Meg Noble Peterson

Author of Madam, Have You Ever Really Been Happy? An Intimate Journey through Africa and Asia

Category: India (Page 1 of 3)

SCROLL BACK TO LAST DECEMBER AS WE MAKE OUR WAY THROUGH DELHI TO KATHMANDU….WE’LL GET THERE YET!

On December 5th we headed for the small airport in Kangra, two hours from Suja, where we boarded a plane instead of taking our usual long taxi ride back to Delhi. I have to admit that it was a lot more comfortable and afforded us quality time to chat with a new-found friend, an anthropologist and her extended family, as we waited four hours for the plane to arrive. Patience is a virtue I am finding indispensable when traveling in Asia. “On time” is not finite. It can mean most anything!

I never tire of the classy new Delhi airport and its elephants who greet us:

Our adventure in Delhi with a prepay taxi driver from the airport was classic. Not only did he not know the destination—a very popular hotel close by—but he refused our meager tip, throwing a fit when we wouldn’t reward him half of the entire fare. We should pay for his mistakes? To our surprise he followed us into the hotel lobby, where nobody had any small change due to the monetary crisis. Even fellow Indians seemed appalled by his aggressive behavior. Fortunately, Cary unearthed a fifty rupee note and thrust it into his outstretched palm. With an ‘haruumph’ he stomped away.

At dinner we met a charming gentleman living with his wife in Shanghai. Their plan is to adopt Chinese children and move to Australia. He then told us about the more than fourteen million “ghost children” living in China…second or third children, mostly girls, who were born after the one-child policy was instituted in 1980. These children are not recognized by the government, have no official identity, cannot get an education, cannot legally marry, and cannot get medical services. They live outside the institutions of a regulated society. It is an horrendous problem known to very few people outside the country, but there is extensive information about it on the internet. Yet, until government policy changes, these children will continue to live in the shadows.

The next day we flew out of Delhi, and it turned out to be a sad one for voters, especially women, in the southernmost state of Tamil Nader, whose capital is Chennai. The much-beloved chief minister, Jayalalithaa, died, triggering mass grief and leaving a political power vacuum in southern India. As I’ve written before, there is much interest in politics and political personalities in India. It’s a young democracy full of problems, but it citizens are intensely vocal and active!

Before boarding Jet Airways for Kathmandu, we met the head steward and one of the stewardesses, both from Sikkim, and started chatting. They showed a great deal of interest in the post-earthquake situation in Nepal and our desire to make a contribution, however small. In a gesture of compassion they gave money for one of the schools in Solukhumbu and asked Cary to light butter lamps at the Boudhanath stupa for those who were still suffering. It’s gratifying to see such generosity from total strangers. These new friends also arranged for us to sit on the side of the plane with the best view of the Himalayan range. Is it any wonder that Jet Airways is our favorite airline?

Here are a few shots of the vast display of natural wonder we observed from 30,000 ft.

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How great it was to get back to Kathmandu and be met by Buddhi, our guide, and Ram Hari, both from Crystal Mountain treks. The director, Jwalant, had returned to  the mountains to help deliver supplies for his ongoing school rebuilding projects. The Kathmandu Valley as we evidenced on our drive to Boudha, was in a constant state of repair, from road widening and resurfacing, to shoring up a crumbling infrastructure, to house building. And traffic had resumed its chaotic spider web after the gas shortage of last year had subsided.

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The Shechen Guest House staff greeted us with open arms and we spent the rest of the day and the next checking out the continued construction around the temple, the refurbished stupa, and our favorite shopkeepers. The stupa had just been consecrated after a year and a half of restoration, and it was magnificent.

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At dusk we walked kora and delighted in the variety of faces and native dress of the people walking alongside us, fingering their malas and murmering their chants. Cary lit butter lamps for the Jet Airways flight attendents, and for many friends who requested prayers from the Boudha stupa.

As we left, the colored lights, strung all around the stupa, had come on and a half-moon hung in the night sky.

I’m glad to relate that, finally, I’m getting used to the roaring motorcycles outside the stupa grounds. I just keep walking slowly and let them dodge me. I’ve been lucky so far! It’s hard, at time, to keep your cool, but easier than trying to second-guess the drivers.

Early the next morning, December 8th, we headed for Phaplu, a ten-hour jeep ride over roads ranging from marvelous (built by the Japanese, and similar to the fly-overs outside Delhi, built by the Chinese)…

…to horrendous (result of monsoons, landslides, and the 2015 earthquake), with a superb driver who seemed clairvoyant as he wound around the narrow mountain roads, unable to see who was coming, but squeaking by buses and maneuvering sans guardrails to keep us from diving over a cliff. I tend to be dramatic, but so would you…had you been sitting in the front seat!

There were times when the road was washed out and we simply went through streams onto higher ground. There were also those drivers not so skilled, who found themselves stuck in the river. Here are some photos of our journey as it unfolded.

 

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As we made our way into the hills we beheld a panorama of the world’s most famous Himalayan peaks. This is the first time since my Everest Base Camp trek in 1987 that I saw Everest, Lhotse, and the Nuptse Ridge all lined up. It was thrilling! White, crisp, clear with piercing blue skies.

Nearing our destination, we were treated to another array of stunning mountains, Numbur Mt. being the most outstanding. It seemed to follow us for the next few days.

At 6 PM we arrived in Phaplu in the Solukhumbu region, and stayed at The Everest Hotel.

Our traveling companion was a young woman, Passang, who had come to fill out the necessary documents for a student visa to study in the U.S. She was hoping to receive a scholarship to Knox college in Illinois. Passang spoke excellent English and had a knowledge of government and history not unlike so many other young people we’d met in Nepal and India. She also knew a lot about our election and was concerned about our new president and his impact on the world stage. She wondered, also, how she would be accepted in the United States, as a foreigner.

Tomorrow our trek would begin. But tonight it’s a hearty meal and a very comfortable bed!

IT’S OFF WE GO THROUGH BACK ROADS, SMALL TOWNS, AND SILENT FORESTS TO SUJA

Ashwani squired us once more through the labyrinthian back country to our first stop, another TCV school in the town of Gopalpur, where we visited Tashi Lobsang, the student sponsored by my close friend in New Jersey, Phyllis Bitow.

He is thriving in this beautiful setting in the forested Himalayan foothills, and gave us an exhaustive tour of the grounds, gardens, and his living quarters. Tashi loves the pristine and immaculate ambiance of his environment, he says, and is throwing himself into his academic work with fervor. We left him as he was going for “self study” in a computer class.

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I was taken by these plaques with various sayings painted on them as reminders of the wisdom of the past from all around the world. Some were in English and some were in Tibetan script. It was a beautiful sight.

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Our final stop before reaching Suja was in Palumpur, a major center for commerce in Himanchal Pradesh. It was bustling, despite many stores and small markets being closed because of the financial demonitization.

Ashwani suggested his favorite eatery, The Joy Family Restaurant. Wow! What a great choice…coffee shop, ice cream parlor, hamburger joint, sweet shop, you-name-it…all rolled into a veritable hole in the wall. It was narrow and brightly decorated, and had been run for forty-seven years by the Narang brothers, uncles of Nmang, a charming young man, who helped steer us through the formidable menu.

Their famous specialty, chat patri, worried me, since it was cold and had yogurt and some uncooked vegetables in it. But Cary put on her brave suit and ate every bit of it…to her delight. My loss.

Later I was told its ingredients: fried wheat puff pastry, potatoes, yogurt, green and red sauce, a type of lentils, sweet and spicy, smooth and crunchy. And served cold. The rest of the food was a bit spicy for me, but I indulged in some of the best Indian sweets of my long life. If you’re ever in Palumpur, don’t leave without paying the Narang brothers a visit. Ashwani knows them well, also, because he buys their ice cream for his shop in Bir!

By 3 PM we had arrived at the Suja TCV school, another favorite home away from home. The new sponsorship secretary, Tenpal, was expecting us, and we spent the rest of the evening on a sentimental exploration of the campus, noticing many changes and improvements. As always, the children greeted us warmly.

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We stayed in our usual room, and were treated to colorful sunsets every evening. What a welcome!

The next two days were varied and full of emotion. I missed so many old friends…students as well as teachers whom Cary and I have known and loved over the years. It almost seemed like the end of an era. People graduate, move away, start their lives anew in far away places, and relocate, as several of the teachers have, in other countries. Also, the population of the school has shifted radically over the past few years since the Chinese no longer allow children to leave Tibet, so the school enrollment is down. Even though there are students from the Buddhist enclaves in Ladakh and the Yolmo in Nepal, it’s different. And the offspring of the original group of refugee children are starting to attend, but they have immeasurably more resources and, thus, advantages over those who fled across the border on their own. Nor do they have the same feeling for Tibet as their homeland, for they have never been there. Yes, life is impermanent and we have to adjust to changes in whatever form they take. And educating the children is so vital and important, no matter where they call home.

There are still two students at Suja who have Whidbey Island sponsors that we wanted to visit. As we wound our way through the living quarters we could see that it was washday.

Tsering Phuntsok is now class 10 and in the boy’s hostel. We hadn’t seen him in a couple years and he has grow from a child to a young man in that time.

Lhakpa Dolma is a little younger, and becoming much more confident and less shy than in our previous visits.

Her dorm was next to the girl’s covered basketball court. She shares her simple and cheerful room with over 25 other students.

Cary had fun sharing highlights from a Seahawks game with Tsering and Lhakpa. Tsering’s sponsor had given him a Seahawks hat (foreground) and she was explaining just who they were. Neither had ever seen football before, so it was fun to watch.

In between visits with the students, we visited the town of Bir, heading down the familiar path, enjoying the warm sun as we walked through the yellow fields of winter wheat, over a bubbling brook, and past brightly painted homes where livestock stood tethered and small gardens flourished.

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Ah, but so much had changed. No longer was my favorite café, Buckstars, open, and the lovely monk who ran it when he wasn’t painting sand mandalas had gone back to Sikkim. And our dear friend, Sonam Hara, who was the director of the Tibetan Primary Health Care Centre, was now living in Canada, and his wife, Tsering Somo, had resigned from teaching at Suja and was leaving to join him.

Of course, we had to search for an alternative place to buy the superb Indian cappuccino, and we found a small outdoor restaurant way on the edge of town where we indulged.

We were so happy to see Tsering Somo again before she leaves for Canada. We shared lunch at a different Joy Cafe (that we can also recommend!) in Bir. Even a revered teacher is not immune to the hypnotic power of the cell phone!

Before leaving, we took a casual stroll around town, stopping in Ashwani’s store to reimburse him for the 10,000 rupees he had loaned us upon our arrival in India, and buying papaya from the smiling lady who is our favorite fruit vendor.

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It was with mixed feelings of joy for Tsering’s opportunity to be reunited with her husband and sadness for the end of an era at TCV Suja and our social life in Bir that we strolled back through the fields to the school.

The countryside outside the school is very peaceful and pastoral, unlike any other place I’d been in India, and so we took a long stroll down a country road, past some small shops and through a small Indian village. The houses were large, brightly colored, and interesting, with balconies or shingled slate roofs. Some were new and grand and others more of a farmhouse. Animals were tethered in front, usually, and mounds of hay adorned the fields. Women in colorful saris greeted us. And children clustered around, wanting photographs. The boys played cricket in a large field by the river. We felt very welcomed and very much at home.

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Following a sumptuous dinner of veggies, chicken (bones and all) and fruit, we once again spent a quiet evening watching the sunset from our balcony. The dogs seemed to have calmed down for the moment and we were able to enjoy the singing and chanting at the nearby hostel.

I shall be back with a report on our subsequent adventures as we make our way through Delhi and on to Nepal for a visit to Kathmandu, Boudhanath, and Dhulikhel, and for a ten-day trek in the Solukhumbu district of the Himalayas. This will be the first time I’ve been back to that area since 1987. But, first, it’s off to the East Coast to check on friends in New Jersey, and to devour as much as I can of Broadway’s Great White Way. Seems I’ll be flying into a blizzard, which suits me just fine, since I love snow…unless I have to land in Philadelphia. It was March 12 when I wrote this and it was not supposed to snow in the old haunts on my selected weeks. The best laid plans….

DHARAMSALA, WE LOVE YOU, CHANGES AND ALL!

We spent four days reacquainting ourselves with McLeod Ganj, a peaceful hillside town which has great religious significance to Tibetan Buddhists, and is also a haven for people who want to get away from big city hubbub. Luxuriating in the sunshine, we took long strolls through the countryside, visited the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) school in Upper Dharamsala, connected with old friends, perused the markets for my favorite billowy pants and outrageous earrings, and became acquainted with the crew that was laying the foundation for a new hotel on the side of the hill (where else?) near the Pema Thang.

Simple 2-person shovels with one person pulling while the other dumps, bamboo scaffolding, and the endless labor of women is building Dharamsala.

During our stay we watched the progress of the construction.
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I couldn’t resist a few shots of other sites while walking through town. Building was going on everywhere!

It was actually a relief to move on up the hill and get away from the “busyness.” Here is the corner where you can catch a taxicab. It’s so relaxed compared to most of India. Or how about a lazy walk down the street? It’s quite beautiful to see the rows of houses built into the hillside.

As we were walking to dinner on our second day we bumped into an old friend, Thinley Gyatso, about whom I’ve written in the past. We first met him in 2011, when he was doing translation work for a Swiss NGO. Last year we visited the restaurant he had started in Dharamsala to help young Tibetan refugees get work and begin a new life in India. He just sold the restaurant and now lives near Dal Lake by the Upper Dharamsala TCV school, continuing his writing and translating. We spent a very highly charged evening of political discussions with him as well as an afternoon at his home following our first visit to the school.

On our third day we had a delightful reunion on the outside deck of the new Pema Thang restaurant with a former TCV student, Karma, who is now studying at Men-tsee-khang, the prestigious school for Tibetan medicine in Dharamsala.

It’s wonderful to see the students every year and watch them develop into dedicated, compassionate, determined professional people, who want to make a change in the world. They’re young, and, yes, idealistic, and they will make a difference. The same can be said for Shawo, Cary’s sponsored student, who now is studying at a university near Seoul, South Korea, on a full scholarship.

We also had a lovely reunion with Phuntsok Gyalpo, whom Cary has known since 2007. Phuntsok tutored her in Tibetan during her retreat at the Pullahari Monastery in Kathmandu. Many of his family have emigrated to Australia, but he is staying in Dharmasala to care for his elderly parents.

One motto that is universal in all the TCV schools was displayed prominently on the embankment in front of the school. It is at the heart of all Buddhist teachings and is key to the underlying philosophy that fuels the life work of these institutions and its participants.

That afternoon we took a taxi for our second visit to the TCV school in Upper Dharamsala. It is quite beautiful, situated near Dal Lake and nestled behind large pillars with a winding road leading to the main athletic court, behind which are academic buildings, dormitories and offices.

We visited with Lobsang Tenzin, the former TCV Bir sponsorship director. It was fun to see him in his new office with his two children. On the way we were delighted to bump into Ngodup Wangdu, former director of TCV Bir and now director at Dharmasala TCV.

We met, once again, with a delightful young woman, Boshey, sponsored by Jim and Rebecca Sundberg in Langley. Boshey is taking advanced business and science, and gave us a tour of the school and her dorm. I’ve never climbed up and down so many stairs in my life, except on the Inca Trail in Peru!

I was surprised at how small the rooms are, housing three students, but each had her own space where she could neatly stash her books and belongings. The buildings were of thick cement and, like all such building in India, susceptible to mildew. There is, obviously, not enough money to clean and repair such a huge building complex. But the education these young people receive is excellent, which is the primary focus. Boshey walked us back up several banks of stairs and to the entrance, where we found a tuk tuk to take us back to town.

On our last day, we decided to go the back route to town and avoid traffic. We struggled down a rugged rocky path through the gorgeous Chonor House, passing the Kongpo House, where we had stayed in previous years, and ending up at our favorite café. There we bumped into another old friend, Caroline Martin, dancer and world traveler, whom we had met in 2007 at our first Dalai Lama lectures. Small world!

Halfway through breakfast we heard drumbeats and lots of excitement out front. It was international AIDS day. A boisterous parade of men and women were marching and dancing through the streets, dressed all in white. They looked at first glance like the KKK, but they were actually promoting condoms for safe sex. Let’s give a cheer for transparency !

The group was sponsored by Kunphen, meaning “universal benevolence.” It is the only Tibetan NGO, and provides treatment programs for alcohol and drug dependence, and HIV/AIDS. The emphasis is on care for the suffering.

On December 2nd we said goodbye to magical Dharamsala with the life-threatening traffic. There was that one last look at the valley and the temple from our balcony, and the fond farewells with white katas from the hotel staff draped around our necks. Then it was down the winding road, a stop at the Namgyal Temple to light our last candles, and on to Bir.

I wonder if I’ll return next year, and, if so, how many more hotels there will be? And whether I can attend one of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. I hope. I hope.

ASIANA, HERE WE COME! FROM BUCKETS OF RAIN TO BASKETS OF SUNSHINE….

A good reason to go to India and Nepal in late November. We also needed to get away from the chaos of the recent election and concentrate on the chaos of Asia. But, alas, that was not to be. We were bombarded on every side by, “What happened to your country? What is going on? Why did you do it? (Who… Me?) Not even in the high ridges of the Himalayas did we escape questions about our election results. I couldn’t help noticing that many of our Nepalese and Indian friends knew more about our government and its legendary philosophy than a good portion of voting Americans. They were used to feeling helpless in the face of quixotic leaders and national disruption. But they thought we were different. Amazing how we are beginning to adopt Third World strategies and rhetoric as the weeks unfold. Meanwhile, moving right along….

This was our first foray onto Asiana Airlines through Seoul to Delhi. I kept thinking, “I must have forgotten something, because my bags are so much lighter.” Yes, they were. At last I had put into practice what I had learned thirty years ago on my first backpacking trip around the world. What you take you carry. There ain’t nobody else gonna’ do it!

Never before had I flown over Russia, and it was exciting to look down at the pristine wilderness—mountains glistening with ice and the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the North Pacific Ocean rolling out before us in rapid succession.

Luxuriating in our business class seats, thanks to Cary’s skillful maneuvering of our frequent flyer miles (they’re all gone, now, folks), we slept our way to Delhi, so were wide awake at 1:15 AM when Ashwani, our Indian friend from Bir, picked us up and drove us to Dharamsala.

Many of the roads and “fly-overs” leading out of Delhi are new, having been built by the Chinese. Still, we had the predictable wild ride when we reached the outlying areas, racing around the hills and taking chances by passing trucks on curves with the usual Indian aplomb. But I always enjoy the drive up the steep hill (seven kilometers) from Lower Dharamsala to McLeod Ganj, past numerous tall buildings hanging onto every cliffside, and ending as we come upon the Namgyal Monastery where the Dalai Lama lives. It was like returning home when we moved into the Pema Thang Hotel, high on a hill overlooking town. It was already Sunday, November 27th. We had skipped a whole day!

A lot had changed since last year. A new parking garage had been built on the cliff opposite the Ten Yang Café, our favorite coffee shop, and the road to town had been freshly cobbled. Businesses seemed to be flourishing with new ones springing up along the way. But it was still perilous to walk on the sidewalk-less roads, dodging cars and trucks and wishing horns had never been invented.

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Excitement prevailed on our first morning. The Dalai Lama was returning from Mongolia and within the hour would arrive by motorcade at his temple gates. Huge crowds lined the streets, many of them Tibetans, dressed in their native garb. The Chinese had forbidden them to stay in India and go to the Kalachakra empowerment at Bodhgaya, but the Dalai Lama had promised them a special spontaneous lecture that afternoon, and they were thrilled. We were also privileged to attend the lecture.

After the excitement of seeing and hearing the Dalai Lama, we headed up the street to see if we could change some money. Little did we know what was in store for us! We had heard about the demonitization of the Indian rupee before we arrived (stripping a particular unit of currency of its status as legal tender), but had no idea of its impact on foreigners and Indians alike. Fortunately, Ashwani, our taxi driver, who runs a small convenience store in Bir, had put aside 10,000 rupees in 100 rupee bills for us, knowing we would be unable to get small denominations when changing money upon arrival. What a favor that was!

All 500 and 1,000 rupee notes had been taken out of circulation and the government planned to replace them with new ones. This was Prime Minister Modi’s surprise move in the hopes of eliminating black money—illegal, untaxed money that is earned on the black market—and moving the country to a digital economy.

Unfortunately, it was ill-planned, according to many people, and sorely affected the poorer segments of the society and those who needed small bills to do business. Lines at the bank wound through the street and down the hill, reminding me of our gas crisis in the ‘70s. And by the time people had waited for eight or ten hours, there was no more money left. Chaos was the operative word.

We headed for our usual money-changer. Forget it. He was closed. No money. Eventually, and luckily, we were able to find a shopkeeper that had a side business in exchanging US $ cash for rupees. Where they found all those 100 Rs notes we will never know, when the banks and regular money changers had run out.

We used some of our precious rupees at a lovely handicraft store owned by a charming Indian/Kashmiri woman, Sunanda. As with so many of the businesswomen we met, she was well-informed, highly intelligent, and had a wide circle of friends around the world. Her handicrafts were lovely and one of her handwoven runners is now gracing the dining room table in Cary’s new home at Upper Langley.

You may remember my writing about another friend I’ve known since 2011, Bilal Ahmed Gunna, who runs the Paradise Arts shop, with beautiful Kashmiri tapestries and rugs, and says that I’m the toughest bargainer he’s ever met. High praise, eh!? Here is a photo taken in 2014.

We stopped by his shop, eager to see him again, but he was in Srinigar getting married, and his friend, Jacob, was holding down the fort. We talked for a long time with this charming gentleman, getting an overview of Indian-Kashmiri problems and the custom of arranged marriage and family life from his perspective. We live in a varied world, indeed.

As we always do on our first day in Dharamsala, we walked kora around the temple at dusk, and headed up the hill, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun.

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A CHILLY NEW YEAR TO YOU ALL….

It’s been two weeks since we said goodbye to our beloved Himalayas and headed back to the comfortable community of Langley, WA.

Now I’m delighted to be able to go to Denver, Colorado, for an unexpected visit with my daughter, Martha, my granddaughter, Cally, and her husband, and my great grandson, Theo, now 14 months old and walking. From now on I am GiGi. That’s for Great Grandma, of course. I wear the moniker with pride and disbelief. How did a young girl like me ever reach this exalted place/age?

I’ll also visit autoharp greats, Bonnie Phipps and Lucille Reilly, and nephew, David Magill. Then, it’s back to a blow-by-blow report of Asia off the beaten path….

For the first time in all our travels we experienced what to many is a common occurrence: a lost duffel bag full of all Cary’s camping and trekking equipment plus the usual precious mementoes of her Asian adventure. A predictable gnashing of teeth followed. And to this day, still no bag.

Our stay in the Tibetan enclave of Delhi, Majnu Ka Tilla, was dampened by this turn of events, but we still enjoyed our Tibetan friends and spent a day roaming the area after greeting our first Christmas tree at the Wongden Guest House. Click on the photo to start the slideshow.

Another much happier “first” to occur on this trip was our frequent flyer upgrade to business class. It was like another world for us and we thoroughly enjoyed our new privileged status as coddled passengers sleeping and eating and drinking our way around the globe. On the return trip from Delhi to Shanghai to Seoul, we also spent our waiting time in lounges patently and conspicuously  bourgeois. It didn’t escape our notice, however, that we were often frowned upon. Our ratty climbing attire and clunky boots screamed “tourist class” to the spiffily-dressed “models” who hosted China Eastern. It was only after we moved to the more relaxed mélange of Delta hostesses of a certain age that we felt at home in our egalitarian attire and laid back in heavenly slumber for the better part of our trip. Thus, no jetlag. Oh, Gods of the airways, grant us another such experience before we die. I beg of you!

Two days into my return I looked out my front balcony to be greeted by five fat robins perched in a frosty tree. It was a bone-chilling 20 degrees.

Omigod! Why are these robins so fat? Who has been feeding them? Surely they can’t get worms from the frozen ground. Suddenly, my mother’s words came to me: “He’s puffed up like a  robin in winter.” So I looked up robins in winter (how I love the internet! Gives me such a momentary feeling of erudition). And I found out more than I ever wanted to know about them. Even when the temperature is subzero, these little creatures can puff up their feathers and increase the amount of air next to their body to insulate themselves.  It can be 104 degrees under the feathers and 10 degrees outside. How about that? Nature, to me, is unbelievable in its complexity.

In closing, here is my cheerful New Year’s message. It’s from the Tenyang Coffee Shop, our favorite place for cappuccino in Dharamsala, nearby the Dalai Lama’s temple.

DELHI – FINDING PEACE IN THE CHAOS

Delhi is our traditional first stop in Asia. We remember the confusion and state of disrepair of the old airport, so it’s great to fly into the new and beautiful Indira Ghandi Airport, even though it’s so big you need roller skates to get around!  This time we didn’t stay at Majnu Ka Tilla, our favorite Tibetan enclave in Delhi, but went directly to the Tibetan Children’s Village hostel for Tibetan college students, located in the Rohini Sector, where we visited two students we have sponsored over the years.

Purbu Shawo P1080429Phurbu (left) is studying International Relations in Delhi and Shawo (right) just received a full scholarship to study Chinese Language and International Relations at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea.

 

The hostel is in a lovely, quiet setting, surrounded by trees and flowers, and buzzing with student activities. The lovely director, Tsering Dolma —an avid gardener, artistic landscaper, and longtime teacher—and her competent staff are in close touch with each student and his or her particular needs. They have created an oasis of peacefulness and support for the Tibetan college students.

We also visited Hindu College with Shawo, enjoying a long commute on the splendid modern Metro.

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Several times we enjoyed walking through the extensive park adjacent to the hostel. People sat in groups, talking, doing handwork, picnicking, throwing balls (I was fascinated watching a teenage cricket match), and playing cards. Birds gathered and small animals played. And the sun shone.

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The ride to the airport in the evening was even more chaotic than I remembered! Clogged traffic, delays at most traffic lights, daredevil drivers cutting in and out, horns honking incessantly, tuk tuks whizzing by, and all executed through a thick haze of pollution. I have to admit that the roads are greatly improved since my first 1986 experience in Delhi, but this only encourages speeding. The continual construction, however, keeps the driver on his toes, sort of….

Next stop…Kathmandu!

 

EMBATTLED NEPAL REELING FROM POST-EARTHQUAKE BLOCKADE

I’ve been back in the Northwest since Christmas and, finally, there seems to be some good news to report from the beleaguered Nepalis regarding the Indian blockade of their southern border. It’s been going on since October, thrusting the country into an ever-deepening crisis. Over the past months I’ve posted several articles from the Kathmandu Post and the Himalayan Times about this complicated situation. Here is a recent one that tells how the protesters have been thwarted and things are getting back to normal.

When I left Nepal at the end of December, gasoline was $14.00 a gallon on the black market; cars, trucks, and buses lined the streets for miles and even days; and, since cooking oil was at a premium, people had resorted to cooking outside on makeshift wooden stoves as winter gripped the country. Lines of oil canisters were also chained beside the road, waiting for distribution.

I’m amazed at how few people in the West knew about this unconscionable situation, and how few Western governments even cared about it. We’re so busy with our primaries, our TV shows, and the many hotspots on the international agenda, that the suffering of a small earthquake-ravaged country that can’t even get U.N. shipments of rice to hungry people living in hard-to-access mountain villages goes all but unnoticed. You just wonder how much hardship one group of people can sustain before breaking. But, as the recent NOVA documentary, Himalayan Megaquake, pointed out, these are a people who abound in patience, fortitude, and courage. They work together, help each other out, rebuild as a community, and do not exhibit the fear or anger that fills most people when they observe their situation. That says a great deal.

In a lighter vein, I must excuse my long absence by blaming it on the worst jet lag of my life, which has led to many sleepless nights and foggy days. My children accuse me of a faulty memory, but they’re not the ones walking around in a coma! On that note, I came across an hilarious article in The New Yorker, which I want to share with you HERE. It is long and guaranteed to put you to sleep, though that is not its purpose. It also leads me to believe that I am not alone in my suffering! However, I am convinced that a visit to Mexico, Patagonia, Phoenix, Hawaii, or even Florida, away from the rain, mist, and cold of Whidbey Island in winter, would solve my problem. Living here, my body fails to see the difference between night and day. And neither do I!

But I shall stay put and suffer. After all, there is this blog to write….And isn’t April just around the corner? The sun came out yesterday and didn’t I see a couple of crocuses?

Lest you think me discontent with my surroundings, let me share a few shots of beautiful Langley. It has a certain mystique, especially at dusk. Rain or shine, I love to walk along the banks of Puget Sound and watch the ever-changing cloud formations, often being treated to rainbows. That’s the upside of rain! And the best part is that it’s five minutes down the hill from where I live. How great is that?

 

HOORAY FOR THE VOTERS OF DELHI!

I interrupt my climb in Nepal to report some really good news out of Delhi, India. The man who captivated and warmed the hearts of all Indians (including me, a non-Indian), who were eager to end corruption in their homeland and city, just won a landslide victory in the state of Delhi. His name is Arvind Kejriwal.

Last year I wrote about his anti-corruption campaign in Delhi and how he seemed to be the man on the white horse to lead India into a new era of honesty and accountability. He stuck his neck out, founded the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and was elected Chief Minister of Delhi …just as I was visiting India. I read about him in every possible Indian newspaper as well as The New Yorker (to which I’m addicted). I listened to his acceptance speech on TV when I stopped for lunch on the way back to Delhi (and watched the monkeys cavorting by the roadside), where he even went into a kind of Indian rap-singing that tickled me. He was so unconventional, such a breath of fresh air, tinged with the over-the-top social activism that seems doomed to failure. Well, he didn’t last long as you can read from link  below.

But, Saints preserve us, he is back! And big! Take a look and, with me, rejoice in the fact that progress can be made even under the most corrupt, intrenched circumstances.

I just wanted to share this link with you.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-31294500

And here’s another just in. Three cheers for the wife! It’s so great to see the changes that are going on in India and the world.  http://qz.com/342471/why-kejriwal-embracing-his-wife-is-as-important-as-the-modi-obama-hug/

One more note of optimism (Isn’t it wonderful when we find them?) is the movie, Selma, which I just saw. I lived through that era in the civil rights struggle, as many of you did, and I wept and I cheered for the brave people who led the way in this mighty struggle. It’s a beautifully crafted movie and well worth seeing.

STARBUCKS…LIGHTEN UP

Or put some more half and half in your cup and add a little honey. You’re big. You’re rich. You’re powerful.  Come on, fellas, you can afford to leave the little guys alone.

Last December I came upon one of the pettiest acts in my long experience watching the legal shenanigans of super powerful corporations. In fact, it was almost laughable in its absurdity. Daughter Cary and I were staying in Suja, in Himachal PradeshIndia, where the TCV (Tibetan Children’s Village) is located, and had occasion to visit Bir, a small Tibetan refugee community located across the field, where a friend runs a clinic. The town consisted of one main street and a few outlying farms. It was also known as one of the premier sites in the world for paragliding. Being a lover of espresso, I remembered a small coffee shop humorously named BUCKSTARS. I looked up and down the street and finally found it. But the sign only read COFFEE SHOP.

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It was a hole in the wall with an espresso maker, but nobody to make it. I went next door to ask for help. The vendor there went to another store and then across the street, where a clean-cut young man came running and offered to help. He told me he was a former monk from Sikkim and here to help the family that owned the shop. He also was a well-known sand mandala artist. We ended up talking for the rest of the afternoon and, after visiting his studio, I bought one of the lovely mandalas.

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“Where is Buckstars?” I asked “It’s been here for years.” He looked embarrassed, shrugged his shoulders, and wobbled his head from side to side as people so often do in India. “Starbucks came to Mumbai in 2012. They sent us a letter this year from a lawyer and asked us to change the name. Then a lawyer called me and asked how many stores we had in the area. I asked if he had ever been to Bir. No answer. I told him we were a very small town. He asked, again, how many stores we had in the area. He wasn’t listening to me at all and did not understand that we were no threat to Starbucks.”

“If we get twenty customers a day during paragliding, we are lucky. Usually we get two or three. I spend most of my day creating my mandalas.”

Jhangchup then motioned me to sit down and made an espresso that put STARBUCKS to shame.

“Why did you change the name? That must have been a pain,” I said.

“Not really. I found it quite humorous that such a huge company with millions of customers worldwide would take the time to write a long legal letter as well as call me. ” He showed me the letter and a couple of points stood out. I quote:

It appears that you are aware of our client STARBUCKS and that you have infact derived the trademark BUCKSTARS for your cafe by reversing the order of the words STAR and BUCKS and are using the same alongside with ‘S’ in a green concentric circle. Such adoption and use dilutes our client’s common law and statutory rights in their well known name and registered trademarks.

Our client would appreciate if you would amend/change the name of your cafe by not using the word BUCKS either alone or with STAR as part of your name/trademark. Our client is willing to offer a reasonable transition period and pay reasonable costs, etc., etc. and trust that the matter can be resolved amicably.

“What a lot of trouble they went to….If only STARBUCKS had a sense of humor!”

 

ONE CHILD, ONE HELPING HAND

Since my return from India, I’ve been reading a lot about the emerging middle class and its affluence, but that even with the proliferation of new apartment complexes, the garbage still piles up in the street and the sewage system lags far behind.  Yes, India has horrendous problems with its infrastructure, but, sad to say, they are not  alone. As you know from my previous blogs, I had very little exposure to these people, since I was traveling and exploring the countryside and small villages, wandering through markets and mixing with school children at the caves or in the airport. The children are always curious about Westerners and not afraid to engage in a conversation, usually starting with “What is your name? Mine is…… Where are  you from? Do you like India?”

This experience changes when you hit the large cities. And it is here that the meandering tourist is accosted by swarms of children in tattered clothes and bare feet, begging. And this is what is most difficult for many Westerners to understand and to accept. I have written about it in my travels in Myanmar, but it is much more prevalent in India. My usual answer when asked for money is to say “thank you” in the native dialect (given to me by the locals, who sympathize with the problem), rather than “NO, GO AWAY!” If you say thank you the right way it telegraphs, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

In Myanmar there were few beggars, but if approached, I always took them to a sidewalk food stand and bought them something to eat. By my third month in India, however, I was losing patience. On my last day I was staying at a charming hotel, Wongdhen House, in Majnu Ka Tilla, the small Buddhist enclave/colony in Delhi. It was a dreary day and I was wandering the small lanes lined with shops and food stalls. There was a tug at my pants leg. I looked down at a most forlorn, pitiful little boy with matted hair and dirty hands and face, gesturing for food with his fingers pointing to his mouth. My emotions ran the gamut from pity to irritation to anger and back to sadness and pity. Where is your mother? How dare you prey on me? Why aren’t you in school? I knew the answers, but that didn’t stop the feelings. He was skinny. He was hungry. He was alone.

I walked over to a fruit stand and bought a banana, handing it to the boy. He shook his head. What, you’re looking a gift horse in the mouth? He pointed to a small bunch of green grapes and smiled hopefully. They were expensive compared to a banana, and as always happens when I travel, I immerse myself in the local economy and do not calculate exchange rates. Here was this little kid being fussy about my gift. He waggled his head from side to side. I looked at the vendor, then at the kid. His eyes were appealing. This must be a monumental treat. I hesitated. The vendor looked at the little boy and, almost imperceptively, motioned with his head for me to give the boy the grapes. The boy’s hands were trembling in anticipation and he immediately started gobbling. I looked at the vendor, who had tears in his eyes. I had never seen this on the part of an Indian in this situation. Usually they appear disdainful of such a child. But what did I know of this man’s life that led to his compassionate act? I said, “That was a lovely thing to do. You are a kind man.” He nodded, wordlessly.

“Here, let me buy some more bananas,” I said. I handed them to the boy. This time he took them, eagerly. A little girl had come by, which often happens when you give something to one child. He handed a banana to the girl and they walked off together.

Looking at the entrance to Majnu Ka Tilla from the overpass

Entering by bicycle rickshaw

Cary at main temple

Gullvi at entrance to Wongdhen House

Typical fruit stand

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© 2017 Meg Noble Peterson & Site by Matt McDowell