A Traveller's To Do List

India 2013

    Wednesday, March 13, 2013:

    During my interminable wait at the Old Delhi Train Station, I saw clearly that I’m not above boredom. This became my motivation for doing some research in the Lonely Planet while on the train, and making not so much a To Do List, but a list of possibilities for the remainder of my trip. I could feel Sharon chuckling over my shoulder as I read the Guide in my berth. When she & I travel together, I’m forever hounding her to be more spontaneous; to not plan every detail. This trip is convincing me it’s a fine line travellers must walk: Overplan, and your days feel like you’re just ticking things off a list, seeing what you’ve decided you must see, running from sight to site in the time allotted, and overall feeling like you totally missed actually being in the place you so wanted to experience in the first place. On the other hand, if you underprepare, read nothing, plan nothing and just fly by the seat of your pants, you’d better be a gregarious risk taker extraordinaire, or you’ll quickly tire of the thumb twiddling, coffee sipping, generally feeling on the outside and gazing at the world passing by. Oh, they have shopping malls here, too. How fascinating. Oh, look. There’s a mountain. Beautiful. Next?

    My list looks something like this:

    Activities in McLeod Ganj:

    1. Buy cool Kashmiri cap
    2. Gir Chu Chum Gallery
    3. Visit Darrol’s friend Kalsang Dondul, Director of Inst. of Dialectics
    4. Meditate with the nuns next door to the Hotel Ladies Venture (Darrol’s suggestion)
    5. Go to TIPA to buy trad. Tibetan instruments
    6. Amchi – Ancient Tibetan healing, Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, Dalai Lama’s ex-doctor) near Ashoka Hotel
    7. HIKING
    -- TIPA (10 min)
    -- Bhagsu (waterfall) 2 km each way,
    -- Dharmakot 3 km
    -- Dal Lake & Tibetan Children's Village 4km
    8. Massage at Lha on Temple Rd.
    9. ESL Volunteering opportunities at Lha, Hope Ed. Ctr
    10. Tsuglakhang complex (main temple):
    --Namgyal Gompa (monks debating) in afternoons
    --Tibet Museum
    11. Travel Agency
    -- Look into Rishikesh, Dehradun
    -- Re-Book flight home

    About halfway down the list you see HIKING. Thanks to my meeting with Señor Water Buffalo, I am seriously doubting how much that will be possible. McLeod Ganj itself is all hills, so that’s hard enough. TIPA (the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts) is a must, and it’s so short, I can take a taxi if need be. This is where Samdup, back in Kalimpong, had told me I could buy some quality traditional instruments, and trust I wasn’t getting ripped off.

    On the main street of McLeod Ganj.

    When I wake up at the Hotel Ladies Venture, my right thigh and calf feel like heavy old hunks of timber joined with a rusty hinge for a knee. At first I can barely put any weight on it. The only room they had when I got in last evening was on the third floor, so I lumber downstairs, clinging onto the right side railing. Even though HLV is a lovely place, and came recommended by Darrol, Pam and Mat, I know I’m going to have to find something else that’s in a flatter part of town up by the main Chawk (square). I add "Hotel search" to my list of things to do today.

    After breakfast, the lumber is feeling more limber, so I walk up to the Chawk to find a taxi to TIPA. On the way I see a doctor’s office. Well, more like a storefront, really. I can see the doc sitting at his desk, so I limp in.

    Can I help you?
    Yes, please. How would you know if your leg was broken?
    He smiles. Can you walk on it?
    Then it’s not broken. Go slowly, young man.

    I like this guy. Simple and truthful.

    A sign I couldn't resist photographing. What a difference an L makes.

    It's about a 10-minute auto rickshaw ride up the mountain to TIPA. The place looks absolutely deserted. I go up to the office to see if it's even open. Fortunately it is. There's a man behind the desk to whom I introduce myself, and I explain that I am here to learn a little about TIPA, and maybe buy an instrument or two. He tells me that the 90 or so resident student artists are all out of town performing. Then without asking, he’s leading me out the door for a tour. His name is Penpa, and he is the first of many Tibetans who will astound me with their selfless service and simple but absolute compassion. When I am leaving an hour or so later, I thank him for being so generous to just drop everything and show me around, and he says, ‘we consider it a duty to cheerfully show TIPA to anyone who asks.’ And I know he means it.

    The taxi drops me here at the entrance to world-famous TIPA, about 1 km up the hill from the town.

    I'm a little surprised to see no one around. An empty stage on an asphalt yard.

    But there're a couple of motorcycles, so probably someone's here somewhere. I find Penpa in the admin offices on the second floor of this building.

    The only ones home are some costume and mask makers working away – some by hand and some sewing on ancient Singers. We stop to watch them and chat a bit. He shows me the instruments they have for sale.

    The hammered dulcimer came to Tibet via American missionaries in China. This one is gorgeous and comes with a sturdy case, but I doubt I'll buy one because it's too heavy for transporting all the way home, and besides, if I really wanted one, I could get a better value back home.

    How much is that dranyen in the window? $300? $400? Nope. Try $65. Case included. How could I NOT get one?

    The Piwang (PEE-wang) is a 2-stringed violin, not unlike the Chinese Ehru. The bow-hairs sit BETWEEN the strings, so one plays the doh with the bottom of the hairs, using down pressure - like the violin - but the sol is played with the top of the hairs, using upward pressure.

    Penpa doesn't know enough about the instruments to sell me one. He tells me the approximate price and says there is one artist - singer Norbu Samphel - who is not on tour because his wife is pregnant - and he will arrange for us to meet tomorrow. Panpa promises to call me at my hotel.

    Good-bye until tomorrow, Penpa. Many thanks. Tashi delek.


    My wobblies are waning, so I decide to try a nice slow walk back down the hill to town, enjoying the wilderness on my way. I am kind of glad that Mr. W. Buff (that’s not Warren Buffet) has slowed me down. It’s gorgeous here. And the feeling of freedom I’m experiencing on this ‘leg’ of my journey is the strongest I think I’ve ever felt. I can do pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want to. And financially, I might as well BE Warren Buffet. I can eat a great (and I mean GREAT) meal for the cost of a tip back home and stay in a big hotel room with a balcony overlooking the mountains for $15 - 20 Canadian a night. (Some hostels are as little as $2.)

    The view walking down the TIPA Road into McLeod Ganj.

    More sights along Tipa Rd. Note sign on shed door at bottom right.

    On the way down the mountain, I look into a little dark cave of a shop. There are two young guys hammering away at something. This is Dakiss. He, his coworker, Iralal and I have a great, funny chat.

    Iralal tells me they are crafting inset panels for doors...

    … and the doors are in the Dalai Lama’s home.

    A little further down the road is the Tibetan Youth Congress. The large poster out front is titled "Tibet Burning." There are about 100 small pictures, each one with a name, age and date underneath.

    I go in to inquire about their organization and they ask me to have a seat. It reminds me of an office from the 1970's. Banged up battleship-gray file cabinets and overused oak and metal desks sit on yellowed wooden floors. About a half dozen folks busily clack on PCs or prod the ancient photocopier. After about 10 minutes, a young woman, dressed very cosmopolitan, comes in and asks me to follow her down a corridor and into an office. She is the General Secretary of the organization, knows all the details of this international operation (69 chapters in Asia, 4 in Europe, 1 in Australia and 13 in N. America, including Toronto.). We spend about 45 minutes in conversation. I learn - among other things - that the age and date underneath the 100 small photos is how old the people were on the date they burned themselves to death in protest of the Chinese takeover of their land, erasure of their culture and attempted destruction of their spirit.

    A photo that bears repeating.

    I continue my slow gimpy stroll into town and start shopping for a cool colourful Kashmiri cap. No luck. But I do come across a shop where they're selling a lovely red Gibson for practically nothing.

    Oh wait. That's GIVson. Picky, picky.

    Still looking for a hat, I hear the strum of an acoustic guitar from within this tiny shop.

    I peek into G.M. Handicraft, and the Indian shop owner is sitting on the floor with a European guy, each of them with a guitar. There are scarves and shawls piled floor to ceiling. I say hello and introduce myself. The European is Tyom. He comes from Russia, and he's trying to teach the shop owner (just a kid, maybe 21) how to strum a chord. They ask me if I play, and so I sit down and pick a little something to their great delight (Tyom is a beginner, too). I look over, and on the bottom shelf is a stack of hats just like I've been searching for! So I spend the next hour and a half trying on hats whilst chewing the fat and helping the kid strum. At one point, I actually take hold of his right hand and move him like a puppet. down, down-UP, UP-down. down, down-UP, UP-down. Stomping my foot. He's giggling like crazy and eventually gets it. And the Russian guy, very shy, is asking me music questions too... about chords, and progressions, and playing lead. All the time I'm trying on hats. What a great time I'm having. I finally narrow it down to 4 hats, and I model for them so they can help me make the final decision.

    Tyom and The Kid. The guitars have been replaced by a PC. Tyom's looking up chords. The place is maybe 10 feet across on the exterior, but inside, once you add a couple of walls of shelving for material, you're down to maybe 5.

    Donning my prize purchase from G.M. Handicraft. It's not exactly Kashmiri, but still, one more thing can be checked off from this traveller's to-do list. (except for the fact that I will buy 3 more in the days to come.)

    This has been just the kind of day I was hoping for, other than the limping part. But even so, I'm still grateful to have been slowed down by that big black shiny beast and the even bigger beast of fate. I may be hiking in a couple of days. We'll see. Tomorrow I'll be changing residences, too: Hotel India House. It's on flatter ground and closer to the centre of things so I won't have as much walking to do. And there's a fridge with a small freezer so I can ice my thigh and knee! It also has a fantastic view of the mountains from its wee balcony.

    One more hat. Happy reading!

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