It’s been a few days since either of us has written anything, but we’re now in Dharamsala. After a hectic last couple days in Delhi, we finally escaped to my favorite region on the planet: the Himalayas. It’s the beginning of what I think will be an epic month. There’s just something mystical about the Himalayas. I’m not sure what it is; perhaps its scale and natural beauty of the world’s highest mountains, or maybe the foreignness of the region, or perhaps it’s the people. Whatever it is, I love these mountains. I could live the rest of my life living and exploring these mountains, from the Hindu Kush in northern Pakistan/Afghanistan to the high plateaus of Ladakh and Tibet to the ancient kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan and down to the verdant foothills towards Southeast Asia.
We’re beginning our Himalayan adventure in the old hill station Dharamsala. Famous for being the residence of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, it’s a mecca for monks, hippies, Tibetan refugees and activists. I’ve visited several times in the past and chose it as the first stop for several reasons: it’s a socially-interesting place, has a relaxing and laid-back atmosphere, and is a good first step altitude-wise on our journey to higher elevations.
While Delhi had some noticeable changes since my last visit (like the Metro and different businesses opening and closing), Dharamsala has remained much the same. The same guesthouses, same restaurants with the same menus, and same eclectic demographics. Still a ton of backpackers and hippies walking around enjoying the cheap accommodation and chill atmosphere. There’s always been a lot of monks here, but we’ve seen them interacting with and coordinating a lot with the activists, in the run up to the 2008 Olympics. I was mad at myself yesterday for not carrying my camera, as I missed a hundreds-strong marching protest against the Chinese occupation of Tibet and a candlelight vigil for the Tibetan political prisoners that China is holding. Even in Delhi there were demonstrations, flyers, and a hunger-strike demanding any of the following: a free Tibet, an autonomous region of Tibet, the release of political and religious prisoners, the inclusion of Tibetan athletes in the Olympics, the cancellation of the Olympics from China. I have pretty strong feelings/opinions on the whole issue, but I’ll keep them to myself until after we visit China.
Besides our relaxing routine of eating, walking, talking, reading, and writing all day every day, we watched Borat and hiked to a nearby waterfall. Borat was funny, the waterfall fun. We hiked up to just under it and dipped our feet in the cold water. It was cold enough that a nearby snack stand had siphoned off part of the stream to fill a makeshift cooler full of cold drinks. The view from the falls looking down the narrow gorge was amazing, with clouds floating around within the valley. Unfortunately, this was the same aforementioned day that I didn’t carry my camera. Regardless, it was great- just sitting on the rocks, feet in the water, talking and enjoying the Himalayas.
Other than all that, we haven’t been doing too much. We spent our first night in The Yellow Guesthouse, which was my favorite place to stay a few years back. Unfortunately, they’ve doubled their room rates since then and Joylani was kind of grossed out by the mold and lack of hot-water there. So we’re now staying on the other side of town at Holiday House. Both places have amazing views; the Yellow Guesthouse looking south down into the Beas Valley (whose river of the same name marks the eastern-most border of Alexander the Great’s empire, as his troops refused to cross the river) and Holiday House overlooking the westerly downward slopes of these Himalayan foothills down to the green plains of the Punjab.
Tomorrow, we’ll head deeper into the mountains before setting out for higher latitudes and altitudes.