Saturday, July 01, 2006

Catching up.

Today's big news is that I got run over. Well, depending on whether or not you believe that a thing is its parts, either I got run over, or my foot got run over. It was up at the top of the commercial part of Mcleodganj, coming back from the Green Hotel Cafe. I was walking along minding my business, and a car hit me from behind. Gently - he was only going a few miles an hour. I put my foot down so that I could use it to get out of the way, and the driver drove right over it.

This was in a way a very useful experience, because I've often wondered what it would feel like to have one's foot run over - I've come close once or twice in the past. It turns out that if it's a passenger car, and it's not going fast, it's not so bad. My foot is sore because a lot of muscles in it got stretched in unusual ways, but no bones rubbed together, and none snapped, so I don't seem to be seriously injured - I was able to walk back down the hill without any discomfort. It may be that the Mephisto boots I was wearing helped - I think they have a steel dome in the toe. But I'm not sure about that.

I was so shocked that I swore the top of my lungs at the guy, and then held up my foot and yelled "you ran over my foot!" The guy looked shocked, but not particularly sorry. I was on the phone to a travel agent to get a car when it happened, so I wonder what he thought of the crazy shouting Inji. He didn't say anything. After I realized I was all right, I thought it was pretty funny, but Andrea wasn't amused.

Our car didn't come yesterday when we'd arranged. We sat around twiddling our thumbs for a while, hoping for the best, and finally gave up. The driver didn't speak english very well, and I think he didn't enjoy us very much either, so it wasn't a big surprise. The drivers here are really very skilled - I'd say as much so as an airplane pilot, but my airplane pilot friend might dispute that, and it's not really true. But they are not just run-of-the-mill drivers - they can judge the width of their cars amazingly well.

So after a few moments of panic about having to go up the hill again, I realized that I had the cell phone number of a travel agent. That's who you call to arrange a car, unless you have a driver's card, and the driver speaks english. He agreed to provide a jeep for twelve hundred rupees, which is very inexpensive. The driver took a long time to arrive, though, and we were starting to panic. There were a number of telephone exchanges with the travel agent, and finally just before six the travel agent said the driver couldn't get up Jogiwara Road (the road the hotel is on) because there was a truck blocking it, doing repairs, so we had to walk down.

We did walk down in a little caravan. It turned out that the driver was Amit, the same man who'd driven us from Delhi last Thursday. It was very nice to see Amit, and the walk wasn't too bad. Amit still had the thermos cup I'd left in the back on the way back, and seemed relieved to be able to return it to me. We made it to the teaching site with fifteen minutes to spare.

--

We're at the teaching site again now. It turns out that my foot is a bit more upset than I thought. I carried Chunzom's luggage up two flights of stairs so that we could get going faster, and started to feel unhappy ligaments. Now I'm limping quite a bit. Andrea put some arnica gel on my foot, and I've popped some ibuprofen, the wonder drug. If we'd had to walk down the hill today like we did yesterday, I think I would just have been stranded.

--

It's the break at the teaching. My foot is doing pretty well - I think there's pretty much nothing three tabs of ibuprofen can't fix. Although I hope the initial bold stroke nipped the swelling in the bud, because I don't want to have to keep taking it. Andrea set me up at the front of the teaching space in a chair, with another chair to keep my foot elevated. This is somewhat problematic, because you're not supposed to point your foot at the teacher, so I've been taking refuge in covering my feet up with a muslin sheet that I bought a couple of days ago.

In the middle of Christie-la's mind-only presentation, Andrea got bit by some kind of nasty insect that was crawling up her skirt. The bite is giving her a sharp, painful twinge every couple of minutes. It doesn't seem to be swelling badly. One of the students here is a registered nurse, and she checked it out pretty thoroughly.

--

It's Saturday now. Andrea's bite seems to have completely mellowed, which is nice. My foot is happy enough that I was able to do yoga this morning with no problem. There are still twinges from it if I do certain things that put extra stress on the muscles and connective tissue, but for the most part it's as if it didn't happen. It does itch a little bit.

We finally got up the courage to send out laundry today. Michael and Nicole's laundry got badly stained a few days ago because they put new Indian clothes, which are not at all colorfast, in with white clothes, and the people who did the laundry didn't separate them. So now Sharon's sending all our laundry up the hill.

We're up at the Green Hotel Cafe again, Lobsang Chukyi and I. The power's been out the whole time, and we can't get online. Very frustrating, since it's quite a long walk up the hill. But maybe the power will come back soon. We can only hope.

--

Since I don't have the Internet to distract me, I'll write a little about the beginning of the journey. Our flight to Delhi was about fourteen hours. We got in at about 8:30 pm, and got through passport control and customs in about an hour. I saw an Airtel dealer on the way out, and was tempted to stop, but didn't. We were planning to stay at the Imperial hotel, which is a very fancy hotel built toward the end of the British occupation, in an Art Deco style. We'd gotten the room arrangement that included pickup at the airport, so there was a driver waiting for us when we came out of customs.

Andrea blogged about the switcheroo, so I won't go into details about that. It was a rough welcome to India for us, and kind of ironic since in trying to avoid a taxi switcheroo scam, we wound up experiencing some of the stress of one anyway.

The hotel we wound up in, the Shangri La, was extremely nice. I would certainly recommend it to any western traveler who can afford it - you will never experience anything like it in the United States, because in the U.S. service is considered a dirty thing - not something you aspire to do well, but something you endure on your way to whatever you really aspire to. There are exceptions, of course, but by and large that's how it is in the expensive business hotels in the U.S - the goal of the place is to extract as much money from you on incidentals as possible, while providing the least value.

A $15 breakfast buffet in an American hotel would be some decent breakfast fare, but nothing fancy. At the Shangri La, the breakfast buffet was so good I nearly cried. I think that by itself it might have been worth the trip to India. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but after all the travel excitement, it was really sweet to be so well-treated.

We had the buffet twice, the day after we arrived in Delhi, and the day we left Delhi. It was a sweet beginning to a very long day. The driver arrived at about 7:30, I think, with Nicole and Michael in tow. From there we went out to stop at Cafe Barista so that they could have lattes. We discovered an interesting fact about cafes in Delhi: they don't open when you need them. Cafe Barista was shut tight at 7:30, and people were there cleaning it. We never found cofee that day - after a lot of driving we finally stopped and got Cokes. They won't let you take the bottles away - you have to drink it there.

The drive out of Delhi was pretty overwhelming. In fact, I think we were out of Rajasthan, the state in which Delhi is located, before it got un-overwhelming. I remember specifically an intersection outside of Delhi where there were tens of thousands of people streaming over the road in bicycles and on foot, amidst the four lanes of car traffic. We had to stop so that the other direction could go, and while we were stopped people came up and tried to sell us stuff and to beg. One mother with a very cute baby came up and harangued us, trying to get us to give her money. We were really upset about it, but at the same time it didn't feel safe to roll down the window in that crowd.

We went through several towns that were small by Delhi standards but still quite large; in each town, the same sort of thing would happen: if someone noticed who was in the car, they would do a double-take. If a car was in traffic with us, they would stare at us. If I met someone's eyes, they would follow us and try to catch my eyes again. With very few exceptions, it wasn't unfriendly; rather, it was like the car contained devas, and they wanted to see us and find out about us. It was very strange.

Our driver, on the other hand, did get some angry looks - there was one wedding car whose driver played tag with us for several hundred miles, deep into Punjab. They were probably headed for Manali; I think we lost them at the turnoff for Dharamsala.

The trip north very much reminded me of a long journey through Florida, only much drier. The level of kitch you see at the side of the road is very reminiscent of Florida roadside attractions. There are a series of government-sponsored rest stops on the way through Punjab; these *really* look like Florida roadside attractions, only with Indian gods and goddesses instead of flamingos. I think I prefer the Indian way - flamingos are boring after a while.

We stopped at a roadside attraction around noon to get something to drink. This was about an hour south of Chandigarh. Chandigarh is quite close, as the crow flies, to Dharamsala, but it's still in the plains of Punjab. We stopped for lunch again after Chandigarh; by this time the road had gotten a bit less straight and a lot narrower. When we left Delhi, we were on a four-lane highway (albeit a rather small, dusty one). We bypassed Chandigarh; by the time we got to the north end, the road narrowed down to a decently wide two-lane rode, reminiscent of U.S. 50 in Nevada, perhaps.

It also began to get greener; all along we'd seen agriculture, but at some point after Chandigarh it started to be common for there to be mango trees overhanging the road for miles at a time. You'd see kids out throwing sticks up into the tree to knock loose mangoes, which would be caught by other kids standing below, so that they didn't bruise. Much safer than ladders...

Because Chandigarh is so close to Dharamsala, I thought we were doing really well when we got through it, but of course that was a mistaken notion. Once you get into the foothills, things really slow down. Twenty five kilometers can easily take an hour.

As we began to ascend into the hills, I noticed something really weird - the people by the roadside, who'd seemed alien before, started feeling like beloved family. I don't know how to describe it, and it was by no means a common reaction, but for some reason that's how it felt. The drive from Chandigarh up into the Himalayan foothills was really blissful for me as a result, even though I was pretty uncomfortable in the bench seats of the jeep we were in.

We finally passed a sign that said "Dharamsala, 127km." This was the first sign for Dharamsala we'd seen. I was pretty happy about that - I figured we were maybe two hours away, because up until then we'd been making very good time. But it wasn't to be - the driver said maybe three hours, and I think it was more like four.

We caught our first sight of actual foothills a little after that, and kept going through more and more little Indian towns. Indian towns don't look like American towns. Indians seem to like to paint their trucks bright colors, but ther houses are generally the color of whatever material they're made of. I don't know if this is due to a lack of funds, or a lack of interest. I suspect that what decoration goes on is either inside the homes, or it's peoples' clothing. You see a *lot* of brightly-colored clothing.

I tried to see these towns through Indian eyes. American eyes pretty much pass over everything, because we're so accustomed to brighly colored signs and images that try to catch our attention. In these towns, I think if you are not accustomed to bright colors, there must be a huge amount of detail, and the shops must look very interesting and useful. After practicing this for a few hours, I was starting to get it.

We eventually got to Kangra, which is about 13km from Dharamsala. It's a huge town - it goes on forever. There's no obvious distinction between Kangra and Dharamsala - it turns out that Dharamsala is just a suburb of Kangra. Kangra is famous for its tea. You see signs for "clean green" all over the place. I've had it, and it's quite tasty. Very different than other green teas I've had. I might bring some home. This probably explains how large the town is.

I think the border between Kangra and Dharamsala is at a gas station. But not just any gas station, this is the gas station of the Gods. It's what a 7-11 wishes it were. By American standards it's not very big - only four pumps - but it's the newest-looking, nicest building I've seen in the entire trip. We pass it every day on the way to the teachings, and we've stopped a couple of times. They have a wall covered with bickies, they have Coke and Mirinda in plastic bottles, they have chocolate, they have scrubby sponges. They have everything. It's amazing. And the prices are good, too. I'll try to get a picture of it - we haven't had a chance to yet.

Yesterday when we left Dharamsala for the teaching, we left in an intense downpour, which started just before we got around to loading the car. I was soaked - my pants only dried off this morning after wearing them for an hour or two. We stopped at the nice gas station on the way down to get sodas for the road. We've stopped there one other time, also during a downpour. The funny thing was that as soon as we got below Dharamsala, the rain stopped, even though I'm sure it was still going up the hill. All the rivers and streams were boiling with runoff.

Anyway, I think that's all for now. I still have a bit more to write about our arrival in Dharamsala, but it's getting late.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Patricia said...

"Inji:" Furriner? English (n., as "ingrezi")?

service: It *is* nice--to begin with--but it got pretty oppressive after a while in Korea. I'd never make it as a member of the real oppressor class.

"beloved family:" always blissful when one's mind makes the adjustment and sad when it doesn't.

Saturday, July 01, 2006 4:23:00 PM  
Blogger Ellen Spertus said...

I enjoyed the post and look forward to any others.

Sunday, July 02, 2006 3:19:00 AM  

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