Friday, October 31, 2008

Boom Boom V

Situated along the lower Jogiwara Road, towards Dharamsala, Boom Boom the Fifth is owned by Boom Boom, a rather wacky Australian woman. Previous reincarnations of the Boom Boom restaurants were to be found in Australia and Bali. It certainly has a unique ambience. Decorated with yellow walls and blue chiffon curtains, it boasts 3 balconies adorned with large comfy cushions. One of the balconies is equipped with a large wooden swing overlooking the valley. The flooring is made of a smashed tiled mosaic. The menu is also somewhat eclectic, including burgers, pizzas, a wide variety of salads, and somewhat amazingly, smoked salmon and cream cheese baguettes. Music varies from jazz and Latino sounds to opera and classical. With very little persuasion, Boom Boom will serenade you with jazz and operatic renditions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Monkey Business

In and around the village you will see playful Langur monkeys. Often seen as a pest, several districts in Himachal Pradesh are running sterilization programmes to curb the population growth. What a job! I find these playful monkeys both cute and entertaining.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Death of Zen

My Creative Zen MP3 player is slowly dying. The volume cannot often be adjusted and the forward and rewind controls are erratic at best. There are several electronic shops in the village, but they won´t touch it with a proverbial large barge-pole. 40GBs worth of quality sounds and downloading going to waste as the installed files seem non-transferable. Aaaaarrrrgggghhh!

Our Landlord Celebrates

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Dear Reader – I´d like to wish you all a very happy, special, and in this time of global financial uncertainty, prosperous Diwali!

Diwali is the festival of light and celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over dark and knowledge over ignorance.

Diwali festivities have been quite low-key here in McLeod Ganj. However, several buildings are adorned with fairy lights and fire crackers have been echoing around the valley sporadically, so the place sounds like guerilla insurgencies around Kabul.

Our friend S., an Indian colleague in Bogotá, has safely arrived into Delhi laden with my five packets of Juan Valdez Colombian coffee confiscated from the boxes we sent to India. They should be safely in my hands in the second week of November. The best Diwali present ever!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fight For Your Rights

BBC World announced today that the Dalai Lama has virtually given up in developing dialogue with Beijing despite many overtures. Somewhat the realist, HHDL knows that Tibetan independence is an impossibility under the Chinese regime, and has already conceded sovereignty and the right for China to conduct foreign affairs. His Holiness is requesting local autonomy and religious freedom.

The cultural genocide of the Tibetan people continues apace. Han Chinese are given land rights, interest free loans and tax exemption for moving into Tibet. The recent construction of a direct rail connection from Beijing to Lhasa is now completed to accelerate this process and Tibetans are now a minority in their own capital city.

Tibet is not the only country under Chinese oppression. The Uygers, Muslims living in Xianjing, face similar oppression. Continued growing unrest has resulted in many deaths of police and government officials.

Beijing were awarded the Olympic Games in the belief that their human rights record would improve. Indeed watching the opening ceremony the Chinese “minorities” were paraded as a prize trophy. Yet all the participants were Han Chinese. A similar charade can be witnessed at the daily “cultural” show in Kunming. Yet China continues to oppress.

The Dalai Lama is generally conciliatory, taking the Middle Path. However, he has alienated more militant Tibetans who would like to take a more direct and aggressive stance against China. Whilst not directly opposing the Dalai Lama one such movement is Students for a Free Tibet -

I believe Tibetan culture will outlive the current Chinese regime, but at what cost?

There has been no official announcement on the Dalai Lama´s homepage

Sunday, October 26, 2008


Momos are the Tibetan contribution to world cuisine. They are like little dumplings and come either fried or steamed. Available with a variety of different fillings including mutton, chicken, vegetables or cheese, they are an excellent inexpensive snack. Food-stalls and restaurants sell them in abundance. There is even a restaurant devoted to this culinary delicacy – Momos – A Taste of Tibet! Perhaps strangely, our favourite momos in town are from Palwan Dhabar, a Punjabi restaurant on Temple Road. Their fried chicken momos are top quality and served with a sweet soy sauce and spicy red chilli.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Man Had Balls

I have finally got around to reading “The Sacred Mountain” by John Snelling. Seen as the definitive guide to Mount Kailash, it has travelled with me across three continents and has received plenty of damage on it´s travels.

Snelling quotes reports by Swami Pranavananda about the Sikh adventurer Zorawar Singh who marauded through Ladakh and forged into Western Tibet in 1841. With forces numbering 1500 men, they defeated the local Tibetan forces of 8 – 10,000. A secondary Tibetan army was raised assisted by Chinese forces to try and defeat the marauding Sikh. Pranavananda claims that Singh became quickly revered by Tibetans for his bravery and labelled “The Lion King”. It was believed he could only be killed with a golden bullet. This was duly dispatched with a fatal shot to the knee.

Zorawar´s body was swiftly dismembered for many locals wanted these as trophies for good luck. A chorten was built with several other body parts. Pranavanda claims that one of his testicles was kept under lock and key at Simbiling gompa which was proudly paraded around every 4 years during the Tantric festival of Iron Fort held in the 2nd Tibetan month of the year. Unfortunately, the monastery was destroyed by Chinese artillery in 1967. A hand with three remaining fingers is allegedly still preserved at Sakya monastery.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Another Roadside Attraction

There are 2 roads that make up the village of Mcleod Ganj; Jogiwara and Temple Road. Along both streets there are lines of handicraft stalls and shops selling a wide variety of goods. Many of the stalls are selling goods from Tibet including lots of jewellers selling silver, precious and semi- precious gems. Yak wool products are also big, including colourful socks and warm blankets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


One of the more challenging aspects of living in, or travelling through India is the amount of beggars on the street. For the uninitiated, it is difficult to confront. Beggars come in many shapes and forms, often quite literally! In any village, town or city, they are always out in numbers. Most passers-by choose the “ignore” strategy; they do not exist. A few, will stop and pass on a few coins – often more affluent folk.

There are no doubts about it, I cannot adopt the “ignore” strategy. At the same time, I would be bankrupt pretty soon if I gave to all and sundry. I will always greet them with a “namaste” greeting, and, if familiar with them, ask them how they are doing today? Indeed I now have a few friends in town who I meet and greet in the streets. It seems to brighten both our days! I hardly ever give more than a greeting. One particular guy who can be found sitting outside the post office has had some really nasty abrasions on his hands and feet, so I picked up some antiseptic cream for him. Unfortunately I fear he now always expects more than a greeting.

This is just a basic overview and a topic I will return to again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Gospel According to Nita Mehta

PT is leaving Mcleod Ganj next week, and I wanted to reciprocate lunch. I rustled up a tasty shahi kaju murg taken from Ms Mehta´s seminal book “The Best of Chicken Recipes”. Her recipes are quite tricky and high in preparation time, but so far, the results have been pleasing. It tasted scrummy and PT produced another classic tom yum kai. A truly international lunch experience.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A New Frontier for India?

It was announced today that India is sending an unmanned lunar satellite into space from the Bay of Bengal. It is part of India´s claim as a world super-power. At the cost of US$80 million, the satellite will be looking for water sources and develop a new three-dimensional atlas of the moon. The project boasts total indigenous technology. A good use of government funds?

Monday, October 20, 2008

DANGER - Lemon Soda

Limca is a very tasty and refreshing lemon/lime fizzy drink, far superior to 7Up in my humble opinion. I fell in love with it on my first trip to India in 1989. This was in spite of the frequently made claim (rumour) that it was carcinogenic. Made by the Italian company, Bisleri, I was repeatedly informed that it had been banned in all European countries and could only be purchased in India. For 8 rupees, and with the absence of Coke (Thumbs Up, a local attempt was totally foul), I was clearly prepared to run the risk of cancer! Limca is now bottled by the Cocoa Cola company, just as delicious, (especially when served ice cold), and hopefully not so injurious to the health! These days the price is up to 15 rupees, but still worth every rupee.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Leaving Home

We live below the main village. When we leave our room, there are 66 steps to climb to the car-park. From here there are 2 main arteries up to Mcleod Ganj. Our first option is up a muddy unsealed path that takes you to the bottom of the village which is then another 10 minute walk up to the centre. Our second alternative is to follow a flat path that leads to a stairwell of 235 steep, undulating rock steps. This brings you out much closer to the centre. With Mcleod Ganj perched at 1780 metres breath can often be short at the best of times. Not for the feint-hearted, we are certainly getting fitter, although we have yet to complete all the steps without stopping for a rest.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hollywood Comes to Town

Mc-LLo´s restaurant is a Mcleod Ganj institution. Situated above the bus station, it provides high-quality Indian, Chinese and European cuisine in comparatively salubrious surroundings. During one busy lunchtime, sitting on the ground floor next to the stairwell, my chair is regularly kicked by people heading up. On the wall above is a large signed portrait of Pierce Brosnan sitting in front of a pizza. After about 10 minutes, another space becomes available and I am very keen to move. The waiter comes over surprised at our shift in tables. I have apparently just moved out of Mr Brosnan´s favourite place he reliably informs me.

The Dalai Lama attracts a lot of media attention wherever he goes and has done much to make Buddhism “fashionable” in The West. Richard Geer is another regular HHDL fan and visitor to Mcleod Ganj. Must get an autograph for my mum! Madonna, Annie Lennox, Philip Glass, Jet Li and Goldie Hawn have also made the trip to Mcleod Ganj.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On The SIte

Who says that Indian society does not treat men and women equally? Here in the village, like India in general, the vast majority of the builders and road workers are women. Often migrants from the South, these dark skinned women wear bright saris and head-banners, and are almost always painfully thin. They work like Trojans on site and precariously balance bricks and other aggregates on their heads. They are the only builders I have ever seen who never share their butt-cracks with members of the public.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Global Hunger

BBC World News and The Times of India newspaper released information today on the most recent statistics from the Global Hunger Index. India scored extremely poorly, behind many war-torn African countries including Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. It was claimed that India scored so badly due to the levels of malnutrition amongst children under the age of 5. India would like to regard itself as a developing country, with the potential to become a world super-power. I hope the government take note of these statistics and address the levels of poverty in the country.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Tibetan Children´s Village

The Tibetan Children´s Village is situated about 8kms out of McLeod Ganj. Set up by the Dalai Lama in 1960, he was keen in providing an education to children of Tibetan refugees, orphans and to children that escape Tibet without their parents. The school in Upper Dharamsala currently has 2000 children run by 200 staff members, and five other centres have been set up across India.

On average about 850 children escape across the border each year, but concern has arisen that there has only been 15 children to make it across the border this year. It is feared that the Chinese government have launched a huge crack-down on escaping refugees.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Balmiki who?

Maharishi Balmiki´s birthday was celebrated in Himachal Pradesh yesterday. There was a small parade in the streets of McLeod Ganj with boys in make-up and fancy address, two trumpeters and some totally outrageous dancing.

A Taste of India

A Taste of India is the best restaurant in town. Looking somewhat run-down with just a few no-frills tables inside, they serve consistently excellent Indian dishes at very reasonable prices. US$3 will buy you a delicious curry and freshly-baked naan. The tandoori oven is tucked away at the side of this eatery in the ramshackle kitchen. Nisha, the owner, also runs a popular weekly cooking class.

Yesterday, our waiter was wearing a red T-shirt with “Chealsea” printed on the front and “Crespio” on the back. Now how cool is that?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Miss Tibet 2008

A lot of excitement in the village last night with fireworks and loud music at the upper levels of the valley. It was due to the Miss Tibet 2008 competition held at TIPA (Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts). It was a close run competition as there was only two participants. Congratulations to 18-year old Sonam Choedon from Lithang, in eastern Tibet. For more pictures and information, check out

Diwali is Coming

Diwali falls on the 28th October, but the Diwali lights were shining in Sidarth House (our residence) last night. In contrast, I remember hearing Christmas Carols being played in Woolworths in Bristol in October, so I guess it is not premature.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lunching with a Monk

Phra PT is a Thai monk who lives in the block next door. He is in McLeod Ganj studying English at the LHA centre which runs subsidised classes. He is clearly a very motivated student and attends several classes a day. We invited him up for coffee last week and yesterday he more than reciprocated with an invite for some home-style Thai cooking of tom yum kai and fried chicken. It was fantastic; he is a great friend indeed!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

After The Party

I am now safely back in Mcleod Ganj after an interesting Dasera experience in Kullu.

Kullu is the administrative centre of the local area in central Himachal Pradesh. It is famous for its shawls and it´s festivities for the Hindu festival. Over 2000 religious deities are carried on huge bamboo poles from miles around and paraded around the town. However, to the uninformed, each deity look very much the same.

It is only 240kms away, but I was almost on the verge of tears when I finally arrived after a ten hour local bus journey. Says a lot about road travel in Northern India. Set close to the famous Parvati Valley, the town is a typical bustling market town at the best of times, but with the huge crowds descending in, accommodation was scarce. I finally ended up in the Aaditya Hotel next to the Beas river. The mattress was almost non-existent and my next door neighbours were clearly in the mood for partying.

Each village community that had brought their local deity celebrated with a mixture of silver and brass horns, a selection of drums and oboe-like instruments, and they each clearly wanted to outdo the others in the level of noise.

Along with the deities, there was a fun-fair, market, cultural show, street performers and food-stalls spread over the cricket ground and recreational fields. This vibrant colourful extravaganza lasts for a week.

Some photos of this event can be found at

Being such an auspicious festival, the sadhus were out in number. I have subsequently updated the appropriate portfolio to

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


This Hindu festival is being celebrated on 9th October this year. It marks one of the three and a half auspicious days of the year. Nine different food grains are offered to a wide variety of deities. The day is associated with valour and victory. Major celebrations are taking place at Kullu, 10 hours by bus to the east of Dharamsala. I´m heading off on tomorrow´s early morning bus to check it out, and attempt to avoid any fatal crushing that seems to be plaguing devotional Hindu festivals. If I survive, I´ll share some snaps with you!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Artisan at Work

The Norbulingka Institute

About 15kms out of Dharamsala in a small backwater area lies the Norbulingka Institute. A beautifully crafted temple and a series of workshops provide Tibetan refugees and 2nd generation Tibetans with work and/or craft skills. Classes are given in all the traditional crafts including painting, woodwork and tailoring. Building began in 1988 and completed seven years later. It is a thriving community of artisans with some studying their apprenticeship for up to 12 years. Their products are sold at a boutique that would not look out of place in Manhattan, London, Paris or Hong Kong. Check out their website for more information.

The Weather Turns

Snow on the Mountain Tops

The Dhauladhar mountain lies at the top of the valley. At 4800 metres, it dominates the landscape. Literally translated dhauladhar means “white peak”. Whilst last night the village was hit with a ferocious downpour of rain and hail, and consistent sheet and forked lightning for several hours. This morning the mountain peak is glistening with freshly fallen snow.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Caffeine Fix

I never drank hot drinks until I was 24. My teeth were rotting away through Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper abuse. Tea was undrinkable in any form and my only exposure to coffee was my mum´s Nescafe. I finally discovered “real” coffee when I was living in Hong Kong. What an enlightenment! A wild variety of flavoured coffees including chocolate/raspberry, double chocolate/mint, and wild peach were readily available from Coffee Château. The ultimate blend however was Blue Mountain from Oliver´s Deli retailing at a costly US$8 for a miserly 100g. Bloody awesome stuff though – dark, rich, aromatic and lustrous. Not surprisingly, the first purchase when relocating to Bogotá was an espresso machine. A veritable coffee heaven awaits caffeine fiends! My biggest concern when moving to India was a lack of a decent caffeine fix. Five packets of Juan Valdez was placed lovingly into our boxes to be sent. Regrettably these were confiscated by Colombian officials. Devan coffee is available in the supermarket here, however Juan Valdez it is not!

Saturday, October 4, 2008



Sadhus are “Holymen” who have “dropped out” of society in the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. Often hermetic, they travel around the sub-continent living off donations, although it is also open to abuse by non-devout beggars to obtain freebies. The genuine sadhus often live in caves, forests and temples, and wander across the country in their quest for moshka (liberation) through meditation, contemplation and yoga. Traditionally, in the initial stages, an apprenticeship is served under a guru. There is thought to be about 5 million sadhus in India alone.

I find them highly photogenic and putting a special portfolio of these. A section of these can be found at although it is unlikely this will be completed until I finish my tour of Nepal during December and January.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

India – A Smoke-Free Zone?

To coincide with Mahatma Gandhi´s birthday, India today banned the use of tobacco in public places. This global phenomena is getting out of hand. A spokesman said it was important that India kept in line with other 1st World Nations – a pretty crap excuse! CNN claimed that 900,000 people die each year in India from smoking-related diseases. In the words of the late and great guru – Bill Hicks “guess what? Non-smokers die every day!

I am a fairly environmentally aware citizen. I don´t use plastic bags, recycle paper bags, refill water bottles and I don´t drive a car. However, I am made to feel a social leper for my only vice. I am hoping this law is not going to be rigorously enforced in Himachal Pradesh.

I remember being in New York when they introduced the Smoking Ban in April 2003. Within 48 hours a club bouncer had been stabbed to death by a disgruntled patron. I was convinced it would be rescinded within days. No such luck!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Keep up with your Studies

The Dalai Lama has been teaching again this week – currently a delegation from Taiwan are in town! You can keep up to date with his teachings with his daily recordings at