11.17am McLeod Ganj, (Dharamshalla)
As I walked out of Manju-Ka-Tilla yesterday trying to avoid the beggar lady carrying her child that wouldn’t leave me alone (might’ve had something to do with my confusion in trying to understand what she was saying being mistaken for compassion) I was approached by a driver who said he could take me to the Australian Embassy (I had to sort out troubles with my credit card). Driving through the crazy traffic again, I got to glimpse Delhi in the day and the poverty is much more striking. I also learnt many insights from my Punjabi driver through his broken English about his Sikh Guru’s special miraculous healing powers, how one of them was maytred with his throat slit by the Muslims who didnt like his religion, how driving in Delhi is actually very “orderly” comparatively as it is the state capital, and how police in Delhi are very friendly “You just give them 10 or 20 rupies and they say “You go now””. However he was unable to articulate answers to my more naive curiourioties “Why do police here carry machine guns?”. We drove past some kids holding signs “Staying in your lane is good” – apparently its road safety week. It was also amazing to see the industrialisness of everyone everywhere where hawkers will just walk amongst the traffic and try to flog you everything from newspapers, fruit to feather dusters. “What happens in a accident?” I ask. “Everyone comes and helps, take to hospital”, My driver replies. “What about the damage?” “We compromise how much agree”, “Do you always agree?” “Always”, “What about police?”, “No, no police”.
The Australian embassy itself was a fortress with 4 m high walls, surrounded by security checkpoints and large menacing No parking or Standing signs greeting anyone who approached, essentially meaning my driver couldn’t get in. However, by flashing my Australian passport, they let me in through the security complex. Above the fortress was a poster with smiling Australians promoting multi-cultralism , while outside Indians queued on a dirty road outside for Visa processing behind green bars. Inside the embassy itself, I met some fellow Australians, from the Gold Coast. They had just had a baby boy (who is technically Indian since he had just been born here a month ago) trying to sort out his citizenship. “Why is everything in Australia so difficult” the father said, “In India, anything can be done, as long as you have the right amount money”.
At night, I boarded the Potala bus to Dharamsala. Racing through the dark streets to the mountains, it was cold… very cold, but I managed to sleep through most of the interruptions, with hawkers coming on our bus trying, as I watched cows eating rubbish by the roadside. At about 8am we reached McLeod Ganj, passing some picturestue valleys like just out of a postcard. Kashmiri men rushed up to the bus, being extra helpful in trying to assist us in our luggage. I asked a monk if he knew the way to the post office, but he was unable to understand my English. Not knowing the way while trying to carry three large packs, I thought, what the hell and took one of the men on their offer. He carried my bags up to the postoffice, but we couldnt find the way to my guest house, so he asked one of the other locals, who told us that the Hotel was closed and he could take us to a much nicer one. I insisted and (as dorky as it was) took out my Lonely Planet and pointed. With sudden change of mind, he said he misheard and and pointed to the right way. The room was much nicer than the previous night, with a view of the street and mountain and had what I had been eagerly looking forward to… a hot shower. It was too late when I realised that “hot water” advertised actually meant 5 minutes of lukewarm water, but at least it woke me up. Credit card is still stuffed after spending the last 3 hours on the phone with them just then, Tried to upload a picture of my view, but doesnt seem like the computer likes me either.. o well.. on to Tsuglagkhang (HH Dalai Lama’s residence) after this.