Don’t you hate it when you write an e-mail and the computer blanks out, or something else happens, and what was a particularly witty and clever message disappears into the ether, never to return, not even if you try hitting Control + Z, swearing at the computer, or crying a little bit?
That happened to me the last time it came to writing a blog entry, and it’s taken me two days to calm down about it. The last blog entry was a belter, this’ll be rubbish by comparison. The last blog entry will be forever like the really clever and cutting remark I never made when I had an argument, because I was too busy frothing at the mouth and stomping up and down shouting. You sit there after the argument and say to yourself “I shoulda said that”.
So I moved out of McLeod Ganj – it was getting to be really noisy, and not helping with my aim of relaxing for my last two weeks in India. Yes, even in the middle of the mountains, McLeod Ganj is far too busy. Signs weren’t good for staying there. One night I heard what I think was every single dog in the town barking all at once. It started with one solitary dog barking to itself, but the barking echoed off the hillsides, and I think that got the dog excited. The human equivalent would have been someone shouting something, and then shouting “Woo! Echo! Ech-cho! Eeeeechooooo!”. So this one reverb effect dog bark multiplied to a hundred or more when every dog in the town got in on the act.
It wasn’t just dogs that drove me out of McLeod Ganj. At the weekend, Holi was happening, and the streets were choked (quite literally, exhaust fumes everywhere) by weekending Punjabis in unfeasibly large 4x4s, blocking up the narrow, crumbling streets of McLeod Ganj and honking horns furiously at each other, despite the fact that no-one could move. It is well documented that Indians use their horns for many purposes – greeting, warning, rebuke, indication, and musical instrument – for many horns are very musical, with a range of horns sounding like the old ones on souped-up Ford Capris in the late seventies and early eighties (the ones that went “na na na na na na na na na na na na”). It’s not just the horns that are musical, even the reversing noises are – while British cars and trucks just go “beep beep” monotonously when reversing, many Indian cars and trucks make a noise like a musical greetings card wired into a rubbish sound system with the volume turned up to 11. Nick lent me Jeremy Clarkson’s Motorworld before I left for India – a TV-series tie-in book about the motoring habits of the world. In the chapter on India, Clarkson described a typical Indian road scenario as being something like a car overtaking a bus, overtaking a truck, overtaking a rickshaw, overtaking a cow, on a blind bend, at night. It’s all true. Not wanting to generalise of course, it doesn’t apply to all people here, but Indian driving would be hilarious if it often weren’t so blood-curdlingly terrifying. Excessive use of the horn is only one problem; there are vehicles that are so overloaded with hay or vegetables they look like a well-stacked Pizza Hut salad bowl on wheels, overtaking and near-collisions that are almost enough to convince me of divine intervention, and the preoccupation with going as fast as possible at all times, regardless of vehicle, road conditions, presence of pedestrians or anything else. It’s as if you got all the Nova-driving boy racers in the car park of a carpet shop in Ipswich, and gave them unlimited space and a variety of vehicles to operate. Except that many of these vehicles are, well, just so pretty. Trucks and rickshaws particularly look like giant exotic birds, their tinsel tassels flapping in the wind and their sides, tops and fronts covered with Hindu symbols and seemingly useless bits of chrome, and the ubiquitous “Use Horn” instruction.
Now, then, I’m in Bhagsu, a small village further up into the hills from McLeod Ganj, which is itself a long way up into the hills from Dharamsala. Bhagsu is beautiful, the houses surrounded by terraced fields and trees, and snow-capped mountains peek over the foothills that rise up around the village. I’m staying in Sky Pie guest house, so named as it served the very best banoffee pie I’ve ever eaten. I was told about this a month ago by Micky and Jane, a couple I met in Hampi, so it was great to get here and not just find the pie was fantastic, but Micky and Jane were here too. This is a perfect place to read, walk in the hills, do nothing at all, put the world to rights, plug my MP3 player into the guest house speakers and listen to top tunes all day, eat dahl and rice, and get insensible on cheap Indian vodka. Micky’s even taught me how to play backgammon. An occasional expedition into the throbbing metropolis of McLeod Ganj has been taken – yesterday, to see the Tibet Museum, which chronicles the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese, the escape of the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan refugees to India, and the treatment of Tibetans still in China. I may even get to see the Dalai Lama at one of the lectures he is presenting at the moment.
Until it’s time to leave for Delhi and my flight to Hong Kong, this is a great place to be.