Wednesday, April 21, 2010

16. Around McLeod Ganj and Bhagsu

Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

After going to the waterfall I went out to dinner in McLeod Ganj with a couple of girls I’d met there, and then we met up with some more people I knew from my hotel. We headed back to the same restaurant I’d been to the previous night, and this second night yet more cricketers turned up. So once again a heavy-weaponed police presence, and once again a crowd of waiting Indians outside. This time it was Adam Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Hershelle Gibbs and young Australian Mitch Marsh. They all play for IPL team Deccan Chargers. I met Mitch Marsh, who I’d never heard of until I’d seen him playing on TV a few nights before. He’s only 18 and he was a nice guy, he didn’t mind moving into the light so that my iPhone camera with no flash would work.

Dharamsala - 08 - Matt Mitch Marsh

One weird thing about McLeod Ganj is that all the hotels have curfews, after which time they lock the doors and you have to ring a buzzer to wake up the angry nightwatchman. I thought my hotel’s curfew was early at 12am, but the others had curfews of 10:30pm and 11pm. Lame!

I was treating myself to a relatively expensive room (1000 rupees - NZ$30), yet I wasn’t getting much for my money. The hot tap in the shower came out boiling hot, and the cold tap was still searingly hot - it was impossible to have a shower. So I’d have to fill a bucket with the hot water, wait for it to cool down, and then scoop it over myself.

The other sucky thing was that my hotel had a bunch of Indian tourists staying, and they would be up at 4:30am talking, watching TV, or clanging Hindu prayer bells to wake the spirits up.

To Bhagsu

So after the second day of only 4 hours sleep I decided to move further up the hill away and out of McLeod Ganj into Bhagsu. Bruce has an old friend who owns a hotel there. It’s only a 2km walk from McLeod and only 5 mins on the motorbike.

Bhagsu was pleasant – less busy than McLeod and much more chilled out – and no hotel curfews. Not that that made much difference, since the restaurants would stop serving beers around midnight anyway. The stinker though was that it was packed full of Israeli backpackers. I usually get on fine with them, but they’re hard to get to know because they’re always in groups of 6 or 7 and not interested in meeting anyone else.

The pewl

To my surprise, Bhagsu has a public swimming pool.  I was entertaining fantasies of lounging by the pool working on my tan, surrounded by girls in bikinis, when I remembered that I’m in India and the only bathers would be Indian men in their Jockey underwear. And since I didn’t have a swimsuit I would be in my boxer shorts too. Before leaving my hotel I had the foresight to change out of my white boxer shorts into black ones.

When I arrived I was surprised to see plenty of Indian women present – mothers and sisters were there poolside watching their fathers and brothers attempting to swim. So I felt a little weird sliding my jeans off and stripping down to my boxers right next to this attractive and married Indian woman.

I sat in the sun for a while taking in the scene. It was quite odd. Firstly, some dudes hadn’t given too much forethought into the colour of their underwear and were wearing white undies. Dude – white cotton gets a bit transparent when it’s wet, ya know? Secondly, Indians can’t swim at all. I watched some young dudes have swimming races by swimming the width of the pool, and their stroke was a very aggressive doggy-paddle.

There were also quite a few young Tibetans present, and after they’d stripped off their crimson monk robes, some of those guys could almost swim properly. The freestyle stroke was there but the breathing wasn’t. I’m a pretty crap swimmer myself but I would have outswam everyone there. I realise that’s only because in NZ we’re surrounded by water and much of our holidays are spent at lakes and beaches so everyone knows how to swim. Plus it’s taught at school.

Despite being crowded it was probably the cleanest pool I’ve ever swum in. The water is constantly topped up by a cold water spring, so it didn’t need chlorine or anything.

Here’s a picture of the scene I snapped when I went back for a second swim later in the afternoon:

Bhagsu - 02 - Pool

Fortunately for you there’s a few pairs of shorts and no white undies present.

Drummer boy

As I was walking back to my hotel, I walked past a sign saying music lessons – singing, tabla, Indian classical, djembe. Hmm, djembe, eh? I’ve had a djembe drum sitting at home since my SE Asia trip in 2003, which I’ve always wanted to learn how to play. I just never got around to finding a teacher. So I booked in for a lesson. Check out my teacher, how cool is this guy:

I did my first lesson but then the teacher was a bit reluctant cos he thought it wasn’t enough time, and that I should stick around longer. I was pushed for time though because I felt like I needed to get back to Bir or Manali to get back into the paragliding. So I did a 2nd hour with him that day and 2 more the next day. After 4 hours of teaching I could do a couple of beats. Here’s one:

That night at a restaurant I met a whole bunch of Spanish speakers. It was cool – there were Argentines, French, Canadians, Spanish, Italians and of course Kiwi, but we were all speaking Spanish. Normally amongst such a diverse mix of travellers the lingua franca would of course be English, so it was a refreshing change especially for the native Spanish speakers! My Spanish has gotten a little rusty but it was great fun, and reminded me of the Sunday asados in Argentina where we would sit around smoking and drinking and laughing, often at my crazy gringo stories. Pozzy, Juan, les extraño.

Bhagsu - 04 - Wendy Beto Matt

Bhagsu - 05 - Matt Noe Vivian

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