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Jodhpur

First day in Jodhpur... Perhaps our favourite city yet (after McLeod Ganj, of course...). In the end we didn't attempt to find the recommended hostel, as we realised that it would be almost 9pm by the time we would make it into the city's centre... where we would have to start wandering about (always fun with full packpacks) in the hope of finding this place in the dark... We opted for calling a different place (from the guidebook) from the train. By the time we arrived in Jodhpur (with approx. 60min delay), we were extremely glad of it- especially of the pick-up service... Definitely the right idea, as even today by daylight we didn't come across the other place.

The hostel we're staying in instead is - other than the lack of family atmosphere and cooking classes- amazing! It's an old haveli (some rich person's villa from what I could find out)- and the rooms are beautifully decorated with cushioned window benches and all... Our room is easily to be recognised as it's the one with the bucket outside of it. To catch the condensation of the AC...  But hey!, rather outside the room than over the bed or something... and after a couple of attempts, one even figures out an angle from which it's possible to open the door without taking a shower (the drip is pretty constant)...

 As to the actual town- it is quite crowded and busy but other than that really beautiful! Jodhpur is known as the 'blue city', and, contrary to Jaipur which is supposedly pink and was a little disappointing on that front, it is actually quite blue! Indigo to be precise- the colour of Brahim priests (and as we found out today- it even works as an insect repellent). We wondered around most of the old town today- mainly by accident. We ment to go to some gardens but they turned out to be closed on Tuesdays... so we decided to take a different way back- off the main roads. Besides more camels (and yes Sophie, definite lack of foot paths here as well), we ended up walking past the places were people were dying the threads to produce fabrics... There was the red corner, the pink one and so on... One or two old men were sitting on the ground at each of the places, soaking balls of thread in bowls with the dye. After, they hung them on massive frames to dry... After, we walked through the district were they sold the ready materials. After that, we ended up in the quarter which obviously was the bike (cycle and motor) market. All very fascinating... And all the time you walk through these places, people stare at you (as pretty much everywhere we've been here). But in Jodhpur people come across a lot friendlier than in most other places- waving and saying hi as we went along (without trying to drag us into shops). Especially the children... And for some reason, people in the hotel and any restaurants or other places we've been here are a lot friendlier than they were in the previous towns we've visited. It's a nice change to have smiley chatty waiters- after over a week in which we felt like we were just about tolerated (and met with no reaction even if we attempted to speak Hindi) when we sat down for breakfast...

Oh, and the kites. Most houses here have rooftop terraces and whenever it is a little windy, but especially around sunset, children are flying kites from the tops of their houses... It's so pretty.... especially with the backdrop of the blue city and a mountain with a fort...

 Enough for today... Eyes are getting better- it has nearly assumed it's normal shape again. The downside of the swelling going down is that now one can actually see that they are bright red... Getting very sick of sunglasses- but other than that it's not so bad. I'm still able to do everything I wanted which is the main thing...

7.9.10 17:34


Werbung


Agra and Pushkar

We went on a day trip to Agra (where the Taj Mahal is ^^) on Thursday. Still proud of our idea to go there from Jaipur rather than Delhi- I still haven't heard of a single person who said that they liked the latter... it just sounds like too much chaos and hassle. But coming back to Agra- we set off at 5.30 from our hotel to go to catch our train. About Agra there's not really much more to say- we spent a day as typical tourists walking around the fort and the Taj Mahal. As expected, both are extremely beautiful and worth seeing...The only excitements of the day were firstly our attempt to walk from the fort to the Taj Mahal which are about 2km apart. Initially all went well (and after getting rid of a very persistent rickshaw driver who insisted on wanting to take us in his 'helicopter'), we found the park which connects the two without travel. It was the first really nice quiet walk which wasn't steeply uphill since we got to India. Only when we reached the area surrounding the Taj Mahal we got rather lost and ended up walking through the entire bazaar as well as residential areas... Although it wasn't really planned it was still a really interesting experience! But after about half an hour we have up trying to find our own way and got a rickshaw to drop us off at an entrance to the Taj. Of course by that point it turned out to be almost around the corner and practically where we had set out from after leaving the park... But well...

 I don't know whether it's because we were expecting so much worse after everyone's warnings- but until now our journey has been relatively peaceful. Travelling by train turns out to be a really pleasant (if slightly slow) way of getting around. Unless you buy a general ticket (without seat reservation- we have seen people just climbing onto the rooftops...), travelling by train is pretty comfortable and a nice way of seeing a bit of the countryside. We were told beforehand that most trains are so slow that it's possible to jump off, take pictures, and get on again. So far we haven't actually tried that- but it would definitely seem possible. And almost everyone we've talked to up to now, be it on trains or otherwise, has been really friendly and helpful. (luckily- as at most stations you can't read the station name from the window- so it's almost essential having someone around who's able to tell you when to get off...).

We finally left Jaipur for Pushkar yesterday. As beautiful as everything we visited there was- it is so nice to be in a smaller place again which is possible to navigate on foot. Also not wiping a black film off your face every evening from all the pollution in the air (don't want to know the state of my lungs) is a nice change. Pushkar is a very pretty- extremely colourful little town surrounding a holy lake. Seemingly endless numbers of pilgrims come here to bathe in the lake... The whole town counts as holy, so alcohol and smoking are forbidden. Also, there is only vegetarian food (incl. no eggs). As we've gone vegetarian for our time here anyway that's actually really nice as it means a much wider selection of veggie food... Also, the countryside surrounding the town is beautiful. It is hilly- with many temples perched on the tops of little mountains surrounding the town. And there are tortoises wandering around in gardens and we saw peacocks on the bus ride here! (We've almost gotten used to monkeys and camels everywhere). Unfortunately, we are here only until tomorrow- or we would have gone for some longer walks in the area. The monsoon is starting here at the moment- but as we are practically in the desert that's not a bad thing at all. And it's nowhere near as strong as it was back up in Dharamsala. It still is quite hot- but no worse than it would be in southern Europe in the summer either.

Oh, and I ended up having chai with some nomads here today. A fifteen year old girls started talking to us while we were wondering around the lake. She showed us pictures of her family and home (tent in the desert) and told us that many of them are musicians and singers. I went for chai with them in the market place and she and and her aunt and uncle who joined us gave me a little concert! It was really beautiful music- of course she (successfully) tried to sell me a CD... We'll see what it actually has on it... (but either way it was pretty cheap and either way I know they are far worse off than me...)

Our stay here was cut a little short by us getting stuck in Jaipur for another half day because I woke up with conjunctivitis on the day we meant to leave... After pretty scary stories from two friends with similar problems last year I definitely wanted to see a doctor as soon as possible... Overall it definitely was a good idea (and I think my eyes are slowly getting a bit better)- but I had my doubts for a moment when the anti-inflammatory he gave me turned out to be paracetamol. Minutes after I'd told him I was allergic....! Luckily, it turns out I'm not after all... (it was always just a likelihood. The only test is to take it again under controlled conditions and see what happens...). The main annoyance is having the two options of either constantly wearing sunglasses (which looks a little stupid to say the least, especially at night or inside relatively dark rooms). Alternatively, I get pretty scared looks from anyone who sees me... I've definitely felt more attractive! (not that that's such a bad thing here...)

Off to Jodhpur tomorrow! Kind of wish we had a bit more time here in Pushkar- but the train is booked. And although it's a big city again, two English people I met in Dharamsala told me they really liked it and gave us the (approximate) name of a cosy, family run hostel. The wife even lets you cook with her in the evening- it sounds pretty good! (if we can find it...) Also looking forward to the train ride there. The only bit we're slightly concerned about is getting the bus into the next town from where our train leaves. We came on it on our way here and it was no problem. Until we arrived and wanted to get off that is... I've never seen that many people try to squeeze into a bus that desperately before! There were actually fights in the doorway between people trying to get off and those squashing in... We'll see how that goes with a massive backpack...

Looking forward to hearing from you as always!

5.9.10 17:14


Rickshaws, Elephants, Saris and marriage proposals

So... the real India has begun.

 Our first whole day in Jaipur has been eventful to say the least. First of all, we still can't believe how lucky we were to have met Shakeer (the rickshaw driver) on our first day here. He is genuinely lovely and an extremely helpful tour guide. Just talking to other people in the hotel made us realise how different it could be... He's definitely been a major factor at making us enjoy this place and let us forget a little bit how homesick we are for McLeod... Other than over-friendly rickshaw drivers at the side of roads the whole atmosphere is no where near as warm and welcoming as there.. And also in the hotel most people seem to be minding their own business and not overly keen on a chat - big change from Carpe as anyone who was there will know! (There's even a waiter in the restaurant here called Tenzin something- typical Tibetan name. We enthusiastically pointed this out when he first served us- but he just said that only his mother was Tibetan and wasn't interested any further... Oh well...)

Yesterday he took us to the first bunch of sights in Jaipur- including the old town (or pink city). It was all painted pink by the first ruler of the town to welcome Prince Albert and the tradition has been maintained since. We got a great view of the whole town from the top of a minaret, visited an incredibly beautiful complex of tombs and went to see an amazing fortress just outside the town. On the way back from there Shakeer let me have a go at driving the rickshaw! (no worries- he was still next to me and it was an extremely quiet road- not about to throw myself into Indian traffic by myself!!) We also saw the water palace- a palace built in the middle of a lake- with three storeys underneath water- an ancient alternative to AC... After Shakeer took us to the 'elephant home' (pretty self-explanatory). And after that went to the factories where they make lots of the traditional regional crafts (the one we went to did embroidery as well as block printing). They also sell all the stuff at whole sale prices- a fraction of what one would pay in the markets. We got one or two really nice bed throws (first point on the programme of today; send parcel home). We also tried on (though did not buy) our first sari. Quite good fun- though definitely not something I would ever wear again... But we did choose fabrics out of which they tailored each of us a set of salwar kameez... We emerged from this place after about 3 hours (they had been keeping up a constant stream of chai and cold drinks- quite the perfect salesmen) . After went back to the hotel for dinner and then spent the rest of the evening on a rooftop terrace of a nearby hotel where they had shishas. Oh, and a little boy turned up and invited us to a Rajastani puppet show on the other side of the roof. I said yes, and I think that was the point where Vivian was seriously considering killing me (or at least travelling alone from now on). It certainly wasn't what you'd call professional, but extremely entertaining nonetheless! (especially the Michael Jackson impression). We probably gave him a slightly too high tip as we'd run out of small change (though still under a Euro- so we hardly went broke). Later on in the evening he came back to the table and gave each of us a little toy elephant... (he asked for something from our country in return- but unfortunately we really didn't have anything on us we could have given him. His suggestion of 'just a t-shirt' or something wasn't very feasible either as we were obviously just wearing one each...)

Oh, and yeah- Shakeer kind of proposed to me. He casually dropped this in just after we came out of the sari place- Vivian was sitting in the middle. I just laughed and thought is was a joke (or an open question directed at both of us). But once we were back in the rickshaw he complained a little that I hadn't replied yet (and was just making fun of him). He backed his offer with the promise of ten elephants (apparently I had seemed to like the one we saw earlier). In the course of the evening he even picked a venue (a beautiful garden/temple complex we had visited earlier) and promised me a big Indian wedding with at least 2000 guests (the fact that I wouldn't know any of them didn't seem a relevant issue ) I realise how dodgy this must sound- but Vivian and me definitely wouldn't have hired him again for today if the whole thing had made us in the least uncomfortable... For the moment all of us are treating it as a bit of a joke- I've definitely made that much clear.

So... we're off to meet him again in half an hour to continue our exploration of the city.... We'll see what happens today! (compared to yesterday I almost feel like everything that could possibly happen already has... But I'm sure this place has many more surprises than I can imagine...

 

 

1.9.10 06:49


More scarves, busses, trains and Jaipur

First of all, in case someone was wondering, we made it into Rajastan in one piece!

We had another amazing send-off at the bus station. Seven friends, including four monks, actually turned up to say goodbye (with the result that we got on the bus with another round of blessing scarves around our necks...  The were extremely sweet- insisting on checking whether our seats were ok, and one (the who wrote us a letter) even brought us cold lemonade for the journey... And Gig (or 'Thailand' how the other monks call him), ever taking pictures, gave me a letter too- which included the advice to cover myself with a blanket if the weather got cold .

 And then we were off! Leaving McLeod Ganj for good... (at least for the time being). We had some doubts about the bus before setting off. It looked fairly rickety and some workers were also using it as platform to repaint the ceiling of the bus station while it was waiting to set off- but in the end it was absolutely fine. We even managed to get some sleep once we had made it down the mountains after a couple of hours. It got a little exciting once, when about 2 hours into the journey (on a dark narrow mountain lain) smoke started rising from the front. For a moment I was worried there was a problem with the motor, but it turned out that only one of the drivers (there were five guys in the drivers cabin) had dropped his cigarette or something and one of the seats had started smoking... They had it under control within a minute and on we went. At around 10 there was a short break for supper - which was also when we saw what turned out to be the last toilet for the next 15 hours...

We made it to Delhi by 6.30 in the morning- and had to find a taxi to get us from where the bus arrived to the train station at the other end of town from where we had a train to Jaipur. The journey was fine, although we probably got ripped off a bit (but at the time we just were so glad that the guy took us to the right station without any further issues...)

The train journey went fine (except for the fact that we were pretty thirsty because we didn't want to drink anything because we still hadn't found another toilet...) With the help of a nice Indian guy we managed to get off at the right station (although we were convinced for a couple of minutes we hadn't quite understood him and missed it).

Once at the station, we called the hostel we had booked to get them to pick us up. Even before we got to make that call, the stream of rickshaw drivers (as promised by the guide book) started pouring in. They were quite friendly though- and kind of more funny than annoyingly insistent so it was ok. They're approach ran along the lines- "hello, need a cheap ride to a hotel? Ah, you're already being picked up? Ok, ok, we're friends. But just in case- if your taxi doesn't turn up, I just so happen to be a driver myself, and my rickshaw just so happens to be just over here..." Once of them even gave us his card, offering us an amazingly cheap rate if we wanted to hire him for a whole day at some point... (we might actually take him up on that, as this place had proven to be pretty big and anything but pleasant to navigate on foot...). One particularly funny guy waved at us from his motorbike- we just started laughing because that would have actually just been physically impossible with our backpacks... But he didn't give up and came driving past again - 'new bike- new people!'. Eventually he got it and left...

Our driver did eventually arrive (much to the disappointment of the ten or so guys still hovering in the background). Identifying himself, as promised in an email, with a "Pearl Palace Pink Paper" with our names on it, we set off for our first rickshaw (or "tuck tuck"- yes they really call it that) ride. Shaakir, as he is called, is a hopeless charmer ('Which place in the world is suffering right now?'- to ask where we're from). But again, it was more in a fun than annoying way, and he turned out to be a really nice guy. He's studying history and French (which bizarrely enough we ended up speaking for part of the journey...) We've hired him as our tour guide tomorrow- I'm sure he'll provide for many more fun stories. The hostel is amazing too- the staff are really friendly (but not too friendly) and our room is beautifully decorated. It even has a small cushioned corner which looks like the perfect place to read. AND there's the first clean western toilet since we've arrived in India! Oh, and there's beautiful rooftop restaurant - we're about to go there for supper in a couple of minutes. The town itself sounds extremely hectic- but I guess we'll deal with that tomorrow.

 

30.8.10 15:23


Goodbyes, the Dalai Lama and a Photo Shoot

Aaaaaah, I just spent at least half an hour writing and it all just cancelled itself!

Right, here we go again...

 Last Friday Vivian and me taught our last classes, and the goodbye shaped up to be a majorly emotional event. (I still can't believe four weeks are already over- seriously, where did they go?!) During our morning advanced class we got the students to write about their role models. As was to be expected, all of them talked about the Dalai Lama and many about their parents. What we really did not foresee was that half of them mentioned us as well! I knew that they are lovely students, really keen to learn and extremely appreciative of the time we're giving them- but I was so not expecting that... So that was the start of what shaped up to be an extremely emotional two days. After class, we invited a couple of students to our goodbye dinner the next evening. Two of them in turn renewed their previous invitation to come visit them in Myanmar to where they'll be going back to in a year. And the others wanted to know when exactly our bus is leaving so they could come see us off!!! The students in our afternoon class were even sweeter- three of them ran after us after class to give us white scarves. They are a traditional Tibetan parting gift- with motives woven into them symbolising protection. (They are beautiful- though I haven't been able to find out yet whether one can just wear them as normal scarves- I've never seen anyone wearing one so far...) What is more, one of each our scarves was wrapped around an envelope. One of the monks who usually comes to the beginners' class and comes across as really shy wrote each of us a letter! Amazing, especially considering his level of English and how long it must have taken him to write them... (funny story; he also included a picture of himself. Vivian's is conventional enough- with him standing in a temple together with another monk. But on mine he's up in the mountains, wearing shorts and a tank top- you can see his robes flung across a rock in the background. Just really unexpected from a monk... ). And another (Thai) monk invited us for lunch the next day (more of that later).

We spent the rest of the day trying to organise our travel for the next weeks. Turns out booking trains is the one thing Indian's do months in advance... So train availability ended up being a major factor in planning our route. Unfortunately, we won't make it down to Mumbai after all. Instead, we'll spend nearly all the time in Rajastan - with plenty of time for camel safaris. (Not looking forward to the heat- but having dry clothes will be a nice change).

Then yesterday we listened to an introductory lecture to Buddhism- from the Dalai Lama!! By a huge coincidence he happens to be teaching this weekend! So we went and got registered during the last week (I think I already mentioned that) and then set out at 7.30 yesterday morning to go to the temple and attempt to get a seat... Apart from McLeod Ganj being more crowded than we've ever seen it, the whole event was surprisingly relaxed. We got there early enough to find a place against a wall of a balcony (not too keen on sitting for 4h without a backrest). We sorted out our radios - he obviously speaks in Tibetan but there's simultaneous translation into a couple of languages which one can listen to with a FM radio. And then we waited... The place filled up considerably, but the atmosphere was still really pleasant and not pushy or aggressive at all, as one might expect with such crowds... When he arrived, our seats turned out to be doubly lucky- as the side of the platform we were on directly overlooked the square over which he walked to the temple so we got a really good look. You can tell he's getting really old- but at the same time he just has the warmest smile and took his time getting to the temple to bless as many of the audience as possible (a lifelong dream for most Tibetans). The translation turned out not to be simultaneous which although it doubled the duration of the teaching was really nice as we got to listen to his voice first before we heard the English version. I'm extremely happy I went- not only for the experience of having seen and heard him once, but also because although I know something about Buddhism, it was great to get a founded introduction this way.

As soon as the teaching was over, we and two of the other girls volunteering with us rushed off down the hill to make it to our lunch date with the Thai monk (or the second orange monk as we often call him- due to the colour of his robes). We rushed because initially we had been planning to make it back in time for the afternoon teaching session... That didn't quite work out. One reason why I love this place so much is just the randomness of it all- you almost invariably set out to do one thing and end up doing everything but that... This afternoon was another perfect example of it. Well- we did actually have lunch (absolutely amazing Thai chicken soup, with some Chinese vegetable and rice). But other than that... It started off with finding the place were he lived. He had given me instructions the day before (down the hill, next to some school- you see that green house down there? that's not where I live. but it's opposite. Intrasolar, intrasolar (still no clue what that meant). welcome house.) ok... we bumped into him again on the day at the temple and he specified which stairs we had to go down (though after about 10 minutes we gave up asking him for a time when we should be there- "maybe 11.30. I think everyone has had breakfast. Teaching not longer than 1- good?" So we just went after the teaching finished- and set off down said stairs. He'd said something about a green house and left so when we got to a wall with 'green flat' or something of the sort written on it we gave him a call so check if we had to turn left there or continue down. 'Down?' 'Yes, yes, left at fraw'. 'Sorry, where do we go left?' 'Fraaaawwww' ... eventually we gave up and just continued looking.. We found it eventually (orange is a great colour to be wearing if someone needs to find you in the middle of green mountains!).

Once there, the place was great. Gig (that's his nick name) lives in a room with a balcony with a gorgeous view of the mountains. As said, lunch was absolutely delicious, and he's a really nice guy- even though he talkes A LOT. He really reminds all of us of a child because he will just say everything that comes into his head (including during class). But he does it in an adorable way - and is hilarious (though not really aware of it). After lunch (we were already not going to make it back to the teaching, but it had been worth it!). We all got up to leave and were saying goodbye when someone suggested taking one picture together. This is were things got slightly crazy - Gig got a massive professional camera from out of his wardrobe. We ended up staying another 1.5h as he insisted on taking all our portraits as well as a series of group pictures. We really didn't have any choice. Looking back, it was a really great idea and we actually did get a number of great pictures . But at the time the whole thing felt extremely absurd, particularly as none of us were wearing any make up whatsoever, where in comfy clothes for the teaching, and had run up and down the hill about three times that day. (indeed- after the first pictures he told us to wipe our faces!). It just was too funny- also as he kept making these really weird noises (mmmmmmmmmmmmmhhhh) as he was looking through the lense... But as I said, some of the pictures are actually really nice- and what better souvenir of that afternoon could one wish for??

That just leaves the goodbye dinner yesterday evening. Far less eventful (except for the bit were one had to climb through a window onto a rickety balcony and back through another window to get out from behind the table). But it was a great evening and the perfect end to our stay here. Most people we invited (and some we didn't invite) came, including two of our students. A month ago I definitely wouldn't have thought I'd spend an evening chatting to a monk who was eating pizza and continuously texting on his phone... No worries, there's pictures (he gave me his email to send it to him and instead of his name wrote 'monk of tibet' in front of it...) I just can't say enough what amazing people I've met here... as much as I'm really looking foward to seeing more of India, if Vivian weren't here to drag me onto the bus tonight I really don't know if I'd be able to leave...

 

Right, lunch time here. Our last momos in a while...

29.8.10 08:46


Amritsar and more monks...

So our third week here is already over and it's just crazy how fast the time went by. I feel like the longer I've been here the longer I'd like to stay... McLeod Ganj (the official name of upper Dharamsala) is just amazing. There's always something going on but at the same time the people are just so friendly and the whole town is so chilled out that one cannot help feeling at home.

We went to Amritsar over the weekend which, great as it was, definitely brought home how lucky we are here. The journey in itself was an experience. The two town aren't even 200km apart but still the direct journey takes at least 6h by road. There's a bus, but Kart, the Indian guy volunteering with us organised a taxi to take us there (for about 15 Euros return per person). At the time we thought the plan was fantastic but we kind of changed our mind when we saw the actual taxi... Not only was the windscreen cracked and it didn't have any external mirrors - (doubtlessly lost squeezing past some bus on a far too tight mountain road) but was it tiny (and there were three of us squashed in the back). This became especially fun when we got down from our mountain and actually had to face Indian late-summery temperatures... But still it was worth it- Amritsar has with the Golden Temple the holiest site of Sikhism (that's the ones with the turbans). The whole complex is truly stunning with a white marble surrounding framing the (actually golden) central piece which is placed in the middle of a lake of holy water. Also, due to Sikhism's inclusive philosophy the temple offers free accommodation to everyone (non-Indians in a separate area). Other than the temple the main attraction of Amritsar is the Pakistani border crossing some 30 km away. Every evening both sides perform a border closing ceremony. The only way to describe it is hilarious... First of all there's the crowds on both sides. Don't ask me where they all come from (considering its performed every day), but the stands on both sides of the border are packed with nationals of both countries trying to outdo each other shouting patriotic slogans. (or at least that's generally the case- when we were there the Pakistani side was pretty quite as it's Ramadan at the moment). But the Indian side was definitely a big party with children dancing Bollywood choreographies on the street... As foreigners we were again led through a separate entrance (with the VIPs) and got to sit in the front row. Unfortunately as it was so full the front row turned out to be right on the street and we were too low down to see a lot of what was going on... But still it was really good fun and definitely an experience to watch. The soldiers were all dressed up with red fans attached to their hats (watch out for the pictures on facebook sometime soon). In this attire they paraded up and down in front of the audience and the gate to the border. Only their form of parading involved a considerable amount of jumping, nearly-running, as well as throwing their legs into the air over their heads... All of this would have doubtlessly been even more fun if I hadn't gotten food poisoning from my lunch when we arrived in Amritsar. Luckily we all had different food so it was only me and not all of us- but the ceremony, and especially the ride back to the temple, the following night and the ride back home weren't the most pleasant time of my life... But I'm all better now-and am even able to eat and walk again- so nothing to worry about!!

 So yeah-all of us are so thankful to be back in McLeod Ganj-Pleasant temperatures (never complaining about the rain again!) and you can walk down the streets without ten guys trying to shove scarves into your face at every step you take even if you've got to be looking like your going to throw up any moment...

 But besides all that the people here are just incredible. All of the Tibetans here are obviously in political exile- having left Tibet because China left them virtually no freedoms- be it of religion or otherwise. Some of the people here are second or third generation, but many (including some of our students) came here from Tibet themselves a couple of years ago. The journey they undertake to get here is simply unbelievable. They walk through the Himalayas for several weeks- in most cases with completely inadequate food supplies, not to mention warm clothing... And once they're here they often have very limited contact to their families back home, in some cases even endangering those who stayed behind because they left... And yet you wouldn't meet a single one who sounds bitter about it and who won't tell you their story with a big smile- just stressing how lucky they are to have made it here in one piece and to have the opportunity to learn English...

So yeah... I really wish I could stay here for longer... Before leaving McLeod Ganj next Sunday we're going to see the Dalai Lama on the Saturday. As a normal mortal being you don't generally get to see him unless he's teaching- which is happening next weekend. If we arrive early enough we'll be able to sit in the temple where he'll be (it's bring your own radio to listen to the simultaneous translation) - otherwise we'll watch from a screen outside the main temple. We had to register today (if you ever come to India- bring a staple of passport pictures- you'll need them from everything from getting a sim card to seeing the Dalai Lama...) And after that it will be goodbye and off into the 'real' India for a bit. One very positive thing is that Kart, the Indian guy volunteering with us (and who's studying law at the LSE in London), is from Mumbai. we've been planning to go there so this way we'll be able to meet up with him there and he'll show us around... (he and a couple of his friends happen to be coming to Berlin in a couple of weeks so we'll be able to return the favour)

Ok- back to the monastery before they look the gates at 10pm for the night (though we do have a key we can take so it's not as bad as it sounds). As always looking forward to hearing from you!

 

23.8.10 17:55


showers, laundry and yoga

 As can be gathered from the title nothing too exciting is happening at the moment. The main event for us this week was our toilets getting a proper light (as in one that switches on everytime that you press the light switch- provided there is electricity that is). Until then there was a sort of fuse box which had two light switches but it would be a surprise everytime to see which light would come on if you pressed them (assuming one would come on at all). Also, our rooms were fitted with a proper floor today!! (we were told that this would happen about one hour beforehand so that me and vivian had to take it in turns running out of class to clear our stuff out of the room so that the workers could do their job...). The only downside to all this building is that unfortunately our water boiler seems to have been damaged in the process... Someone's on it at the moment- I guess we'll see in a bit if there will be any more hot showers... (though apparently we're more or less the only people in this town with a hot shower- so I really shouldn't complain).

But the thing we've all started missing the most is dry air. Due to the monsoon the air is constantly extremely humid. It's not too hot here (on the contrary) so it's not really a bit deal just for living in it. But the major challenge is washing clothes. We can easily wash our stuff by hand but if we hang it up it still won't be dry after three days... it just goes straight to smelling as though one had left it in the washing machine for too long... The alternative is bringing our washing to our laundry guy across the road. This is amazing in that it really doesn't cost much and he'll even deliver our clean, dry (!) clothes to our room within a day. On the downside his dryer is so hot that everything comes back one size smaller than when one dropped it off... So now we're looking into the option of a hairdryer to dry all our stuff after we washed it- just the last time I did that the fuse blew, so that's not ideal either... Oh well- I guess dry clothes will just have to wait until we get back again ^^

Perhaps more interestingly, I have joined a yoga class. (I realise some you will find this hilarious- for various reasons). Kart, the only guy volunteering with us (from Mumbai but studying in London), found this class and convinced me to come along to try it out. Vivian and me went for the first time yesterday afternoon and as no one else had showed up we got a private lesson... I found it really good fun (Vivian a bit less so) and have started going every morning before our first class (if anyone had told me a couple of weeks ago that I would choose to miss breakfast to do a two hour yoga class before teaching I definitely wouldn't have believed them ). The teacher's Indian and really good at pitching the class at the right level for the students there on the day. But I really wish I could record his (English) instructions and share them with you- they're pretty special... "Pleeeeease- now lift right feet down. Pleeeeeeeease - now left feet." - it takes a bit of getting used to but after about half an hour you mostly get what he's saying...^^

Enough for today - I'll go find out if our shower is up and running again... Looking forward to your replies!

 P.S. I really wanted to upload some photos today but for some reason this page won't let me

 

19.8.10 13:51


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