We left Delhi for Dharamshala on Monday flying to Jammu, which is a city very close to the Kashmir and Pakistani border. Jammu was a scene right from the moment we disembarked. The porter demanded 200 rupees, the driver was nowhere to be found and when we finally started moving, we drove through cows sitting on piles of garbage, dilapidated store fronts and cars, trucks and people everywhere. To avoid any further attention, I covered my hair and put on sunglasses and no I was not going for the Marilyn Monroe look but rather the demure conservative leave me alone appearance. For about two hours, I didn’t know if we were driving through a time warp or just a bad dream. What type of crazy person visits India?
We passed through “town” after town and most of them consisted of a fruit and vegetable stand, a cement store; tire shop and a motorcycle/auto repair shop. If you saw the roads, you would understand these folks must be smart businessmen. Tires are a booming business.
The soothing sounds of the horns beep beep followed by B-E-E-P made me appreciate my mother and her snoring. In the latter case, my hearing would no longer be impaired and I would not be in an insane asylum chirping honk honk…honk honk honk. I wondered if the cars, trucks and motorcycles buzzing by were trying to play a musical melody instead of drive me insane. While we are on the topic of the roads, there was the occasional request for drivers to “obey traffic rules” and I gathered that meant playing a game of asteroids as our driver was pretty steady down the middle of the road and while Jill read her book in the backseat, I found myself dodging cars, cows, motorbikes and potholes with my shoulders in the front seat.
Our driver also made a few stops along the 5-hour route to Dharmshala:
- to smoke
- we guessed something about his phone but he was given a wad of money
- for the pharmacy and another wad of money (I later looked through his bag and found he did indeed buy antibiotics)
After the third time he got out of the car, Jill says, “he must be some kind of runner.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was sort of wishing we were running from him. We did get pulled over for the third time in three days so being the optimist that I am, I am going to believe that the drivers in India just need lots of cash to pay off the cops.
It was actually quite an adventure and I saw more of the countryside than I would have seen at any other point. I also want to point out a few other things I noticed. The men are out and about in the shops and on the streets but the women are rarely seen. The women all over India dress in traditional sarees and tunics while the men are in modern dress. The other interesting fact is men are all very safety conscious wearing helmets on their motorbikes but NOT one woman is wearing a helmet. Why? Women are prohibited from covering their heads. Go figure that one.
On our last stop before reaching Dharmshala, I used the bathroom (for those who know me this is an hourly occurrence) but as you can imagine the facilities are rather grim and it’s a ceramic hole in the ground. Well midstream my sunglasses fell into the “toilet” and I had to make the decision to love them or leave them. Since I realized I am in the middle of nowhere, I reached to the ground and dug them out and I am still washing my hands five hours later. A girl has to do what a girl has to do.
Before my mother has a stroke, I would like to report Jill and I arrived safely to our accommodations. The Grace Cottage is a 200-year old guesthouse high in the Himalayas (Hymn-all-ya-s) where the Dali Lama is a refugee and 10,000 Buddhist monks reside. There are still horns and still garbage but it’s as if we are parallel with the horizon. The monkeys are swinging from the treetops and electrical wires and the sacred cows are doing what they do best – grazing. The mountaintops soar beyond the clouds and the air is crisp, cool and clean. There is a distinct mix of Tibetan and Indian cultures manifested in the faces of the people and the languages on the street.
Yesterday, we learned about spirituality and recognizing the presence of one’s body beyond the physical being (born out of Hinduism). Tomorrow, we will learn to appreciate peace and nature and Buddhism. I learned more about India on my car ride than I have ever learned in a book.
Good night. My friends the mosquitoes are still alive at 20,000 feet so I must return to my room.