Traveling India - Leh sequel, Dharamsala, Amritsar, Agra, Jaipur
Leh - sequel
Our stay in Leh was very much like the movie "The groundhog day" ("El dia de la marmota" - Punxsutawney ;) ) - every day we were waking up hoping it's a brand new day only to find out after a trip to the bus station that we had to spend yet another day in this lovely - but very small and same - place. Our routine was the same - drinking a lassi (local yogurt) in the morning from the same lassi guy, strolling through the city, checking the same stalls and markets of tibetan crafts hosted by tibetan refugees, visiting some places, having lunch in the same local canteen called "Lhasa" where every day they serve the same - delicious - noodles and momos (dumplings), then spending more time strolling through the same city, etc. Among the visiting activities, we walked to the neighbouring village to see a donkey asylum recommended by the guide, but only found 3 lovely donkeys along the road. The locals had never heard about any asylum.
We also spent a whole day on a small mountain on top of which there was a stupa (kind of buddist tower), very peaceful temple with almost zero tourists and a great view. And next day the same round. One week in total was gone like that, until one day Jordi told us all that he had a feeling we would get out that day. We were all very happy when they guy at the station confirmed his feeling, stating that the road was open and we could leave the next day.
The way from Leh back to Srinagar
The way from Srinagar to Leh was a one-night trip (whereas they take 2 days and an overnight stop the other way round). We were guessing why they do it like that and one of the ideas was that the road is too narrow in some parts for 2 vehicles so we suspected some smart time planning behind the whole arrangement they have for buses and trucks circulating between Leh and Srinagar. The next morning brought a painful realization that whatever logic (if any) they had in their management of this thin and dangerous road, it had nothing to do with time planning for the parts of the road where 2 vehicles couldn't pass. For something like 3-4 hours we were stuck in a traffic jam "a-la India". We were at the highest and most narrow stretch having a view over about hundred Leh-bound trucks and buses queued up on the road with us stuck in a queue of about the same size facing the opposite direction. The stretch that we had to pass was something like 3-4 km, and there were some wider places where the vehicles could pass. What will forever remain a mystery is why it took them 3 hours to get rid of the mess.
There were so many "road managers", road workers, army guys etc. etc. who seemed to be only aware of the few meters they were responsible for, that instead of solving the whole thing they seemed to be creating new jams within the main one. It looked like we would spend the whole day on that mountain, and maybe night. Jordi and a friend we met in Leh were spending their time destroying the Himalayas by throwing big and small rocks down the slope. At some stage a thick cloud wrapped the road and it rained really hard. It was looking more and more dreary,.. until all of a sudden all the queue was moving, and we were out!
We were stuck in Leh because an avalanche blocked the road back to Srinagar. It took them a week to restore the traffic by basically digging a narrow passage inside the snow:
Dharamsala - the refuge of the Dalai Lama
In Srinagar we arrived with a big delay and immediately started to look for transport to Jammu - our hub to Dharamsala. The local "businessmen" were trying to convince us that it would not be possible that day and we were welcome to make use of their hotels, boathouses, rickshaws, taxies. As always in India filtering through all of that we managed to find some honest guys who told us where to get a shared jeep to Jammu. After about 10 hours of mountain road with the worst driver of our lives we miraculously still made it to Jammu in whole pieces, got a hotel for 3-4 hours and next day hopped on a bus to Dharamsala.
Midday we made it to our destination - McLeod Ganj, a small and very touristic village next to Dharamsala, where Dalai Lama claimed refuge after Chinese occupation of Tibet. The village itself had no tibetan charm whatsoever and the predominant population was definitely of the 'tourist race'. Nevertheless, we did enjoy watching the traditional theatrical debates of tibetan monks in the main temple, gazing at the monkeys all along the roads and having a small trekking in the mountains.
Monks debating "the classical style" in the Namgyal Gompa:
Our little trek around McLeod Ganj:
Amritsar and its Golden Temple
After a couple of days we headed for Amritsar - the city on the border with Pakistan, which hosts a very famous "Golden Temple", sacred place for Sikhs. The temple was very impressive - like a golden isle framed by water and white marble. Trying to follow the slogan "when in India, do as the Indians do", we queued - like the hundreds of Sikh pilgrims around us - for some food they were giving out at counters in plates made of leaves and then started walking in a very long queue to the temple itself. Despite the fans that they used in the passage, the heat of something like 50 degrees inside a crowd of people was a bit too much so we had to repeat (because of me) our own pilgrimage twice before we made it. Inside the temple they halfed the portion of food that we were carrying, and let us see the inside of the temple. There was a live band of Sikh musicions playing some spiritual tunes, we ate the food which turned out to be some tasty sweet porridge, and then headed for the exit. At the gate they gave us a small portion of the same porridge like we had - probably the whole ritual was meant to demonstrate the law of karma - "you give/share today, it will be returned to you tomorrow".
The Golden Temple:
This is how they cook that tasty porridge for the hundreds of pilgrims flocking to the Golden Temple every day:
The Border Closing ceremony
Another interesting experience in Amritsar was watching the border closing with Pakistan. It takes place every day at a place about 40 km away from the city and is definitely worth the trip. After security and passport checks at about 5 pm you get to a place which is like an outdoor cinema where the Indian border officers distribute all the Indian and foreign tourists over the seats. The seats are made of cement as hot as melting iron, but when you try yourself to find what might be a bit cooler place, the officer will point you back to your seat. So you do sit down, thinking a dubious mixture of thoughts like probably that's what they mean by "it burns like hell", and about yogies that can walk on burning ashes etc. etc. in the same style. In the end the irreplaceable Lonely Planet served a yet new purpose as a seat cushion for me, and Jordi was saved by his bag. Once all the audience was in - mostly hundreds of Indians, and some dozends of foreigners - they started the show. What followed was an amazing mix between Olympic games, a disco, theatre and an army parade. The Olympic games part consisted of indian people running in pairs a 200-metre stretch to the Pakistan border and back with a proudly waving Indian flag. In amazement, we were watching teenagers running very fast, kids running fast, young girls running, mothers with kids walking, grannies almost crawling...
Once the time for exercising part was up, they started the disco part - putting very loud nice music they gently pushed a lot of people inside the "arena" to dance. It seemed like a very nice disco and we were kind of sorry we were in the "outsiders" part - only passive observers of all that fun. After the disco part, it was time for the official part - theatre and parade of Indian border officials. It was undescribable, but here is a tiny glimpse into what we saw - they were marching, doing some almost acrobatic tricks with their legs and arms, shouting at the length of air volume of their inhumanly huge lungs some cheering sounds for a veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long time, the DJ/mediator was indicating to the Indian public when to join in for some line like "Viva Hindustan". From the other side of the border that was only partially visible to us through the massive gate their shouts were echoed by their just as enthusiastic Pakistani counteparts. All this lasted for something like a couple of hours, until with a lot of pompous action they brought down 2 flags simultameously, at exactly 7 pm. All this was so amazing to watch, when you think about the never-ending unrest in Kashmir, and the bloody history in Amritsar when both sides were sending trains of massacred bodies to each other's side, muslims were sent out of India to Pakistan and Sikhs from Pakistan were fleeing back, muslim killing were reciprocated by Sikh killings and so on and so forth... So yes, the fact that this ceremony is held in Amritsar every single day and attracts so many people is trully amazing.
Back to Amritsar:
Agra and the Taj Mahal
After Amritsar we went to Agra - 11 hours on the bus to Delhi and another 5 to the city of Taj Mahal. This most beautiful mausoleum (and some claim - building) in the world was unarguably beautiful - so symmetric and exquisite. I wonder if there are still modern monarchs capable to express their fits of love via such grand gestures... definitely not the Spanish one (cannot see the government approving the request of the king). The Belarusian "king" (Lukashenko) on the other hand would have the power, but no imagination.
Agra fort was also very spectacular - we were wandering for a couple of hours in what turned out to be only a quarter of it (the rest is in military use).
In the streets of Agra:
Waiting for the train from Agra to Jaipur:
Jaipur - the pink city
After Agra we came to Jaipur, known as the Pink City. Not sure what's up with the sense of colors of these people, but the buidlings of the old city - wherever paint is still not off - are brown! Anyway, we did enjoy a lot a visit to the Hawa Mahal - the wind temple, which is more known as the Peeping Temple, as it was built for ladies to be able to spy on the processions and people down the street from the height of the temple wall at the times when they couldn't be seen. We did peep ourselves on the crowd below - quite amusing. Was very nice a gesture towards the weaker sex from the guy who built it, when you think that there was no TV and Internet at that time, and since they couldn't be seen they couldn't go shopping.
The Peeping Palace:
In the streets of Jaipur:
Tonight we are heading for Jaisalmer - the city of camel safaries.