The malaria medicine that I didn’t choose is supposed to give you odd dreams and hallucinations. Instead I opted for Malarone, which merely upsets your stomach. Hey I’m in India; I will have an upset stomach eventually during the trip. I wasn’t disappointed, but I was ready and immediately reached for the Cipro, which calmed it all down and killed the bacteria responsible.
Then the dream. I had been waking up between 2 and 4 every night and again at 6ish. But tonight when I woke up I still had the memory of an odd dream
In this dream, I was in America. A dream America to be sure, but America nonetheless. I was with my parents. Not with my small family. I was the age I am now and they the age they are now but living on their own in a dream house. By dream house I mean that it did not remind me of any place we ever lived together. It did not even resemble the same house from minute to minute but changed as I moved through it even nearby parts seemed vague then suddenly detailed. That however was not the mystery of the dream.
The mystery of the dream was that I had no memory of how I had gotten back to America. In the dream, I began in McLeod Ganj in the Pema Thang Guest House just as in reality. But at dream-waking, I was in America. How did I get there? I had lost about two days of time. Others commented on that as well. How did I get there? My parents were the only identifiable people. I kept looking for Sally and Tucker and couldn’t find them. I wasn’t in Chapel Hill, but in some American limbo, some bardo. How did I get there? Finally it dawned on me as I sat there surrounded by people at once familiar but startlingly unfamiliar and I would even say ghostly and ethereal; I needed to check my passport. That would have stamps that would say the dates and perhaps times of my travels.
I found my passport with no difficulty. I opened it while the ghosts and my parents looked on. Sure enough I had left India on schedule. Midnight on August 31. Then instead of going to Chicago as I had planned, my next stop was Tokyo. I must have stopped there for about two days according to the stamps. I had no memory of that. After Tokyo, I had gone to San Francisco and changed planes for a cross-country to Raleigh. The dream Raleigh I guess. Again I had details but no memory of any of the travel.
I stared at the ghosts and even at the walls of the rooms hoping that something else would become clear to me. Even my parents were beginning to fade, to become obscure. There was no more sound. That was that. The end of the dream.
Resolution but no resolution. An answer, but no explanation. A reunion with my parents and the unknowns, but not with my wife and my son. A group that seemed concerned about me, but who could not be defined, named or sensed enough to attribute any characteristics to other than concern
My guide and I meet the new Deputy Secretary for Communications and International Affairs. He is very gracious and offers to show us the Parliament Building and to introduce us to Lhakdor, the new director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. We have a good discussion on digital libraries and what he’s up to there. But every now and then he pauses and asks us “What questions to you have for me?” Since we’ve been asking all kinds of questions about the Archives, scanning and access. James asked about the various web opportunities.
As we left, he asked us “What about your questions about Buddhism?” I turned to my guide, who is a devoted Buddhist. He looked blank. I made a little Zen joke and said “I know nothing about Buddhism.” No one got it.
Later I kicked myself. What a missed opportunity! I tried to come up with a worthy Buddhist question, but I kept coming up empty.
Finally I tried one out on my guide. Why is there an eightfold path? Why not seven or nine? My guide was kind but it was obvious that he thought this was a pretty dumb question.
In which we see more clearly, take a chora around the temple grounds, meet many ibiblio contributors, visit the Tibetan Government compound including Lhakdor – Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives and take a trip with Phuntsok to see the Air Jaldi wireless meshnetwork and the Tibetan Children’s Village.
In which we visit around town, are warned about monkeys, go to the Dalai Lama’s temple, learn of construction and of software sales, and end up having dinner with journalist Lapsang Wangyal before the monsoon soaks the town.
In my room, I decide to check the wireless. Wow! I can see AirJaldi3. But it requires a WEP password that I can’t guess. But now the phone. Looks like it’s fine and even gets GPRS for data. I connect. Read the index of mail as I walk out to the balcony. Connection dropped. Reboot etc. No relief. I reboot in the small kitchen area and I get data. I walk over to the bed and before I can get the first page of mail, I’m dropped. I go into the bathroom. I get data. I stay there a while and madly answer select emails as briefly as possibly. They seem to work. I go to the balcony. Dead again.
Finally I realize that the Pema is on a ridge. I’m roaming to different carriers as a roam my small room. Only the carrier furthest from the balcony provides data support. Over the course of the evening before I pass out. I find four carriers within a 40 foot square.
Despite all these choices, I can’t manage to dial out. None of the dialing to the USA mojo seems to get me beyond a bilingual message about a wrong area code. And I can’t get through to James or Phuntsok either.
This will bug me for the rest of my visit. I can almost read and reply to mail, then I can’t. Finally cybercafes, which close at 8 pm or so, are my only option for mail etc. Luckily the price per hour of use is only about 40 rupees or less than a dollar. My hosts keep me pretty much in motion so I only check in in the evenings.
At the moment (Tuesday morning), I have somehow locked in a single provider. They don’t do data.
I experience the phone mysteries on the road back and in the airport. Coming down the mountain, I switch carriers often gaining and losing data access with no warning.
In the airport, things are more mysterious. My most reliable data carrier AirTel gets the phone, but for the first time it doesn’t show GPRS aka data support.
More droning ride. Until we all stop. A real tangle on a thin rural road becomes three trucks wide and as far ahead as we can see. Motor bikes are weaving through whatever space they can find. Then we get waved back. A great unorderly but efficient reversing of the line. Vikrant suddenly turns on to what is little more than a foot path to me. We’re now in a small Sheikh village in Punjab blowing the horn and missing kids as they leave school in their uniforms and turbans.
For a brief while after, Vikrant drives determinedly onto another rural route. More like a state highway. We stop for gas. Vikrant is in animated conversation with the gas station folks. It is obvious that he is completely lost and getting directions. From what I can make out, opinions about directions in India are as varied and as passionately held as religious beliefs.
We drive on and in a while we are in the hills. We cross the dam of a large lake and stop for more tea. Vikrant helpfully explains about the lake, but I am completely wiped out by this point. I smile a lot.
We do go thru a number of town gates on the way. These seem to be especially favored in Punjab and in lower Himachal Pradesh. Some are quite ornate and lifted high enough for busses topped by extra riders to easily clear.
A couple of police stops to check the driver’s papers and licenses in this area. Dharamasala is near a military base, I’ll discover later on.
We head up into McLoed Ganj. It’s a bustling and confusing, to me at first arrival, town hanging on the hills. After some navigation around the crowds, Israeli and German backpackers mostly, and livestock, mostly cattle and horses, and dogs, we get up to the Pema Thang. Even at dusk, the view is lovely. The Pema is full and we have to negotiate a bit to get my name understood. Everyone in the office is amused that my middle name on my passport is McDonald. They make hamburger jokes to each other and occasionally to me. I can’t hardly convince them that the next line on the passport, “Jones,” is my last name and that there is is more or less in their book too as “Johns” I too share fault as I can’t pronounce Phunsok’s name. The “ph” sound here is not that of an “f” but a kind of hard “p.”
The Pema also has a nice little restaurant despite the plaque that reads “A Paradise for Pizza and Salad.” They have the foods that Tibetans like. And I get a tray of 8 Tibetan treats
I notice that there are a number of temples and shrines all along the road. They’ve been by the highway too, but here I could see them more clearly. Each was marked by a pair of flags by the road. Blue for Sheikh. Red often trimmed with shiny gold for Hindi (usually Krishna or Matha). Occasional green for Moslem. There were black flags in front of a large ornate temple. I couldn’t make out the figures. Vikrant told me that I was good luck on Saturday to give money to “this guy.” I asked again “whose temple?” He answered with what sounded like, I swear, “Sunny Day.” I suspect that god is one of the versions of Shiva with his crescent moon and trident.
The Dalai Lama’s folks paint all of their temples and monasteries yellow, the color of the Gulupa school of Tibetan Buddhism. All monks wear a dark red. The Gulupas wear a yellow vest under their shaws.
On the way back down there, everyone is orange. Every image of the monkey-god Hanuman is completely painted orange, Horses have orange splashed on them. People are dressed in orange. In Punjab, orange turbans abound. Children are wearing orange sashes and women are wearing orange saris. Some people have their hair dyed orange. It’s like an Irishman’s nightmare of a Protestant St. Pat’s with all green gone orange. Many of the orange people seem to be traveling. Some have orange flags. My driver just nods when I ask him and can’t explain or doesn’t quite get my questions or doesn’t understand why I would want to know or thinks I shouldn’t know.
Later in the airport, a guy tells me that this is the festival of Ganesh, the elephant god, who is much beloved all over India. Why no Ganesh is painted orange and why every Hanuman is, he can’t say.
Up at dawn or earlier. It seemed earlier. And down the meet the car. Tom and Tim are meeting their driver for a day trip to Agra. But I’m off for a much longer trip.
Vikrant, my driver is from Dharamsala area and his family has been there for ages he tells me. He’s anxious to get out of Delhi before the traffic gets bad. Bad traffic in Delhi is taking the word “bad” to a whole new level just as hot in Delhi in August is another kind of hot.
We get out of town without much trouble – if you allow for the normal behavior of Indian drivers. Every truck and bus has painted on the back “Blow Horn” as if anyone driving in India needed to be told to do that. And the mysterious “Use Dipper at Night” which does not mean use the Big Dipper to navigate on the dark roads, but instead to flash your lights if you want to pass. This in place of blowing your horn.
Outside of Delhi the road is pretty good. A divided highway with median flanked by dhabas, combinations of tea houses and truck stops. A ways out, we stop for milk tea and whatever breakfast I might like. None. A every warning about health and eating starts flashing in my head. Nonetheless I take some hot milk tea with Vikrant. He buys some mysterious packaged food favored by Indian drivers and we’re off.
In a few hours, it’s lunch time. Seems like we’ve made very good progress. We pull over at a very sophisticated stop that has heritage gifts and a garden restaurant. Over to the edge if the parking lot a camel is tethered. The only camel I see while in India. Vikrant assures me that camels are normal here and everywhere. For his part the camel seems completely unimpressed by anything on the hightway.
The place (see pic) is clean and very nice. Vikrant noticed that I was not all that happy with the dhaba earlier. It’s already getting pretty hot. Vikrant announces that we are half way to Dharamsala. This is amazing, we’ve come far fast. This is a warning of things to come had I thought more deeply.
Food. I thought I knew Indian food but the menu is completely alien to me except for veg. Pakora and stuffed bread. Both of which I order and enjoy. I did get tricked by what looked like a green bean pakora. That turned out to be a chili! It was the only hot part of the meal.
A twelve hour drive has a lot of time in which nothing happens. We’re in that space now. Until we turn off on to a single strip of road heading into a hillier area. Good bye highway.