Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Night of Culture

Boy is getting all cultural. He invites me to meet him and Nic at Saddlers Wells in London for a performance of Matthew Bourne´s Swan Lake.

It´s my first visit to Saddlers Wells and it really is truly awesome. A cast of over 25, two thirds of which are male, produce a vibrant and spectacular performance. The postures and movement are very contemporary and the energy is intense. But everything is high quality. Distorted scenery changes occur rapidly and the lighting creates some phenomenal shadows. Precision in motion.

Although not much of a Tchaikovsky fan, the orchestra ups the tempo and the music becomes more animated.

For just GBP10 i am up in the gods, but a what bargain!

The only downside is the heating is turned up so high, the audience are sweating more than the dancers, and poor pregnant Nic is too over-heated to return for the second half. Well worth a visit. Saddlers Wells lies very close to Angel station on the Northern Line. Swan Lake runs to 24th January.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Whoring It Up In The Ganj and Holier Than Thou

Checking out the statistical information on the blog, courtesy of Statcounter, one of the largest hits from google comes from the search “prostitutes in Mcleod Ganj”.

Sorry to disappoint. Clearly I did not explore all the research possibilities in The Ganj.

I´m also a little surprised that Blogspot lists Ketchup with Aubs under the category of Religion/Buddhism. I´m not sure that my friendships and drinking sessions with monks warrants such a listing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


“I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes”
as David Bowie once crooned back in the early 70s.

A very special, dear and genuine friend recently reduced me to tears when she told me never to change. And i took it as the compliment it was given in.

Yet change is both natural and inevitable – after all isn´t it the Buddhists who remind us that everything is impermanent?

Everything is in a state of flux.

Change provides opportunities for self-development and improvement, and to experience new things. Furthermore, in Zen, all experiences are good experiences which i like as a concept, although it sometimes feels hollow when those changes don´t feel “in the natural order of things”.

Change creates energy and its dynamics charge us like a dynamo. So it´s important that we use the generated energy purposefully.

I know i am alive because i observe changes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Parental Home and Waitrose Supermarket

After a great two days at Boy and Nic´s I have returned to the parental home – with no parents in sight. Sensibly Ma and Pa started wintering in Nice a few years back.

It was bought for GBP12000 in 1967, the year I was born and therefore my home for my first 18 years.

This is suburbia – one of the last stations on the London Underground.

Physically not much has changed, but there is now a sizeable Indian and West African community. Much excitement arrived in the local centre with the introduction of a Starbucks.

For the first time in my living memory the house is bereft of sustenance. I head up to the local Waitrose supermarket.

A car stops me in the street and the elderly woman asks me if I speak English. “I try” I tell her and I am even able to offer directions to Bishop´s Avenue.

I have clearly been in India for a long time because it is like walking into a gastronomic paradise.

It would be so tempting to go nuts, but this cat is on the tightest of budgets. I select the following items: -
2 x cherry juice
1 x bottle of Dr Pepper
1 x loaf of fresh wholegrain loaf
1 x ripe brie
1 x Scottish raspberry yoghurt
1 x ready to eat lamb rogan josh

An interesting reflection on what i have missed the most - although the rogan josh will hopefully take me back to the mountains of The Ganj. Gotta try and make it last as long as possible. I am pleased with my purchases but cost almost a week´s living expenses in The Ganj. GA just thinks i´m a tight-ass.

I realize that navigating around the house is fraught with danger. I have been issued a list of rules and recommendations which include:

No parties
No shoes to be worn in the house
No eating in the dining room
No smoking in the house

Double check locks, refrigerator door, freezer door, gas taps on the hob, put a towel in front of the dishwasher. Classic stuff indeed!

I can´t operate almost all the electrical appliances including the thermostat, and whilst i know i am meant to separate the rubbish in to plastics, paper and aluminum into separate coloured bins, i have no idea what colours are for which waste.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Vic Chessnut RIP

Tributes continue to flow in on the late Vic Chesnutt including Patti Smith and Michael Stipe as well of course, a touching interview with Kristin Hersh.

My MP3 player seems not have survived the journey from India and i am therefore unable to access my copy of The Salesman and Bernadette.

A donation page has been set up for his family which can be accessed here.

RIP Vic - an inspiration to so many.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Traditional English Christmas?

England is dark – literally.

When I awake it is always still night so I presume it is before 6am. Light eventually arrives around 8am…just.

Checking tweet updates Kristin Hersh reports the attempted suicide by Vic Chesnutt. A gifted singer, musician and composer in his own right, they worked on several projects together. Having spent almost 20 years in a wheelchair, and at only 45 years old, it makes for a difficult start this morning. He lies in a coma in a critical condition.

Boy and I walk Marley in through the Rowehill National Park and hike up to Caesar´s Point, a look-out point over the Farnham Aerodrome. It´s a mere four degrees Celsius and the ground is still covered in ice and snow. Although, skies are grey for the most part, there is a cloudburst that scatters the soft winter light. The fields and trees sparkle briefly. It´s nice to be out, but it´s certainly not a kora.

heading up to Caesar´s Point

A couple of hard-core mountain bikers and dog walkers also brave the chill as do indeed a group of elderly ramblers with large ordinance survey maps strapped around their necks.

We complete a circuit in less than 2 hours and on our return to Chez Nic, Boy disappears into the kitchen to prepare our Christmas fare. Boy shares my love for the kitchen and produces a high quality turkey and veg. accompaniments.

Boy´s turkeys - 2 for three of us


Boy´s xmas present to himself is Super Mario Brothers for his wii and he gives me somewhat of a whipping. Not really my thing anymore.

By 4.30 the sun sets and the chill bites further. As I hold a Benny Hedgehog in my hand my fingers turns to ice.

although a lapsed Catholic, Nic still likes a tree

Boy visits the Outlaws leaving me more stuffed than the turkeys – I guess this is something of a “traditional” Christmas although I am not sure i know what that means.

I finally get round to responding to Jen´s morning text and we have a quick blather. She asks how the move went, and it all gets a bit emotional. We´ll try and speak soon, and the good gal that she is, has agreed to come down to London from her idyllic village “Up North” for a proper ketchup.

There is still heaps of turkey left and plenty left to be thrust into bagels. Thank goodness my trousers are elasticated.

The night sky is clear and i can count 28 stars - i guess the best you can expect from urban English skies.

Monopoly is brought out and the game lasts about an hour before Boy walks out in a huff. Brilliant!

I am very grateful to Boy and Nic who both make generous hosts, but i miss my bedsit, the kora, proper starry night skies and absent friends.

Ed Adds:
Chesnutt has now been confirmed dead

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Glorious Britain

I have now temporarily relocated to my country of birth - England.

After having bucket showers for 18 months in The Ganj, i bathe in Boy´s huge hot-tub. After 18 months of washing my clothes in the aforementioned bucket, i put my washing in a machine. I reacquaint myself with Dr. Pepper and put the empty glass in a dishwasher. My Sister in Law takes me to a supermarket and my eyeballs bulge in wonder at the available produce. Boy has wireless and pages open instantly through Firefox. And it never disconnects! Boy, Sis and i go to a performance of A Christmas Carol adapted and performed by Clive Francis from the Royal Shakespeare Company with a big jug of mulled wine to hand. Awesome.

A strange kind of magic.

How long will the magic last? Maybe not long.

Britain is the worst place to live in Europe, according to a recent study.

Although Britons earn high incomes that money is cancelled out by long working hours, poor annual leave, rising food and fuel bills and a lack of sunshine.

We have the highest after-tax household income of £35,730-a-year, more than £10,000 above the European average.

But most of it goes on keeping a "roof over our heads, food on the table and our homes warm", according to the European Quality of Life Index.

Ann Robinson of, said: "There is more to good living than money - and this report shows why so many Brits are giving up on the UK and heading to France and Spain."

Infuckingcredible India

Believe those ads ladies and gentlemen. India is truly incredible.

The vast diversity on offer is so vast that each Indian state is like a different country. Different languages, cloths, customs, food, religions; a true melting pot for the discerning travellist.

Yes, it can be dirty, smelly and hassly at times, but it is a small price to pay for such rich culture diversity. And it is still possible to survive on very little money.

I keep being drawn back to India and I calculate I have probably spent more than 2 and half years of my life on the Indian subcontinent.

On this sojourn I have been able to visit some great new places (and a return to a few old favourites as well).

You can check out my picassa photo albums by clicking on the links below. For blog material you should be able to find relevant links by checking out the labels.

Shimla was quite a find. A beautiful and clean Himalayan historic town. Darjeeling might not be as clean, but it still has an amazing amount to offer passing travellist. Return trips to Varanasi and Amritsar did not disappoint and maintain their rich spirituality. Bodgaya oozes Buddhism and catching the Dasera festival in Kullu offered unforgettable celebrations.

However the real quality highlights was the completely insane and outrageously colourful annual Pushkar Camel Fair, the picturesque beauty of the Parvarti Valley and my puja through some of the wildest and remote terrain on the planet.

When you love a country, and you know you want to return is always important to “save” places to enable you to have an excuse to return again.

So where will I go next time? The historic ruins of Hampi, and Nicobar /Andaman Islands for diving and cultural diversity for sure.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

List Writing

I love lists.

I have to remind myself about positives being back in England at this moment in time.

• Ketchup with many quality friends and family – it may be the last time for a while
• Traditional Christmas dinner with Boy, Nic and Marley
• Swan Lake at Sadlers Wells
• Join my Godson for his 7th birthday party
• Join Big C for his 40th birthday party
• Enjoy a joint birthday party with Sugarperkin - at her house too
• Get back on the golf course and the tennis court
• Opportunity to see Watford football matches including a trip to Chelsea in the 3rd round of the FA cup
• Easy access to Waitrose supermarket with high quality, multi-cultural food products
• Easy access to Lea Gardens – an exceptional Chinese restaurant with some cheap high-quality signature dishes. My first stop in England
• Put finishing touches to and submit my final thesis

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Last Gasp of Mountain Air

I only realise at about 7.30am this morning that last night marked the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere. I was blessed again last night for GA is finally on-line again and is happy to keep me company through the night. And there is no finer company for we have a mega-ball and a lot of laughs, and before i know it the sun is rising up over the opposite slopes.

I take yet another coffee onto the veranda and just chill until about eight.

I sensibly make sure i have stuff to do and time to do some stuff i want as well. Sleeping bag and whatever is left in my bedsit is donated to my refugee friends at Gu Chu Sum before heading up to the LHA office with a thumb-drive full of some recent photos for Lobsang at Contact. He is delighted (i think a first) and we spend time saying goodbye for the 30 minutes it takes for the files to transfer. Poor Man needs a decent computer: He asks when i´ll return – not an easy question to answer at this moment time, but tell him i will be back but “not for quite a few years”.

Lobsang tells me he hopes i will come back soon for if i leave it too long, Tibet will be an Autonomous Region, and he will return to his homeland. I ask him about the 2nd and now even third generation Tibetans living in exile, will they want to return to the country they have never seen? He is adamant that most will. “It will take at least another 10 years" he says, "but it will happen” he says and i admire his positive mind-set.

Lobsang particularly likes the photos i took of the last mass clean-up at the Jampaling Home of Elders and he says he will organise a slide-show for them. I am delighted – i love the wrinkly elders who kora with me.

I take my North Face boots for their regular 6 month overhaul and head to my final haircut at my regular R and K Hairdressers whilst i wait for my boots to be re-stitched, glued, hammered and polished. My normal Man at R and K is busy so i sit down for his assistant. He has done me a haircut on me before so i just say “like before”. He pussyfoots around taking minimal off and i say to him. “Cut it short; like i´m in the army”. It transpires the guy in the neighbouring chair is in the Indian army, and whilst no hippy, his hair is far from short with the ubiquitous bushy moustache. “Okay... a bit more like a monk then” i tell him, before promptly passing out in the chair.

I awake as he begins my shave, and as i do not have my glasses on i can´t see my own reflection. However, my head feels much lighter so i reckon all is well.

Oh! How wrong? I almost faint as i note putting on my glasses i am completely bald – he has shaved it all off. I´m equally gutted and freaked. But what can i do? To hammer it home even further prices have been raised to RS80! I won´t be going back there again for a while.

Collect boots which now look like new again sets me back Rs100 (US$2), but considering they cost an extortionate US$150 i accept with good grace (and bad hair-cut).

Rush back to the bedsit, close up my bags, grab my camera and head on for one final kora. Whether it is the coffee, the kora or natural high i whip through all the wheels. There are an excessive number of cows on the path and i disturb such a huge flock of crows and ravens that at first i fear i have stumbled across a sky burial. As does a really old Tibetan guy walking round with me.

On my last kora i give out very generously to my more regular beggar friends who look suitably startled. And they thought i was just a tight-ass. Which normally i am!

For those inflicted with OCD, koras must be one of the ultimate rituals. I´m gonna probably miss my koras most of all.

Whilst my bags are heavy, my heart is heavier to leave The Ganj.

Tibetan Script

Not only are many Tibetans beautiful, i find their script looks equally as poetic.

I stole this post from Wikepedia so it may be somewhat inaccurate.

The Tibetan script is an abugida of Indic origin used to write the Tibetan language as well as the Dzongkha language, Denzongkha, Ladakhi language and sometimes the Balti language. The printed form of the script is called uchen script while the hand-written cursive form used in everyday writing is called umé script. The script is very closely linked to a broad ethnic Tibetan identity.

Besides Tibet, the writing system has also been used for Tibetan languages in Bhutan and in parts of India and Nepal and even Pakistan.

The Tibetan script is romanized in a variety of ways.

The Tibetan script has 30 consonants, otherwise known as radicals. As in other Indic scripts, each consonant letter includes an inherent a. However, a unique aspect of the Tibetan writing system is that the consonants can be written simply as radicals, or they can even be written in other forms, such as superscripts and subscripts. The superscript position above a radical is reserved for the consonants r, l, and s, while the subscript position under a radical is for the consonants y, r, l, and w.

To understand how this works, one can look at the radical "ka" and see what happens when it becomes "kra" or "rka." In both cases, the symbol for "ka" is used, but when the r is in the middle of the consonant and vowel, it is added as a subscript. On the other hand, when the r comes before the consonant and vowel, it is added as a superscript [1]. R actually changes form when it is above most other consonants; thus རྐ rka. However, an exception to this is the cluster རྙ rnya. Similarly, the consonants w, r, and y change form when they are beneath other consonants; thus ཀྭ kwa; ཀྲ kra; ཀྱ kya.

Besides being written as subscripts and superscripts, some consonants can also be placed in prescript, postscript, or post-postscript positions. For instance, the consonants g, d, b, m, and ’a (’a chung) can be used in the prescript position to the left of other radicals, while the position after a radical (the postscript position), can be held by the ten consonants g, n, b, d, m, ’a, r, n̄, s, and l. The third position, the post-postscript position, is solely for the consonants d and s.

The vowels used in the script are a, i, u, e, and o. While the vowel a is included in each consonant or radical, the other vowels are indicated by marks; thus ཀ ka, ཀི ki, ཀུ ku, ཀེ ke, ཀོ ko. The vowels i, e, and o are placed above consonants as diacritics, while the vowel u is placed underneath consonants.

Old Tibetan included a gigu 'verso' of uncertain meaning. There is no distinction between long and short vowels in written Tibetan, except in loanwords, especially transcribed from the Sanskrit.

In the Tibetan writing system, the syllables are written from left to right.

Syllables are separated by a tseg ་; since many Tibetan words are monosyllabic, this mark often functions almost as a space. Spaces are not used to divide words.

Although some Tibetan dialects are tonal, because the language had no tone at the time of the scripts invention, tones are not written. However, since tones developed from segmental features they can usually be correctly predicted by the spelling of Tibetan words.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Final Full Day In The Ganj

After 18 months in a place you have come to love, how do you spend your final full day?

It does seem somewhat fitting that I am invited to John´s house for lunch today. John is a Christian Indian who runs a small handicraft business on the Bhagsu Road. He has complained to me about his poor health since I have known him and frequently has asked me for about US$800 for medical tests he tells me he needs in Chandigarh. I tell him to go to the Tibetan health centre where he can be checked out for US$2 but he remains unconvinced. I did pass him four Precious Pills left over from my broken toe last May and I am not convinced he even bothered to take them.

Blue eyed Christian John. Does he look sick to you?

John had promised me chicken “special” biryani, but feeling a little bereft, I am pleased it just transpires to be a regular, rather tasty and ultra spicy chicken curry and radish side-dish. He lives with his wife in a sparton dark apartment above the shop and today he has 3 of his sons, his daughter in law, a brother in law, 6 year old nephew and 3 year old granddaughter around for lunch also.

We all squeeze into the tiny living room / 2nd bedroom where most of his family sit glued to a 1970s Bollywood classic on a TV which takes up a quarter of the room. On top of the television is a small sculpture of Jesus on the cross sitting next to a large blue Shiva.

As the only “international” amongst them I am given a rickety stool as a table and am the only one who is allocated cutlery – an old bent teaspoon. Everyone woofs their food down quickly using hands and chapatti, whilst I struggle with my spoon. Hands would be easier, but I don´t want to offend my hosts.

There is much excitement today as John´s eldest son has just been given an Indian passport. He is now saving his money to travel to LA both for pleasure and business, for he is hoping to import chillums into the US. Best of luck Sir!

I don´t think John´s nephew has seen many Westerners before, and he spends most of the two hours, with his dark, curious eyes transfixed on me. John´s granddaughter has no such reservations and is happy to have a new friend. She tries to teach me Hindi whilst I try to enlighten her to English. We both fail miserably.

John gives me a small present and tells me I will be back in The Ganj…and he is right. I will, but i fear not for a long while.

I return to the apartment about 4pm, brew up the last of my coffee in my cafe tier and spend an hour or so meditating on the veranda. The temperature drop is considerable, but the sunset it perfect over the upper valley and peaks. The colours run a full spectrum both in the sky and the hillsides.

today´s sunset

My mind drifts back to our late arrival in the Ganj in July 2008 with the similar soft light playing on the opposite valley slopes and the symmetry seems appropriate.

last of the light

Normally i am tight with money, after all my savings can´t last forever and there no paycheck due in anytime soon. However to ease my lament I have splurged for my departure. I am taking the 4.40pm flight from Dharamsala tomorrow and over-nighting at the very comfortable Hotel 55 in the exclusive Connaught Place area. My flight leaves Delhi for London lunchtime on Wednesday.

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

It can look grotty sometimes, with litter scattered in and to the edge of the roadsides, and there are several smell-spots around the village which remain unpleasantly unidentifiable.

Nevertheless i still love the village and it can look gorgeous too with or without rose-tinted glasses.

This sparkly photo was taken a few days ago. Perched precariously on the ridge of the valley, expansion in the future will always remain limited. Few places in India can boast such non-urbanization.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

With A Little Help From My Friends - basic survival in McLeod Ganj

Everyone needs help from time to time and here are a few basics to help you in McLeod Ganj.


Men Tsee Khang on the Bhagsu Road is a Tibetan clinic that has assisted me with a variety of ailments from a common cold, throat infections and even a broken toe.

Collect a number and wait your turn. Take the prescription from the doctor to the cashier who will then point you to the in-surgery pharmacist. Keep hold of your receipt to avoid paying a further consultation fee.

The medicine tastes revolting, but has always been affective.

They are open daily between 9am – 1pm and 2 – 5pm

My teeth aren´t pretty, but they are the only set i´ve got. Thus i have never dared have any dental work done in India. Fortunately i´ve had no discomfort, but you can try calling 941-805-5680 a number i picked up from adverts on Free Tibet TV which is broadcast from neighbouring Bhagsu.

Mobile Phone Cards and Changing Money:
I have used Aggarwal Tours and Travel in the Main Bazaar for both recharging my mobile phone as well as changing money. Open daily from 9am – 7pm they can also do bus and rail tickets.

Whilst i have a mobile IDEA package, if you intend to head into Lahaul and Spiti Valleys, you are better off with Airtel.

Internet Access and Electronics:
Sonny has been invaluable for organising and installing my Reliance dongle Internet connection. He runs the store above the State Bank on Temple Road. His mobile number is 941 808 5950 – usually open 9.30 -7pm.

Advance Taxis:
For booking taxis in advance Skyline have been very reliable and have at least three branches in the village. Call Mohinder 01892 221591

The Post Office is located on the slope of Jogiwara Road. It is open from 9.30 – 5pm, They are usually shut on Mondays (as does many places in the village). They only seem to handle box-sending in the mornings. A small Tibetan tailors next to the post office will pack and seal parcels. Collect 2 copies of the “sending and tariff” form from the next door Nimiyon computer centre. Fill in the details and also include your passport number, before taking your chances in the Post Office.

Post has been effective in general and there is also a Poste Restante for those without a permanent address.

The State Bank of India accepts most cards and now has two ATMs. It is centrally located on Temple Road. There is also an ATM at the Punjab bank, but none of my three cards work in it.

Tourist Services:
The Tourist Information Centre open 9.30 – 5pm is situated on the path running between Jogiwara and Temple Road. They are patient, kind and helpful with loads of brochures on different aspects on what to do in Himachal Pradesh.

In case of emergencies, Himachal Pradesh has its own Tourist Helpline 0189 222 1205.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Definitive Restaurant and Café Guide to McLeod Ganj

Some eat to survive, I eat to enjoy.

The Ganj is blessed with numerous good quality restaurants that reflect the international community that visit or spend time in the village.

In 18 months in The Ganj, I have never suffered food-poisoning or Delhi Belly from its restaurants – no mean feat in India.

As Lonely Planet likes to state, places change, good becomes bad, and crap becomes awesome (or words to that effect).

Back in February i conjured up “The Strawberry” Awards. These were an acknowledgment of a Good Food Guide to The Ganj in a tribute to the non-celebrations of Losar – the Tibetan New Year.

As I am departing before the arrival of the next Losar, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on the original “Strawberry” winners and update the restaurant and coffee-shop guide for discerning palettes visiting The Ganj.

Bhagsu Road

Llamo´s Croissant - advertised above the door as “Traditional French with an Amdo Twist” has a decent vegetarian menu and lots of home-made bakery snacks. The sun-roof is a great place to mellow out.

Nick´s has just been refurbished. Its vegetarian menu offers a variety of goodies including pizzas, Tibetan favourites and Lonely Planet continue to rave about the chocolate brownies and ice-cream. They also offer the best quiche in town.

JJI Exile Brothers offers a variety of vegetarian treats and does a very decent breakfast. The three brothers are excellent hosts.

The Jungle Hut has a wide-ranging veg and non-veg menu and still offers amazing views down the valley. The tandoori and curry dishes are good.

Jogiwara Road

McLLos suffered somewhat after a recent change in management; however i´m delighted to report normal service has been resumed. This remains a classic Ganj restaurant with an extensive multi-national menu. Pizzas are popular as indeed their curries and Chinese dishes. Their mutton roast is a classic. The roof-top terrace is a great place to hang out in the sun.

Malabar - Karhi chicken was a tasty bargain for only Rp75 and the addition of two pieces of garlic parathas, banana lassi and lime soda the total bill was a very reasonable Rp150. The Afghani chicken is also excellent. They will ask you how spicy you would like the food.

Snowlion Hotel and Restaurant near the old bus stand offers predominantly Tibetan cuisine and is popular and reasonably priced. The noodles are particularly popular.

Jimmy´s offers a good selection of Italian food and the roof-top sunroof offers an excellent breakfast. Their coffee is good and the truffle cake sublime. One of just a couple of places that i reckon i could get Pa to eat in.

Thongka´s is entered up the stairs of the pink building on Jogiwara Road. It offers cheap good Tibetan classics and the rooftop offers superlative views. When available, the fried mutton momos are awesome.

Oogo´s offers an almost identical menu to Jimmy´s. The food is always tasty, but lacks the ambience of Jimmy´s and staff sometimes gets stressed out.

Ashoka isn´t the cheapest eatery in town, but it does offer consistently good curries, tandoori and offers a number of Israeli dishes.

The Peace Café is a Tibetan run vegetarian place offering large portions at cheap prices. Particularly popular for breakfasts.

Carpe Diem, close to the steps leading down to Yongling school offers an adventurous menu, including Italian, Mexican, Indian, Tibetan and continental. The lasagnes (veg and non veg are popular and the chicken taco, different, tasty if not particularly authentic.

The Taste of India remains the top curry house in town. The food is consistently good and their tandooris are sublime.

Lung Ta Japanese vegetarian restaurant offers a choice of floor cushions or tables inside and out. Reasonably priced and always tasty it offers udon (Rs40), kakiagag (Rs60) and veg curry (Rs50). My particular favourite the creamy potato croquets are excellent. A side portion of wasabi is worth the extra Rs.10. It is open between 12pm – 8.30pm (closed on Sundays), but closed for December and January.

Seven Hills of Dokebi Nara Korean restaurant is a classic Ganj restaurant. The food tastes authentic and the menu extensive. The yang nyum tung dat (fried chicken in hot sweet sauce) , chicken bulgogi and omu (veg egg fried rice in tomato sauce with omelette wrap) are highly recommended. The restaurant boasts a large open fire which is lit during colder nights. A little pricey but worth it.

Oasis cafe offers reasonably priced snacks and does a good breakfast. It has nice comfy chairs.

Mai Thai restaurant serves a mix of vegetarian Thai dishes and a few Indian favourites including a very tasty chicken biryani.

Temple Road

Kailash Hotel at the top of Temple Road is popular and has a nice roof-top. I have eaten there twice and have been disappointed on both occasions.

Meeting Point cafe offers drinks, snacks and light refreshments with good views from the sun terrace. Although not the cheapest place in town, all profits go back into the Tibetan community.

Palwan Dhaba not only offers the best non-veg momos in town, but has plenty of other reasonably priced Indian dishes.

Moonpeak Thali is a stylish new restaurant on Temple Road. Thalis are its speciality with prices ranging from Rs100 for the veg, Rs120 for chicken and Rs140 mutton. My particular fav is the Mutton in apricots which at Rs170 is the most expensive dish on the menu – but so worth it.

Namgyal´s cafe by the Tsuglagkhang temple offers an excellent selection of vegetarian dishes. Worthy winners of the Top Pizza award, they also do yummy savoury pancakes and a mighty fine banana lassi.

Chonnor Lodge, close to the Tsuglagkhang temple still remains the Ganj classic. It might be more expensive than most of the restaurants, but all the dishes are high quality. As well as offering the best mutton in town, their soups, potato dishes and hummus plate are all excellent.

Boom Boom V down the Jogiwara Road has remained closed for the last seven months. Call in advance 91-981 603 6424

Pema Thang Reataurant and Guest House on the central junction between Jogiwara and Temple Roads offers fairly good pizzas and satisfactory momos as well. Lots of people rave about this place, but having eaten here twice i am not sure that it deserves such high accolades.

Café Life in The Ganj

Like all good travellist towns, there are many coffee shops scattered along Jogiwara and Temple Road. All serve South Indian coffee and usually have fresh baked goods for accompanying treats.

First Cup – situated close to Gu Chu Sum, it is quiet, has a range of treats and offers good coffee and hot chocolate.

Coffee Beans Lounge – found underground close to the old bus station on Jogiwara with computers and large screen TV, this places serves great coffees and exotic slush-puppies (fruity ice-based drinks). Winner of the “Strawberry” award in February, it has been usurped by the One Two café.

Moonpeak and Mandala´s Cafés – half way down Temple Road, these two places have a nice sun-terrace, regularly busy and now offer wi-fi and both have similar menus at similar prices too.

One Two Cafe – this new hot-spot is Tibetan run and found next to the Dalai Lama (Tsuglagkhang) temple. This is clearly the swishest coffee-house in town. Chairs and tables both inside and out and wi-fi is available. The coffee is good and they will harbour my somewhat stranger requests. It is particularly popular with monks.

Tenyang coffee house close to the temple remains a favourite both for coffee and most especially those wonderful banana/chocolate lassis.

And the Awards at the end of 2009 go to:

Best Curries - Taste of India

Best Banana Lassi – Namgyal Café

Best Coffee House – One Two Coffeehouse

Best Cake – Truffle cake at Jimmy´s

Best Mutton with Noodles dish – Snowlion Hotel

Chicken Biryani – Mai Thai restaurant

Best Quality Food – Chonor Lodge

Best Chinese food - McLLos

Best Pizza – Roquefort, Walnut and tomato - Namgyal Cafe

Best Chicken Momos – Palwan Dhabar

Best Italian food - Oogo´s

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

Best Grocery Store – jointly awarded to Mega-store (Bhagsu Road) and UK Store (Temple Road)

Best Chocolate Balls – The Chocolate Log

Quiche – Nick´s Italian Kitchen

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

A day of sunshine brought me out quite early again this morning and I am prepared to take my chances with the tigers.

I head into the forests and up towards Saint John in the Wilderness church. I haven´t been there for a long while and I had forgotten how tranquil the area is.

The surrounding forests are filled with evergreens, predominantly rhododendrons and pine. However, in the graveyard I come across this tree.

I have missed a proper autumn for many years now. I forget how beautiful it can be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bubba´s 2010 African Calendar

Bubba, my Canadian travel advisor on Africa, has just released a 2010 calendar from his African travels offering excellent original photographs.

Check out this link to view and purchase.

You can also check out his blog by clicking here.

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

I didn´t sleep much last night and feel emotionally fragile this morning. My head feels worse than an Eritrean refugee camp .

I get up at 8am, make an egg sandwich and some filter coffee and still feel crap, which is not helped when i find i can´t log in to The Internet. Nonetheless I want to make the most of my last few days in The Ganj.

By about 9 o´clock the sun is trying to push out from behind the clouds, so i grab my camera and head on to the kora.

It does bring me some piece of mind and as i come into the village, i decide to grab a few snaps for my upcoming Café and Restaurant Guide.

Half way up Temple Road and I see this person crouching at the side of the road. She holds out her wafer thin arms towards me for money. The mountain light is soft and gorgeous, so I ask for a few photos and she is happy to oblige. I have to reset the ISO rating and have only the standard 50mm lens with me, but nonetheless, I do love the results i get - she is a natural model and needs no direction. For photo-boffins who stumble upon this photo, it was taken with an ISO160 rating, f6.3 aperture at a 90th of a second exposure.

It should make my day, but it doesn´t.

As I head back to the apartment i note that the black llama-like goats are back, but despite an extensive search the Goatherd is nowhere to be seen.

Despite rehydrating regularly, i can´t shift the headache, and even a 74% cocoa gourmet orange chocolate treat can´t lift my spirits today.

Hoping for a better day tomorrow.

An Eye and a Lens on McLeod Ganj

Last year, I blogged a short piece on women builders.

Despite the village´s precarious placement on a steep Himalayan ridge, still they find room to develop more land space.

These women have been working on this site on Temple Road for about 8 months. They are working on a steep slope about 35 metres above street level.

I zoom in with my 80 – 300mm, but they still spot me amazingly quickly and stop work immediately. I wave and move on quickly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ketchup with Bolty

I met Bolty back in 1991.

We met in a guest house in Manila. I´d arrived in late into the city and took the first place I could find in a backpackers ghetto in the middle of the red-light district. Not surprisingly it doubled as a whorehouse and rooms can be rented by the hour or by the day.

Having arrived in from Muslim Kuala Lumpur, i´m hit by the decadence and depravity that i´m surrounded by. After little sleep, Bolty comes into my room. “You gotta get me out of here” were his first words to me and I can´t agree more.

Bolty is an Englishman of similar age to myself. An engineer by trade, he has oodles of creativity and a wacky sense of humour. We spend about a month travelling wild through The Philippines, hitching our way through the island archipelago and enjoying and sharing some real outrageous moments.

Bolty subsequently relocates to Hong Kong and starts buying up flats on Lamma island and, more recently, the swanky Mid-Levels district. Now, he rarely has to work, living with/off his wife – an NGO currently based in Vientienne, the capital of the beautiful country of Laos.

Backpacker Bolty and wife Kim

A fellow dromomaniac, he must now be close to 100 countries explored. I last caught up with him in Bogotá in 2007, but we regularly catch up via email. He sends me another classic story today.

Bolty writes: -
Ha! A strange / scary event on the train down to Bangkok.

Found myself sharing the train carriage (only two bunks - cosy) with this 58 year old Swiss prostitute - there was no backup, confined at close quarters. I mean she didn't look so bad in the half light of those dim train night lights. I think she still had all her teeth. She asked me if I wanted top go on top??? - I showed her my ticket that did say 'lower bunk' - so I kept it unconventional.

She insisted on telling me some of her exploits - stopped short of having encounters with farm animals - plenty of lesbian stories to while away 12 hours on the train. By the sounds of it, she had tried all drugs known to humankind and recently had a heart-attack and still smoked like a trooper, she might of had in WWII, on top of that.

I did enjoy the photos though of her 20 yr old daughter in naughty tiny Santa Claus outfits back in Switzerland - sweet, but too cold for the Alps.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Room With A View - My Last Week in Bedsitland

I know that it is certainly not what my loving parents had in mind for me, but they know me well enough not to be shocked that at the age of almost 43 their favourite child has been living in a bedsit for the last 18 months.

I send Ma pics from my veranda, but surprisingly they remain unconvinced.

Khalia, landlord of Sidharth House is a friendly and generally helpful guy. He reduced the monthly rent from Rp 9000 for an extended stay and bought a much appreciated refrigerator, a rarity in McLeod Ganj apartments. One of the more expensive options it´s also one of the best quality rooms available. This particular at the end of the block offer a 180 degree pristine view and captures all the morning light on the large private veranda.

The light and the colours on the mountains changes constantly running through a complete spectrum of hues and time evaporates quickly.

With a free choice of Khalia´s plants i have enjoyed a wide selection of swiss cheese and umbrella plants as well as continuing to nurture my beloved orchids.

It´s location isn´t pefect for a quick “pop into the village” but the 300 steep steps I have to negotiate certainly keeps me fit.

Although i´ve coped pretty well with the 2 ring gas stove, i´ve really missed having an oven. Can´t believe how many clothes I have scrubbed for bucket hand-washes i´ve done in the last 18 months – who needs a washing machine? I´m also going to miss those invigorating bucket showers too – although I guess i´ll be doing pretty much the same on my road-trip through Africa.

A Buddhist "shrine" on the main shelf continually burns musk, sandalwood and jasmine on the incense holder.

Those starry Himalayan nights from the veranda will always be cherished.

Basic amenities are not always available unfortunately. Electricity and more inconveniently water regularly disappear, sometimes only 40 minutes or so, but water has disappeared for up to three days. Water shortages are now commonplace in Indian villages and towns, often relying on British built reservoirs which have not been updated in more than 50 years.

Nonetheless, the basic bedsit has served me well and i am unlikely to ever find another veranda that offers such a spectacular mountain panorama. An ideal hang-out for the photographer who can´t be assed to move far from their home to take snaps.

looking up to The Ganj

swampier times in The Ganj

an eagle perches nearby

turned into Oxford Brookes´ library