Friday, September 23, 2011

Kathmandu and Thoughts on India

We arrived into Kathmandu in whirlwind fashion and the transition between countries was slightly jarring.  A brief 8 hours between the two nations which encompassed two flights and a three hour lay over in New Delhi's modern airport (which was slightly surreal) before we were in a new country. In a fit of western zeal, perhapse brought on by the shiny shops and the air conditioning of the airport, i ate a  Dominos pizza followed by a spicy chicken sandwich from McDonalds for extra shits and giggles. I NEVER eat McDonalds and Dominos is not real pizza as any New Yorker worth their MTA cards will tell you. Go figure. I was prepared to spend a lot more of my western money on tax free goods but thankfully came to my senses and instead sat on my hands watching news of the earthquake which had hit Nepal's eastern border the night before. I had to reflect on how disasters seemed to be happening all around us for most of our trip. A bomb blast in Delhi a day after we left, a minor quake in the same city, the bus disaster in Kashmir on the same day we were supposed to be traveling there, and now this earthquake. I hoped there wasn't a pattern developing.

Silly thoughts, and thankfully I didn't dwell on them long. 

Kathmandu required our full attention the moment we landed. I gaffed having forgotten all about requiring a visa to enter the country so we had to deal with that once we landed. The process proved pretty painless and even hilarious. I handed my paperwork to a short round Nepalese man behind the visa counter. He took my documents, looked up and me, back down to the passport, than back up at me again. A huge golden toothed smile spread across his face. "Ohhhhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit" he exclaimed loudly. I could not help but smile in return, totally perplexed. He handed me the papers and stood extending his hand, grabbing mine and shaking it it vigorously.  Well, i thought to myself, that's a good sign. I like Nepal. Neither Amy nor I had any idea what the man was so happy about.

We were mobbed by touts the moment we stepped out from the airport, 20 men crowding about us in every direction. "Here sir i take you to the best hotel for only 500 rupees" one tout announced. He was immediately shouted down by others so that by the time we had taken ten steps the price of the cab was down to 200 rupees. Thankfully we knew exactly where we wanted to stay and only had to repeat it 15 times before the touts left us be.  

That evening,  after exploring the tourist ghetto of Themal, I immersed myself in a hot bath and thought back on the country i had left earlier in the morning.

Most of my time was spent in northern India, away from the mass of heat, humidity, and humanity that i found in Delhi. I saw so much beauty during those two weeks that i literally can not describe it all. Sunsets in Shimla, from the top of the Silverine Hotel, looking out into seemingly endless rolling green hills. Monkeys playing at Hanuman's feet in the Jakhu temple rising above the city. Rainbows over the Dalai Lama's home in Dharamsala. The hand crafts that lined every street stall there, made by Tibetan exiles living out their lives and their religion within India's hospitable borders. The peace in Manali, again surrounded by majestic green hills, footholds into the Himalayas. Great heights in Leh, snow capped giants standing sentinel over Mosque, Buddhist monastery, and Hindu temple. Three religions meeting at an ancient earthy crossroad. We traveled down a street in Leh hearing the chants to Allah from a mosque while watching red robed Tibetan monks passing by shrines to Hindu gods. Flying out of Leh we saw a massive panorama of the Himalayas stretching out below us. Utterly breathtaking.
Yet behind every beautiful hill, in every nook and crevice, you find garbage heaps. Some of them hidden, so you approach what you think is a beautiful river bank only to look down between riverbank and hill to find gigantic piles of multi colored trash, most of it plastic in nature. A large percentage of it is right in your face insulting your western sensibilities. The story goes like this, and is repeated by almost every tourist i meet. You buy something in a shop. You open it and ask the shop owner where you can throw away the wrapper. He takes it from your hand and throws it onto the street. "This is India" he says smiling at your disbelief. "This is what we do with trash."

Worse than the garbage tho is the poverty. It stabs you in the heart,  the soul, and makes you wonder at the injustice here. How can a government allow it's people to live in these conditions? How is it possible that a country with as much wealth as India can let this happen? I did not think of India as a third world country but i have to classify is as such seeing how the poor here are forced to live. I sincerely hope that the corruption that grows within India's stale and OLD government is burned from existence by the young generation coming into power now. Ours is the Fury and i have felt that fury rising hotly with every glimpse of the people suffering here. Wikileaks released some documents telling of an official here who had private planes bring her the newest shoes from Mumbai, once a month.  This can not be allowed to exist. If these people rise up I will be here with them.

Which brings me to Delhi. Most of all i reflect on Delhi. My thoughts on that city are troubled. It all started in Delhi, and Delhi ran us out of town in a brief 36 hours. It went beyond culture shock, i think. There was a fullness to Delhi that highjacks all of your senses. Everything and anything was happening at the same time. Incredible poverty in full control of the slums that sprout up almost immediately after driving out of the green airport, people people people and their machines everywhere talking, honking, thrumming, exhaling carbon monoxide, at every street corner food being cooked, oil stoves heating spices of every fragrance possible, the barking of dogs, laughter, excrement, buzzing mosquitoes, the sounds of piss splattering a mud puddle, men walking down the street arm in arm smiling, talking, bullshitting, bull shit from emaciated cows, women draped in every color imaginable floating over all of it, skies at times pissing rain, at times burning down thru the pollution, and the rampant humidity of Monsoon so that every crevasse of your body is damp within minutes of exposure no matter the weather; being sold to, coerced, stared at, talked about, helped, scorned. As much poverty as exists there is offset on the other side of the scales by the obnoxious wealth that moves men to build dining rooms the size of footballs fields equipped with toy trains made of solid gold, delivering salt and pepper and saffron in golden containers to those who dine upon the backs of them who sweep their marble floors. And everywhere the remains of human consumption, the garbage heaps in every gutter, in every alley, on every street.The shit piles in the gutter, so that you can not tell excrement from mud.
Anything and everything and you. You, thrust into the face of EVERYTHING. And it is all happening at once.

It was too much. We were too tired to deal, too confused to make sense of it, too hesitant to embrace the everything. I wonder how long it takes one to adjust to Delhi. I wonder if i could ever adjust. I wonder at those who come to Delhi and find a haven, see heaven where i saw hell. I wonder if i could ever be one of those people.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

McLeod Ganj

Double Rainbow Over the Dali Lama's home.

McLeod Ganj is home to the Dalai Lama, who settled here temporarily in 1960. Five decades later he still lives here, and his modest residence within a small temple complex in the south side of town is now his permanent home in exile.

This area, situated amongst lush green hills, experiences some of the highest rainfall in the country and perhaps the world. My time here has proven to be no exception as it has rained everyday, multiple times a day, most of the downfall torrential in nature. The streets run with mud.

I think i expected the home of the Dalai Lama to be serene, maybe peaceful, maybe not as chaotic as the rest of the India I've seen thus far. Maybe some monks meditating over the virtue of trash collecting and creating a clean environment. Maybe just a tiny bit more interest in serenity and cleasnliness. Not so. While the verdant green hills stand in silent testomony, cloaked in fluffly shawls of grey and white cloud, Mcleod Ganj itself is cramped and teeming. The humans share their narrow dirt and gravel streets with cows, goats, monkeys, stray (and at times vicious) dogs, motorcycles, and cars. Just as the with the rest of India pedestrians scurry out of the way of vehicle who rule the road with sheer force of might. If you don't jump out of the way of a barreling automotive machine, honking like a demon to let you know it's coming the fuck thru wether you like it or not, you get yelled at/scolded with extreme derision for being a slow piece of shit that dares impede the progress of fucking progress. Have feet? Fuck you. Get out of the way.

...Which i show i found myself standing in a huge pile of cow shit. Least it wasn't human extrement.
On our second day here i was stricken with the bane of all travelers, T.D. Not pretty. The first day is the worst as your guts basically squeeze anything you might like to put inside of them out. I stayed close to the hotel which blessedly had a proper toilet, and not a squat hole. Hanging on the balcony i observed. An old monk clad in red and orange robes struggling up a flight of stairs, cane in one hand. A gaggle of monkeys pulling laundry off of hanging lines and cackling about it. Infinite rolling clouds opening up into torrential rain. Endless white travelers. Yes, white people.

McLeod Ganj is crawling with white tourists amd ex-pats, all here to find some sort of enlightmenet in the holy place the Dalai Lama has chosen to be his home in exile. They all attempt to blend in in some way, local garb and such, but stick out like sore thumbs nonetheless. Before i came in India i described what i wanted to get out of my trip to a resident of Agra (home to the Taj Mahal which i won't be visiting eat that tourism board!!) and was told that my desire was to have a "hippie experience". I was slightly offended by the label but i now know what it meant. Thankfully, it does not apply to me. These people are trying way too hard.

So, im sitting on the balcony, guts keeping me anchored, when i observed an event that shook me, and disturbed me to the core. A pack of stray dogs came across a squad of monkeys chilling on one of the many tiered cement rooftops. Mclead Ganj is buit into the side of a large hill so the town has many levels to it. The encounter came to a sudden and violent head as the dogs pounced upon the monkeys and attacked. The monkeys chased them off by sheer force of numbers, but not before of of their number lay still and fetal on the rooftop, mangled to death. The screams of the monkeys and the snarling barks of dogs was disquieting, to say the least. A cacophony of violence. The corpse, small and pathetic, lay on its side for another day a reminder that it is not just us humans who are capable of wanton and pointless destruction. Even tho i have seen much suffering since arriving here, this particular event turned my already sour stomache.

All this is not to say that i have a particular dislike of this place. Barring the noise, the dirt, the appalling lack of proper sanitation and garbage disposal, there is a charm to McLeod Ganj, an ambiance i can not put into words.

Tomorrow, it is time to move on. After much deliberation is has been decided that we are not going to Kashmir, but instead will travel to Leh where we have a flight to Kathmandu on the 19th, via Manali. Manali to Leh is known for it's ridiculous dangerous road. One of the mountain passes on the road translates to "pile of dead bodies". Good times are coming, so stay tuned.