I've never thought of myself as stereotypical. I even like the phrase "Why be normal ?" I then came across the following in The Indian Times:
Dammit. I write this blog on my Macbook, sometimes listening to my iPod and almost definitely after downloading the latest piccies from a Canon SLR. And usually its done in a backpackers hostel that costs 250 rupees a night (about £3). Really. Flashpacker ? I'm mortified.
You meet allot of people traveling. Over the past few years, I've met quite a few traveling in the remoter regions of the world, but mainly English, Dutch and Israeli. These three nationalities seem to crop up everywhere. I assumed India would be the same, but after seven weeks, I was beginning to wonder where the Israelis were ? And... I've finally found them ! They're hauled up in Bagsu village, near Dharamsala, getting henna tattoos, partying hard, smoking pot and touting lots of 'Free Tibet' tops. I kept my eye out for any 'Free Palestine' tops. I didn't see any.
So, I'm in McCleod Ganj, nr Dharamsala, the place chose as home for the 14th Dalai Lama after he fled Tibet 50 Years ago. Nestled at 1800m high, its got a refreshingly cool climate, making this a top hangout joint for westerners and middle class Delhian's alike. As well as being the home of the Dalai Lama, there is a large Tibetan refugee community, meaning you can't go many places without bumping into a traditionally dressed Tibetan woman or a Buddhist monk clad in crimson red. There are Tibetan crafts, shops, flags and food joints everywhere, accompanied with a large sprinkling of 'enlightened' westerners calling this home for a few months of the year. Its also got the best western food I've come across in India, with the food hygiene standards at levels you find in the west. Pizza, Pasta, Pies, Bakeries and wonderful salads. I done nothing but gouge on salads for the past few days. And I've remembered what it as like to fart... something I've forgotten in the last two months with a diet of mostly Indian food.
I also had my first hot shower for two months and there was something strangely reassuring about this experience. It made me feel like I was at one 53 Coldershaw Road ... AKA home and for a moment I even missed the UK's climate! I would almost go as far as saying that Dharamsala is not really India ... if only one could get away from the constant beeping of horns. I mean, I still don't get why Indian drivers do it ? Why beep your horn when a pedestrian has already seen you and is well out the way ? Why beep your horn to the car on the other side of the road ? Why beep you horn in a traffic Jam ? Does it make the Jam go any faster ? Its an ingrained habit of driving in India and its one of the most annoying aspects of India for me. You can't escape it. I think horns should be banned ... but then again being the principle instrument of road safety in India, that might not be such a good idea. Their road safety record is bad enough.
I came prepared for my travels with a set of hiking boots especially to do a spot of hillwalking In places like this and it was such a struggle to put on a pair of boots after the pleasure of wearing sandals for the past two months. But it was worth it, a few hours in and the hustled 'n bustle of McCleod Ganj, the car horns and the street hawkers were well and truly gone. Your left with the sight and sounds of the Himalaya and the gentle fluttering of Buddhist prayer flags floating in the wind. Its magic. To the south spans the vast plains of the Punjab and to the north towering above you are snow capped peaks announcing the arrival of the Himalayas. Its a special place, quite unlike anywhere I've been trekking before. The walk culminated in a high Pass at Triund, where i took lunch at a high mountain tea stall. It was all rather good, until, a hailstorm caused an interruption, throwing marble sized hailstones down for a good hour. The landscape turned to snow white within minutes. I waited this out and completed my circuit joined by a group of Buddhist monks and a pair of stray dogs. Like many dogs in India, this canine pair have sussed that Gora's (Common Hindi term for white foreigners) won't beat them. So they like to hang around with us.
I'd have liked to stay longer, if it was not for the fact that I'd already booked a string of trains to meet my date with Delhi, the Taj Mahal and then Varanasi. Through some stroke of amazing luck my return flight back was canceled, swapping Delhi for another day in this fantastic place. Sipping my morning coffee on the final day in McCleod Ganj, I came across a quote from one Sir Richard Burton, which neatly sums up the act of going traveling. I like it:
"Of the gladdest moments in human life, me thinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off, with one mighty effort, the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares and the slavery of a civilisation, man feels once more happy"
Sir Richard Burton, upon embarking for the African Coast, 1856.