Thursday, June 30, 2005

a monsoon of thoughts

the rain has stopped for a bit but my mind is flooded with thoughts & i know i promised a part two to my last rambling email but i'm gonna have to just start here. now. simply in the moment. i'm in mcleod ganj listening to the sound of fellow travellers furtively typing away. we are all trying to keep connected. & that is exactly where i'm at. trying to keep connected.
today his holiness the dalai lama smiled at me. i have to admit to a certain thrill when the gates to his residence open & his entourage lines up (incense holder to scrolled scripture bearer to ak-47 machine gun soldier to yellow mohawked wonder) & even the security dogs seem to be basking in his glow when he walks out to greet us. it just takes a smile & a wave from him & my day feels as if it's started out most beautifully. the deep vibrato of the chants & prayer every morning have become so familiar it's like white noise. but a lovely kinda white noise that puts you in a contemplative mode within moments. but here is where the little buddhist in me stops. as much as i love the fact that we've finally found a sweet spot where our radios transmit the english translation of his teachings i must admit that i have the radio on only half the time. he is teaching about ridding oneself of attachments & distractions. of obtaining serenity through concentration & meditation & selflessness & being mindful & what i've realized is that i'm most mindful of how full of attachments & distractions i am. i mean yesterday i was distracted by a snail. it was teatime & the monks were rushing about with huge metal teapots filling everyone's cups, saucers, & bowls with milky tea & there at my feet was this snail & all of a sudden i had to protect it from a hurried monk's footstep & i couldn't help but watch over it the rest of the time i was there. a few older tibetans sit next to me everyday their lips constantly moving as they pray, fingers constantly moving the beads on their malas & they were visibly amused at my distraction. but as i sat there shivering in my woolen shawl i realized that i wasn't there at all. the snail was where i was at. wanting a protective shell to call home but still desiring to leave a silvery trail of movement. i have to admit i'm scared of suddenly finding myself still. again. so today's distractions were tail wagging dogs, beaming taiwanese nuns, a small runny nosed tibetan girl who was emulating an elder's prostration (where she kneels down on hands & knees & kissed the ground in front of the dalai lama) & a few documentary filmmakers. i tuned in & out of the teaching & there was much said about the impermanence of things & as i just found out that the recent flooding of the sutlej river (by a burst dam in tibet under china!) had completely submerged the wonderful guest house & hot springs in tattapani that i was staying at a couple of weeks ago i had to switch off the radio & sigh & realize that the truth of the teachings has been taught to me already in many ways. so i left & walked back up the hill via the same teastalls, roadside shops, & beggars that i pass every day. but today the little one that i never give money to but who i always say hello to & smile at & occassionally hold & wipe his runny nose recognized me from afar & came running up & jumped into my arms & i just lost myself in holding him (i actually thought it was a her til now but he wasn't wearing pants today & well...he's a boy!) there is nothing quite like a child to make you forget yourself even if it is just for a short while.
what a difference a day makes. i walked into this cafe full of joy to attempt to finish what i had started yesterday & am suddenly assaulted by the yelling of some of the rudest tourists i have ever heard winging about the ever so slow internet service & the lack of customer service in an incredibly patronizing colonial tone of voice which made me lose my temper & so i just had to scream at them. now my heart is beating fast & i've cursed loudly at someone for the first time in ages & i feel terrilble for letting my anger shoot out from my mouth instead of my fingertips. but sometimes i feel as if the people that come to india have absolutely no sense of adaptability & i am tempted to ask them why in the world they chose to come here in the first place. india is not an easy place to travel. it never will be & even in a place like mcleod ganj that caters to western tourists there are moments of no peace of car horns of cows holding up traffic of power cuts of no service of things not being quite like home...well, it's just not home. if people want home they should really just go back home. sorry, but i can't believe i just had to defend the owner of this internet cafe from a bunch of bitchy tourists. what a difference a day makes.
deep breath. back to yesterday...further down the street i met a snake charmer & had a semi-coherent conversation about king cobras & the need for a lot of trust and/or anti-venom. with the amount of hindi i know i reckon most of the conversation was my imagination but sometimes those are the best kind. jenny, a fellow traveller/sisterspirit, was just telling us the story of how her & her travel mate rachel had the most entertaining made-up conversations on their first very long bus ride in china. they would ask questions like "where did you get those crazy shoes buddy?" & the locals would answer back something in chinese & the conversation would just move on in laughter. she re-inspired me to just talk to people regardless of our language differences. so much can be said with body language alone. anyhow, i'm not even sure that i'm getting through to other native english speakers with my use of language these days.
& yet here i am teaching english. the first day i was here i landed at the LHA
in search of some volunteer options & was taken by my new conversation partners to another ngo called the dogga where i surprisingly found myself about to co-facilitate an english conversation class. the other teachers seemed to be expecting me & it was one of those moments where i just shrugged my shoulders & said why not? i'm so happy that i did. not only do i have two sweet students who i teach privately, but i also have a wonderful class full of tibetan, vietnamese & thai monks (& laypeople) who have taught me soo much about their various cultures/lives that i'm nearly bursting with stories to tell y'all. last night's class topic was FASHION & let me tell you that these monks can strut their stuff. we basically conducted a fashion show complete with a few monks puffing up their chests & flexing their muscles, a demonstration in shawl whipping techniques & how to run in a robe, & an explanation of the various types of robes & colours. we also pondered the question of to shave or not to shave your head. y'all would have laughed as i tried to define the term "soul patch" with a straight face to some serious buddhists or as maura talked about the infinite comfiness of the flip-flop. we wished we had had a video recorder to capture the silliness of it all. we've gone from serious to goofy as we've discussed such things as the situation of tibet, the next life, the environment, education, travel, non-violence, culture shock, buddhist philosophy & the monastic life. it will be sad to leave the class after the term is over in a few days...but i suppose that is another lesson in attachment that i needed.
even though the dalai lama's teachings & teaching english have kept me kinda busy here i have still found plenty of time to lounge about various cafes, video halls, bakeries, and waterfalls with a lovely group of travellers. i couldn't have asked for a more considerate group of people to be around: ben, kate, and their 7yr old son ewan, jenny & rachel, brendon & anne, alon & xavi, janine & alan, & friends of friends of friends keep coming & going til all seem like part of an extended family now.
i had just escaped chandigarh (a few awful days which involved being denied a hotel room after a 27 hour trainride because i looked indian & only had copies of my visa extension, a visit to the police commissioner who had to personally convince a hotel to take me in, rude rude rude locals, heat exhaustion & general malaise, an atm that refused to give me money, not to mention the awfully helpless feeling of being stuck somewhere due to a lack of legitimate documentation...) & had survived a series of busrides to get to tattapani & was sitting alone at a table not really in the mood to talk to anyone & yet they invited me over & within a few minutes i was laughing & within a few hours we were soaking all our troubles away in the hot springs & within days we had become rather good mates. it's funny how a place attracts similar spirits & good energy & i'm still shocked that the guesthouse no longer exists. that a river has replaced it. but i feel blessed to have been there. i chased kingfishers, soaked in the sulphurous water, built many a cairn with perfectly rounded river rocks, practiced skipping rocks, took long walks, enjoyed conversation & beers by the bonfire, finished a fine balance by rohinton mistry & found a bit of balance myself.
after i left tattapani i left the others in mandi & wandered to rewalsar lake on me own. it was one of the most peaceful sacred places i have been to in my life. i stayed at a tibetan monastary that overlooked the lake & watched the buddhist pilgrims walk their ritual kora around the lake spinning their prayer wheels & the hindu pilgrims offering prasad to the gigantic fish, cheeky monkeys, & goats on the other side of the lake & each day at sunset i sat near a sikh pilgrim as he listened to the prayers from the gurdwara on the lake. one day i hiked up to some buddhist caves & was invited to many of the villager's homes for tea & given apricots shaken straight from their trees & the generosity of strangers never fails to astound me. i found this to be true in the next place that i went to as well. the small town of naggar between kullu & manali proved to be the perfect mountain getaway for a few days...i could've stayed longer but it was the kinda place that if you stay too long you may never leave. i had an ish-sized room that was nearly all windows which overlooked the snowclad himalayas & experienced a pre-monsoon rainstorm all bundled up in my bed with flashes of lightning & the sound of raindrops lulling me to sleep. there was a haunted castle & a museum dedicated to the roerich family which were both enchanting & after going to a manali full of traffic jams & shawl hawkers for a manic day trip i was glad that i decided to stay in naggar first. there was absolutely no rushing around there. i spent three days just doing exactly what i wanted to do when i wanted to do it & at times like that i realize why it is that i love traveling alone. i was completely anonymous again. one night i ended up at a rather interesting organic cafe with a bunch of hippie expats & there was one of those white ex-western babas talking about the power of shiva & the evilness of money who drove me insane with his generalizations that he tried to pass off as nuggets of wisdom. i think there were many more of his kind in the kullu manali valley...which is why i headed straight for mcleod ganj after naggar.
which is where i am now. surrounded by all sorts of babas.
but somehow i'm rolling my eyes less & laughing at it all more & more.
i hope you doing that wherever you are too.
i'll be home in a couple of weeks & can't wait to see all of your smiling faces soon.