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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 21 October 2010

October 21st: Dharamsala

On October 21st 1978 I was in Dharamsala.  This was the day I made an effort to get up to Triund, but I left a little late and the afternoon clouds were covering thicker than usual. This is extracted from my notebook:
From the temple onwards it's been fairly open with just clumps of smallish trees looking rather like rhododendrons budding now. It's getting autumn up here, some trees have turned brown and some ferns but other flowers are out. In some of the damper areas out of the sun there was that thick rich wet high tropical smell I always like. I can hear two flocks of sheep and goats, one to my left near a watercourse coming down from the ridge, then a little to the right the flock I passed earlier beside the stone built huts. Down below I can just see a little of the terraced lower slopes and the Kangra valley still a bit sunny. The minivets have been the commonest birds, even up here which may be 2500 metres. A little sparrow-hawk. A grey brown snake on the path and two lizards.
Halfway down, at the point where I can look down over the valley. Bhagsunath and McLeod Ganj itself in partial shade, the two little temples or shrines on the pass on the trail, one the boy told me was to Durga and it's festooned with tridents. I'm looking down immediately on 5 or 6 little stone huts with slate roofs. Tibetans live in a couple of them, monks I think from the red and orange colours of the clothes, flowers outside by the doors. One is chopping wood, and I hear the sound a full second after the action even at this distance. A couple of huts have little terraces beside them, one a shepherd's I think. Below the Pahar farms, sweeping terraces, corn reddening on the roofs and verandas. The noise of the river and the cows and lambs.
I spent a few weeks in Dharamsala, enjoying the fresh air and the walks among the forests and orchids, where langurs played in the trees. In town I also enjoyed the colour of the Tibetans and the freaks (more freaks here than anywhere except Goa). For a while I stayed at the Kailash Hotel in the middle of the bazaar at McCleod Ganj, and later at the Green Hotel which had recently opened and was quieter. It had a roof where you could sit and enjoy the sun - the only drawback was that a young Westernised Tibetan played Otis Redding's Wonderful World endlessly on a little turntable. The Green Hotel is still going. From my window at the Kailash I recorded this:
8am morning now, sun already getting warm and the mountains completely clear. A few kites and vultures circling around, and the crows, and the sparrows in the bazaar. The radio is on in one of the tea-houses opposite, probably the one with the Panama advertisement, Hindi pop music and a blurry noise of background talking. There are three vegetable stands straight across, as well as three tea-stands and sweet-shops, all Indian traders. The vegetable shop I see the most clearly and maybe the best, has tomatoes, peas, capsicums, chillies, potatoes, ginger, garlic, cauliflower, spinach, coriander, two types of brinjals, white roots and those knobbly pear-shaped called chayote in Mexico, plus oranges, 2 types of banana and several types of apple, plus various grains, dhals, spices, dates, and things I don't recognise; inside is a wooden compartment with plain doors. Very colourful and nice to watch people doing their shopping. Tea-stall with its various sweetmeats under glass to keep the flies away, salty eats and buns and biscuits on top with the scales for weighing, and cigarettes and bidis piled up in boxes or for single selling against the wall. Next door to the left the little temple or shrine with the big colourful wheel which rings a bell as it goes round, and beside the two rows of prayer-wheels of which I can only see the first two.
The Westerners came for the Tibetans for the most part, some doing courses at the Tibetan Library or other institutions. Most liked to share the air with the Dalai Lama and other senior monks who could be seen around the little town. It's a comfortable easy place to stay and full of exoticism. The freaks often seemed to like to get away India proper, preferring the highlands or the beaches, where they could find something other than standard Indian food. One day the word was out that the Dalai Lama was going on a journey and the whole place, Tibetans, Indians, Westerners, came out to line the exit road and wave as the car hurtled past. On one day a lot of new Tibetans arrived in town, country people I guessed from their wild clothes and hair, the women with their heavy necklaces and boots and heavy black overdresses; they slept at the temple and seemed dazed by all that they saw around them. I liked the non-Tibetan aspects as well, the Indian Kotwali Bazaar, the main town at the bottom of the hill, where there was a little library and a restaurant selling good dhal and chapattis and, less usually, good kheer. I liked the old British church towards Forsyte Ganj, with its graveyard under the conifers.

Dharamsala was still an Indian town in Indian countryside, with farms outside and an active slate quarry. There was a famous Shiva temple at Bhagsunath beyond McLeod Ganj which led to a constant trickle of Sadhus passing through. I had sat outside the temple the day before and recorded this:
Sat around the tank watching what was going on, the ladies beating their laundry with a wooden baton, and using soap powder for the most part; mostly Indians but one Tibetan couple with a child, the man took his fair share looking after the baby. Then into the temple for the first time where a boy of 8 or so, Pahari from 2 km away he says, maybe the Triund side valley, showed me round.  He has 4 sisters only, no brothers, and still comes to the Shiva temple every day, a real devotee - will he become a sadhu some day? - he explained some of the details to me and also gave me up to the minute information about the Test Match - cricket and Shiva. The lingam to the right of the little shrine, around it marigolds, the snake Bhagswag, and pictures of Parvati and some others, a trident, nice tiles some featuring peacocks, carvings of Kali and, I think, Hanuman at the entrance, pictures of other deities around the courtyard wall. Nice sitting beside the flowers, a private garden behind, the tank beneath to the right, and a farm just beyond the temple's outer walls where they were leading up a pony with sacks of grain. 
Outside Dharamsala:  picture by Eli Ben Ya'acov, CC

Waterfall at Bhagsunath;  picture by Sobhan Mohanty, CC

By Triund:  picture by Sanyam Sharma, CC

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