Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Motorcycling in India

Carl (A new Norwegian boy who has arrived), Aslak and I went to Manali for a couple of days to rent a scooter and drive in the mountains. Apparently all the scooter places are shut, so we get to rent motorbikes. I was a bit nervous seeing as I had only been driving automatic scooter before, and not a heavy bike. But, Aslak taught me some tricks and it went fine. I was the only one who had a license, and that was only for a scooter or a moped, Aslak had been driving moped a bit back home, but no license, and Carl had never driven a two-wheeler before. So solution; Carl sat on the back of Aslak’s bike and the motorbike man didn’t even ask for license.

We drove on 180 cubic bikes, so they are not that heavy if you compare to 500 cubic ones. However, for me; it was heavy enough. But, man, what a feeling to drive around in mountains with the peaks covered in snow. We drove around where we did paragliding and came up to about 3000 meters. We wanted to go to a place that was 3998 meters, but it was recommended not to go further up due to ice on the roads.

I remember when Tore took me on his red bike, we drove only for 100 meters or so, but it was such a rush and I was sure I wanted to have my own bike one day. I think I was about 9 or 10. Today, at the age of 19 (2 years before I am allowed to drive in Norway) I got to drive a heavy motorbike all alone. A dream come true; and it happened in the Himalayas!

It is an incredible way to experience the landscape here, so I definitively recommend it to anyone who likes to drive bikes!

The day after, Aslak and Carl went paragliding. I went up to take off point with them, and, man, the view was amazing. The layers that look like fog on the picture are actually layers of pollution!

...and a happy new year!

New Years Eve 2009 was celebrated with lunch at Riverside restaurant, then in the evening Trine and Aslak left for Delhi since Trine had her flight the next night. Seeing as Aslak had lost his phone I sent mine with him, you really shouldn’t go to Delhi without a phone. At 23.00, Indian time, I went to the only ISD (international phone calls) booth open at this time of the night. It was in a very dark street about 10 minutes away from my flat, but the only one I met except the shop keeper was a cow. I call my friends whom I was supposed to celebrate with and it was the best phone call I have ever made. These last days I’ve been quite homesick, so that phone call cheered me up a lot. There were about 3 fireworks at 12, but I don’t think they qualify to be called fireworks. A very boring evening, however, that phone call made New Years Eve perfect for me. Sounds lame? Well, keep in mind I was celebrating alone.

First Aid Evening Sessions

Today I realised that it has been a while since I’ve written about the voluntary work I do here in Kullu. Not too long ago, Ankit’s trekking crew was trained in First Aid, and Ankit (our local co-ordinator) wanted some evening sessions in addition to the daily sessions given by a doctor. He asked if we could do it seeing as we all had done at least a basic first aid course.

We only did a few sessions in a hotel room, but we got to go through DR.ABCD, recovery position, burns, cuts and bleeding, and some scenarios. I must say it was fun because I hadn’t done much first aid since before the summer when we had the last big scenario at school with the first aid team. And then I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted because I had heavy sun burns all over my legs. When I walked it looked like I had shit my pants, to put it gently. These few evening sessions made me remember how much I like doing first aid and it was very refreshing. Also, the trekking crew said it was nice to learn from me as well since I had a completely different style than the doctor. The doctor was very technical and advanced when explaining. I was simple and spoke the common man’s language. At least according to the feedback from the trekking crew I was easy to understand.

Very often you feel useless when doing voluntary work; I remember Pete (my English teacher) also mentioned that at school. So in a way I was prepared for it, but it does not make it any less frustrating. At least when doing social voluntary work you sometimes feel like you disturb the daily routine of the children at times. So the first aid evening sessions came as a fresh breath of air, a real confidence boost where I felt useful again.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Away From Home

Christmas in my home is like at many other homes; we all have the same routines we do every year. We all know what is supposed to happen, but we are still very excited because there is the surprise in the evening with the opening of gifts. In Norway you celebrate on the 24th with the gifts and everything. It is a time of the year when family come together and have a nice time. For us these last years it has been my sister coming back from France, my brother coming home from Åsgårdsstrand (about 4 hours away from Mesnali), and me coming home from RCN. This year my brother came back from Åsgårdsstrand, my sister came back from Poland where she studies medicine, but I did not come back from India. This was my first Christmas away from home, my first Christmas away from my family and many of my friends. For me, a person who loves Christmas because of the traditions we have, this was very different than what I am used to.

Aslak and Trine went and got a Christmas tree! Quite creative :)

I had Christmas dinner at Nisha’s whilst watching a cricket match between India and Sri Lanka. Fortunately, seeing as I am in India, India was doing well. Soon after dinner, Aslak and Trine calls and say they have tea and cake ready at the flat. It was a nice surprise, so I went over to the flat and I finally felt a little of that good old Christmas mood floating through my veins. Bendik called as well which was a really nice surprise, and after we watched a movie I called home. It was a pleasant evening indeed, but nothing like Christmas at home in white winter land.

However, one Christmas had to be the first one away from home. Perhaps it was good to have it in a place where the day is not given any attention, because when I celebrate it next time away from home in a place where it is given attention; that will not feel like such a drastic difference. Imagine if I had celebrated in the U.S. this year, I would have missed home because it would be a Christmas away from home. But when I in the future celebrate somewhere else, I’ll be glad that there is at least a proper celebration.

Christmas this year was different, but still a nice evening; a good experience to put in my backpack.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Travelling In India with Kitty and Eloise

McLeod Ganj - Again

Before Kitty and Eloise were leaving we travelled a bit to see McLeod Ganj (seeing as they had not been there) and the Taj Mahal. In McLeod Ganj we went to see the English Church, Tibet Museum (I didn’t see that last time, but it was really interesting and informative. I recommend it!), the temple next to where the Dalai Lama lives, and in the evening a French café showed a documentary portraying the journey Tibetan refugees have to take to escape from Tibet to Dharamsala. We also did some shopping, so I got to buy some nice gifts from here. We stayed only one night, but it was enough. Oh, and we also ate at a restaurant called Mc’Llo where they had a picture of Pierce Brosnan eating there. They were so proud of it they even devoted a whole page in the menu for his picture. That was really funny and cool.


In Delhi we stayed at a family that has daughters at UWC. They lived in a really nice house and it was like we had left India when we walked in. However, it did feel a bit uncomfortable with servants walking around not letting us take a glass of water ourselves. It was a very big contrast to Kullu where we live in the cold mountains and work in orphanages.

The youngest daughter was going to watch New Moon with her friends in the cinema, so we came along as well. The cinema was in this massive shopping mall where only very rich Indian people went. The movie was so, and so, but the whole experience was so surreal. When I think about it I almost can’t believe it was real. It was so posh, and I many of the children running around were so spoiled and rude. For them, the woman who’s house is a piece of plastic and some cardboard does not exist. They see her, but she is no one. I am glad we went though, because it made me experience a completely different side of India. It gives you some perspective, and I can’t say that I like the situation. But then I wondered, isn’t this how we are back home? The only difference is that we have don’t have the children knocking on the window of the car begging for money. It is a topic that has been bothering my mind a lot, and I can’t come to terms with the situation, nor can I come up with a conclusion for myself. It is just easier not to think about it, but then I do like the people in the mall. Perhaps that is what they have to do to be able to lead some sort of a happy life; just not think about it.

Taj Mahal

The day after we went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. Our train left at 07.10 in the morning, but we didn’t have any tickets. It was quite busy so I wasn’t very careful and managed to get ripped off about 600 rupees. But we had the tickets and we were on the train at least. If you are taking a train in India, book in advance and do not book less than 2nd class. We traveled 2nd class and that was okay, but if you want comfortable you should book c/c which has proper chairs and air conditioning.

In Agra we booked a rickshaw for the day for only 300 rupees. We had him for 8 hours as a personal guide taking us to places to eat, sightseeing and giving us advice before going to the Taj Mahal. That was a good thing as well because he said there would be people saying they were guides included in ticket prices, and then afterwards would demand money from you as they were not.

The Taj Mahal was a bit smaller than I expected, but a magnificent piece of art. The whole area is built in symmetry so that it is esthetically beautiful. He even got an extra mosque built, so that there would be one on each side of the Taj Mahal. What makes it even more beautiful is that it is not built to show off wealth or power, but it is an expression of a man’s love to a woman. Everything is in marble, even the flowers which decorates the building. At first I though it was paint, but then I cam up close and saw that is was marble. It is truly worth seeing. We spent about 2 hours and 30 minutes there. If we there was not more to see, we would have spent more time there.

Agra Fort

A king in Agra got a fort built for himself and his 12 daughters. Much of it was locked up for visitors as it was unsafe. It was unsafe because one could get lost so easily and because the floor was falling apart some places. What was interesting was how some of the same pattern for decoration at the Taj Mahal was also used at Agra Fort.

I am glad we went here as well because it gives a good impression of ancient Indian architecture and design. From before I have seen architecture from the Netherlands, England, France and Italy (as a tourist where I have gone to look at this specifically), but this was quite different. The architectural style was simple, but yet grand. It was relaxed and elegant at the same time. It was made to show off wealth without disturbing the inner harmony. Of course, this is only the feel I got from it. The intention could be completely different or very similar for all I know.

There were also squirrels there walking around, I got a nice picture of one.

Going Back to Kullu

The buses back to Kullu always stop at this one place where one can eat and use the toilet. I wasn’t hungry, but I thought I should use the toilet since I was going to be on the bus another 12 hours or so. On the table by the toilets I see a familiar back. It was Aslak, the other Norwegian volunteer, sitting with his girlfriend Trine. I knew that she was going to come and visit for Christmas, but it was still a bit fun that I met them there. She is a very sweet girl and we have had a lot of fun here in Kullu. Especially when shopping for material. There is a guy who is closing down his shop, so there is 50% off on all material. I bought so much, so now it is all at Nisha’s. (They are the neighbouring family who work as tailors)

I live in a room next to Aslak’s, it is bigger than the old one, has a bigger kitchen, and a bathroom with a proper toilet and a shower that has hot water!! It is very nice not having to wait for the water to boil and not having to use a bucket when showering.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Manali with Preeti and Nisha

Seeing as Kitty and Eloise had short time left, all three of us went to Manali with Preeti and Nisha. We were all told to put on full suits (Indian clothes) by Nisha and Preeti, so Wednesday morning we were looking smart and ready to go. In Manali we went to a temple that resembled a traditional style for Norwegian churches. Inside was quite different though. No paintings of the gods or anything, very simple and nice.

Afterwards Kitty, Eloise and Preeti dressed up in traditional Indian mountain style clothes. We got some nice pictures. I didn’t want to because we had already done it at Bashing orphanage, and in Manali they charge money. Not much if you compare it to Norwegian prices, but much for Indian rupees. The price would equal to about 1 kg of potatoes.

Then we walked around in town looking at shops and stuff like that. We had a really big lunch where we ate Punjabi food (food from Punjab state, I live in Himachal Pradesh) and it was really good. It was a nice relaxing day filled with laughter and fun.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Dharamsala – McLeod Ganj

We came back from the trek on a Sunday, the boys had then gone to Dharamsala and my mother said she would very much like to go as well. So Monday morning at 8 o’clock she and I are sitting on the local bus to Dharamsala, or more specifically to McLeod Ganj because that is where the Dalai Lama is in exile.

The bus is no better than any of the other local buses; it drives really fast and the roads are horrible so you get car sick very easily in India. My mother was as unfortunate as to throw up after about 2 hours and we were to sit on the bus for 8 hours. She told me she was feeling car sick and I had to break it to her that the system here is like this: if you need to throw up you open the window and stick out your head. About 10 minutes went by and then she asked if I could open the window. Leaning over me and out of the window she throws up several times. I couldn’t help but laughing because I found it such a memorable experience. However, when she put her head back inside and I saw how pale she was I stopped. Then she put it out the window again. Fortunately she didn’t get more ill after that.

After a really long bus ride we finally arrive in McLeod Ganj and Alf meets us at the bus stand. The boys met a monk who got us really good seats at a teaching the Dalai Lama was giving because the Russian Buddhist Community had arranged a session as the Dalai Lama could not come to Russia. So we check in at the hotel, go for dinner and then my mother and I go for a short walk as we have been sitting on the bus the whole day.

The next day we get up early to make sure that no one takes our seats at the Dalai Lama teaching. I tell you, if we had not had that monk with us, we wouldn’t be so lucky. Some were acting ridiculously because someone else had taken their seat. The thing is there are no reserved seats, you just put your pillow and leave it there, but if you don’t show up in time, you have a problem. It was very funny as well because many of the ones causing a small scene were Buddhists. Here you have the people of harmony arguing like crazy over a small spot on a carpet.

We sit and wait for a bit, find a good position to sit in and stuff, when it goes quiet. Then a powerful voice, but what must be many men, utters the word OM. And they keep on chanting it until the Dalai Lama has taken his seat. Everyone stretches their head, I search and search, and when everyone has gotten a look at him and sits back in normal position; I see him. I have a clear view straight at him. His first teaching is in English and he talks very much about how in the modern world technologies and political systems have developed in a good way, but what it is lacking is a certain type of compassion. This, however, the modern world has realized and has started looking for it and try to understand it. And one of its focal points when searching for this is in the Buddhist beliefs. The type of compassion is a genuine, selfless compassion. When he was talking he would very often laugh at his own jokes. My mother and I found it very amusing and concluded that he reminded us of Santa Claus, but not the commercialized one, the proper one.

During the afternoon we went to an English Church in McLeod Ganj. It is very special as it is from the colonial times, and the glass in the church window by the altar is actually Belgian. Imagine that! The church is called St. John’s Church in the Wilderness. Quite the catchy name, ey? After that my mother and I had an Ayurvedic massage. This was really nice and soothing. Then, we went to have something to eat before my mother was to take the bus to Delhi as she was going to visit Taj Mahal. It was really nice that she came to visit, we had a great time.
(My mother also got her eyebrows done with a thread)

Next morning, we go to our second teaching where he speaks in Tibetan, but we had bought radios where some of the channels had an interpreter translating for us. This day he talked about Buddhism and how to reach Nirvana. He used many terms from Buddhism that I recognized from the Bhagavad Gita. If we had not studied this piece from Hinduism in philosophy; I would be completely lost.

On the way back we take a taxi since none of us really wants to take the local bus. The boys had eaten some chicken so I decided to try the same one since they didn’t get ill from it. I ordered and I got a different type. I couldn’t finish half of it before I felt sick. In the taxi I managed to hold it for 2 hours and then I threw up. Coming back I wasn’t able to eat anything, so on Friday (2days after) Panki’s wife puts me on this cure where I drank some herbal tea in the morning, and got a special mix together with rice for lunch and dinner. The day after I was perfectly normal again; natural medicine is the best medicine.

But McLeod Ganj is definitively a place worth visiting if you are going to India. You don’t have to stay longer than 3-4 days, but you ought to visit. Here you get to see some of the Tibetan culture, left over from the colonial times, Buddhist community, and Indian community. A wonderful place with a beautiful view.