June 23-July 8, 2018
16 Days in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala: Goodbye India
Location: McLeod Ganj (suburb), Dharamshala (city), Himachal Pradesh (state), India
Moving out of Upper Bhagsu
With an offer to teach yoga and a barter-deal for a roof over my head, I left the bliss of Upper Bhagsu to stay 16 days at Pema Thang Guest House in McLeod Ganj - ground zero for all the touristy hustle-and-bustle of Dharamshala. It was a different scene altogether and a different challenge.
Watching film screenings regularly in McLeod Ganj showing documentaries about the Tibetan struggle, I couldn't help but default into the issues. Stories Of Tibetans show daily movies and the Tibet Museum screen 2 movies/day. Movies could have individual themes making up the Tibetan cause. It could be a movie of the Dalai Lama, or a movie about the Tibetans who trek across the Himalayan mountain range on foot to flee into India, or a movie focused on Chinese repression against the Tibetans. I have many questions about their struggle that remain unanswered. I fear that when the Dalai Lama passes on, the world will forget about Tibet's struggle for freedom. His Holiness just turned 83. He doesn't have a long time left.
Curious, I've asked both sides, the Indians and the Tibetans, how race relations are. Do the Indians mind the Tibetans populating their homeland? As refugees, are the Tibetans given equal treatment in India? One Indian shopkeeper told me the Tibetans make no effort in assimilating themselves into Indian society- that Tibetans keep to themselves. But I saw a picture of the Dalai Lama in his shop! When asked about it, he was quick to qualify that the Indians love the Dalai Lama but not necessarily the Tibetans. When I asked a Tibetan, he had misgivings that Indians look down on them or envious if they make money through capital enterprise. He further argued that what is now McLeod Ganj which they occupy used to be an earthquake prone empty mountain face that nobody wanted - nobody lived there. The Tibetans settled there and made McLeod Ganj the tourist capital that it is today.
I came away with the lingering feeling that race relations lie between tolerated give-and-take to mild racial tension. Perhaps it's the presence of the Dalai Lama that helps keep tension at bay. The Dalai Lama seems to be key to many things. I wonder what happens when he passes on. Will things fall apart?
Audience with the Dalai Lama
Originally, it wasn't my intention to meet with the Dalai Lama. I knew everybody wanted a piece of him and with his failing health, I didn't want to add to that burden. But as I immersed myself in the Tibetan struggle, I was drawn to him. So I emailed his office this message:
July 3, 2018
I used to teach at the University of the Philippines until I gave up that life for a life of travel...in search of. I had been traveling now for 6 years without a home, letting go of my controls and going where the wind takes me. And the wind has taken me here to Dharamshala. I'd like to think there is a reason for that.
I went to the Tibet Museum and I had been moved by what I've learned from a ringside perspective and wrote about it. You can also learn more about me from my writings on this blogsite.
It is after writing it that I felt drawn to seek an audience with the Dalai Lama. For what specific reason? Honestly, it is not clear to me. Perhaps the meeting is part of a karmic process that needs to take place. I fully realize that His Holiness has to limit his time about seeing people due to his health and also to attend to more pressing issues. My request pales in comparison to those, but still, I am making my due-diligence in the hope that His Holiness' energetic wisdom may also find a need for a such a meeting to take place.
I will be in Dharamshala until July 8. I am also staying at the Pema Thang Guest House as its in-house yoga teacher.
With humility for making such a request on short notice, I await your reply.
xxxxxxxxxxxx aka TheLoneRider
I received a reply on the same day:
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is currently on visit to Ladakh and he will not be back to Dharamsala until xxxxxx, 2018.
Having done my due-diligence, I won't be haunted by any should-have scenario. This reminds me of my request in Singapore to have an audience with my hero, Lee Kuan Yew. I was told he was very ill and could not see anyone. The day after I left Singapore, he passed on. I cried.
McLeod Ganj Current State of Affairs
It's supposed to be low season now with the monsoon, but Indian tourists abound. With McLeod's narrow roads and influx of motor vehicles, traffic is horrific along the main roads. There are no sidewalks so pedestrians have to walk by the edge of the road (with no shoulder) for any passing car. It could be hairy. Additionally, a lot of hotels and restaurants (even the big and established ones) are being closed by the government for non-compliance of building codes - even the Pride Surya Hotel which is one of the biggest, oldest and most established! This has already been done in Manali and other parts of India. I'm actually surprised that there is political will in India to do such a bold thing - as this paralizes the tourism industry, lay-off workers and displace businesses.
With my Indian visa expiring shortly, I looked at other possible destinations through Skyscanner.net. This is where I look for the cheapest air fare out of the country, and often, it decides where I go next. I got the following results:
- $80, Nepal - I've just been there. It does not excite me at the moment, but if and when I do, I'll go to Pokhara and trek the Annapurna circuit
- $145, United Arab Emirates - I'm open to this as I haven't been there. It's also a new world - being in the Middle East! The cheapest dorm bed I could find in Agoda was $11 though. Compared to the $3/night beds I get in Cambodia, India and Thailand, this is way too pricey for me. Sometime back, a Vipassana friend offered to host me in Dubai to teach yoga. I messaged if the offer was still on the table, but received no reply. Besides, I was told the temperature there was 50+!
- $153, Thailand - not exactly cheap, but it's the best option I have. But I'd been to Thailand many times and it doesn't excite me as much.
With my Indian visa expiring in a few days, I was down to my last $100. It's not even enough for a plane fare out of India. I should have been worried, but I was not. Too many times, I have seen my benevolent universe come to the rescue in the dying seconds as if to toy with me. It has happened repeatedly without fail in the 6 years I had been traveling with very little money, so I felt assured the unseen hand looking after my well-being was with me at all times.
I've done my due-diligence as far as money goes. I've written back to former advertisers for renewal possibilities, pitched for website conversion to responsive resolution, offered website development to the nearby hotels, etc. In my experience, the money will not necessary come from those, but it's necessary for me to make the effort in order to make the magic happen - and they do happen in the most unexpected ways.
White Knight Universe
As if on cue, my wonderful universe came in like a white knight. I just got an email from a former client who wanted me to create from scratch, his company's logo. My contact price paid for the air fare. Cool!
My next problem was not having money for my next destination. I didn't even know where I go! Luckily, a hostel in Bangkok I earlier wrote to, agreed to a barter deal for a 15-day stay in their bunk bed with possible collaboration on yoga classes, English classes and web enhancement. Whoa! This means my destination is Bangkok and I even have a ready place to stay!
Next concern, I still don't have money when I arrive Bangkok, maybe $50 if I don't spend all of that in Dharamshala! I'm still awaiting what surprise my universe has in store for me.
Dharamshala is a very memorable place for me. The longer I stayed, the more it grew on me. It spans 2 worlds - and I stayed on both.
One world is on the upper elevation of Upper Bhagsu and Upper Dharamkot frequented mostly by off-the-grid western travelers - hippies, seekers, yogis, meditators, musicians, free thinkers, intellectuals, etc. It's a peaceful mountainous terrain without too many Indian tourists - only those who planned to stay longer, mostly to pursue their spirituality. Even the Indians who make it this far are cut from the same cloth. Because they stay longer, it's easy to spot a familiar face. It's a norm to interact and be interacted upon. The place seems to have a convention all its own, separate from the chaos of McLeod Ganj below. I love Dharamshala for this place. It is here I felt happier and within my elements.
On the other side of the spectrum is the commercial hustle-and-bustle of McLeod Ganj. This is where most of the Indian tourists settle - usually householders with friends and family out on a holiday. This is also the place of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Temple and the Tibet Museum.
Both worlds offer something unique - and they are not too far apart. I can walk this divide in 30 minutes. And somewhere in between this divide are the adjacent temples - the Vipassana Meditation Center and the Tushita Temple. Both these places are anchored in Buddhism but have a slightly different way in their methods.
Dharamshala has also been so kind to me. I've met magnificent lives whose connection I will continue to pursue, I stayed in a decent hotel on a barter deal, I became a yoga teacher, got ringside seat to the Tibetan struggle, got to hang-out in trendy cafes and stayed in this wonderful mountain place near the Dalai Lama. Indeed, even with the minimum of money, I lead a privileged life.
This also wraps my 2 months in India - 5 days in the heat and chaos of New Delhi, 26 days on the nurturing waters of the Ganga River in Rishikesh and 23 days in the cool mountain terrain of Dharamshala. I've only visited 3 places and with that limited experience I now know why people are quick to complain about India but keep coming back...as I will. India is a vast sub-continent with sharp contrasts. This is where you find realized-beings and con-people who will scam you. This is where you fry in the 40° heat and freeze in the cold mountain air. This is also where you meet magnificent lives, view stunning scenery, enter majestic temples and savor delectable food. It can be an sensory overload. As I leave for Thailand, I can't wait for my next return!
I will never tire of expressing how grateful I am. Thank you Dharamshala, thank you India!!!
Reader Comments:Tony Ancheta
(July 10, 2018) Fascinating journey
(July 10, 2018) So grateful to the universe that I got a chance to attend your last yoga class. Best wishes with your journey forward
(July 10, 2018) What needed to take place, took place. I'm grateful as well 🙏
Next stop: 29 Hours in New Delhi Airport
Dharamshala (city), India
Travel Tips for Dharamshala
- short power outages frequently happen during the day
How to get to Dharamshala from Rishikesh by bus
- Bus - Rishikesh to Dharamshala is 449 kms. The usual route is to go to Haridwar and take the State transport buses to Lower Dharamshala, but it's less hassle to get a bus from Rishikesh that go all the way up to McLeod Ganj - a little more money (INR 1150) but worth it specially if you a carry bulky pack. You will leave Rishikesh 4pm and arrive in Dharamshala the following day (you save one night lodging) at 7am.
Travel Tips for India
- e-VISA - visa on arrival is no longer done. Tourists should apply online for an e-VISA. Tourist e-VISA for 60 days = US$51.25 (including surcharges, non-refundable). NOTE: e-VISA is only honored in 25 designated airports and 5 designated seaports (Cochin, Goa, Mangalore,Mumbai,Chennai). You CANNOT do a land crossing using an e-VISA.
- US$1 = Indian Rupee (INR) 67.18
- nearly every food served is spicy...there is no escaping it
- other travel destinations in India
- always good to have an Indian SIM. It's handy to get wifi in some cafes
General Travel Tips
- avoiding scams - as a general rule, I ignore the touts or anyone I don't know who call out to me. The calling comes in many forms - "Hi! Where are you from?", "Excuse me! Excuse me!", "Where are you going?". I don't look them in the eye and I remain non-verbal with them. If you reply to them, you just gave them an 'in' to hound you. In order not to look rude, I smile and wave the 'not interested' hand to them, without looking at them.
- power bank - hand-carry your power bank. Do not check it in. You can be called in when you are already inside the plane to go all the way to the loading dock so you can personally remove the power bank...and chances are, you'll have to surrender it to them. And you might delay the plane departure!
India Blogs by TheLoneRider
- 16 Days in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala: Goodbye India June 23-July 8, 2018
- Peoplescape of Dharamshala, India June 14 - July 8, 2018
- Visiting the Tibet Museum June 27, 2018
- In Search of Tibetan Yoga (Yantra Yoga) June 25, 2018
- Conducting Yoga Classes at Pema Thang Guest House, Dharamshala, India June 24 - July 8, 2018
- Life in Upper Bhagsu, Dharamshala June 16-23, 2018
- Trekking to Naddi from Upper Bhagsu, Dharamshala June 19, 2018
- Matters of the Heart Jun 17, 2018
- A First Timer in Dharamshala Jun 14, 2018
- 29 Hours in New Delhi Airport July 9-10, 2018
- Meditation with Shirly Pnina at Lodi Garden, New Delhi May 15, 2018
- A First-Timer in New Delhi, India May 12-17, 2018
- A 26-Day Mini-Life in Rishikesh May 18 - June 13, 2018
- Peoplescape of Rishikesh May 18 - June 13, 2018
- Rafting the Ganga River with Greg Goldstein June 1, 2018
- White Water Rafting on Ganga River, Rishikesh May 25, 2018
- Satsang (spiritual discourse) by Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati May 21, 2018
- Ganga Aarti (devotional fire ritual) at Parmarth Niketan Ashram May 21, 2018
- Bouncing Back into Yoga in Rishikesh May 21, 2018
- Exploring Rishikesh, India May 18, 2018
- India e-VISA snag May 9, 2018
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