OH MY GOSH YOU GUYS HIPPIES. If you don't read all of the entry, at least read the last third or so. Then go look at the pictures of real hippies on Facebook. Seriously, they make me look like a manager at Goldman Sachs.
Everything I've read says that eighty percent of India's population is Hindu, which is surprising because Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism also started here. But Buddhists, for one, were persecuted, so most of them went east. Some of them came back, though, when the Chinese invaded Tibet in the 1950s. They mostly settled in North and North-East India, and their government-in-exile is in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, which is in the far north of India, close to Pakistan and Kashmir. Dharamsala is where Lisa and I headed this weekend for a trip...and it was awesome.
Fortunately, our bus was deluxe (read: no AC, but the seats leaned back, and it was quite clean). Unfortunately, we were on that bus for 16 hours. Each way. To catch it, we had to go to a Tibetan neighborhood in far-North Delhi, which turned out to be a maze of tiny dark alleyways with no buses in sight. Our bus was supposed to leave at 6:30, but it wasn't until 6:35 that we finally found a travel agency with a man who offered to show us the bus. So that's how we wound up sprinting through the alleys of Tibetan Delhi knocking monks out of our way. Luckily, our bus hadn't left yet (I think they held it up just for us), and soon we were really on our way.
Um...kind of. We traveled for about an hour, but then some police stopped us. Apparently the bus service hadn't paid tax on the bus...so we had to wait in a vacant lot for about an hour, and when Lisa and I wandered off for food, the bus almost left us again. I'm sure the other people hated the stupid American girls for making them wait, but we kind of deserved it.
Anyway, we chatted/dozed/played cell phone Snake/read (for the approximately 30 seconds it was light outside) for a while, and then just as it was time for serious REM cycles, the bus hit the Himalayas. Between the bouncing, turning, and gravelly roads, it was impossible to get sleep. But when we got to Dharamsala, the first hotel we found (the OM Guesthouse) was very reasonably priced, and we celebrated our bargain by taking a nice long nap.
When we felt a little less exhausted, we went out to explore Dharamsala. It was quite a trip. The town itself was basically the same setting as Mussoorie, except instead of regular middle-class Indians in the streets, Dharamsala was full of monks. Lots of monks (who, by the way, dress exactly like Tintin in Tibet. No, I'm not ashamed that all my cultural knowledge comes from a racist comic-book writer) ...and hippies all over the place. It felt just like Oregon! It even rained!
So then we made the Dharamsala circuit. First we went to the Thekchen Choling Temple, which has the Dalai Lama's residence attached to it. Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama wasn't in town (in a touch of cruel irony, I think he was in California), but the monastery was lovely. I really like Buddhist art--it's so colorful, but it doesn't seem gaudy to me. So we walked around the temple and then dodged the rain to the Tibet Museum just outside it. It was a good museum--lots of eyewitness accounts and interesting visuals, including donor plaques from the Tibetan communities in Mussoorie and Portland, OR. The most shocking was a Tibetan prisoner's bloodstained shirt. It really is sad, to see all these people who can't live in their own country because its occupier has cracked down so harshly on their culture, religion, etc.
After that, we needed something pleasanter to do to take our minds off Tibet. Luckily, we were walking around admiring the hippie kitsch in the Dharamsala windows when two hippies came up to us and handed us a map to a place just up the road which was having a concert that night, and it was going to be "like, really good, man...totally groovy." We didn't really have anything else to do, so that evening we headed up to OneNest. I'm not sure if it's a pun on "oneness" or not, but I really hope so. The performance hall was filled with genuine, grade-A hippies. Seriously, I thought I had walked into the 1970s--even in Oregon, I've never seen so many stereotypical flower children. I don't think many were Americans: a lot seemed to be speaking Hebrew, and I'm sure there were some French, Germans, and Australians there too. And the concert was...totally groovy, man. Asaf (an Israeli) and Carlie (an Australian, I think) and their band of mostly Israelis plus an Indian tabla (Indian drums) player jammed for a couple of hours. They played the Beatles, the Doors, and, um, the Red Hot Chili Peppers? and Coldplay? Honestly, until you've heard a thirty-something hippie play the guitar, sway back and forth with his eyes closed, and sing "Yellow" in an Israeli accent, you haven't lived. There was also an Iranian man who played a song on a traditional Persian stringed instrument called a kamancheh, but he was genuinely good. Halfway through the show, a butterfly flew past the light (one of the exterior walls was made of curtains), and it was so beautiful they stopped the show for about five minutes until someone took a picture of it. Man, I, like, love hippies, you know?
Sunday morning, we took a nice walk down a hill near Dharamasala past some pretty views and Dal Lake, which could have been prettier (my Fodor's snarkily says that it's "a muddy apology to the real Dal Lake in Kashmir"). Then we walked through the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, which is a lovely old Gothic church from the days of the British. After that, we were pretty hungry, so we went for some Tibetan food. This is mostly noodles, and of course they had tofu for the hippies, and it was delicious. Indian cooking doesn't use tofu, and I kind of miss it. And then we shopped some more, and then we went to Richard Gere's favorite restaurant and ate his favorite lemon cheescake. Unfortunately he wasn't in town. Then we boarded the bus (on time this time), and, less a 4:00 am stop for chai--the chai-walla felt the need to come on board the bus to advertise his wares by yelling CHAI CHAI CHAI--we made it back to Delhi safe and sound.
I even got to take a nap before Hindi, and on the way to it my rickshaw driver asked if I spoke Hindi. I said "thori-si" ("a little") and then he started speaking rapidly in Hindi, but I wasn't able to follow. I did catch the phrase "love marriage" a couple of times, and he asked me if I was married. So, Mom and Dad...I think I got engaged today.