I’ve been surviving my first India mountain experience. Under other circumstances I could probably say enjoying, but between my nose running from my cold or me running to the bathroom, combined with overnight buses that make airplane turbulence seem like nothing, to large bugs and dank moisture hanging in the cool air, it hasn’t exactly been pleasant. Our second night in Dharamsala Matt and I were getting ready for bed when a gigantic spider appeared in the corner of the room above the armoire. It was at least the same size as a tarantula, but unfortunately not in a cage. It was too high for us to reach, and we had no bug spray. Hysterically I ran outside of our room into the lobby to get some help from the staff. I frantically pointed to the abnormally large spider and asked if they had any spray, all the while making crushing motions with my hands so that he would be sure I wanted it dead. The hotel guy took a long duster and brushed the spider from the ceiling to the floor where, being a good Hindu boy, he did not kill it but tried to capture it so he could take it outside. It appeared that it had gotten away because he was having trouble locating it in the bristles of the duster, but then he got up, took it outside and shook it out over the balcony. Uncertain of his success, I asked if he got it to which he replied, “Yes.” I didn’t believe him. Matt and I closed our door and conducted an unsuccessful search for the pest, and even stuffed newspaper in a cranny we thought it might have hidden in. Sure enough, about an hour later the beast resurfaced, but this time Matt and I were ready. We didn’t want to have to use any the spider bite antivenoms the guidebook wrote about so instead of seeking help from the hotel staff, we took matters into our own hands and used a shoe. Even though the spider was dead, I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was finally able to fall asleep with my sleep sheet pulled up around my face, leaving just a small space to breath. We changed rooms the next night. I saw many more spiders in Dharamsala, but none as big as that first one.
To the credit of the mountains though, they haven’t been uninteresting. The small community where we stayed outside of Dharamsala, McLeod Ganj, is where the Tibetan government is set up, and the Dalai Lama lives there next to the Buddhist monastery. For the first time in India, the majority of the people I saw were not Indian, they were Tibetan and to my surprise many of them were dressed pretty normally (not in the western style many young Indians unsuccessfully attempt to imitate). Also interesting was the organization of the Tibetan community and comparative wealth to the Indian communities I’ve seen. I figured at least two of the reasons for this may be: 1.) Outside support—how many universities don’t have a Students for a Free Tibet? Not many. 2.) A strong, cohesive community that has bonded together through many hardships. Our first day there Matt and I took a walk through the Tibet museum where I was able to learn about the Chinese occupation and the Tibetan’s long journey across the Himalayas to seek refuge in India. One of the days we were in McLeod Ganj, almost all of the Tibetan run shops (i.e. most of the town) were shut down. In the morning there was a protest march down the hill, and in the evening a candle light vigil. Both events were to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet, and specifically targeted the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Many people had t-shirts for the event, and the leaders passed out slick informational flyers—like the kind the college clubs pass out for events back home. You may be thinking, so what? A flyer? Who cares? But you must understand that this is India and many of the things I have seen here appear to be extremely inefficient, like the guy at an internet place who took Matt’s ID down the street to be photocopied rather than scan it digitally using his own equipment. Or at the Indian Airlines office where only one person could get you fares, the other desks were for bookings, even though all had access to the same information and many of the booking desks were open. Or that you can’t even book/pay for a flight from Indian Airlines on-line. And these are just IT related examples, but the list could go on. Anyways, my point is is that there definitely seemed to be a contrast between the Tibetan community norms and the Indian norms I’ve seen so far.
Back to the beginning of this post, I hope to more than just survive my India mountain experience. Tonight we leave for a higher and drier destination. I will do my best to stay hydrated on my electrolyte solution and hopefully other things will start drying up thanks to Cipro. Until then, happy wishes to you where ever you are—at work, at home, at school. Remember, when times get rough, at least you’ve got hot water and a toilet you don’t have to pour a bucket of water in to flush. J