Saturday, October 30, 2010

20101026 India - McLeod Ganj (Return again)

Yeah... back to McLeod Ganj again - my favourite place in this trip. In fact the main idea was hoping to see His Holiness Dalai Lama on the upcoming Tibetan Children Village (TCV) 50th anniversary celebration on 30-Oct.

As I had done earlier, I joined the English conversation class to interact with the students - I really enjoyed greatly. Unfortunately the amount of teachers (mostly tourists) is decreasing in the coming winter period. Their learning progress would be affected.

I attended a couple of gatherings where the Tibetans sharing their experience and efforts in this exiled government, and their political views. Through various discussions, I realized that some of them were gradually losing their faith to free Tibet, the family issues and living environment top the reasons. Felt so helpless... History is not made in a day, could be through generations. The frustration idea could be contagious and sabotaging the efforts of their government.

I took a chance to trek to the Triund (mountain area) - altitude 2850m. The 3.5hr trek was quite tiring, but was rewarded by the splendid views when I set my feet on it. Grassland carpeting the mountain top, a few shacks providing refreshing meals and drinks, snow clad mountains standing stout behind us, enjoying the caress of the soft sunlight and the light cooling breeze. Too bad, I sprained my right knee again on the way down though I had put on a protection cap. Not so serious somehow. Was interested to listen to my guide (a student in the English class) telling his stories back in China.

On 30-Oct-10, I was so excited to join the crowd for TCV's 50th anniversary celebration. I know I should't expect much presentation from the school. What I wanted was just to see H.H. Dalai Lama... I saw him, though he was 50m away. My camera only managed to capture a small figure of him for this far distance. I'm content. I stayed only till noon, had to prepare myself to take an evening bus back to Delhi, and flight back to Malaysia on Sunday's evening.

Dalai Lama (71 yr old) has announced his retirement sooner or later. Many Tibetans worry about who would be his successor? What would be the next without Dalai Lama? I felt kinda missing the Tibetans here. Don't lose your faith, my friends.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

20101024 India - Haridwar

I took a jam-packed rickshaw to travel from Rishikesh to Haridwar. It was OK, but the moment I arrived at Haridwar, I had the instant feeling that this was not my expectation.

After checking-in hurriedly into a hostel recommended by Lonely Planet, I started exploring the city, headed straight to the public bus station (opposite to the railway station) to check out the bus schedules. This short walking distance... hmmm... I can only describe CHAOTIC!

It was hot and humid. The ghats were long on both sides of the Ganga river bank. But... as usual, rubbish decorated the area. Lots of people. And plenty of poor people lying and scattering around under the scorching sun. The water level was low, probably controlled by the dam a short distance away. Quite some "extra objects" in the river - very likely not rubbish because no one should dump anything into this holy river, I think those were left over from the praying ceremonies.

Finally, I walked up to the largest ghat in the city... phew... very very lively and lots of pilgrims. Not many foreigner faces were seen. The whole city was very Indian. It is an important pilgrimage city but not a touristy place. It lacks the charm and uncomparable to Varanasi.

Right next to this ghat was the colourful Bara Bazaar. Most of the shops were selling local snacks and ceremony related substances. Plenty of unfortunates begging for money - those losing fingers and palms because of leprosy, amputees, old skinny persons... my heart sank...

An old monk pulled my shirt and pointed to a restaurant, I guessed he wanted me to buy him a meal. How could I do that? Dozens of them in the area, I would be besieged if I would agree to him. I walked away immediately, he poked me with his walking stick!!! What the heck!

I went back straight to my room and only walked out to have my meals. I didn't want to go back to the ghats anymore. Interesting, there were plenty of stickers printed "Keep Silence" in the whole hotel building, but I heard the Indians talking out loud from 8pm to 10pm. My ears were tortured.

The next day, I went to the local bus station. I asked someone which was the bus to Dharamsala... "~!@#$%^&*" and he shoke his head rhythmically and pointed me to another one. I asked the 2nd one, he shoke his head too but said "3pm". Fine, I sat down on the floor (no bench and chair at all) in the middle of the waiting hall. There were not even a sign in English. After 15min, I noticed there was a bus printed "Dharamsala", I approached the conductor, he told me the bus would be leaving in 10min, which means 2pm... NOT 3pm!!!

Glad to catch the bus... but the tedious 15hr overnight journey on this so-called "semi deluxe" bus was really really really not pleasant. I had to share with another 2 persons on the non-reclining seat with limited leg room. My neck was pain and my legs were sore.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

20101022 India - Rishikesh

Have not planned to visit this town, stayed here only because of transit. Somehow the unexpected turned out quite good, not so touristy.

This small town is settled on the holy Ganga river bank. The water quality is much more cleaner and fresher than at Varanasi because of its location at upper stream. The serene and relaxing ambience provides a good spot to practise yoga, meditation and learning cultural music.
Hindu devotees come to cleanse their soul. The ghats (staircase leading people step into the river and bathe) were tidily constrcuted and fairly clean. Iron chains were for holding in order not to be flushed away by the swiftly drifting current.
An Indian lady tried to convince me to dip into this cold water in a morning, to wash away my sins, she said, this opportunity was rare to me. Well... I chickened out... Acc' to what I believe, "sin" is like a drop of ink dripping into a pile of clean water. No one could erase the sin, but to carry out more charity works to purify the contaimination.
I saw a naked sadhu performing his "ritual" on the river bank. His hair was so long till touching the ground. Well, I didn't want to offend him and dared not to get closer. His body was smeared with white ash. It was a little too dark to take a photo of him from far side. I tried to locate a better place the next day but he didn't turn up.
Walking around the town... I was really astonished to see piles of rubbish were dumped here. Water flew over the rubbish before pouring into the Ganga...

Monday, October 25, 2010

World Vision - My Sponsored Kid

I was overjoyed to know that World Vision (WV) is going to organize a trip to visit my sponsored kid in Thailand in Dec. I had only seen him on the photos he sent to me occasionally. Within this 3 years, I had no chance to meet him. I made all the necessary payments to WV before coming to India.

Last week, WV informed me that they couldn't locate the child because he has shifted out from the project area. Oh no... when was it happened? Why I was not informed? Had all my letters and postcards delivered to him? I paid the sponsoring amount regularly! WV couldn't answer any. Was a little frustrated.

20101015 India - McLeod Ganj

After 5.5hr spinning on the mountainous roads, was so glad to reach McLeod Ganj, which means I could get hot meals now.

The 1st impression was that McLeod Ganj has all the elements to be the hub of backpackers - religious background, cheap accommodations, good foods, souvenirs, narrow alleys, many foreign faces and languages. This is the typical den for those tourists overwhelmed with sympathy and hippies. Tibetans seem to outnumber Indians in this town.

Under the iron wrist and attacks of China government in 1950's, the renowned Tibetan political cum spiritual leader 14th Dalai Lama opted to flee Tibet to seek refuge from India in 1959. This further triggered exodus of Tibetans following his step. The Indian government granted the exiled Tibetan government to be established here, very small scale, smaller then my expectation. The major authorities were available - parliament, court, ministry of education, culture etc. The little museum (a room) inside the Library displayed those precious artifacts brought from Tibet. The main financial support is mainly comprised of public donations.

Another small Tibet Museum in town narrated the histories by displaying a few photos and videos, mainly about the invasion of China government to Tibet. No gory photos displayed about the massacre.

I met a Mongolian lady twice who was studying Tibetan language here. She kept asking about my dreams and gave analysis (prediction) on it. Frankly it was hard to believe. Since she was so serious and keen to explain, I paid attention on it. At last she said her service was not for free, I should pay some amount if I "would seek" her advice next time. Ha... the dream analyst was a commercial person too.

I attended a Buddhist philosophy lecture given by a senior monk. The lesson was somehow too difficult for a beginner like me.

There are several organizations and NGOs here to help the needy (especially those newly arrived) to adapt their new life by giving free foreign language courses, physical assistances etc. I participated in the English conversation class after lunch to try improving their communication capability. Meanwhile I could make some friends and to understand their background and dilemma. It was interesting, I hope my little effort would help.

I had been thinking of picking up meditation course here... till now I didn't realize any due to several excuses.

Most of the monks here had no income, largely depends on the meager remittance from their family or friends to support their daily expenses. I was invited by 2 monks to their accommodations, very very basic living. They even prepared simple foods for me, was deeply touched by their hospitality.

The tough escaping journey stories depressing me again and again. They trekked over the snow clad high mountains for nearly a month, suffering freezing cold, frostbites, hunger, tiredness, avoiding the patrol police (they normally walked only in the night time), taking care of kids, paying huge sum to the traffickers, many people failed and died on the way...

This is the place I felt the most comfortable during this trip... I LOVE it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

20101012 India - Dalhousie

Another 6.5hr bus ride from Amritsa to former British hill station Dalhousie. The roads were snaking all the way up to altitude 2000m. Some sections were REALLY hair raising. It was a big construction to build these roads up to the mountain top. Surprising to see many small villages were patched all over the mountain.

It was dark on my arrival, cold, hastily settled at the hotel for Rs250 (EUR6.2) per night. Ah... with clean big bed, cable TV and hot shower! Wow... value for money. A spider was welcoming me at the toilet located at balcony.

Really small... nothing to see except the dense pine forest, mountains, cooling atmosphere and the sunrise/ sunset views. Dirty... it was dirty for a tourist spot. Rubbish was not taken care of. People dumped loads of rubbish at the slopes instead of burying them. They didn't even clean up the rubbish around the hotels.

A sizable Tibetan refugee community had been established here long ago. I met 2 Tibetan teenagers, they guided me to visit their compound and we talked about their livings. Interesting.

Many locals told me I must visit Khajjiar - termed "Mini Switzerland" with a lake at the center of grassland. It was an hour drive from Dalhousie. I was expecting dense pine trees, mountains, crystal clear water, beautiful grassland, herds of cows and relaxing cafe. Partly true, except the crystal clear water was replaced by muddy pond, skinny cows, cafe with plastic chairs, and worse, rubbish was scattered around, not huge volume but it was an eyesore for a tourist place. I was fantasizing a pretty Indian actress dancing Bollywood choreograph with me and chasing each other at this romantic dreamland.

I waited 2.5hr to catch a bus back to Dalhousie. Unexpectedly the bus broke down on the way, was a little worried. Something was wrong with the front wheel. After 15min, luckily we were on the road again.

I stayed my last night in my room watching Commonwealth Games closing ceremony. Was good.

Friday, October 15, 2010

20101010 India - Amritsa

I dared not to take the food on the street, therefore I went to a restaurant near to the hotel for breakfast. As expected my food was delivered without knife and fork - Indian style. As no one else in the room, so I asked the cleaner. I thought he would call someone to deliver to me, instead he went to the shelf picking for me! With his fingers at the tip of the fork and grinned. He was cleaning the floor with his hands and a dirty cloth just now! I was shivering and headed to the shelf immediately... regretful instantly... Now I know why it is better to eat with your hands in India.

The city is really dirty. Ahh... an Indian told me this is the dilemma of India. Almost everyone is throwing rubbish out of their hand anywhere.

In this holy city of Sikhs, the Golden Temple is a must-visit. This was Sunday cum a special holiday, the temple was full of devotees, surprisingly not many tourists were seen. It was really beautiful, constructed with white marble and golden domes, spot clean (a contrast to the surrounding outside the temple), flowers fragrance filled the compound... solemn and relax. I visited here in 2 consecutive days.

Devotees could dip in the pool to cleanse their soul. There was a huge kitchen and canteen (a hall) catering free foods for anyone in need. Lots of volunteers were preparing foods, cooking and cleaning like a great communal work.

I didn't know if I was lucky, 2 young ladies approached and asked for my contact no. They couldn't speak English at all. The 1st one looks ordinary like a village girl. Since she demanded unceasingly together with 2 older ladies, I gave my e-mail address to her. I won't reply to her for sure. The 2nd lady was more aggressive. She followed me entering the temple, asked for phone no., photo, address... she even touched me... goshhh... she is not so "attractive", her chin distorts to the left while the upper row of teeth protrudes to the right. Eventually, a guy came to rescue me and talked sternly to this lady.

Visited the adjacent Jallianwala Bagh, a small park commemorates 2000 Indians who were killed or wounded by the British authorities in 1919, some bullet marks are visible.

Another must-do in this city was to make a trip to India/Pakistan border at Wahga, 28km from Amritsa to watch the daily retreat ceremony (closing the border). Lots of visitors on this Sunday. Everyone was pushing and rushing to get a good seat. The crowds of guessing 3000-4000 people on each side were screaming patriotically. The border was merely separated by 2 gates on each side. My seat was slightly too far to see the actions. Both sides seem to parade in the same style. Was fun.

note: finally, I had my 1st KFC in India.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

20101009 Srinagar to Amritsar

The houseboat servant only prepared hot tea for my breakfast, they cheated me by saving 2 eggs and a piece of bread. Anyway, I had no appetite because I had to catch the transportation to Jammu.

Mohd paid for a seat in a van (I thought a 4-wheel wagon). The driver... or all drivers were hell drivers. Almost met an accident on the road, though not our fault. The general attitude of the drivers was too reckless. The whole trip was navigating around the mountains, thousand of curves, thousands of trucks and horn blowing. The Bollywood music inside the van was blaring out loud most of the time. The high pitch tailing Indian voice was irritating. Luckily I had my own mp3. The journey consumed 8hr45min.

At Jammu, immediately I rushed to the bus station for a ticket to Amritsa, unfortunately the 5pm schedule was sold out. With my pitiful begging and charm, the conductor found and allocated the best seat (next to the driver) for me. Thanks a lot! Almost all the way from Jammu to Amritsa was straight, but some sections were very bumpy, my butt ached. The journey took another 5hr45min... much longer than I thought.

11:00pm, at Amritsa bus station, I picked up a a rickshaw driver to send me to the hotel. Around the bus station was really filthy, was almost suffocated by the ammonium stink (it was Indian's general habit to piss anywhere) and the rubbish stench. Poor rickshaw drivers and the homeless slept under the bridge... I didn't feel good to pass by this area.

The rickshaw driver charged me Rs60 (EUR1) instead of the agreed amount Rs20 (EUR0.33). He said the difference was his hotel commission. Ha... I didn't argue with him considering a poor man he is, I was a little annoyed by his trick.

I found 3 mosquito bites on my exposed arms, each had a size of 2cmx1cm. What a venomous insect! Looking at the poor hygienic environment, the mosquito breed must be extra poisonous.

Note: a newspaper costs barely Rs3 (EUR0.05)!!! How do they make profit?

Monday, October 11, 2010

20101005 India - Kashmir

The situation at Kashmir was not safe, I was advised. Strike had been going on for 3 months. All flights to Srinagar were canceled temporarily last 2 weeks. After collecting latest info, I was told the situation was under control and tourists can fly in again.

The flight from Delhi to Srinagar was 1hr10min. The Airport looks like a military base, almost all roofs were painted with camouflage colours. All tourists had to register again upon arrival.It was heavily guarded and militarized along the road. This strike was organized by the radical group demanding for Kashmir independence. Tourism was seriously affected. Most shops, banks and schools were close. Saw some slogans "Freedom", "Indian Dogs Out of Kashmir" etc were painted on the walls. Army was everywhere.

The climate in Srinagar was excellent, lots of houseboats but look deserted. Area not particularly beautiful, less then my expectation, but it was serene.

I signed up for 2 trekking packages for approx. USD160, which I think was overpriced. Considering the present uncertain situation, it would be better to let the agent to earn my money rather than organizing myself.

The first trip was to Pahalgam. The place was not so special, we headed straight to Aru (12km to the north). A horse was arranged for me, and the local guide walked the horse circumnavigating through the pine forest, all the way to Lidderwat, an hour each way. I just recalled the Salem High Country advertisement many many years ago. Frankly, to be alone on this trip was boring. Other than the mountains, pine trees and a few herds of sheep, there was nothing much to see. Anyway, was a relaxing day though my butt was sore.

The 2nd trip was to the glacier at Sonamarg. The scenery along the road was beautiful - high mountains, deep valleys, running turquoise blue mountain streams and small villages. This was what I expect from Kashmir. Felt like being cheated, the horse didn't bring me to the glacier, but still a far distance. I could see but not touch. I had to climb 1/2 hr more to get a little closer for better view. Never mind, the time was too short, and I knew how to plan if I would come again next trip.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

20101002 India - Delhi

Don't like Delhi the first night arrived there. Noisy, crowded, dusty, chaotic and lots of touts tried hard to make money from me. I met a Swiss guy who complained a lot about this. I chose to land here only because AirAsia offered the cheapest ticket to here.

Considering the Commonwealth Games are being held, this city must have had gone through a face lift. Its previous image should be worse.

The monument that I like most in Delhi is Qutub Minar. The beautiful minaret was slightly special. Rest of the sight-seeing such as Red Fort is very similar to Agra Fort; The Humayun's Tomb has the same architecture like Taj Mahal but different material. The reason was that they were built by the same Emperor. Many areas were off limit to the tourists, felt like losing the freedom to wander around these places.

When I came to Jama Masjid, the guy asked me to pay Rs200 (approx. EUR3.5) for the camera. I told him I was not going to take any photo. He insisted me to pay, but I rejected. He stopped me to enter. Well, as I know no mosque would impose entrance fees, they may ask for donation instead. Additionally the so-called ticket was just a simple printing on a white paper, unlike the official beautifully printed ticket given by the others.

The recently launched Delhi subway was impressive - new, cheap and extended to large area. It soothed Delhi messy traffic in large extend. I was so "fortunate" to experience the rush hour on Monday... I hate to feel like a Sardine. T
he train stopped twice on the way, not sure if it was over loaded or just some technical problem. The metro station has always a sandbag bunker installed with military post, guess they are very much afraid of terror attack.

- I met a fat Spanish girl whom I never see a lady filthy like her.
- I have to provide a colour photo to buy local SIM card.
- Many people were asking for tips even for a peanut amount. Are they really so desperate?
- The whole city is heavily militarized.