McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

chai shop on Triund Spent Saturday night up on Triund, a ridge 1000m above McLeod Ganj, 2800m above sea level. It took about four hours to walk up there, five if you include the breaks in the chai shops on the way up. On Triund there are three chai shops, some shepherds’ huts, some caves, some very basic rooms you can rent, but no toilets and no showers. I wasn’t so bothered about a shower but after the thali we had when we got to the top I felt like I needed a real toilet. Previously I’ve always tried to get back to the guest house where I’m staying when that time of day comes around, and you can never be totally sure when that might be. That can mean planning your day around your shit, but I don’t like squatting over a hole and using my left hand and a jug of water, which is how it is in almost all public toilets. I’d rather have a seat and toilet paper. There have been emergencies, when the time of day has arrived sooner than expected, often after breakfast in the Green Hotel, their special gyathuk, a Tibetan soup with tofu, egg and vegetables, tends to go directly to the bowels without really bothering to stop off at the stomach.

The locals on Truind laugh when I ask if there are any toilets. I can hold on for a while. Maybe something will turn up.

The place is very barren. The trees are further down. At the top is grass, rocks and goats. On the other side of the ridge (in relation to the side we walked up) are snow-capped mountains. Sunil, the chai shop owner, says you can walk up to the snow line in an hour and a half, but that would be Indian time. He says no, it really is only an hour and a half. He can do it in half an hour though, but he doesn’t bother with the path.

Sunil has offered to put us up in his chai shop, but it’s not very big and there are five of us. After the sun has gone down behind one of the mountains, but when it’s still quite light, he points out some unused shepherds’ huts and caves we could try instead of his chai shop. Whichever we prefer. He has sleeping bags we can rent. The shepherds’ huts are very small and not very clean, except for one – but then a Japanese woman shows up and looks at us. It’s her place.

I find a cave which seems okay, though still not very clean. Okay for someone else but I’m starting to think a night in the chai shop, or outside it, is not such a bad option. Just down from the cave is a tree, a perfect spot for a squat. No one about, and it’s starting to get dark. I pull some leaves off the tree and do what I’ve been longing to do for the past three hours.

The following day some women who’ve just arrived and are sitting in the chai shop I spent the previous night in ask me about toilets. I tell them what I did yesterday evening, though I don’t tell them the exact tree. There are other trees. One asks if she should bury her shit. I was told it wasn’t necessary. The goats and sheep don’t bother to bury theirs. Neither do the dogs.

One of the dogs walks down with us. Most dogs don’t seem to belong to people here. They may have human friends, people who feed them, but no one owns them. They don’t have collars and they don’t have names, unless someone decides to name them, but then someone else might give them different names so it’s unlikely any of these dogs would answer to any particular name, but if you leave some rice and dal out for them they’ll probably eat it.

I’m in the Green Hotel restaurant in Mcleod Ganj. Though it is at least half an hour from here to my toilet, and though much of their food has caused me to dash back to my toilet, I keep coming here. They do real coffee and excellent carrot cake, though tonight there’s no carrot cake left so I have chocolate walnut cake. I’ve just been teaching web design to some Tibetans. I was about to head home but it’s just started raining so I think I’ll hang on here until it stops. It looks and sounds pretty heavy. They’ve closed the windows and the door out onto the balcony. Lightening. There were black clouds yesterday as we left Triund, but it only really rained up the top. I met one of the women I’d dexcribed my toiletry adventures to down in the town in the evening and she asked if I got caught in the rain. I said no. We only felt a few spots. She said they had to wait in the chai shop until it stopped.

Talking to an Israeli guy who’s been living up there in a cave for the past month and a half. Someone asks him if he likes it here. I must like it here, he says, otherwise I wouldn’t be here for a month and a half. He doesn’t say much more than that, except that he likes the simplicity of just thinking about shitting and eating. Nothing else is important. Or maybe he doesn’t say that. Maybe it was someone else. I’m sure someone said it and it wasn’t me.

People sit. Some wander from one chai shop to another. There is the sound of someone playing bongo drums, which we could hear on the way up. That was about the only time I’ve found the sound of those drum welcoming. Some shepherds sit on a rock chain smoking billis, or binis, I’m never sure how to say that word. They’re the very cheap strong smelling hand rolled in brown paper Indian cigarettes. Skarmarka billi = your mother smokes billis, a Hindu insult I learnt in Calcutta.

It’s not necessary to talk. You can just sit with other people and not say anything. If you talk all the time you’ll run out of things to say.

It gets cold once the sun has gone down. The wind gets up, but can’t decide which direction it’s blowing in. Sunil gats some firewood from lower down the ridge where there are trees. We sit around the fire with sleeping bags around our shoulders drinking bottles of beer and smoking charis. It takes time to slow down. I still have the feeling that I’m waiting for something to happen, but then remind myself that nothing is going to happen, except tomorrow morning the sun will rise, we’ll sit around for a while and then walk back down to McLeod Ganj. I’m not sure what time it was when I stepped over the sleeping bodies and crates blocking the chai shop doorway and got outside to have a piss. The sun was not yet visible but it was light. If I’d stayed outside for a bit longer I would have seen the sun rise, as I had been saying I would do the night before, but now I just want a couple more hours of sleep.

Lightening flashes outside the windows. A wet woman walks in and asks for an ashtray. This is a no smoking restaurant, the only one in town. She’s told she can go out on the balcony to smoke but she doesn’t fancy it. At another table an American woman (or possibly Canadian, but I don’t think so) is talking about realizing that there is no I, I don’t exist. In our community, when we realized someone wasn’t in their body we would stop speaking to them, and then when they came back we’d say welcome back, now we can continue our conversation.

Up on Triund a guy (who said he stopped believing in God ten years ago – only ten years ago, he said), one of the people I walked up with, talked about everything being God’s will. I don’t feel guilt any more. I haven’t felt guilty for at least a year. I can’t remember what it’s like to feel guilty. If I do something it’s not me doing it, it’s God doing it, so it can’t be bad. This is what the Indian thugees used to believe, he says. They would go around killing people – that is, God would use their bodies to kill people.

2 Comments

  1. fairtradetrousers · 10 May 2006

    Who would do all the work if everyone spent all their time meditating to reach enlightenment?

  2. paul · 11 May 2006

    The enlightened ones would say: What work? Work is an illusion.

    But the ones who are not yet enlightened, sitting up in their caves or wherever, need people to come and bring them food. Some have reached a point where they can live on prana energy (apparantly) so they don’t need food or drink and they don’t even need to breathe, but most haven’t got to that stage yet. If you’re a rich Westerner here you can pay to go into a retreat and then other people will do the work, cook your food or whatever, though you may be expected to clean the toilets occasionally (karma yoga). It’s a great way to live like a new age aristocracy, telling themselves they’re doing it in order to attain enlightenment so as to benefit all sentient beings.

    But also, if everyone spent all their time doing any one thing society would collapse. If everyone spent all their time writing blogs society as we know it would come to an end. There would be no more reality, only the blogosphere. Virtual bloggers would write blogs about blogs.