (an I have now met alot of them) They also, despite their backgrounds and current situations have the most amazing smiles, they practically glow. And the Buddhist monks! I love buddhist monks theyhave always made me feel positive and happy and McLeod is full of them. It’s so AMAZING!
There is also alot to do and the opportunity to do nothing if you want. So far I’ve taken part in a cooking class to make the Tibetan food ‘Momo’ pretty much the ame as Korean Mandu and similar to ‘Dim Sum’ so expect that to be on my menus for the forseeable future providing I don’t loose the recipe, I’ve hiked my way (in primark’s best jelly shoes) to the top of a waterfall and up various hills/mini mountains. i have also started volunteering.
At the moment I am working with volunteer tibet teaching an Intermediate class of around 10 Tibetan refugees for an hour every weekday morning as well as a mixed group conversation class every afternoon at 4pm (It starts in 10 minutes so I having to type really quickly!!!) Both classes are brilliant. I have never met a group of people so willing to learn English, so unbelievably keen. The classes are free to attend so people just ‘turn up’ and they do, every day wanting to learn, of all things, grammar from the dullest grammar book ever! I’ve made the book more exciting with the minimal resources I have (a whiteboard and temperamental whiteboard pen) and have been racking my brains about how to make the ‘Present Perfect’ exciting! ( A clean version of I have never with no alcohol went down pretty well this morning!) The hardest part is the names which are generally more unpronouncable than Bangladeshi names although I mastered those so fingers crossed in a few days I will be able to pronounce Migmar, Choujou and Taeshi correctly!
Anyhow, the above named and more are going to be waiting for me so I need to run off, I have barely even hit the surface of explaining what’s what however I hope you get a taste!
On the first of September I am actually definitely going to be sitting in absolute silence and meditating for 10 days which is something i’m looking forward ti and am also undoubtedly apprehensive about, then I have about 24 hours before I head back to the ‘real India’ of cow shit covered roads, hassle and heat as I had down to Amritsar, Jaipur, Pushkar, Agra, Varanasi, Bodh Gaya, Kolkata then onto ‘stage 3 the epic trip along the south from Chennai to Mumbai, then potentially Sri Lanka before a return to the Uk when my budget will have been undoubtedly spent!
So, Tashi Dalek from McLeod Ganj!