Thursday, June 21, 2007

In which I stop complaining about India...

I'm actually enjoying myself these days. Honest.

You just wouldn't realize that by reading my last few entries. All I seem to do is complain about long bus rides and our (now ex-)Travel Agency. The thing is, complaining is easy to do. And, when done right, can create the illusion that I'm witty and entertaining. So, generally, I stick Sarah with the considerably more difficult job of writting about all the wonderous things we've seen and done here, while I instead focus on grousing over the complexities and difficulties that come with travelling in India.

But, honestly, I should give it a rest for a bit. I mean, this blog's name is Strange and Benevolent, not Strange and Annoying, right?

So, that said, I thought I'd talk a little about the towns of Dharamsala (pronounced Dar-am-Shala) and Pushkar (pronounced like the thing you would do when your automobile breaks down). The amazing thing about the two cities is that -in many regards- they are polar opposites of each other. In short, Dharamsala is yak country, and Pushkar is camel country.

A typical street in McLeod Ganj. Temples, monks, and souvenir shops.

The colorful, rundown ornamentation of Pushkar.

Where Dharamsala (actually, McLeod Ganj, but still) is perched high on a hillside, and seems to exist in the middle of a neverending cloud of mist and rain; Pushkar is very much a desert community... dry and hot! The result is that both towns have a relaxed feel, but in different way. Where Dharamsala seems like a foggy morning in the Pacific Northwest, where you want to huddle indoors with friends over a cup of coffee or tea; Pushkar is in on a perpetual siesta, with the majority of people lounging indoors, drinking cool drinks or hidding in shady rooms with their fans running.

Sarah looks out over the misty hills of McLeod Ganj

Sarah hides from teh heat in our colorful guesthouse.

In addition, both towns have different religions as their backbone: Dharamsala is famously the home of Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile; while Pushkar is a major holy city for Hindus. Personally, I've found that I prefer hanging out in Buddhist areas; but at the same time, I can't knock the color and variety of Hinduism. The streets of Pushkar are marked by a bold array of colorful saris, painted walls and weathered temples.

A small boy turns prayer wheels at the main temple in McLeod Ganj.

Neither towns are big on drinking, though. Pushkar actually has a ban on alcohol (as well as meat, including eggs). But, then again, who wants to drink when you can barely keep yourself hydrated. That said, I also already miss hanging out on the rooftop bar in Dharamsala; eating, drinking and swapping stories with the other travellers there. Those evening get-togethers, as well as our wonderful cooking class, gave Sarah and I a much needed sense of routine in Dharamsala.

The breads we cooked in the last cooking class we took. Yum!

One thing that is similar between both cities is the monkeys. You don't notice them at first, until you look up at the rooftops, or climb to a high vantage point. Then you notice the secret parallel world they've created there, high above the people who's houses they jump between. In Vietnam, I remember commenting to Sarah about how (when we get back to the States) I'll miss the fact that restaurants won't have geckos clinging to their walls. Well, its perhaps true that I'll miss staying in a house with monkey's perched on the roof, too.

Monkey's go about their day, on the rooftops of Pushkar.

So, yes, while the bus rides are chaotic, and while the Travel Agency sucked the fun from the first weeks of our India leg, I am enjoying myself now...

Whether it's sharing a beer on a rooftop restaurant with other travellers in Dharamsala, or playing Chinese chess with other people staying at our guesthouse in Pushkar. Making momos with a Tibetan refugee, or wondering what vegittarian dish the French woman running our guesthouse will whip up. Visiting the home of the Dali Lama or Brahma's only Temple. Passing a group of monks in the street, or a giant camel.

Who knows which town I'll end up looking back on the most fondly. But, both have been wonderous experiences... in vastly different ways.


littlemonstercallum said...

What a wonderful and varied experience you're having in India. It sounds a magical place the way you've described it, Tyler.

One of my sister is saying that after she's had enough of living/working in Japan that she wants to go to India. I'll have to link her to your blog here so she can see someone elses experience.

Now I have to read back and see what happened with the Travel Agent. Glad you're having a wonderful time now.

Take Care.


The General said...

Yeah, India has been incredible, but is also incredibly challenging. It's the 9th country we've visited so far on our journey (and my 16th country total, not counting the US and Canada)... but it still makes me feel like a Travel Amatuer every day.