Saturday, February 28, 2009

Murder In The Snow

It was a very poignant evening in McLeod Ganj.

At 6pm there was a candlelight procession through the streets to acknowledge and commemorate Tapey, a monk from Kirti Monastery in Amdo. Tapey went into the central market outside the monastery yesterday, carrying a home-made Tibetan flag with a photo of the Dalai Lama in the centre. He then publicly set himself alight. Rather than douse the monk, the Chinese police shot him and took the body away. Yesterday was Monlam – the third day of Losar which is particularly associated as a prayer day. Click here for more on this story.

The demonstration wove its way through both of McLeod Ganj´s streets and headed to the Tsuglag Khang temple.

About 500 – 800 people gathered in the courtyard, for the documentary showing of “Tibet: Murder in the Snow”. Using the original footage shot by climbers as well as reconstructions using the original refugees, it tells the true story of 72 Tibetans trying to cross into Nepal at the Nangpa Pass near the base camp of Cho Oyu in September 2006. Chinese border guards shot at them indiscriminately, killing a 17 year old nun Kelsang Namtso. 32 managed to escape, but 40 were arrested and subsequently viciously tortured.

It marked the first time that the shooting of refugees was recorded on video – shot by a Romanian climber. “They´re shooting them like dogs!” you hear him report as he witnesses the atrocities in front of his very eyes. The footage was smuggled out and shown worldwide.

Both the director, Mark Gould, the producer, Sally (both Australians) gave a short presentation as well as several of the refugees who were fortunate enough to make it across the border in this incident and appeared in the documentary. One of them is sitting right next to K. He escaped by hiding in the climbers´ toilet tent.

The audience were clearly very moved; after all, many had made the similar journey across the border themselves.

More information about the documentary can be found here.

Where On Earth is the Real Panchen Lama?

The Panchen lamas form a tulku reincarnation lineage which are said to be the incarnations of Amitabha Buddha. The name, meaning "great scholar", is a Tibetan contraction of the Sanskrit paṇḍita (scholar) and the Tibetan chenpo (great). Seen as the 2nd most important lama, the role also requires the Panchen Lama to assist in the identification of the Dalai Lama.

The 11th reincarnate was identified as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima on 14th May 1995 by the Dalai Lama. Not happy with this decision, the Chinese government named their own Panchen Lama, named Gyancain Norbu as the “genuine” reincarnate. Not surprisingly, both this boy´s parents are members of the Communist party. The Tibetan recognised Panchen Lama was shortly after kidnapped alongside his family, and they have not been seen since.

The Chinese government claim to have taken him into “protective custody”and has not been seen since. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima remains the youngest ever political prisoner. The Chinese recognised Panchen Lama was crowned at Tashilumpo Monastery, the holy seat in Shigatze, Tibet, but lives in Beijing and is hardly ever seen in public. He is not recognised by Tibetans. It is believed he will be given a seat on the Communist operated Standing Committee of the National People´s Congress when he turns 18 years of age.

Every Friday a yellow ribbon is tied on a tree at the Tsuglagkhang temple in memoriam to the incarcerated Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. A short video can be found here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rhododendrons In Bloom

A beautiful day hiking was had researching a blog story in neighbouring Dharamkot. I met some great locals and a long-term resident who inadvertently paved the way for a few other future blogs.

The weather was warm, sunny and clear throughout the day and the rhododendrons are out in full bloom. Too magical!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part Four) – Bhagsu

Take the Bhagsu Road next to the bus stand. The route is fairly flat and heads East of the village before swinging out to the north with awesome views of the Dhauladhar Ridge. Bhagsu boasts cold spring baths, a small 16th Century temple and a fairly unimpressive waterfall which can be viewed in the comfort of the No Name Cafe. The village also has a few market stalls and a gift-shop selling a host of colourful and hippiesque crafts from the Indian deserts of Rajasthan.

The temple commemorates the the point where Bagsu the Demon King was caught by the snake god, Nag for stealing water after Bagsu tried to alleviate drought in his kingdom. When caught, Bagsu confesses and begins to pray to Nag. Nag shows compassion and allows Bagsu to take enough water for his land.

There is also an outside public pool for the brave.

With a growing number of back-packer guest houses (as well as a growing number of upmarket hotels), alternative therapy centres and German bakeries, cafes and restaurants, it has become hangout for large groups of Israeli travellers. Not surprisingly there are several restaurants selling “Israeli food”. It is about 4kms out of McLeod Ganj.

Sunday seems a very popular day for doing your dirty laundry in the river as well as for picnics.

On the road between the two villages is The Jungle Hut restaurant which boasts excellent views down to Dharamsala, if somewhat unspectacular food.

A Fistful of Dollars

In pure Keynesian style, President Obama has been given US$787 billion for the US for the national stimulus package, possibly rising to a cool trillion bucks. Now this is serious money and could do a lot of good, but only providing it´s spent wisely. The British National Health Service is crap despite money being poured into what should have been a world bastion of government institutions.

Time magazine calculated the following worth stats of a trillion dollars:-

Buys every person in the world a Starbucks frappuccino for 37 straight days

Every person in the US could receive US$3,273

Each person in the US could receive 1000 boxes of Girl Scout cookies

A stack of a trillion one dollar notes stacked would be equal in height to 144 Mount Everests

What would you do with the money?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

And the Award Goes to...

Who needs the Oscars and the Golden Globes? – The real awards ceremony worth it´s sodium chloride are "The Strawberries".

The ultimate food and drink guide to McLeod Ganj, based on this author´s subjective taste, this year´s unique Strawberry Awards go to the following:

Best Curries - Taste of India

Best Banana Lassi – Namgyal Cafe

Best Coffee House – Coffee Beans Lounge

Best Cake – Truffle cake at Jimmy´s

Best Mutton with Noodles dish – Snowlion Hotel

Best Quality Food – Chonor Lodge

Best Chinese food - McLLos

Best Pizza – Roquefort and Walnut - Namgyal Cafe

8.Best Chicken Momos – Palwan Dhabar

Best Italian food - Oogo´s

Best Chicken Burgers – Boom Boom V

Best Roast Mutton - McLLos

Best Mutton Burgers – my own home-made ones - well done Aubs!

Best Tandoori - Taste of India

Best Chocolate / Banana Shake – Tenyang Cafe

Best Location for Views – Jungle Hut on Bhagsu Road

Best Grocery Store – Megastore

Best Chocolate Balls – The Chocolate Log

As Lonely Planet likes to state, places change, good becomes bad, and crap becomes awesome (or words to that effect). Who will win in 2010?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Non-celebration of Losar

I´m safely back in McLeod Ganj. This evening we enjoyed another quality dinner at Chonor Lodge before heading to the main temple. They are setting up for a meeting/demonstration and hunger strike in memory of those Tibetans who have died for an independent Tibet starting tomorrow. There are several very graphic photos of tortured victims placed on a small shrine. Too sad. The streets are quiet tonight. There will be no celebrations for the Tibetan New Year. Can you imagine the Scots not celebrating Hogmanay?

You can read the New Year´s message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama by clicking here.

We have bought a bottle of Indian red to toast the New Year and will light candles on the balcony. Indeed India has started to produce drinkable wine - the Satori merlot is very passable.

Tomorrow I am on my first photographic assignment for the local news magazine “Contact” - covering the events at the temple so it´s an early start tomorrow.

You may also note some labels on posting as “Blogsherpa” - “Ketchup with Aubs” has been targeted by Lonely Planet as a useful blog to travellers – not bad as only 85 bloggers are involved in this initial LP trial. You are clearly reading quality stuff!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Out of the Parvati Valley

Picturesque and rich in cultural life, Parvati is a great place to explore. Even in Winter, there is plenty to see and do although most of the cafes and restaurants are closed. Each village has something to offer and i´m sure there is more than 100 to visit, if you have the time and energy. It is interesting to note the melting pot, with Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists hanging out together.

Like all mountain people, they are hardy, strong and somewhat shy of camera-carrying tourists. A shame as some of the colours are extravagant and lots of character in their faces. You have to greet them first, but you will get a response. Some are very friendly, although their English is very limited (and my Hindi non-existent). However whilst walking through Chhalal, I do get invited into the home of Rakesh, a local herder who has spent his entire life in the valley.

Rakesh opens up a large tin which is filled with what looks like goat shit, but the smell becomes stifling with the rich aroma of charis – pure Malana. We share a j together over a black tea and i´m rapidly baked. His one room space is very basic, but he has two others scattered in the valleys. He owns two donkeys and two horses and there is always plenty of work, although it means a somewhat nomadic existence. He is forty, but he has brought up a daughter and son by himself after being widowed 10 years ago. With schooling only available to Year 8 the daughter is a roller and his son will join the transport of marijuana. “Things cannot change in the valley”. He offers me some pellets, but after my experience with the local police, not a chance.

I manage to get up to 2200 metres to see the construction work of the Pulga dam, a private project to utilize the mighty power of the Parvati river, and I wonder what changes this will bring about.

Today I get an opportunity to spend time with Charman, a 21 year old farmer. He informs me today is the start of Shivaratri and there will be wild parties for the next week throughout the valley. He himself is on the way back to his village for a bhang Lassi, would I like to come? These are a very traditional drink during this awesome festival. I take up his offer of a village tour, but decline on the lassi - my friend Callum had one of these during the Pushkar camel fair and was psychotic for the next three days!

Sitting in his bedroom Chaman puts on a Parvati cultural show on his DVD player - his portable player is a present from some regular Scottish travellers. I ask him about the dam project, but he is sceptical the venture will be able to be completed. "it´s impossible for them to make. They don´t know what they are doing".

As well as vegetables Chaman´s family have a field of cannabis – apparently there is not a family without one! Everybody is involved in at least some part of the narcotics industry. The main harvest is in September with some farmers taking a second in March. After taking a great picture of his grandmother, I bid him farewell, and he offers to take me to the fields (a further 2 hours walk) if and when I return.

Foreigners have been a rare sight. I think there were only 4 or 5 sightings, one of which is obviously a long-term Italian resident. He spends his time continuously preparing chillums in the corner of the Evergreen restaurant in Kasol, giggling incessantly and talking to himself.

My Work in Progress is now completed and my Parvati photographs can be viewed here.

Although all Losar celebrations have been cancelled, I am keen to be at home by the 25th. There is a bus to Jammu via Dharamsala leaving Bhunter (330 Rps) at 7.30pm possibly arriving at in McLeod Ganj at about 2am. Yum!

Ed. Note: My taxi to Bhunter is stopped in a road block by more police, who tear open my rucksack and am asked to empty out my pockets. With nothing to be found, it´s over in 20 minutes, but never a pleasant experience. The bus leaves 25 minutes late and as it is on the way to Jammu it doesn´t head into McLeod Ganj or even Dharamsala. It actually stops at Kangra airport, and from there I was transferred by taxi. As there are two of us we have to pay RP250 each to take us back up to McLeod Ganj.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Oscars - Man On Wire

Have you seen the documentary “Man On Wire”? An amazing movie telling the story of Philippe Petit´s remarkable feat in crossing between the 84th floors of the the twin towers on 7th August 1974. Directed by Brit James Marsh, the film is "made" by Petit – a total poet; and in the advent of 9/11 the film is full of pathos and nostalgia.

In 45 minutes up on the wire, Petit completed eight crossings (43m) and a variety of movements 417m above Manhattan.

Sgt. Charles Daniels, who was dispatched to the roof to bring Petit down, later reported: “I observed the tightrope 'dancer'—because you couldn't call him a 'walker'—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire....And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle....He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again....Unbelievable really....[E]verybody was spellbound in the watching of it”. He recognises he will never see anything quite like that again.

It was the winner of Sundance 08 and is likely for success tonight for Best Documentary

Whilst I'm sure Danny Boyle will take Best Film and/or Best Director, I was disappointed that Anil Kapoor was not up for Best Supporting role – he was superb!

Don´t forget to check out The Strawberries – to commemorate Losar, I will be subjectively listing “The Best” in McLeod Ganj; all will be revealed on 25th February.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Baby Stories

I noticed a few strange human birth stories making the news recently.

The story of the woman who gave birth to octuplets on January 26th became more shocking as the facts started trickling out. Now octuplets are an amazing phenomena, more associated with rabbits and cats rather than humans. Then came the news that the woman already had six children. Ouch! Indeed she was assisted through in-vitro fertilization. However, excuse my naivety, why on earth would a hospital implant six embryos into anyone? - Two of these embryos allegedly held twins if you were wondering about the maths.

Adding more spice to the story, it transpires this single parent is collecting welfare for the children she already has. Now her house is about to be repossessed.

Having originally demanded anonymity Nadya Suleman has now set up her own website for donations, has hired her own publicist and has been rumoured to be demanding US$2,000,000 to appear with Oprah Winfrey. Now that really would go a long way.

Ms. Nadya Suleman will certainly have her hands full for the next 20 odd years.

A recent story about Alfie Patten, a 13 year old father hit the news in UK. His 15 year old girlfriend, Chantelle gave birth to Maisie this week. It was reported that four foot Alfie enjoys computer games, boxing and Manchester United.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Out and About in the Parvati Valley

I have five Shiva posters in my room, but only one of Parvati. And wherever Shiva is, so there is a propensity for marijuana.

Parvati is famed for its charas. Every year connoisseurs from around the world, although interestingly enough a disproportionate amount of Italians, descend to the valley in Autumn as the harvests are completed. One of the most revered parts of the valley is Malana, listed as one of the founders of democracy with a long established parliament.

Over the last few years more than a dozen travellers have “disappeared” whilst “trekking” in the region, with some these confirmed as murders. Travellers have been known to try and buy a kilo for a couple of thousand dollars cash up front – five years of salary for a day´s work. Both Lonely Planet and the Rough Guide have highlighted the dangers of travelling in this area.

Through pressure, most notably Israeli mothers have forced the police to take action which has included climbing some steep slopes and burning a few crops. However, the police will not kill this golden goose, a lot of baksheesh can be made from travellers leaving town carrying more than they should.

This afternoon I was stopped on my way up to Manikaran by three police officers. They immediately like the look of the camera and ask how much is it worth? I cut the price by half, before they begin to ransack my bag twice and then my pockets. Clearly disappointed at finding nothing incriminating they want to see my passport. Now I have already mentioned that whilst I have a valid Indian visa, it was not validated at the border. It sits in the draw next to the bed in McLeod Ganj. I do however have a photocopy of the passport. This is illegal and they ask me several times if I know I can go to prison for this offense. I won´t budge and stare forlornly on the road. They tell me I must leave back to Dharamsala as soon as possible. At the very least I guess I will have to change hotel.

It is the low season and despite walking both North and South of Kaysol (Kaysal), I have seen only two other Western tourists. No wonder there are hardly any restaurants open! A few signs outside offer “ordinary” food . I found one place open in Jari to the south offering “nothing special - ordinary homemade food”. It was a quality curry and four different people on separate occasions came to ask if I really was enjoying it.

Work In Progress has been updated here.

What A Record!

Radhakant Baijpai, an Indian Grocer from Uttar Pradesh is still awaiting confirmation from the Guinness Book of Records for his 25cm growth coming out his ears. He claims that his wife allows him to keep them as they are said to offer good luck and prosperity and therefore offer a sense of pride to the owner. They haven´t been cut or trimmed for 40 years. Respect!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Work In Progress - Parvati Valley

A Work in Progress allows you to view photos as they are downloaded. You can check on some new stuff every day by simply clicking on this link.

I would recommend the pictures to be viewed on the slide-show tab, and as always I hold the copyrights.

I - Spy

After setting up this blog, I set up a free account with Statcounter curious to see who was reading it. It came up with some interesting results. So far there has been hits from over 30 different countries on six continents. I know some friend in UK, Hong Kong and Colombia like to touch base (my previous homes), but the vast majority of readers are from North America (both the US and Canada). I guess they´re rich!

It´s got some pretty sophisticated facilities including exact addresses of hits and returning visitors. I might come and visit if i´m in the area!

Whilst 57% of visitors spend less than 5 seconds on the blog, the average length of other visitors spend between 5 – 20 minutes on the site. Over 50 people have logged onto this blog-space on more than 10 different occasions (and clearly haven´t cleared their cookies!). And one of them isn´t my Mum and Dad who “don´t know how to use it.” The most popular articles have included “Living Without a Washing Machine” (an article I highlighted to Tobes as a clear sign that I had too much time on my hands) and the Death of Zen (which must come as a serious disappointment to many readers).

Back in December I wrote about the fast disappearing “chaupals” - a meeting place - where people could exchange ideas. Please feel free to write (and respond to) comments made. We could create our own 21st Century global on-line chaupal!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Parvati - A Legendary Valley

Arrived into the Parvati Valley at 5.15pm and staying in a poor person´s interpretation of a Swiss Chalet called the Alpine Guest House. I´ve taken an upstairs room with balcony overlooking the Parvati river gushing 30 metres away and situated in a pine-forest. I demanded a heater and negotiations on price are ongoing for an extended stay. It is in a village called Kasol described in the Lonely Planet as being “more Manali than Manali”. Clearly Sheva and Pavati had tastes before their time!

True, there is a falafel stall opposite and plenty of Hebrew decorating the walls along the single road, but like the rest of the village, pretty much all seems to be closed for Winter.

With courses beginning in Tushita Meditation Centre in the 2nd week of February, the gringos are already back in McLeod Ganj. Here, most travellers won´t be here before April.

I´m heading up to the hot springs tomorrow in Manikaran - translated as “the Jewel in the Ear.” As oft happens, a huge serpent came and stole Parvati´s earrings whilst she was bathing. As he snorted them out it released these therapeutic steamy waters. So hot, the locals reputedly boil their rice in it; it has to be mixed with cold water for bathing. It is a very popular pilgrimage site with Hindus and Sikhs. I need those therapeutic waters and immerse myself in heat so unfortunately the camera stays behind.

Getting from McLeod Ganj to Kasol

Take the 6.10am bus from Main bus stand. 200Rps will buy your ticket to Kullu - about 8 hours to travel 240kms. At this time of year there is only the Bedi (private) bus. I spent the last 2 hours next to two cute, but smelly white goats.
Got off the bus at Kullu playground and Municipal Taxi Workers stand and took a cab for an expensive Rp750 – about an hour and a half to cover 40kms.. With less luggage you can jump off the bus at Bhuntar and take your chances with a bus going your way.

Good to know it´s reachable in 12 hours door-to-door.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I allegedly have Broadband connection through a device from “Reliance”. It neatly plugs into my USB port and receives using mobile telephone signals. With a reception of 256KB it can be painfully slow, but quite handy if I´m out and about. However as I have found out in Pushkar, Delhi and Varanasi, it is temperamental. It will accompany me as I venture in the Parvati Valley across the state of Himachal Pradesh for a few days. Whether there is a signal there I don´t know, but we will soon find out.

Parvati was the partner of Lord Shiva and they lived in bliss in Manikaran for eleven hundred years which boasts hot springs in the heart of the valley. Surely it must be a good place to hang out for a while?

There has been a big Hindu party over the last two nights here in McLeod Ganj – the local clarinets have been particularly squeeky. I´m hoping to find some tranquility with some statistics, but I will try and take my camera walkies.

The Mass Games in North Korea

This week´s Saturday Night propaganda movie was David Gordon´s “A State of Mind” - a documentary about two North Korean gymnastics selected to perform in the Mass Games. These Games are held sporadically in Pyong Yang usually as part of the "largest spectacle on Earth" in tribute to “Fathers” Kim Jong-il and father / predecessor Kim Il Sung. Both girls are just two of 80,000 gymnasts specially selected to perform not just for all the VIPs but on National television (well there is no alternative in the 5 hour daily broadcasts) chosen from millions.

These girls practice for up to 6 hours a day for such an honour and make up just a few minutes of the Mass Games which involve up to million citizens paying homage to the Great Leader. The Mass Games appears to be on par with what was witnessed at the recent Beijing Games – unbelievably amazing! Check it out for yourselves.

There is plenty of juicy stuff including a potent interview with one of the girls´ grand-father who witnessed first hand the devastation inflicted by the US in the 1950s. He can´t understand how humans can inflict such horrendous actions against others. Cameras follow the girls around including attending the English class and Revolutionary History. Totally frightening! The radios broadcast in every citizens´kitchen and whilst it enjoys a volume control, it can not be turned off. Maybe the translations were poor, but the language of this country/cult is pure communist archaicisms.

There is a new documentary out on our comrades in North Korea which intersperses interviews with political prisoners and defectors, N. Korean propaganda movies and a contemporary dance piece released this year entitled Kimjongilia. Sounds pretty good too.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Taking The Piss

The Sun tabloid newspaper in UK is hardly known as an an oracle of truth, but this story also came out in The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

Devout Hindus in India have come up with a new fizzy drink – made from cow urine. The pee-based pop branded as Gau Jal – or Cow Water – is the real thing and was made to honour the faith's sacred animal.

A leading Hindu cultural group came up with the beverage at its research centre in the holy city of Haridwar on the River Ganges.

Members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hope their "healthy" alternative to cola and lemonade will be the next big thing.

Group director Om Prakash said: "It will be a revolution of sorts. The acceptance of cow urine as a potent medicine is increasing day by day and once it comes as a cold drink, its demand will definitely increase. It will justify the high stature accorded to a cow in Indian culture."

Prakesh´s team is now focusing on packaging, marketing, and of course preservation to stop its curative drink from going "whiffy" in the summer heat.

This Indian-based reporter will be scouring the shelves and will report back – now that´s true journalism!

Ed. Note: More details are now available here

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Winner of the Man Booker prize in 2008, Mr. Adiga´s first novel is a rip-roaring read and I would highly recommend it.

The book takes the form of a letter written over a time-span of 7 days to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Written in the 1st person, the book is highly critical of all aspects of Indian society - including the police, politics, the caste system and the disparity of wealth.

"At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the West, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of (Indian) society. That's what I'm trying to do - it's not an attack on the country, it's about the greater process of self-examination".

The White Tiger has been given mixed reviews in India. Mr. Adiga has been accused of being an expat (attending schools in both Britain and the US) and out of touch with his country of birth. Unperturbed at his critics he points out that the criticism by writers like Flaubert, Balzac and Dickens of the 19th century helped England and France become better societies. Lofty company indeed.

Established in 1968, Mr. Adiga is the fourth Indian-born winner of this prestigious award.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part Three) – Church of St. John in the Wilderness

Head out of town via the auto-rickshaw stand on Temple Road. You head down a path with pine forests and rhododendron plants on either side. Just over 1km out you will come across the Church of St. John in the Wilderness.

Built in 1852 in Gothic style, St. John in the Wilderness is an old hallmark from the days of the Raj. Although the church fell into a state of disrepair after the partitioning in 1947, with the help of the army, the church was assisted by the local army in 1986 who helped clear the graveyard. There are several tombstones commemorating the victims of the Great Earthquake of 1905.

Inside the church there is a plaque commemorating Thomas William Knowles “who met with his death at Dharamsalla by an attack from a bear on the 25th October 1883 aged 50 years.” Poor old Tommy!

The church is currently presided over by Revs. P. K. Samantarby and K. J. Kunjuman, and there are now services run every Sunday. Not quite household names as HH Dalai Lama.

The memorial on the right side of the top photo is of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, 12th Earl of Kilcardine, as well as the Viceroy of India. He previously served as Governor of Jamaica, Governor General of Canada and High Commissioner and Ambassador to China. A busy man indeed! He died suddenly in Dharamsala on 20th November 1863. It is the largest monument in the graveyard.

McLeod Ganj - The Home of Pizza?

It´s not often I get an email from my Israeli cousin Dan (the Man). Having spent his honeymoon in November in Nepal, and knowing I was heading there for Christmas and New Year, he wrote ecstatically about “Fire and Ice,” a pizzeria in Kathmandu. He said they were the best pizzas in Asia, although he noted, they charged European prices.

Good (and expensive) as it was, we are somewhat spoiled for pizzas in the village. At least five restaurants boast their own wood-burning pizza oven. There are many excellent and often creative ones to chose from.

As for the best? Well, whilst the local community have decided not to celebrate Losar (Tibetan New Year), I have decided to make a collection of “The Best” awards for McLeod Ganj, (pizzas, curries, cakes, lassis, etc.) which I will release on the 25th February to mark Losar. Who will win this year´s prestigious Strawberries? Spookily enough, it ties in with the week that the Academy Awards are released. Now how exciting is that?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Put An End To World Poverty

How many people do you know earning less than US$1 a day? Probably none. However, 1 in 4 of the World´s population do – and 300 million of these people live in India. Many “developed” countries do make financial contributions to “under-developed" countries, but will throwing money at the problem alleviate the situation?

Last week BBC World reported on the problem. One of the three reports came from Lake Titicaca in Peru (one of my favourite destinations in South America) where local banks were lending small amounts of money (between US$100 and US$150) to women who were then investing in fish-farming equipment. Although the loans had a 50% interest rate, these women were at last able to make a living and empowering not just themselves, but their families also.

A similar project exists in Bangladesh where women have been loaned money to purchase mobile phones for their village. Again, this project is sponsored by local sources. Not surprisingly women are seen as less likely to default on the repayments.

With minimal input, much can be done to help the impoverished.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fat Cat Bank Executives

Good on Obama who was the first World leader to bemoan bank executives giving themselves huge pay-roll bonuses in this time of World economic recession. Banks bailed out by governments using tax payers money show no shame in rewarding their top execs multimillion payouts – it´s nothing short of sick! These people do not live in the real world. As my Welsh friend Chris The Punk famously stated “Eat The Rich” - and he was a strict vegetarian!

Other World leaders have quickly followed suit including Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy.

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part Two) – Dal(l) Lake

5kms out of McLeod Ganj is the small and picturesque Dal Lake. Himachal Pradesh lays boast to several lakes for curious travellers. From the bus station head along the flat Mall Road (one of only two relatively flat routes in the area) which heads West out of town. At the T junction at the end of the road, take a right, and head up the road past the Tibetan Children's´ Village. Situated at 1860m there is a walking path around the lake. There is a Hindu temple on route and you can walk around the lake in 20 minutes. There are a series of paths that can be taken through the surrounding forest. Paddle boats are available for romantics or just some plain silliness.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Tibet Quality Bakery and Laundry

At the junction of the main stairwell, next to a somewhat smelly open drain, is the delightful “Tibet Quality Bakery and Laundry”. Filled with array of delicacies, one awesome item that they sell is termed the “Tibetan Special”. Shortbread crust with a topping of milk chocolate, caramel, sliced walnuts and just a hint of grated coconut. At 30 rupees it is a little extravagant, but it does make an excellent half-time treat when listening to the football (UK soccer!). Their banana and chocolate muffins are also pretty good too! If you shop there after 7pm there is a 20% discount.

I also checked out their laundry service last week – no way was I going to dare hand-wash my beautiful blue, green and purple yak wool blanket. Although it came back a couple of hours late at Rp15 (40 US cents), it was a real bargain.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Another Change in the Weather

After reporting that Spring seemed to have already arrived, last night we had our largest storm since we arrived in July last year. The wind gusted and howled throughout the night, blowing down the laundry and ashtrays perched on the side of our balcony. The rain soon followed and by 2am the electricity supply was down. We are used to fairly regular power cuts (almost a daily experience during the monsoon), but they rarely last more than 3 hours. On this occasion however it was down for over 12 hours! The temperature plummeted, and villagers were doubly wrapped up, most especially the Kashmiris in their cool cloaks. As the clouds began to clear, the snowline had come down by another 1000 feet, but the largest peaks remain obscured by clouds.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Weird India

There is no doubt it, there is plenty of weird stuff going down in India. Indeed there are plenty of websites and blogs that celebrate it´s surreal nature. One of my favourites is Weird India. For example, last week it reported a special story.

Villagers in India "married" off a young girl to a stray dog to ward off an evil spirit which they believed was threatening the family.

The locals at Munda Dhanda village in Jharkhand state, performed the ceremony as they believe it will overcome any curse that might fall on the family.

Interestingly, the girl is free to get married later in life to a man without even seeking a divorce.

Strange? Not in India!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Odysseus Last Stand - David Stamboulis

I am very grateful to Tobes who sent me a very interesting clip from David Stamboulis´ book Odysseus Last Stand published in 1992. The email it was attached to was labelled "say it ain´t true". It isn´t!

Stamboulis is a round the world cyclist who claims to have visited McLeod Ganj. He reports that the village is on the “Full Moon Party circuit” where “there is a series of wild orgies”. I have clearly missed out on these. He also claims that monks are too busy to attend the Dalai Lama lessons due to the popularity of DVDs. He also says it is one of the dirtiest villages he has seen India. I can´t believe it has changed so much in 15 years. It makes me think he has never been anywhere near McLeod Ganj. What a fraud!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part One) - HH Dalai Lama´s Back Garden

It might only be the beginning of February, but Spring seems to have arrived in McLeod Ganj. It is predominantly sunny during the days, if still bloody cold at night. This month I´ll endeavour to blog some of my favourite walks around the village.

One of my favourite trails goes round past the Dalai Lama´s back garden which is about 600 metres away from our apartment. His garden is beautifully decorated with mani (prayer) stones and flags. It is also a very popular kora (religious circuit) for the community living close by at the “Jampaling Elders´ Home". Despite their age most of the residents are very sprightly – it is pretty steep in parts, and whilst many use walking sticks and walk with a back angle of seventy degrees or more, many complete several circuits on a daily basis. However, this is a popular kora for both young and old. Common mynahs and monkeys abound through the surrounding pristine alpine forest.

There are over 200 prayer wheels for spinning on the circuit. Many devotees will spin them all, and the larger 2 metre high wheels are spun 3 or 8 times!

Editor adds : I´m pretty sure it is known as the Lingkhor. Buddhists of course go round clock-wise, unlike Bonnists (animists predating Buddhism in Tibet). I vary my direction.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Going For Gold - Michael Phelps

Michael Phelps showed incredible strength of character, dedication and commitment during the Beijing Olympic Games and his shed-load of gold medals was totally impressive.

I was delighted to note that he is already planning another onslaught for the London Games in 2012.

I presume his recent training sessions helps with his all important breathing techniques - vital for a World Champion swimmer. Go for it Son!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hegemony or Survival – Noam Chomsky

I have just completed this classic Chomsky text. He might be 80 years old, but he is still cutting edge and writes with clarity. Indeed he still regularly lectures at MIT. A thinking person´s Michael Moore so to speak.

Chomsky talks about the “Imperial Grand Strategy” adopted during the Reagan/Bush 1 administration. Basically this “allowed” the US government the “right” to act as it sees fit under the pretence of unilateral patronage, despite the fact that it´s actions breaks UN resolutions – the US has become beyond International Law in it´s pursuit for complete world domination. Not surprisingly, such a policy has huge implications for the rest of the world and the way the US is viewed by others. It does not look good for our transatlantic citizens.

This book should be a compulsory text for all, Americans especially. I really hope Mr. Obama has read it.