All Posts Filed in ‘Asia

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

There’s an article in the free Dharamshala community magazine, Contact Mag, about life in England. It’s headed: So you want to go to the west? and starts:

What about England? It’s a small island situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea with a population of 60 million. You could live a long life as life expectancy is 80 for women and 75 for men. There are 78 cell phones per 100 people.

It goes on to talk about the animals that English people kill in their gardens and homes, shops full of sprays and insecticides, how expensive a cup of chai is, and how carol singing has been banned.

Some quotes:

London is a frenetic fast-paced city which is competitive and materialistic. …it can be scary and lonely as everyone takes care only of themselves.

If you travel on the trains and buses, you are in for a treat. The trains, very often carpeted, are clean with upholstered seats, a restaurant and snack bar… If they are even two or three minutes late there will be an announcer over the intercom apologizing.

London is a very expensive city and accommodation is not easy to find. A shared room in a hostel could cost Rs 15,000 [£200] per month… So how will you afford these prices? You will have to work very hard and long hours. Sometimes you can get two or three jobs like waitering, selling or manual labouring.

The article ends:

When you are in England and your bad karma catches up with you, you might feel sad and lonely. Who will you turn to in a country full of strangers? Where will you go for help and spiritual guidance? Will you miss your friends and maybe family? Will you miss His Holiness [the Dalai Lama]?

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

In the bar yesterday evening an Indian guy, slightly pissed, was saying all you Westerners you come over here because you’re empty and you fill yourself up with anything you can find, like a rubbish bin, you take it all in, you don’t reject anything. You come here with no God, no belief, and you go away full of rubbish. You’re all looking for the void.

If we’re empty we don’t need to go looking for the void, do we?

I agreed with a lot of what he was saying, but I didn’t like the way he was saying it, and I felt like an argument, so I argued, but it was pointless.

He was with an English guy who had a theory that the world was a body and each nation was a part of the body. People asked him what various countries were. What’s England? England is the intellect. And Germany is the motor section of the brain. And America is the imaginary monkey that torments the brain.

The American dream.

What’s Spain? Spain is the tongue – th th th th th thaybaytha por favor. What’s Italy? Italy is the chin – it looks like a chin, with a beard. What’s Russia? Russia is the back. What’s France? France is the nose, of course. He sniffed across the table. He was with an elegantly dressed French woman carrying a dog. She didn’t seem to object to being described as something that comes from the nose. What’s China? China is the arse. (There were no Chinese at our table, even though statistically there should have been since one in every four people is Chinese and there were six of us.) Australia is the feet, an Australian said, proudly. Where are the testicles? They’re under water somewhere. So the world is male? It’s both sexes.

Everyone here has a theory. That’s my theory. Everyone has a theory and everyone’s theory is wrong, including mine.

What about India? India is the heart. No, India can’t be the heart, the Indian guy objects. India must be the soul. The Englishman says that as far as his theory is concerned they’re the same thing. No, they’re not the same thing! You have to understand the difference between the heart and the soul. India cannot be the heart.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Yesterday people were talking about a German woman who died. She had been missing for two days and they’d just found her body near the waterfall. She must have slipped. The body was laid out in Bhaksu on a bamboo stretcher, covered up and guarded by police.

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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.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Sitting in a cafe. Thunder rumbling. Stomach also rumbling. I went down to the LHA the other day, a Tibetan education place, where they can learn English from volunteers and also computer skills and website design. I know some people who have been doing English conversation groups there, and thought I could offer to do something. I told them I had website building skills. I was asked if I knew Dreamweaver. I said yes. Good, that’s what we need. I was shown numerous pages handouts for the students and as I glanced through them I started to think that I don’t really know Dreamweaver that well. I spent yesterday morning, before my first class, teaching myself some of the things I don’t know. Once you know one of these computer applications the rest are all pretty similar. When it came to the class I realized the main problem was not my knowledge of what I was supposed to be teaching, but more the language barrier. The guy who interviewed me said I have a strong English accent, and then asked if I was Scottish. I don’t think they understood much of what I was saying, but were too polite to say so.

In Thailand I heard English people speaking pigeon English to Thais to make themselves understood, which to me always sounded patronizing, but they were able to make themselves understood. The Thais smiled and laughed at their anecdotes, but perhaps they were just too polite to tell the stupid farangs they couldn’t understand a bloody word.

They’re playing some terrible music in this place, some female singer, American, singing about love or something. It might not be so bad if I didn’t understand the words, but it would still be bad. The speaker is crackling. I’m the only one in here. Time to go.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Press the center of the heel down and connect with the earth and everything will be okay. The last day of yoga. I should have been writing notes on all the poses but haven’t. Pressing the center of the heel down and stretching out the toes is what I remember at the moment.

Backward bends make you more extrovert, forward bends make you more introvert.

There was a party at the yoga center this evening. The teacher is a bit of a musician. Someone described him as an Indian Elvis, but I think he’s more of an Indian Roy Castle. He can play the didgereedoo (he owns two), guitar, Indian drums (I can’t remember the word for them) and he sings. There was an instrument for everyone. We sat around a fire, drinking chai, eating cookies and making noises.

There was a thunder storm today. It’s made the sky clear and the air cool. Sheltering in a restaurant on the side of a hill, women dressed in orange across the valley took shelter too. That was a wedding party. They’d been making a lot of noise earlier, and for the past two days. Higher up the mountain two Shiva houses were visible. These are small white huts, like mini-temples, dotted over the Himalayas. They’re supposed to be homes for the god Shiva. Shiva is a dreadlocked chillum smoking god who lives in the mountains. There are also a number of holy men following his example, living in huts and caves smoking a lot in order to get close to him.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

There was a Tibetan monk sitting outside my guest house this afternoon. He was sleeping when I looked out of my window but he was awake when I got outside and sat down. He talked in a very quiet voice about emptiness and compassion and how you should spend time studying and meditation rather than of partying. Impermanence – we waste too much time. If you’re forty you may only have another twenty years. I could barely hear what he was saying. An Israeli with a loud voice was talking to an Irish woman about Buddhism. When I got the chance I asked him one of the questions that has been bothering me about Tibetan Buddhism: What do they mean by sentient beings? They say may all sentient beings be happy. Animals are sentient beings? Yes, of course. But are plants sentient beings? No. Why not? Because they don’t have a mind. How do you know? He said that plants can react to sunlight, to the four elements: wind, fire, water and earth, but they can’t think. But isn’t the border between plants and animals quite blurred? Corals and sea anemones are animals. No all animals have a head, a body and legs, particularly the ones that live in the sea. There it’s not so easy to tell the difference between plants and animals. Things that cling to rocks and may never move throughout their lives may be animals. Plants are just things that photo-synthesize. And aren’t these distinctions we make between things, dividing life into animals and plants, sentient and non-sentient beings, illusory? They’re categories we impose on the world, which is what the Buddhists mean by reality being illusory. And emptiness is about the emptiness of reality once you strip away our arbitrary discriminations. Basing your concept of rebirth on concepts that you argue are illusory undermines your concept of rebirth.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Day three of yoga. Less painful than yesterday.

The plough. Lie down on shoulders, on a bolster, shoulders back. Walk up the wall, which ought to be in front of you (if it isn’t you’re in the wrong place) and put your legs over your head and rest them on the stool (which ought to be just behind your head). Lie like that for a while. Relax and observe the other upside down people.

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McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India

Yoga: Observe what the body is doing and feeling. Observe without making value judgements.

I observed my thighs hurting. I tried to observe the pain without it bothering me, but that’s not so easy. I remember trying to do the same thing when I was cycling.

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McLeod Ganj, India

McLeod Ganj is cold, and it rained for most of the day. I bought a jacket, one made by Tibetans living here. McLeod Ganj is the home of the Dalai Lama, though I think he’s now in England, or maybe Holland, or possibly Argentina. Have a look on www.tibet.com to see, if you really want to know. If you’re not too bothered where he is then it doesn’t matter.

There are pictures of him everywhere, and shops selling posters with his most famous sayings. Not really posters, but words printed on cloth attached to sticks that you’re meant to hang on your wall to remind you to live a good and just life or whatever, or to remind visitors to your house to live a good and just life and not to abuse your hospitality, and not to move into your house, invite in all their friends and relations and kick you out, forcing you to go and live with the next door neighbours.

I took the night train from Rishikesh, and then an overloaded shared jeep, a three hour journey up into the mountains as the sun was rising.

Went to see a Tibetan film this evening at the local cinema, which seats about fifty in seats which appear to have been taken out of a coach. The film a video projection of a poor quality DVD. It was called Himalaya, sun-titled the childhood of a chief, about a village of Tibetans walking with their yaks from one place to another, but the old chief doesn’t want to start walking until the stars are auspicious whereas the guy who is setting himself up as the new chief, called Karma, wants to leave right away. So the village splits, but the old guy’s lot catch up with the young one’s bigger lot, and then the old chief throws salt in the fire and says if the salt crackles it will be good weather but if it is silent it’ll be bad weather. The salt is silent so he says they should cross the mountains tomorrow but Karma says the sky is clear so the weather will be fine and they should rest for a couple of days before leaving. This time village goes along with what the old chief says, and the old chief is proven right. The weather is bad and the old chief gets lost in the snow but Karma, who refused to go with them, is following and finds the old chief and saves his life. They reach safety, the old chief gives his blessing to Karma as the new chief and then he dies. He had wanted his son to be chief but his son has been hanging out at a monastery painting murals and doesn’t want to be chief, but the old chief’s grandson will become chief because the whole film is about him. There’s a flash forward at the end to the new new chief looking at the mural that has been painted of this journey.

I thought the film was too beautiful. Very high production values and highly composed images. All a bit too nice and perfect. If it had been filmed in a more raw way, shot on digital video with hand held cameras then maybe it could have been good.

Had dinner in a restaurant with a Scottish woman I met on the train, some Italians she knew and an Indian guy she knew. I ordered an espresso coffee. One of the Italians was discussing whether or not it would be real espresso. Usually here espresso means filter coffee, whereas if you just ask for coffee you get Nescafe instant coffee. We hear the machine spluttering. It sounds like a real espresso, but then the waiter puts a cappucino down in front of me. The Italian says that’s a cappucino, he asked for an espresso. No, that’s an espresso, says the waiter. No, it’s an espresso, insists the Italian. No, it’s an espresso, insists the waiter. Okay it’s an espresso, I say. I don’t care. It has chocolate sprinkled on top and looks like a decent cappucino. So long as it’s not Nescafe. It seems crazy trying to get authentic Italian things in India, but most tourist restaurants now offer Italian food on their menus.

I’m staying in a hotel that’s off the road. You have to walk up a rough path to get to it. I have a room with bathroom attached and hot shower, and two thick blankets on my bed.