Meg Noble Peterson

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

RETURN TO DHARAMSALA

In some way I feel that we’ve come back home…our Indian home, that is. It’s laughable to walk up the dark road at night, once again, and have taxis and motorcycles nearly flatten you. Our friend, Tamara, had to jump into the potato bin of a vegetable stand when one of her feet was partially run over and she feared for her life. I notice that the stand has now been removed to give the drivers more space to terrorize the pedestrians. Sidewalks are totally non-existent. You just move as close to the wall on one side as possible, or hop onto an iron grating next to a store, and even then you can feel the car brush by you. I wonder how I will adjust to being able to walk down a city street in Maplewood without worrying about the side mirror of a van clipping me.

Then there are speed bumps, which cannot be seen in the dark. I had no idea how dangerous they could be…like walking up the stairs and thinking there was another stair and sort of flying off into space. Glad my reflexes are still good!

So we returned to our beloved Kongpo Guest House (Quiet, Comfortable, and Homely). Pema Yeshe, the owner, asked me to make a new sign, now that he realizes what “homely” means, but this mistake is prevalent all over Asia. If you ever want a really neat place to stay, with great views of the mountains and near to the temple write to: : pemayeshe3@yahoo.com. He won’t allow his name to be in Lonely Planet or any of the guide books, but only gets his clientele from word of mouth. The price is right and the ambiance wonderful. Oh, and the street is now being fixed, though it’s still perilous. We noted that a new wall had been constructed on one side and men are working frantically to finish a new addition to a hotel. As I saw all over India, these men work until 11 P.M. pouring concrete, carrying lumber and heavy loads of rock. I wonder if they get overtime. I doubt it. They’re a hard working lot.

We really missed our friends from the teachings, but found others of like mind at our breakfast haunt, The Tenyang. Many, like Anna Sibbald from Auckland, New Zealand, come here for several months every year. Anna was here for the teachings with her three adult children. They are artists and silversmiths and their company is Zoe & Morgan Jewelry. They work together, though one lives in Bali, one in London, and one in New Zealand.

It still amazes me to see the changes in communication since my first trip to India in 1986-7. Some of the mystery and challenge are lost, but so is much of the frustration with the convoluted bureaucracy. You may remember my writing in my book about the difficulty just to make a phone call home. Now it can be done on a computer (if you have the right equipment…I don’t). And, of course, we have email. Ain’t it wonderful? I’m glad I’ve experienced both.

Cary and I have developed a routine of walking three koras daily around the Namgyal Temple before breakfast. We walk silently with mostly Tibetans–some spinning the large prayer wheels and others doing prostrations. The sun on the mountains is glorious. One night on our way to the Namgyal Cafe we were lucky to come upon a debate going on with great gusto in the main part of the temple. It was similar to the ones we saw three years ago at the Sera Monastery in Tibet. The monks pair off. One shouts questions while the other attempts to answer them,.and they debate theology and points of Buddhist philosophy with great animation. It is an exciting ritual with the stamping of feet and one hand coming down in a loud slapping sound into the other hand when a point is made. I wish I’d had a movie camera.

Speaking of the Namgyal Cafe. This is one of our favorite haunts. Like all restaurants here, you write down your order on a small pad of paper, then sit and listen to a combination of disco and the rhythmic clanging of the huge prayer wheel next to the cafe, as people walk around it. Quite a contrast!

We hooked up with three friends we’d met at the teachings, Melanie Theytaz (from Geneva, Switzerland) and Kamel McGouran (Irish father and German mother), and Tamara Blesh , who had just returned from a ten day retreat, on the occasion of Melanie’s 21st birthday. Seldom have I met two such caring and informed young people, both doing volunteer work and about to end a long Asian journey to go back to study geology in Switzerland. Melanie is learning German, since Kamel says he’s hopeless in French, but right now they communicate in English, which they’ve been teaching to Tibetans for the last few weeks. More power to them! I will say, however, that Kamel has a strong stomach and takes some wild chances with the Indian food. I wasn’t so lucky. He gave me a suggestion for an excellent cafe (he said), which Cary and I tried two days ago. Yes, it was excellent, except that I drank my first lassi (curd which is sometimes mixed with water to give it a thinner consistency and served with sugar and fruit) since Myanmar, and got desperately sick. Food poisoning. It was probably that water, but we’ll never know. All day yesterday I couldn’t raise my head from the pillow, so missed the audience with the Karmapa I’d been looking forward to all week. Today I’m wobbling around, hoping for the best and drinking lots of bottled water. But I still think Kamel is a great guy, and nobody gets out of Asia unscathed…at least once. For me, this is twice..

If any of you want to get pictures put on a CD or printed here in Dharamsala, let me recommend Click Digital on Temple Rd. Not only did they do a great job (watch for my photos on the blog, but give me two weeks…it will be a tough selection), but they are terrific photographers. The owner, a young man, Vikrant Arora showed me photos he and five friends had taken on a recent climb to Moon Peak, one of the mountains we see everyday. It’s a strenuous five day trek over a glacier, but, typical of young men, they tried it in two, staying at the Lahesh cave. Really whet my appetite and it was nice to see that the locals also enjoy the Himalaya, not just the tourist trekkers. Another time I hope to come here when the snows are less formidable and the trail clear.

I also found a wonderful store for carpets and wall hangings. This is one of the major temptations of India. Many of the most beautiful silk hangings and rugs come from Kashmir, but the best tangkas are, in my experience, Tibetan. I met a really charming Indian, Bilal Ahmed Guna, with a sense of humor and a well-stocked inventory at Paradise Arts on Temple Rd., and spent many hours looking for just the right wall hanging. You can go mad with all the stores and the aggressive merchants pulling at your sleeve, figuratively speaking, as you run the gauntlet from one end of town to the other. But Bilal had the sense not to push me, and he was also very fair. I’m a ferocious bargainer, but if the price goes down too fast I start to worry. We hit a happy medium.

This will probably be my last entry before returning to the U.S. on April 4. On Monday evening I board the bus from hell, stomach willing, and travel twelve hours back to Majnu Ka Tilla and the Wongdhen House in Old Delhi. For one day I’ll recuperate, before spending another sleepless night on the plane. Do I sound pessimistic? No, just realistic. I don’t sleep well sitting up. Please send your sympathy my way and let me know if you’ve enjoyed my travels. My verizon email will be operative shortly after I return home. Or you can still use megnoblepeterson@gmail.com

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2 Comments

  1. Meg – My Vietnamese students often spoke of homeliness as well when I taught English there. I learned that “homely” is actually the British-English version of “homey”. While I was aghast that anyone would actually want to attain homeliness, I was set straight after 6 months in Australia!

  2. Hi, Meg! We met at Namgyal cafe during the teachings. Good to see your book’s out and hope you’re doing well! Maybe we will meet somewhere again on the Great Asian Road.

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