Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Both my parents were children in Britain during World War Two. As such they grew up in an age of food rationing, and didn´t see, let alone taste a banana until well into the 1950s.

I´d have been crap during such deprivation. I am on my last packet of six Juan Valdez coffee which I collected in November and I am on the last scraps of 1kg of yak cheese I bought in Nepal in January.

I clearly can ration such luxuries, but I don´t like it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The World´s Greatest Hikes

My main Dark Comtinent travel advisor was asking about great trekking trails on his excellent blog, Out of Canuckistan. Curious to see what was around I checked out National Geographic. They came up with this list in their May 2005 issue.

1. The Colorado Trail
2. Buckskin Gulch, Utah
3. John Muir Trail, California
4. Kalalau Trail, Kaua'i, Hawai'i
5. McGonagall Pass, Alaska
6. Fitz Roy Grand Tour, Patagonia, Argentina
7. Kungsleden, Sweden
8. Mount Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal
9. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
10. Routeburn Track, New Zealand
11. Shackleton Crossing, South Georgia Island

A bit too North Americancentric for my liking so I came up with my own Top 11 list.

1. Antarctic Peninsula
2. Annupurna Base Camp, Nepal
3. Altiplano - Bolivia / Chile
4. Milford Sound - New Zealand
5. Tiera del Fuego – Argentina
6. Mount Kailash, Tibet
7. Kolahoi glacier, Kashmir
8. East coastline of Sumba, Indonesia
9. Tortuguero National Park - Costa Rica
10.Pembrokeshire coast - Wales
11.Keli Mutu, Flores, Indonesia

Let us know of some of your favourites.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tibetan Mask Dances at Tashi Jong

Tashi Jong lies 12kms from the small town of Palampur, about 60kms east of McLeod Ganj. This unusual monastery was founded in 1969 by the Drukpa Kagyu tradition, which is one of the schools of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. There is a tantric learning centre with about 140 monks and 400 members of the lay community.

The monastery made national news in 2006 as it attempted to mummify the body of the 84 year old Togden (a spiritual leader) Lama Amtrim, a meditation master who spent more than 10 years as a recluse.

Tashi Jong are celebrating the birthday of Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) by performing a series of Tibetan mask dances over the next eight days. Padmasambhva brought tantric Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in the eighth century, and is revered by the Nyingma sect as the 2nd Buddha. To celebrate his birthday there will be performances of a variety of mask dances over an eight day period. As taxis are quoting Rp950/Rp1200 one way/return, I will endeavour to find a place to stay in the area.

It should be a very colourful and unusual photographic opportunity, although they can be quite long and boring, and often accompanied by some screechy woodwind instruments. I will see how long I last. Keep an eye out for the next in the Works In Progress on my picasa gallery which will be linked here when possible.

Palampur is famed in Himachal Pradesh for its tea plantations although is of no personal value to this coffee addict.

Feeling somewhat stronger after a bout of Delhi Belly, I just hope the weather is dry and I don´t get too bored too quickly.

A McLeod Ganj Dynasty

Nowrojee + Son is a general merchant shop outside the bus station and was established in 1860 – from the earliest days of Lieutenant Governor General of Punjab, Sir Donald McLoed. The store (and family) survived the 1905 earthquake, that resulted in more than 20,000 deaths. This catastrophic event forced the British to relocate to Shimla some 246kms away which at about the same altitude, lies off the main fault line.

The store is now managed by the 5th generation. After such a long period in business they have clearly begun to expand their services. It self-advertises as “General Merchants, House and Estate Agents, Auctioneers and Manufacturers of High Quality Mineral Waters”.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Smurf Emancipation Day

A national holiday in China was created in Beijing to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of Tibet. It is known as the "Serf Liberation / Emancipation Day". Security has been tight across the Mainland, and so far there has been no reporting of any demonstrations in Tibet. The BBC acknowledged the difficulty in getting international reporters and human rights workers anywhere near Tibet at the moment.

To mark the occasion, wacky Londoners are organising a “Smurf Emancipation” celebration. Happy smurfs are due to descend on the Chinese embassy in London to demonstrate about the very real suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet. It is unfortunate that it is at the same time as the G20 demonstration.

The occasion was marked in McLeod Ganj with another candlelight march and demonstration down Jogiwara Road, Temple Road and into the Main temple.

About two thousand residents were present. This was followed by a public screening of “China´s Brutality in Tibet Exposed,” a short documentary on Chinese oppression of Tibetans. It included the now “famous” assault by Chinese police on demonstrators in Lhasa, the paramilitary build-up to this year´s Losar and the brutal attack and subsequent death of Tendar, whose only crime was to try and protect a Buddhist monk. Tendar was shot, beaten, burned with cigarette butts and had nails driven into his body.

Some more photos can be found here.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Whale Hunting in the Faroe Islands

I recently received a graphic email from MTV protesting against Denmark. Denmark hold sovereignty of the Faroe Islands and the Islanders continue to murder about a thousand long finned pilot whales in annual summer culls.

I love whales and my previous contacts from these oceanic giants in New Zealand and Antarctica is as close a religious experience as I´ll ever attain. I can understand the upset this email has caused.

Yet the Faroe inhabitants are following ancient traditions that date back at least 700 years old. Indeed the whole of the archipelago were mapped and ordered by their whaling districts since 1832. The meat plays a vital part of the Islanders diet and blubber oil is integral for fuel on these remote communities. Islanders follow age-old hunting methods incorporating spotting and signalling, then using rowing boats round up large pods and drive them to their deaths. They are hooked in their blow holes and dragged up to the shore. By cutting the dorsal fin the spinal chord is severed using a special knife causing death between just a few seconds and couple of minutes.

The cull has been over-seen since the early 20th Century, first by the Danish government and more recently by Faroe authorities. In 1985 both harpoons and spears were outlawed as they were seen as “cruel”. Now only hooks and ropes can be used in whale hunting. Each community gets an equal share of the corpses whether the family participated in the hunt or not.

Do these Islanders have a right to continue this barbaric practise and do we have the right to tell them to stop?

In November 2008 the chief medical officers of the Faroe Islands have recommended that pilot whales no longer be considered fit for human consumption because of the levels of toxins in the whales.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

End of an Era

It has just been announced that all houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinigar, Kashmir are to close due to the environmental concerns about the lake.

Hand-carved cedar houseboats were first introduced in Dal Lake by the British as early as 1888. At the time, British troops stationed in present-day Pakistan escaped the scorching lowland summers in cooler Kashmir. The beloved houseboats - many with incongruous monikers such as The Buckingham Palace, Mona Lisa and Helen of Troy - soon become symbolic of "the Kashmir holiday", and staying in one was considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It is here that George Harrison strummed the sitar alongside Ravi Shankar and Nelson Rockerfeller holidayed during his time as US vice-president.

In recent times, however, the houseboats have been singled out for the worsening condition of Dal Lake. About 1,200 houseboats are moored year-round at Dal Lake and their raw sewage goes directly into the water. Local officials claim that roughly 100,000 litres of untreated human waste enter the lake from the houseboats each day. Arsenic levels are a thousand times higher than permitted levels.

Although the construction of new houseboats stopped in 1991, the existent boats continue to operate without any change of design. Now, in what they claim is a bid to save famous Dal Lake from extinction, authorities in India-administered Kashmir have ordered a ban on the houseboats moored in its waters.

Environmentalists say Dal Lake is dying a slow death, with rampant pollution, urbanization on its banks, and the blockage of fresh water channels and natural springs spoiling its once-pristine waters.

Dal Lake - once described as "the most beautiful lake in India" - now figures among the 100 most polluted lakes in the world. In the past 20 years, the lake has shrunk from 25 square kilometres to 11 sq km, and its depth has decreased by four meters.

Houseboat owners have been angrily protesting. They claim houseboats are only responsible for 3% of the pollution levels and they have been urging the government for ages to begin a drainage programme.

My first trip in 1989 was a phenomenal experience. Living in Victorian style luxury for just a few US cents, time became immaterial as river boat shops came and supplied all that one could wish. It was also possible to safely hike in the area and I headed up to on a three day hike to the pristine Kolahoi glacier. More Swiss than Switzerland, Swiss ads for chocolate and milk were actually filmed here.

My return to the region in 1994 saw a marked change. There was a dawn to dusk curfew, and gunfire and explosions could be heard sporadically through the night. Walking around Srinigar, one was immediately confronted by barbed wire and bunkers. Heading out of town involved going through a check-point, registering your passport and the giving of telephone numbers of next of kin.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

China Bans You Tube

This is the video released by the Tibetan Government in exile that has forced China to close down the You tube site. Lost Johnny sent me a copy of it yesterday and China seems to have blocked the site within 12 hours. It was shown today on BBC World.

A government spokesman claims it was a PR job played by actors. Try telling that to my new Tibetan student who was beaten and arrested for eight months.

This blog so far seems to have remained accessible in China. Good on them!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This month´s Contact Magazine came out with four of my photos from my first assignment tagged on to the story of the 50th Anniversary of the Tibetan Uprising. And two of them look crap! And attributed to Aubrey McAllister ...whoever he is. K. had two of her classic poems printed in Poetry Corner but they forgot to put her name in entirely; it just says “by”. Too bad. Lobsang, the editor said he really liked the photos from the last shoot, although they were artistic rather than journalistic. He´s right, but I´m an artist, not a journalist.

I´m now in my third week with my new Tibetan refugee student. Panden was a monk in the famous Drepung monastery in Lhasa. He got involved in the raising of a Tibetan flag by his friend. He was very quickly arrested, beaten and tortured for over eight months by the police. On his release both he and his family living in a neighbouring village were continually harassed, until he couldn´t take it any more. After paying about US$500 to a dodgy trafficker, he escaped across the border to Nepal in June 2007.

Despite fairly regular rain in the late afternoons or nights, the water situation remains temperamental. Following night time storms, the mornings show denser snow on the peaks and the snow-line temporarily drops 500 metres.

However, on occasions, it has started to get very warm during the day and it almost feels like I am in India. Actually, more so as I have an evil dose of stomach bug this week. Fortunately I kept a bunch of pills from my emergency Nepal pack.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Every town has their fair share of eccentrics, but of course they are far more visible in small places. McLeod Ganj has several “interesting” characters.

Outside the central chorten on Jogiwara Road is a metal box measuring about 1.5 x 0.8 x 1m. It is inhabited inside by a 50ish year old bearded Indian guy and about 20 assorted plastic bags. Although he often looks out of it, so far I have only seen him outside of it once about 20 metres from his box. I presume he has to go and use the public toilet on Temple Road, but presumptions can be very dangerous.

Another Indian can regularly hangs out next to the bus station. He is in his late 30s, about 1.80 metres tall and often wears a poncho. I first met him on the Bhagsu Road. He asked if he could look at my camera. I obliged and he started wondering off with it. I had to wrestle it off him causing somewhat of a commotion on the street. He often approaches tourists trying to sell them “lottery tickets”.

In his 50s is a balding Tibetan gentleman always wearing a fawn anorak, who can often be spotted along Temple Road. He possibly suffers from Aspergers disorder and is often seen shouting out to himself and others in both Tibetan and English waving his arms around wildly.

Unfortunately, we haven´t seen the ageing and grey pony-tailed Dutch cross-dresser who has a passion for orange and fake breasts.

The World´s Cheapest Car

The cheapest car is finally about to hit the roads of India this week. Selling at US$2000, the Tata Nano it is a car affordable to the ever-increasing Indian middle classes. Environmentalists are obviously concerned about the increase in pollution as well as the additional congestion on already congested roads. It´s going to be painful.

For car techs, the model boasts rear-wheel drive 2-cylinder, 623 cc, multi-point fuel-injection petrol engine, rear mounted. The 624-cc two-cylinder petrol engine with a single balancer shaft will have four valves. It will develop 35 bhp at 5,500 rpm and 4.8 kgm of torque at 3,000 rpm. The car should be able to crack 60 kmph in eight seconds and will have a top speed of 105 kph. Weighing in at 600 kg without load, it has a 15 litre fuel tank and is expected to deliver a mileage of slightly over 20kpl. That means a full tank will be able to take you over 300 km.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Child Brides and Grooms

Reuters reported that researchers analyzed data from a national family health survey that was conducted from 2005 to 2006 in India. The survey involved 22,807 Indian women who were aged between 20 and 24 at the time of the survey.

Of these, 22.6 percent were married before they were 16, 44.5 percent were married when they were between 16 and 17, and 2.6 percent were married before they turned 13.

"Women who were married as children remained significantly more likely to have had three or more childbirths, a repeat childbirth in less than 24 months, multiple unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy termination, and sterilization," wrote the researchers, led by Anita Raj at the Boston University School of Public Health.

India introduced laws against child marriage in 1929 and set the legal age for marriage at 12 years. The legal age for marriage was increased to 18 years in 1978.

While the practice of child marriage has decreased slowly, its prevalence remains unacceptably high, and rural, poor, less educated girls and those from central or eastern regions of the country were most vulnerable to the practice, the researchers wrote.

Marriage at a very young age carries grave health consequences for both the girl and her children and it is well documented that adolescent mothers are more likely to experience complications such as obstetric fistula.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Travel Advise From Paulo Coelho

I´ve got a lot of time for the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. Having completed an excellent collection of work in “Like The Flowing River” I came across his nine point recommendations for travelling.

1.Avoid museums – live in the present not the past
2.Hang out in bars – a great place to meet people and get a flavour of the locals
3.Be open – talk to people and you will soon find a local guide
4.Travel by yourself – a great way to leave your “home” behind
5.Don´t compare – hygiene, prices, etc. every place is unique and should be viewed on its individual merits
6.Understand that everyone understands you – even if you don´t speak the local language you can still communicate with others
7.Don´t buy too much – especially things you will have to carry around
8.Don´t try to see the world in a month – take your time to appreciate what you are seeing
9.A journey is an adventure – explore, explore, explore! Find moments of serendipity

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Just What the Doctor Ordered

My relationship with Tibetan medicine dates back to 1994, when, after getting very sick and unable to keep anything down for a couple of weeks, I was admitted into Sha Tin hospital in Hong Kong.

After a week of numerous tests, including a colonoscopy, they fail to identify what the problem is. With horrendous hospital food there is no way my condition is going to improve, and with a flight ticket already purchased to India for a summer vacation, to the amazement of the hospital staff, I discharge myself and head up to Leh, the capital of Ladakh province.

There, I am introduced to a local Tibetan shaman, who after examining my tongue and pulse, identifies the problem and within 10 minutes dispenses me with a weird bunch of twigs and leaves which I am to take in boiling water. Within the week all my symptoms have disappeared and I am well on the way to recovery. Who needs to have a camera stuck up the arse?

Despite my once rather decadent lifestyle I have enjoyed amazing health. Indeed despite working with young students for so many years, I have not taken a day off work through sickness for more than 10 years.

On my return from my sojourn in Nepal, and hiking up to 4500 metres in the middle of Winter, I returned to India with a stinking cold and a cough that could awake the dead. Normally I would take some hot lemon and honey and sweat it out, but here I trust the medical care.

I visit the Men Tsee Khang Tibetan medicine centre in McLeod Ganj where I am seen by Dr. Tsering Tsomo. After multiple pulse readings, she prescribes a series of herbal brown pills to be taken three times a day. She tells me to be patient and promises I will be better in a week. And as if by magic...

In Hong Kong you would be prescribed twenty different pills every colour of the rainbow, to no effect whatsoever.

With the Dalai Lama´s failing health - he has recently been to hospitals in Chandigarh, Delhi and Mumbai. I guess Tibetan medicine must be ineffectual for kidney stones and gall bladders.

K. has always had an interest in Tibetan medicine, and she has been taking individual classes with the eminent Dr. Professor Tsering Thakehoe Drungtso, author of several Tibetan medical books. Several of her classes have had to be cancelled as he is not only a leading light in political matters, but is regularly invited to lecture around the world. He lives just around the corner.

First Class Postal Service

There is one post office in McLeod Ganj situated on Jogiwara Road. It is open six days a week (closed on Mondays) between 9am -5pm. It closes for for lunch between 1 and 2pm.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed to send some post to the US. I´ve only got a Rp50 note and the clerk has no change. He stamps and posts it and tells me to pay another time.

Hong Kong based Lost Johnny sent a copy of Microsoft Office. He informs me that gone are the days of Black Market software being openly displayed on the streets of Wan Chai and Mong Kok. It is the first postal request I have placed with anybody. He puts our somewhat complex address and it arrives within two weeks.

K. received a package from the US with her full name and “Dharamsala, India” written on the envelope. Now Dharamsala has a population on 20,000, but unbelievably it finds its way to us.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Super "Mega Store" Supermarket

When asked what I would miss most when I was about to depart my last place of residence, Bogotá, without hesitation I would answer Carulla – a top quality Colombian supermarket chain. Indeed just a few blocks away from our Cedritos apartment was a 24 hour hour mega-market. Although somewhat expensive this shop had pretty much everything one could want – at a price! There was almost illicit about buying a leg of lamb or strawberries dipped in chocolate after midnight.

(Of course there are plenty of other things I miss about Colombia: - the friendships: the warmth, generosity and the hospitality of the people were exceptional).

The closest we have in McLeod Ganj is the “Mega Store” supermarket on the Bhagsu Road. The shop is small and crammed with shelves so it is difficult to navigate when there is more than three shoppers inside. As well as your basic supplies, some exciting finds include ground South Indian coffee, French mayonnaise, Heinz baked beans and tomato soup, Ceres juice (have you tried their “Youngberry” juice? Awesome!), Bounty bars, Cadbury´s Hot Chocolate powder, green olives and even Marmite – a yeast extract paste that is similar to the Australian Vegemite, but only a Brit. could like.

All are available at a price!

I might have been non-resident in the UK for 18 years, but those formative food experiences have dug in deep.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Pearls From M.

Whilst checking out a much-acclaimed “Best pizza restaurant in the World” in neighbouring Dharamkot, I got talking to M..

M. is a long-haired local who owns a guest house and three slate mines in the area. He shares several “pearls” with me.

“Farengi” is a term used to describe British citizens only. “More ignorant Indians use the phrase to describe all foreigners”.

Calcutta was named so when a Colonial type asked a local what the area was called. Thinking the colonist was admiring the lawn, the villager responds “Calcutta” - translated as “it was cut yesterday!”

Dharamcot is a very clean village. “Why? Because there are no Punjabis and no Israelis here”

It gets worse.

M.informs me the Tibetans will only get the vote in the world´s largest democracy if they take out Indian citizenship. “They won´t because they will lose their there social handouts. Even though most of them are working!”

It is the first time I have noticed any hostility between the Tibetan community and the Indian locals. Local Indians clearly benefit from the money that travellers bring due to the strong Tibetan presence in Dharamsala.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Another Perspective

My Man Tobes is a bit of an adrenalin fiend; lots of cycling and mountaineering, all too typical of those out door Canadian types. When he is not racing between Bogotá and Caracas or cycling across the Andes he is reading about it. World cyclists are a bit of a clique and they all subscribe to each others adrenalin-filled blogs – though I never understand how they find the time. Whilst doing some seriously incredible journeys, unfortunately the photography is usually poor. Part of the problem is that these intrepid cyclists understandably don´t want to lug top dog slrs with multiple lens.

Now Tobes takes decent pictures, but his camera limits him to pointy-shooty stuff. Anyway, he passed me this particularly interesting cyclist´s site with awesome pictures. http://stormkorp.se/2008/2008.htm His work is being published in Sweden, so it is likely to be slowly dismantled.

This guy was caught up in some riots in Lhasa where he witnessed the systematic attack of Han Chinese by Tibetans. When he told his first-hand account to the Chinese media, he was accused of being paid money by the Chinese government and has scratched up his thoughts.

“For you who don't know, I was in the middle of the riots of Lhasa and I saw what happened. It didn't correspond at all to what I saw in the news reports in the west. It pissed me off. China should be criticized for a lot of things, but the constant China bashing in the west is way over the top now and when downright lies are spread as the only truth I just can't stand in the corner keeping quiet. That was one of the main reasons I talked to the Chinese media when they approached me. Another reason was because of what the riots lead to. People were burned, stabbed and beaten to death. Innocent people whose only crime was to be Han Chinese. It all happened on the street were I lived and the many of the familiar faces and people I bought noodles, clothing and other stuff from was one day suddenly gone. Some for good. The only sign of their prior existence was black gaping holes where there small shops had been. No one in the western media spoke their voice. The Chinese media was blamed for being propaganda and nothing else when they talked about the Chinese victims. There may be a lot of frustration amongst the Tibetans, but slaughtering other human beings just because they belong to another ethnic group can never be justified.”

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An Audience With The Dalai Lama

Although he is my most famous neighbour, as yet, the Dalai Lama hasn´t come round to “borrow” some sugar. And despite my regular visits to local Tibetan restaurants and koras around his back garden – not even a glimpse!

Most people make do with attending his regular teachings in Dharamsala, or indeed around the World. However, for those seeking a private audience with HH Dalai Lama, you should be warned that due to medical advise, HHDL has been asked to minimize these. Of course if you are a Tibetan refugee fresh from the trails of Tibet, you are guaranteed a meeting, although there are sometimes 80 exiles or more attending these.

So, although reduced in number, audiences are still possible. Requests for private audiences are carefully screened and studied. Applicants are asked to provide detailed information on themselves as well as the specific reasons why they want to meet His Holiness. Private audiences are usually scheduled three times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In general requests for individual meetings need to be made far in advance. It is clearly stated “he is unable to entertain requests made at short notice”.

What you ask the Dalai Lama I wouldn´t know. There is quite a cool documentary, “10 Questions For The Dalai Lama” which follows Rick Ray who searches for the ideal 10 questions to ask in a 45 minute one-to-one audience.

Send in your application to ohhdl@dalailama.com

A New Guru

I was contacted by Sunil Sharma recently who wanted advise on getting an audience with HH Dalai Lama.

Sunil was a house-mate of Dr. Gloves during his time at Durham University in the UK. He has come along way since then.

Sharma´s book “From Here to Happiness” is to be serialized by India`s largest international inspirational TV channel, Aastha TV with a viewership in excess of 100 million. In a series of 20 half-hour episodes, he “take(s) viewers through a thought-provoking journey of enlightenment”. Aastha International is available in the UK on Sky channel 808, and in the U.S on DIRECTV channel 2005.

Sunil has identified “the recipe” for happiness and is a “motivational” speaker on Achieving Happiness, Success and Life Strategy, Achieving Ones True Potential, The Power of Attitude, The Importance of Being in the Right Job, Work-Life Integration and Mind Development.

Don´t tell me that you could not benefit from one or more of these? Check out his website www.sunilsharma.com

Bright Football Players - An Oxymoron?

Now football (soccer for my American readers) players are not known for their intelligence. Although my beloved Watford FC boasted a Cambridge graduate in the heart of the field a few moons back, the average pro player can barely string a sentence together.

However earlier this week the the Chelsea Football Club doctor administered an IQ test to all the players. Frank Lampard, one of just a couple of London born players (as well as being an English international), scored an impressive 150 and a mark well above all his peers! To put this in some perspective, this puts Lampard Jnr. in the top 0.0000287% of the population. Pop Artist Andy Warhol scored an 86, Napoleon rated 145, and Hollywood star Jayne Mansfield narrowly behind Lampard at 149. Albert Einstein had an IQ of 160. However Frank and Bert both pale into insignificance when compared to Swedish scientist, philosopher, theologian and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg with a whopping 205!

Now as a Sociology graduate I have been “warned” of the discrepancies on the test, cultural bias, etc. but as a proud owner of a 139, I´ve got time for them.

I can´t provide the source, but it must have been one of the international magazines, possibly Time. It claimed to have calculated the IQ of every America president. Poor George W was at the bottom of the class with a lowly score in the early 80s. Doh!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Colombia´s Biggest Legal Export

After four fabulous years living and working in the Colombian capital, I´m a great champion of promoting both Bogotá and Colombia to the outside world.

Portrayed in the media across the world as a lawless drug-den, the beauty of both the environment and it´s people is second to none. It is only very recently, that a few tourists have started to discover this exceptional secret.

Now don´t get me wrong, my music tastes as eclectic as they are, don´t stretch to Shakira. The BBC describe her as “Colombia´s biggest legal export.” However she is using her fame and fortune to benefit the socially deprived in Colombia.

As well as founding five schools across the country for poor children in her “Pies Descalzos” project, she sponsors several major charities. She also donated 10,000 pairs of shoes to street children in her home town of Barranquilla. She is also a Good Will Ambassador for UNICEF.

I was fortunate to work for a project to help a school in the Cazuca slum area in South Bogota. Some pictures can be viewed here.

Shakira was rewarded in a special ceremony with President Uribe in tribute to her humanitarian work earlier this week.

Water Shortage Hits Kangra

McLeod Ganj is listed as the 2nd wettest village in India. However, increased global and climatic conditions have resulted in no snow in the lower Himalayan foothills this winter, and coupled with a “reduced” monsoon means that the village has been suffering from a severe water shortage - it hardly seems believable when I look back on my initial scribblings back in September. For the last three days the hot water supply has been cut off, and indeed often no water supply at all! Now electricity going off intermittently, I can cope with, but no water? Ouch! One needs one´s coffee!

The mains tap on the villages only two roads host queues of Indians and Tibetans armed with huge containers.

The Himalayan Valley Yoga Centre, which runs it´s studio on the top floor of our building is starting a teacher training course tomorrow and we´re expecting 14 new neighbours, which is not going to help the situation. I guess that this is why the whole exterior is currently being repainted and looking spanky new.

Fortunately, out current neighbours are a cool Canadian elderly couple. She is an ex- educator and a very accomplished water-colour artist and he is a retired pilot who has his own four seater. “Canada is probably the only place it is affordable:”

As for showering, well although I love long hot baths, these were always serious luxuries, Since relocating to India I have returned to the “Bucket” shower. Fill up a bucket with water of a temperature that suits and then use of scoop to douse. Always 100% refreshing! Just wish we had enough water to fill the bucket!

Taken outside the bus station

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Womens´ Day and Holi Festival

The women were pretty frenetic today, for “50 Years of Women´s Oppression”, although I´m still not clear if this oppression is from the Chinese, Chinese men (Chinese, Tibetan and Other). I got a few nice photos as they paraded around the temple and down into Lower Dharamsala.

Unfortunately it meant more time on the computer getting my portfolio ready for Lobsang, Editor-In-Chief for Contact Magazine. There are a few excellent one and several good ones, and plenty of average ones, so I hope he is satisfied.

Ed. Adds: You can now view some of my exclusive pics by clicking here.

Yesterday marked the start of the Hindu festival of Holi. This, as Wikepedia pronounces, is “a festival of radiance (Teja) in the universe. During this festival, different waves of radiance traverse the universe, thereby creating various colours that nourish and complement the function of respective elements in the atmosphere.”

It is Harvest festival celebrated differently in different regions and has origins in Vishnu and Shiva myths. Universal celebrations include the throwing of coloured powder, dyes and water and singing along to Bollywood hits. Sounds like a lot of fun n´ést pas?

Wikepedia goes further, claiming that chemically produced industrial dyes have been utilized to take their place in almost entire urban India. In 2001, a fact sheet was published on the chemical dyes used in the festival. They found safety issues with all three forms in which the Holi colours are produced: pastes, dry and water colours.

In investigating the pastes, they found toxic chemicals with potentially severe health impacts. The black pastes were found to contain lead oxide which can result in renal failure. Two colours were found to be carcinogenic: silver, with aluminium bromide, and red, with mercury sulphate. The prussian blue used has been associated with contact dermatitis, while the copper sulphate in the green has been documented to cause eye allergy, puffiness and temporary blindness.

The colourant used in the dry colours was also found to be toxic, with heavy metals causing asthma, skin diseases and temporary blindness.

Lack of control over the quality and content of these colours is a problem, as they are frequently sold by vendors who do not know their origin.

The report galvanized a number of groups into promoting more natural celebrations of Holi. Development Alternatives, Delhi and Kalpavriksh, Pune and The CLEAN India campaign have both launched campaigns to help children learn to make their own colours for Holi from safer, natural ingredients.

Meanwhile, some commercial companies such as the National Botanical Research Institute have begun to market "herbal" dyes, though these are substantially more expensive than the dangerous alternatives. However, it may be noted that many parts of rural India have always resorted to natural colours due to availability reasons.

I´m grateful to LJ who sent me this interesting article on ensuring that Holi goes off with a bhang!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

And The Pass Runs Out

Advertised as a 9am start, I arrived at 8.30 at the temple only to find the Dalai Lama teachings already in progress and situated right at the back. Fortunately, I have my headphones and radio with me unlike most of the traveller population who listen to HH Dalai Lama speaking Tibetan for three hours having “an experience” and looking forward to reporting back to family and friends. Even in English, most of it flies well over my head.

However, HHDL is a skilled teacher, and even without an accompanying Power-point presentation, adds in a few peeing and farting anecdotes to keep the likes of me amused. He also put on his yellow “pixie hat” for additional effect!

Normally there would be further Dalai Lama lessons in Dharamsala, but not this year. I´m hoping it will help disperse the increased tourist population in the village.

A day of putting the portfolio together for Contact Magazine. Will hopefully finish tomorrow, although tomorrow´s Day of Protest is “Women” so I guess I´ll have to tout the camera for one more day.

Does anyone see the similarity between HHDL and Chairman Mao in my exclusive photograph?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Last of the Dalai Lamas?

It was another big day in the village as today marked the 50th Anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. There was a major gathering at the Main temple at 9am. HH Dalai Lama delivered speech and released a fairly critical statement. He also thanked the Indian government for providing a safe haven for Tibetan refugees. A delegation from Taiwan made moving speeches in English,

Indeed, today was very much a show of solidarity. Posters and banners were proclaiming greater freedom for “all oppressed by Chinese communists” and expressing the Middle Path as the “only” path. Non-splitists was the order of the day.

After the ceremonial activities at the temple, almost the entire population of McLeod Ganj headed down the hill to Dharamsala on a demonstration for peace. A candle-lit procession gathered again at the temple after 6pm in memory of Tibetan martyrs. Both BBC and ABC (Australia) were broadcasting live.

The Dalai Lam is not getting any younger, and it is still not determined what will happen to the seat of Dalai Lama. Following Beijing´s interference with the Panchen Lama, a wait for a reincarnation is highly unlikely. Indeed HHDL wants to hold a referendum with the Tibetan people to see if the position is still required. It has been suggested that the position could be split to enable a political leader and a spiritual leader. The Karmapa Lama – Head of the Black Hats, could possibly take on the political mantel. Tobes passed on this interesting article from the Canadian globeandmail. It was prophecised that there would only be fourteen Dalai Lamas, but no-one can tell me whom.

The Chinese government continue to refuse dialogue with HHDL as he is labelled as a "Splitist". I get the feeling that he is increasingly out on his own in the Middle path, and for many Tibetans, especially with the political youth, complete Independence is the only outcome. The CCP will rue its decision not to deal directly with him.

I´m indebted to Lobsang at Contact magazine for procuring me a press pass. Some exclusive HH Dalai Lama photos can be found here.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Shooting A Living God

I have been issued with a three day press pass from Contact Magazine to take photos of HH Dalai Lama. I hope to strike lucky and get a few “exclusive” shots of my most illustrious neighbours. It´s not often one gets to photograph a living god.

His Holiness will give a short teaching from the Jataka Tales at the Main Tibetan Temple on Wednesday. Unfortunately this is the only teaching this spring in Dharamsala for his regular teaching series. Morning prayers at the temple are likely to be proceeded by street demonstrations tomorrow.

To attend Dalai Lama teachings a pass is required from the Department of Security on the Bhagsu Road, McLeod Ganj close to the Green Shop. Bring a passport and two passport size photos a few days before the lessons begin.

Security around the temple site is tight, and you are recommended to bring in an FM radio (for translations), a cup, (if you want to indulge in the free butter tea) and a cushion – some of the teaching sessions last more than three hours at a time. Mobile phones, cameras, lighters and matches are prohibited.

Those wishing to take photographs during teachings are required to bring a press pass to the the Department of Information and International Relation at the Central Tibetan Administration complex on Jogiwara Road for clearance.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fashions in McLeod Ganj

Prior to the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Tibetan Youth League began producing black “Team Tibet” track-tops. The Tibetan flag is on the left breast, and all have “Team Tibet 08” on the back. Sold for Rs500, both local Tibetans and foreign visitors bought them like hot-cakes and wear them with pride around town. Even K. bought one to wear in the air-conditioned cinemas in Singapore.

I note that they are selling black t-shirts outside the Main Temple with “I´m A Proud Member of The Dalai Clique” imprinted on the front. I´m tempted to buy one myself!! They are selling for RS150 - I am happy to take your orders.

The tourists and travellers wear an interesting assortment of garb.

Of course, “The Monk” is popular with several older men. Simply by 3 metres of burgundy material and you are away. Most are not ordained, although a few have intentional leanings.

Several women of variety of age groups adopt a Tibetan look – which although really smart-looking, black dress and multi-coloured pinafore, they always look so much better on Tibetans.

Young women, especially travelling in small groups are often tempted by the Punjabi look. It´s difficult to go “wrong” despite some valiant attempts.

Most of the rest of the “Western” travelling community wear clothes that they would not be wearing in their home-towns.

It is noted that when I am wearing my “I heart NY” sweatshirt, I get a lot more attention in town. Indian and Tibetan school children like to read it out loud, as do most of the resident Kashmiri community. Clearly a global symbol – and no-one has thrown stones or spat at me...yet!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

No Golden Arches

An expensive looking car pulls up next to me as I am heading down Temple Road. The tinted window in the back is electronically lowered and I note a 20 year something Indian´s face being unveiled. In a strong west-coast American accent he asks “is there a McDonalds in town?”

I laugh out loud and inform him no. The nearest outlet is probably in Delhi some 535kms and about 12 hours away. “Oh...I was just wondering” he replies somewhat embarrassed. The window rolls up and the car drives on.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Selling Off Ghandi

A number of Ghandi´s personal possessions were sold in an auction today for GBP1.8 million in New York. Items included his trademark spectacles, his rarely changed sandals and the bowl he took his last meal. I can understand the glasses, but have no personal interest in those old shoes.

Surely no-one could dispute this guy´s greatness; a truly amazing leader!

Ghandi was very interested in Brahmacharya - spiritual and practical purity, and largely associated with celibacy and asceticism. Although his interest began early, it was only in his later years he would “experiment” by sleeping in varying degrees of clothing with naked young women. Not surprisingly, Ghandi claimed it made him “feel better:”

The brilliant British playwright, Alan Bennett wrote Father Father Burning Bright loosely based on Ghandi who left his father´s death- bed briefly to make love to his wife. On his return to his father´s side, the father is dead.

The buyer in New York, an Indian businessman, promises to return this memorabilia to India, although it is not known if they will be made available for viewing to the general public.

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part Six) - Dharamkot

This is a super trail that passes through some gorgeous forests to the clean, tranquil and rustic “working” village. Head up the TIPA Road at the market place. The paved road heads up past the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and leads up close to Tushita Meditation centre set up for “Westerners” to study Buddhism and offers regular retreats on-site. At the end of this path there is a small cafe / provisions´ shop. Take the path heading right which takes you to the top of the village where this rustic village grows predominantly mustard seed in the fields. Traditional slate roofs are still used - far more photogenic than corrugated iron. Rhododendron trees abound, flowering in Spring (end of February to May). I would recommend a Kashmiri apple juice at the Meena cafe on their roof-top terrace for a great view of the village and beyond.

You can either return back on the same route, head further up the mountain to Triund which takes you up to the snow-line, or you can continue on to Bhagsu.

To go on to Bhagsu there are a couple of options. One route goes straight down from Meena´s. This gives you the option of visiting the “Family Pizza House”, claimed by some to serve the “finest pizza in the World”. Whilst I´m not sure how accurate this description is, they are extremely tasty and reasonably priced. RP60 for a basic pizza with Rp5 for additional toppings. They also serve up some excellent chilli sauce to accompany these and the bonoffee pie is fabulous. It´s not signposted, so look out for the building with two tones of light green. A more scenic route is to continue along the same path as the Meena cafe which goes through another beautiful village not unlike the villages in Annapurna, in Nepal before heading down to Bhagsu.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Alternative Lifestyles

Mcleod Ganj is not only the home of HH Dalai Lama and centre of Tibetan refugees in India, it boasts a wide-ranging “alternative” scene. The Buddhist philosophy classes run by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are hugely popular and they also offer Tibetan language classes.

Fancy becoming a Reiki Master? How about a yoga teacher? Both are possible. Why not check out your tarot cards? Ma Ambar was trained by Osho Sannyasin and for only Rp600 you will be given half an hour. Not scientific enough? Check out your Tibetan astrological readings at the Tibetan Institute of Medicine and Astrology. Simply give them your time, place and date of birth and they will do the rest, including details about your previous reincarnations. Definitely worth US$60.

Fancy a place to meditate? Plenty of places around town will help you out. Not enough? Check out the Tashita meditation centre for a meditation retreat. A variety of different massage courses are available including Indian Thai and Tibetan. Several places offer cooking courses - Tibetan, Indian and Thai cuisine can be found. Woodcarving and Jewelery Making are also readily available. For those with a musical bent, who want to hone in on their tabla, sitar and/or harmonium skills ...yes, classes are available too.

Classes End

It was my last English Conversation class with Rinchen, the 18 year old Tibetan refugee I have been working with twice weekly. He is heading back to his boarding school this week. It has been an interesting insight to work with him, and we have shared several experiences including cooking and watching movies.

For our last lesson we went to the Tsuglag Khang temple. In one of our classes he asked me if I had seen the Mona Lisa – a painting that he had been taught about in school. He told me about the statue of Avalokiteshwara in the Jokhang Temple in Lhasa, which he claims have the same enigmatic expression on his face. Avalokiteshwara is the bodhisattva of compassion (of which HH Dalai Lama is an emanation). There is a replica of this famous statue in McLeod Ganj´s main temple. Unfortunately, our statue seems to lack such qualities.

I take him to for a double espresso at Tenyangs´cafe before heading back. He has bought me a beautiful notebook as a “thank-you.” I have promised him a pizza during one of his once monthly “day´s off”. His school is close to Mandi, some 5 hours bus drive away!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The "Liberation" of Tibet

I received a request to publicize these photographs. They are very disturbing.

Do they look "liberated" to you?

A Chinese Perspective

China have released it´s own white paper ahead of the 50 year “celebration” of the “liberation of Tibet”.

It reports that Chinese rule in Tibet had overthrown "the feudal serfdom system" and liberated about one million serfs and slaves, the paper said, likening the move to America's abolition of slavery.

I guess I´m one of those Westerners who are "ignoring historical facts" and had "confused right and wrong", it added.

The Chinese News Agency says reports of a "Tibet issue" were an attempt by "Western anti-China forces" to demonise China, it said.

Click here for more on this story

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Tourists Hit Town

With the advent of Spring, the tourists have hit town big time. The traveller population has increased manifold this week, and there are bus-loads going around town looking for potential medium and long term leases. The early bird...

Our apartment is in a prime location with 180 degree uncluttered views of snowy peaks and the valley. Sorry, but it is taken.

I can´t help but feel somewhat resentful to the increased numbers in these travellers, although I remember holding similar feelings when living and studying in Aberystwyth, a beautiful sea-side town on the Welsh coastline. Why are all these people invading “My Home?”

I must learn to be a better sharer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dharamsala Diaries by Swati Chopra

Ms Chopra is both spiritual writer and poet based in Delhi. This book published in 2007, shares her experiences in McLeod Ganj. For those who are intending to spend some time in Dharamsala, this book comes highly recommended – I wish I had come across it earlier.

Ms Chopra informs the reader that Dharamsala is a union of two Hindi and Sanskrit words Dharma (bear support, or religion) and shala (home) – the home of Dhama. It also refers to a resting place for pilgrims and sadhus that can be found in almost every town at minimal or no expense.

Chopra´s experiences in the town are quite varied. She spends time with the Karmpa (head of the black hatted sect - Karma Kagyu), attending conferences held by the Mind and Life institute, attending classes at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA), as well as sharing personal experiences with other “seekers”.

On the Karmapa, she talks about his virtual house-arrest on his arrival from Tibet to India. Distrust continued for years due to his Chinese approval, until HH Dalai Lama took him under his wing.

The Mind and Life Institute was set up by the Dalai Lama to incorporate both Eastern and Western scientific learning. His Holiness is particularly interested in neuroscientific research – clearly a man of many interests!

Chopra talks about “co-worlds” - places that are cultural melting pots and live in co-existence : Indians, Tibetans and overseas visitors. The latter group are all “seekers” - people on some kind of spiritual journey and as such share a common bond. What kind of “seeker” I am is still yet to be determined.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Walk On The Wild-Side (Part Five) – McLeod Ganj to Dharamsala

There are several paths to take you down the hill. Alternatively you can work your way down the Jogiwara Road until you hit your destination, although it is continuously in the process of being repaired. It´s a journey of about 10kms, an altitude change of some 600metres and it contains several steep switchbacks.

Heading down you will pass Boom-Boom V on the left hand side – a great place to check out, although it has been closed all winter.

Further down on the left you will pass the Tibetan Delek hospital. This is clearly an excellent hospital, which rather sadly offers a “Torture Survival Victim” clinic. The use of Art is a common therapy technique.

About a further 100 metres down on your left, you will note a large green entrance way. This is part of the Tibetan Government in Exile compound. There are several buildings of interest to be found, including the Parliament building, the Supreme Justice and the Ministry buildings of Media, Health, Home Affairs and Security.

You will also find the imposing Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The foundation stone for the Library's Tibetan style building was laid on 11th June 1970, in the hill station of Dharamsala, north India. Located within the compound of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, the Library serves as a repository for Tibetan artefacts and manuscripts and a centre for language and cultural education. Its holdings include more than 80,000 manuscripts, books and documents, hundreds of thangkas, statues, 6,000 photographs, and other materials. They run very popular daily Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan language classes for just a nominal monthly fee.

There is also the Nechung cafe offering between classes snacks – and small Tibetan temple on the site.

Back onto the Jogiwara Road and another 50 metres further down on the right, you will come across the buildings of the Tibetan Institute for Medicine and Astronomy. Detailed astrological charts can be obtained for about US$60 (which also include past lives) providing you can provide the time, date and town of birth , but it will take about a year to prepare. I am still awaiting mine!

The road will lead you down to the Kotwali Bazaar. It´s a bit of a dump, but fortunately I have only had to come here three times in eight months – it has a useful ATM when the McLeod Ganj branch machine is down. Andey´s Midtown restaurant serves up good kebabs and curries for around Rp150.