Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India
As I mentioned in my last post, I haven’t been able to paraglide for the last week due to crap weather in Manali and crap politics in Bir.
To recap: due to the IPL cricket matches being held in Dharamsala, the authorities banned all paragliding in Bir for ten days before the matches and two days after them. Obviously the paragliding community in Bir are well pissed off. As were a large group of Russian paragliders who arrived in town on a package tour and were planning on spending a week in Bir. Having flown for 2 days to get here, they turned around and went home.
OK, fair enough, ban paragliding if you have to, but not for 12 fucking days. 2 days before and 1 day after seems sensible enough. And next time, give us a couple of weeks notice that the ban will be in effect, not one day’s notice. Dumbasses.
On the road
Here’s a map so you get an idea of where I am.
Wow, that’s actually the first time I’ve seen where I’ve been travelling on a map. I had no idea that we travel south such a long way to go between Bir and Manali. No wonder it takes 5 hours.
Anyway, on this journey I’m travelling northwest from Bir to Dharamsala. It’s only about 63km, but the roads are narrow, potholed and twisty so the trip takes about an hour and a half (that’s an average speed of 40km/h), or so I’ve been told.
Bribing the police
In my case the trip took a lot longer, because half an hour into my trip I was stopped at a police checkpoint. Although my license and registration were in order the insurance wasn’t.
The cop pulls out a huge form and starts filling it out. As we’re about halfway through the form he asks me: “So, do you want to settle this now?”. How much is it? “1000 rupees”. 1000 rupees? That’s a lot. That’s dinner for 4 people in a decent restaurant. Or one night in a better than average hotel (2 nights in an average hotel). More importantly, that’s ten times the normal bribe. And what happens if we do it the official way? “Well, the court will post a fine to your address in New Zealand and we’ll confiscate your license and <something I don’t understand>”. Fine, let’s do it the official way then. “Are you sure you don’t want to settle this now?”. Yes. “Are you SURE you don’t want to settle this now?”. Yes. “OK then”.
So the cop carried on filling out the large form (“What’s your father’s name?”) and while doing that I called Bruce and told him what was happening. He was surprised I was being asked for a 1000 rupee baksheesh (bribe), but that I should just pay it. I asked him why – I didn’t care if they posted a fine to my NZ address. He said cos they’d confiscate the bike if I don’t settle it now. Oh. That must have been the bit I didn’t understand.
So I go back to the cop and ask him how much the fine is. “1000 rupees”. I sigh and pull out my wad of cash and I’ve only got 750 rupees on me. He wouldn’t take it though. “1000 rupees”. Greedy fucker. I tell him I’ll have to call a friend in Bir to bring me the rest of the money. “Call him”.
I didn’t have to call anyone - I had more money in my pack, but my pack was well strapped to the bike and it would take me half an hour to take it off, get the money out and put it back on again. Sigh.
I gave him the 1000 rupees which he counted out and gave to another one of the cops, who put it straight into his wallet. Another cop came along and he pulled out his wallet again and gave the other cop half. Right in front of me. They wrote me a receipt and sent me on my way.
I tried to calm myself down by rationalising that it was only 1000 rupees (NZ$30) but I was still pissed off. Other drivers were only paying 100 rupees – I saw that happening. Another guy I know had no registration, no insurance and no helmet and got away with paying 500 rupees.
I was more pissed off with Bruce for having no insurance though. It meant I’d have to be on my toes for the rest of the trip and I’d probably have to pay the same bribe on the way back too.
Dharamsala McLeod Ganj
Dharamsala was a lot bigger than I was expecting. It’s a large sprawling city at the base of a mountain. I was heading up the hill to the outer suburb of McLeod Ganj, which is the official residence of the Dalai Lama and home of the Tibetan government in exile. It’s also a popular traveller hangout.
Indeed, there were plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from and lots of travellers around the place. It was a nice change to be meeting new people on my own for once – everyone else I’d previously met in India were Bruce’s friends.
Lots of people were in McLeod Ganj for a week or more – doing yoga classes, Buddhist classes, art classes, jewellery making, volunteering etc, or just escaping the summer heat and chillin’ in the mountains.
That first night I went to a nice restaurant for dinner, and a small group of famous cricketers came into the same restaurant. The only one I recognised was Australian Brett Lee. I got a “how are ya mate” from him but that was as close as I bothered to get. After all, they’re Australian cricketers and if they were in NZ I wouldn’t bother to talk to them, so I didn’t bother here either.
The police presence was heavy, and meanwhile a crowd of Indians was gathering outside hoping to catch a glimpse of the players eating dinner or leaving the restaurant.
The next morning I went and visited the main temple in town which is the residence of the Dalai Lama. He happened to be on his way back from yet another overseas junket so I got to see his motorcade enter the complex. The crowd had been waiting for at least an hour for him to arrive so I expected to hear them cheering and clapping when he finally arrived. Instead they barely waved and stood in near silence, but he was smiling and waving out the window.
Later that day I headed off to a nearby waterfall. It was a half hour motorbike ride up some really rough roads, so rough that I turned back twice to make sure I was going the right way. From the end of the road it was a half hour walk through the forest. It was nice – not that much of a waterfall, a river ran down a hill and every so often was a drop off and a pool of clear water.
Since we’re in the mountains the water was icy cold. And since I was not planning on swimming in India I hadn’t bought any swimwear. I’d been trying to find some in town but its non-existent. Any locals I’d ask would say “Swimwear? Don’t worry about it, just swim in your underwear”.
Anyway, the water was so bone-chillingly cold that a quick in-out was all that was needed. Once out of the water I was good to lie on the rocks in the sun for about 2 hours, to defrost and heat up again.