A Travellerspoint blog

A Requested Picture

A snapshot of Himachal Pradesh

Rémy requested that I take a picture of a purple house. So I did.

Posted by cageissler 00:45 Comments (1)

First week at Sarah

Our first sojourning

[This post has been written in several stages but not posted due to time constraints an Internet access problems. So "today" and "tomorrow" mean very different things here. Only the last portion was written today, Sunday, 1/29.]

Part 1: Pragpur to Sarah
Sorry about the delays… I was going to post that last one when we were still in Pragpur, but as I was typing the power cut out, and with it the Internet.

IMG_0554.jpg (Taken just before departure.)

We left early-ish in the morning from Pragpur and jeeped it up to Sarah. This time we had more serious rides. And some serious protection:

IMG_0555.jpg (That's the dashboard of the jeep I rode in.)

The scenery in Himachal Pradesh is gorgeous! Lots of crazy mountain roads with a rather… daring… driver. [Later note: the first of many.] But we all made it safely. For me, the ride was a special honor, as I and one fellow student (Juliet) were riding with Geshe-Jamphal Drakpa-la, the director of Sarah. (His name is "jahm-pahl drahk-pah", "Geshe" is the highest academic degree in the Tibetan system, and [-la] is use to address or refer to respected people.) He was a pleasant companion and we talked about Sarah, the Tibetan language, etc.

So after a couple hours of driving through Himachal Pradesh...

IMG_0592.jpgIMG_0581.jpg (I want to take that narrow-gauge train before we leave!)

...we arrived at Sarah College.

That's the men's dormitory on the left, where my roommate and I live, and a multipurpose building on the right that houses administrative officies, the temple, Tibetan library, the advanced philosophy classroom, and a suite reserved for the Dalai Lama should he choose to visit. He has visited twice before, but never spent the night for security reasons.

As soon as the vans pulled up, there were our roommates ready to meet us! Pasang-la, having arrived a day or two before, read from the list he’d compiled and matched us with each other. As you know from the last post, I got the monk! [Edit: I saw a legal document with his name written in English, and it's spelled Karma Dimey, but in English the "D" is pronounced more like a "T.")

We moved our stuff into our new rooms, then headed to the guesthouse kitchen for tea, then lunch. Karma and the others had class at 2:00, so the rest of us settled in and explored for a while until the Emory group had tea, then dinner later that day.

Accommodations here are simple but functional. Stairwells and such are open to the outside air, and there seems to be a more fluid relationship between outside and inside than in the US. The only actual door I pass through on the way to the room, for example, is the room door itself. Bathrooms are… basic. They work, though. And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter.

But the room is cheery! Look!

Oh, and everyone above the first floor has a balcony; ours has a chair and a clothesline. The first day was cloudy. But the next day…

The last picture was taken from the roof, but the first two were actually from our balcony. If it weren't for some trees, we'd have a view of Dharamsala, McCleod Ganj, and TCV (Tibetan Children's Village, the main school), which are all clearly visible from the roof but too small to be distinguished in pictures. Every once in a while I find myself having spent a few minutes staring at the general area where the Dalai Lama's residence/temple/monastery complex is, though of course it's too far to distinguish individual buildings.

We seem to spend a lot of time on the roof—for the Emory students, mountain-viewing, stargazing, and eagle-watching (they like to ride the thermals near campus); for everyone, clothes-washing and drying on the railings.

I’m writing this on our second day at Sarah, Saturday. I was the only Emory student who elected to accompany my roommate to morning prayers (“puja” is the Indian-religion term, also used in Tibetan Buddhism, for offering/prayer practices to a deity), and I’m glad I did. It was freezing cold—well, my water bottle didn’t freeze at all, and I certainly didn’t in my zero-degree sleeping bag plus liner, plus gigantic puffy blanket that everyone uses. But still. It was cold.

This morning’s puja marked the first of what I hope will be many visits to the temple here. Photography is generally prohibited inside Buddhist temples, so unfortunately I can’t show you the artwork—thangkas (sacred paintings), statues, the works. Men on one side, women on the other, faced the opposite side; monks and nuns sat in the first two rows of each. Chant leader lead the chants, which lasted about half an hour, but I use “led” liberally here; nobody was quite in sync with anyone else, just slightly off. The net effect was a sound kind of like a beehive, but in Tibetan.

I actually recognized a lot of the prayers as the same as we have at the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia (TBC), but these people were going WAY faster than I could ever keep up with. What they read is only in Tibetan, so I don’t have any transliteration to work from, but Tara-la says there’s a book of transliterated Tibetan prayers in our library that I can use, so between that and the TBC prayer book I brought I might be able to figure out something. Even without that, though, it’s still a pretty powerful experience and a great atmosphere for meditation of any sort.

Oh, I didn’t mention our library? In Sarah’s guesthouse we (Emory) have a two-room lounge and library to ourselves, with books on Tibetan history, religion, a little bit of language, etc. They even have two books by Swarthmore’s own K. David Harrison! Yay. I kinda want to spend all my time there…

(The other place I saw Swarthmore mentioned here was on a newspaper, the Times of India—they reprinted the following editorial from the NY Times. Not, perhaps, a positive portrayal, but I’m still happy to see that old familiar name.)

As an aside, I’m really starting to enjoy saying, when prompted for introduction, that I’m from “Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia.” It makes me feel like I’m representing our little home all the way here in this faraway land. Which I am. And it feels good.

So anyway, after breakfast we had a tour of the campus by Passang-la (see campus pictures above). The library actually has a surprising number of English books, though it’s mostly Tibetan. We learned a telling thing about the artwork—unlike most temples, the main image here is a thangka, not a statue. Pasang-la said this is because the founders of Sarah (est. 1998) retained hope of returning to Tibet soon, and so wanted their main image to be something more portable than a statue. (In general, the thankga became a primary art form because of its transportability, and became popular among nomadic or semi-nomadic Tibetans, Himalayans, Mongolians, and similar peoples.)

IMG_0646.jpgThis adorns the top of the temple/library/His Holiness' residence building; common on Buddhist temples, its iconography derives from the Buddha's first sermon. At Deer Park near Sarnath, he first "Turned the Wheel of Dharma" by preaching, among other things, the Eightfold path (hence the eight spokes).

Admiring the view:IMG_0647.jpg

Pasang-la also told us about the wide variety of courses offered here at Sarah. For such a small school, there’s a lot going on. So I already knew from talking with him and Geshe-la that there were Tibetan students doing language, philosophy, or Chinese translation work, sometimes in preparation for future study in McCleod Ganj. Students on the philosophy track can do their first three years here at Sarah, and the rest at the main IBD campus in McCleod Ganj. Some of the programs I know about at IBD are:

- 3-4 years: equivalent of high school
- 7 years: equivalent of B.A. (3 at Sarah, 4 at IBD in McCleod Ganj)
- Something in-between: equivalent of M.A.
- 16-19 years: Geshe degree, equivalent of Ph.D.
- 2 years: teacher-training program
- various other times—programs from refugee students in TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region in China) and others with less schooling, sometimes even at the elementary-school level. I think some of these are at Sarah, some elsewhere
- 1-3 week workshops for teachers currently working in various Tibetan Exile schools
- Himalayan and foreign students joining the Tibetans for philosophy or other programs; Himalayans also in teacher-training
- American study abroad programs—Emory in the Spring, Miami in the Fall.

This wide range results in a more varied, and often older, group than one would find at an American university, but smaller groups, too. Each cohort of the three-year classes, the teacher training program, and Chinese translation students fill a single classroom.

My roommate has also told me about the various other interesting people that fill this place—he and some friends recently celebrated Vientamese new year with the six or seven Vietnamese monks and nuns studying Tibetan language in preparation for more work in Tibetan Buddhism, and I’ve met one of the monks from Bhutan as well. Speaking of Bhutan, the famously-reclusive Himalayan kingdom-turned-constitutional-monarchy-in-the-last-few-years produces this not-too-shabby strawberry jam my roommate shares with me for breakfast:

Students with the means pay a fee for instruction, though the nature of the student body means that many come for free, and are given a tiny stipend for personal expenses (toiletries, etc.). Pasang-la and Geshe-la both seemed proud to say that Sarah does not depend on the Tibetan Government-in-Exile for support, but uses workshops and the Emory and Miami programs to make ends meet.

Per-student fee for one year, including room and board? 30,000 rupees. $600.

Today’s big adventure—washing clothes. By hand. My roommate thought it was funny I’d never done so before, I suppose not unlike how I thought of my college classmates who’d never used a washing machine before. It was a little bit of an ordeal, but I got through it. As I’m typing this, my clothes are hanging on the roof to dry. Supposedly Emory students in the past have had clothes stolen by monkeys, but Time assures me that won’t be a problem. We’ll see…

[Edit: I’ve done this again since I wrote that last paragraph, and entirely on my own. It’s not that scary!]

Oh yes, there are monkeys here too. They get blamed when, for example, the solar hot water system stops working:


After dinner today is the Culture Show the Tibetans are putting on for us. Time is in it, and we’ve been able to hear snatches of the Tibetans practicing… and it sounds really impressive. I’ll tell you more about it when the time comes.

Following the campus tour, a classmate and I were talking about how it’s clear that the folks at Sarah get a lot done with so little, and how it’s clear they’re working for something beyond themselves for very little gain. It’s more than that, though—there’s a cause here, the Tibetan Cause, and everyone at Sarah knows why they’re here: to help the Tibetan exile community by providing teachers, and to preserve the highest parts of Tibetan culture by living it. I’d previously been skeptical of the single-minded focus on Buddhism as the be-all-and-end-all of Tibetan culture as it’s portrayed in the exile, but after seeing a hint of how these people live, I’m not so sure. The pressing need to preserve their culture (mostly their religion) for their descendants, all Tibetans, and the world at large is what drives their very existence. Looking back to the States and inward, how does that reflect on us? Expect more on this topic.

That night was the "Culture and Talent Show," when the Tibetans welcomed us to their college with an array of traditional Tibetan/Himalayan songs and dances, as well as Hindi pop items and even a few English-language numbers. This was punctuated with a tea break (as everything here is, Tibetan or Indian) and a few fun/embarrassing events where Emory and Sarah students were called up to have their hair braided by inept males, get dressed in chubas (traditional clothing) and catwalk, or perform an improvised skit in gibberish (I was in the latter). Emory students were also invited to perform, and we had four: I got up and sang "Caledonia," a longing-for-home song I'd been thinking about quite a bit around these exiles; three others each performed a Bob Dylan song, solved a Rubick's Cube, and did some Appalachian-style yodeling. I have never seen as many confused Tibetans as during the latter performance.
Written today
That was mostly written last weekend; here’s some newer developments:

First week of classes has gone well! I’m feeling a shaky-but-definitely-there grasp of the alphabet, and now we’re moving into more complicated aspects of the writing system as well as picking up some phrases. For now, no complicated syntax—but I’m really looking forward to the case system and such. Maybe.

Life has settled into a rather nice routine of classes in the morning, lunch with the Sarah students, free time in the afternoons and evenings for study, washing (selves and clothes—it takes more time when you need to use an immersion heater or go to another building for a shower!), reading and Internet things in the library/lounge (also our culture and philosophy classroom), casual badminton, and basketball (for those so inclined, a set that does not include me!). Sarah students have classes until tea at 4, after which they are permitted to engage in recreation until dinner at 5:30; while we can have dinner with them, and did once, Emory students have our own dinner at 6:30. We’ve definitely settled in socially too, and so dinner tends to drag on for a while… and since my roommate and I are not atypical in going to bed at 10-11, I’ve been finding the time fills up rather quickly.

The Sarah students eat pretty austere meals—breakfast is puffy flat bread with tea (a hard-boiled egg on Saturdays and fried bread on Sundays), lunch has been noodles with plants, rice with plants, or mostly-bok-choy-plants on white rice, and dinner is rice with daal (lentils). There’s also a “canteen” and a little tea shop run by a local Indian guy where students can get more or different food, but it’s basically adequate—though the Emory folks insist we have our own, bigger breakfast and dinner with more options, often including meat for the 12 non-vegetarian students here. On Fridays our roommates come with us to dinner and a movie afterwards, which is nice for group bonding; this Friday we watched “Himalaya,” a French film shot in Nepal in Tibetan about semi-nomadic yak herders setting off on their seasonal trade route while tribal politics are happening about who will succeed the recently deceased chief. We’ll also be taking a field trip every Friday after philosophy class.

Speaking of trips, most will be to McCleod Ganj, "Upper Dharamsala." Lower Dharamsala is an Indian town, McCleod is where the Tibetans and foreigners live, and the village of Gangkyi in the middle houses the Tibetan government offices and the Traditional Tibetan Medicine college and hospital (next door to a Western-style hospital; Tibetans make use of both systems.)

Street in McCleod:

View from one end of town to the other:

Most important is the little rise where the Dalai Lama's residence, the main temple, and the Namgyal Monastery meet at a central square. Nearby is the upper campus of the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics, to which Sarah is affiliated. For clarity, IBD is white and Namgyal is yellow:

And for us, to get there requires driving through some crazy roads, largely through tea farms!

This Friday we went up to McCleod to meet Ama Adhe (“Ama” = “Mother,” “Adhe” is her name), whose biography we’d just read. Born in the eastern Tibetan region of Kham, she was from a local aristocratic family and peripherally involved in the resistance after the Chinese invasion; these two facts landed her 27 years in various Chinese prisons and all sorts of terribly brutal experiences; after her release, the Dalai Lama appointed Ama Adhe as one of the folks in charge of processing new refugees from Tibet at the arrival center in McCleod Ganj. (Most Tibetans going into exile come through Nepal and are received there first receive basic food and medical care, and are sent to McCleod for a little bit before being placed in schools, vocational training, living quarters, etc.). Mostly retired now, Ama Adhe still lives in the processing center whose functions have mostly been replaced by a new facility in another town.

As is the custom when meeting Tibetan dignitaries, we all offered her scarves and, after touching them to her neck, she returned them to us, like a blessing. Here we are with our scarves, and there she is!


I was kind of expecting to be blown away immediately upon seeing her, but that didn’t happen. Instead, it took until she started to speak, as translated by Gordo (TA)’s roommate from when he was on this program (he now works for the Government-in-Exiles’s publications division). Anyway, there’s something really special about this woman who lived through so much hardship and loss of all her family, then went on to be a surrogate mother-figure to so many displaced peoples. Part of it was her speech, so deeply expressive and punctuated with occasional lengthening of final vowels far longer than they needed to be. Tara-la, who’s known her for at least 20 years and has been bringing Emory students to meet her since the start of the program, compared Ama Adhe to the Dalai Lama in her expression of a wide range of emotions, very different from each other and in quick succession, but fully felt at the same time. Upon Tara-la’s prompting, she spoke much about the recent self-immolations in Amdo and Kham (part of Sichuan, Yunnan, and Gansu provinces, if I’m not mistaken), as well as a protest that turned violent, ending in the shooting by Chinese authorities of around thirty Tibetan protesters in Kanze and (last I heard) three deaths.

Like the tour guide at the Tibet Museum we’d just visited, Ama Adhe implored us Americans, as citizens of a democratic country with (mostly) freedom of speech, to put pressure on our government to pressure the Chinese government into granting more autonomy to Tibet. As is common among Tibetans, her dream is to see the Dalai Lama back in the Potala Palace in Lhasa… but since she’s 83 now, I don’t think anyone in that room believed that she’ll live to see such a day. Under the influence of His Holiness, she has become much more moderate than in her youth, now (grudgingly?) supporting the “Middle Way” policy of pursuing greater autonomy within China, not the full independence she used to support.

By the end, there were no dry eyes among the Americans in the room. For me, I didn’t know how to handle when, after asking us to help the cause and Tara-la assured her we would, Ama Adhe said (in Tibetan), “Thank you,” making eye contact with everyone at once, myself included. I’m not sure what this means, but I’m not going to be forgetting her anytime soon. She insisted on hugging us all before we left:

We were all more than a little unsettled after this, so we decided to head back to Sarah earlier than planned; in the meantime, we scattered around McCleod; many went for “retail therapy,” while I revisited the kora (circumambulation route around the Dalai Lama’s residence/temple/Namgyal monastery) for two half-hour circuits. Speaking of which, that’s a beautiful area:

IMG_0795.jpgIMG_0783.jpg It's in a forest... a forest of prayer flags!

Speaking of beautiful places, most of the Emory group spent yesterday (Saturday) hiking past McCleod Ganj to the town of Dharamkot, thence to the mountains beyond.

[pics and narration.]

Dharamkot is apparently the center for Israeli tourists, largely those who have recently finished their time with the military and need to get far away. When I mentioned Dharamkot to my roommate and other Tibetans, they all say, “Dharamkot! Very good pizza there!” It wasn’t that great by NJ or certainly NYC standards, but it was definitely pizza. In the Himalaya.


Further up the mountain, we found the Galu Devi temple (really just a little shrine) that Tara-la had told us about, and followed another path up to the closest peak. It wasn’t all that far and only took about an hour coming down, but it was an actual hike in the Himalayas. Once the snow clears, I’m looking forward to more.

As we saw it, this forest blew me away. Pine trees, rhododendrons, tiny-bamboo-like-plants, and ferns, with a little bit of snow. Also, another little Hindu shrine with Buddhist prayer flags all around. I was reminded of Sudharshan’s classes and his work with Sri Lankan Hindu-Buddhist temples and such. Tara-la says the Tibetans have adopted some of the local Hindu deities for their own worship as the spirits of the local landscape, which makes sense to me. It’s actually rather nice, if a little jarring, to see these different traditions coexisting apparently peacefully.


Supposedly this isn’t rare, but it was still a happy surprise for us—we made friends along the way! In Dharamsala this dog started following us, and accompanied us all the way to the peak and back. Along the way, other dogs joined in, so after Dharamkot we had a pack of five interspersed with our group. It was… strange. I was a little worried, but they were friendly and stuck with us, and it felt like the local spirits had sent us some protectors for our trip. I couldn’t help but wonder if this little buddy of ours picked a new group every day and travelled with them all over the mountains. Scrounging for food in the garbage mustn’t be fun, but this isn’t a bad way to spend your time as a stray/feral dog. [Pics to come in a subsequent post.]

That's all for now! I promised myself I wouldn't take a shower today until I posted this. Motivation success!

Posted by cageissler 00:05 Comments (6)

Mini-update 2

I'm still here!

Hey all,

Turns out I can upload photos... slowly and painfully, and only one-by-one. So I just have one for you today--maybe I should try a "pic a day" to go through some of this massive pile of pictures I want to show y'all. We're starting a more settled way of life now, and while we'll have weekly field trips, we're living on a campus now, not travelling like crazy.

We had our first classes today--Tibetan Culture (with Tara-la) and Tibetan Language (with a Tibetan professor). Culture class already feels familiar, since we know the professor, she's been informally teaching us for some time now, and it's more like an American-style seminar. Apparently Tibetan professors are more formal than those in the States, students stand when a teacher enters the room, and a student brings tea (or coffee, or hot water) for the professor at the start of class. Our language professor was very nice, though, and I'm actually a lot less scared about that class than I'd been previously.

Right now we're just working on the alphabet--the first 12 letters for now. There are 30 letters, each of which is a consonant plus the "a" sound; four diacritics mark the other vowels, and there's a bunch of suffixes and other things that change sounds, but you've got to start somewhere. Actually, this alphabet is beautifully arranged: for the most part, the rows indicate the place of articulation (uvular, palatal/palato-alveolar, alveolar/dental, alveolar, and bilabial), with four columns (high tone unaspirated, high tone aspirated, low tone aspirated, low tone nasal). For example, the first two are written in the transliteration as:

ká, khá, khà, ngà
cá, chá, chà, nyà

Make sense? Sorry guys, linguist moment there. Basically, I'm just really impressed and happy that it's a really regular system and that my linguistic background is really proving useful. Bonus: the letters are really pretty.

Tomorrow we start the Buddhist Philosophy class, but our regular professor isn't here yet, so the director of Sarah will be substituting. Whoa! A bit starstruck right now.

So anyway, I've been going with my roommate to morning prayers at 6:30. I can recognize some of them, and join in about three times in the half-hour, but it's in really fast Tibetan and there are no transliterations. So basically I and the other Emore student's I've persuaded/bullied into coming sit there and do our own meditation-y thing while that's going on around us. I'm actually really enjoying this early-bed-early-rise thing, and I love the hour between prayers and breakfast in which I can do things, which today meant Skype home. Food is good; Emory students have separate breakfast and dinner, but lunch with the Tibetans. These Tibetans are literally the nicest people I have ever met (as referenced in the previous post about my SIM card).

So anyway, here's the promised picture: me with my roommate. There was only one monk/nun who volunteered to take in an Emory kid, and guess who got him!

He's 30 years old, born in Kham (eastern Tibet), and became a monk at age 7. Currently in his first year in a B.A. in Buddhist Philosophy, he's got two more years at Sarah and four more years at uppr IBD campus in McCleod Ganj (i.e. Upper Dharamsala, where Namgyal Monastery and the Dalai Lama's residence are).

So anyway, all's well.

Posted by cageissler 07:10 Comments (0)

Settling into Sarah

A pictureless post

Fortunate event: I have Internet now! The Emory students have a library-lounge for our dedicated use, and Wi-Fi has been set up there. I'm back!

Unfortunate event: I twice attempted to upload some pictures and failed--the network crashed for a few minutes when I tried uploading. I hear the computer lab here isn't any better, so I'll probably need to wait until I next get to an Internet café in McCleod Ganj... which kinda sucks, because I don't know when that will be. Possibly not until this weekend.

Until then, I'm still taking pictures and writing posts in preparation for uploading them... eventually. Here are some things I'll show you:

- Drive through the foothills of Himachal Pradesh on the way to Sarah campus. Pretties.
- Arrival at Sarah, the campus, and my wonderful roommate Karma Time (KAR-ma ti-MAY)
- Life at Sarah--my first Tibetan sentences include "The weather is cold" and "The bed is warm." Food's not bad either, and I've been going to morning prayers with Time.
- Welcome Culture & Talent show, featuring performances by Sarah and Emory students.
- Excursion to McCleod Ganj, including visits to the Dalai Lama's palace, monastery, and temples

Today was supposed to be our first day of classes--but six of us needed to register ourselves with the Indian government. Basically, I and the other five who got our visas from the New York consulate received stamps on our visas saying we needed to register with the Indian government within 14 days of arrival in India, so we--and only we--had to go to the foreign registration office in Lower Dharamsala to register. One of the TA's (fortunately) headed over with us while the others helped set up our meditation room and such--what an ordeal! The only hard part was that the ONE PAGE form needed to be filled out IN QUADRUPLICATE, but without the fancy paper that allows multiple copies to be made at once. Anyway that was simple enough, and only needed a little processing and the signature of the Superintendent of Police... which took until around 2:30 pm. We'd arrived at 10, which is early for India. So aside from lunch we basically spent the day waiting, and upon returning to Sarah I proceeded to fail at uploading pictures. Yay.

In completely different news, my roommate is officially the best person ever (my own parents and various spiritual masters excepted). When he’d asked if I had a cell phone (“mobile”) yesterday, I told him I did (from a friend who’d been to India over the summer) but the SIM card wasn’t working… and today he just walked in with a new SIM card and some prepaid minutes on it. We put it in my phone and it works!

My number is 9805875210. Unless you’re on the Emory program, I’d prefer you not call me unless it’s an emergency or pre-planned. I've used the phone twice--once to receive a call from my roommate reminding me to dress warmly for our trip to Dharamsala, and today to call our TA while coordinating our bureaucracy time. So I feel much better now with the familiar "connected" feeling, though I'm not liking the four or five spam texts each day.

Anyways, so far so good, and I'll post more when I can.

Posted by cageissler 04:29 Comments (1)


Our mountain retreat

So this may or may not be my last post for a few days--I hear we may have limited Internet access in Dharamsala, so we'll see what happens.

We leave tomorrow for the Sarah campus of the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics (IBD), the ecumenical Tibetan Buddhist university in Dharamsala. There are about 300 Tibetan students, 30 foreigners (mostly Western and East Asian), and various non-Tibetan-but-related Himalayan students at Sarah studying Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and/or Tibetan language, the latter often as preparation for further work at the main IBD campus up the hill in McCleod Ganj, "Upper Dharamsala." Other Tibetan and Himalayan students are there as part of a teacher-training program for Tibetan diaspora settlements and Himalayan communities in India and Nepal. I'll post more about Sarah later; this information came straight from the mouth of the director, who came and stayed with us at our hotel in Pragpur, a very great honor as far as I'm concerned--I've never met a Geshe before! (Geshe = "Tibetan Buddhist Ph.D."; requires 16 years or more of study. Intense.) Both the normally calm-to-jolly Pasang-la (Tibetan fellow involved in running the Emory program) and Tara-la broke into tears introducing him; while I may not yet fully understand the source of this emotion, it's clear that "it's an honor" doesn't begin to describe the significance of working with this man and what he represents.

So anyway, we left Delhi the day before yesterday early in the morning for the long drive--8-10 hours? It took us 14. Part of that was because one of us (Lindsey) was sick with the first food poisoning of the semester and had to be taken care of, but part of that is just India Time.

Speaking of food poisoning, sanitation is important. Here's the three-stage filter we used for drinking water at Likir House:

We set off in well-laden vans (picture taken 2/3 of the way along, in Punjab):

As we pulled in and out of various stops, I was often reminded of the line from that Thomas the Tank Engine story where all the Sodor engines left the island to be exhibited to the public in the big city--"the cavalcade sets off." Both the organization and the inherent silliness of the vehicles seemed appropriate. One of our vehicles even had Tibetan prayer-flag decals on the back window.
(Yes, our drivers took us on the wrong way on the highway. Only for a hundred meters or so. *shudder*)

Our day went something like this:
- Depart, drive for a few hours
- Stop for chai at a roadside place Tara-la and Pasang-la know. Tara-la decides to take Lindsey to a hospital, just in case.
- Drive for an hour or two to the town with a hospital they know. Drop Lindsey off; three of the four "grownups" stay with her while the rest of us head to lunch
- Drive two hours three+ hours to lunch place in Punjab; Lindsey, equipped with antibiotics and doc's stamp of approval, arrives with the others. Head off.
- Pass through Anandpur
- Cross into Himachal Pradesh and Judge's Court at Pragpur

The day started out pretty foggy (maybe partially smoggy), but we could still see the changes in the landscape. This being India, there are plenty of temples about:

Somewhere north of Delhi, the rickshaws petered out, then started up again at the next city--this time yellow-and-black, not yellow-and-green:

Eventually cityscape gave way to rice paddy fields:

I'm not quite sure what this means...

One of the pleasures of driving in a Tibetan car: more interesting rear-view window ornaments. One of the other cars had a solar-powered prayer wheel on the dashboard. IMG_0375.jpg

This being India, traffic was a more interesting mix than in the states. No cows on the highway, though there were plenty once we got off and drove around to the hospital and here in Pragpur. Tractors were a fairly common sight:

And more primitive vehicles:

There was a lot of horn-blowing, but apparently this is welcomed and indeed encouraged. At some point I'll post what I've figured out of the rules of the Indian road. For now, it seems that a primary function of the horn is to relay positional information--kind of like how dolphins are always whistling and clicking while swimming for long distances. Or just to tell a truck you're in his blind spot:
It doesn't always work, and we saw three major accidents on the road, all pretty gruesome-looking, one of which was a collision between two trucks.

One thing I must credit Indian drivers for, though, is their pride in their vehicles. "Tacky" doesn't really seem to be a concept here, so the colors and decorations can get pretty flashy, but the owners/drivers of trucks, buses, and even some regular cars put significant effort into dressing up their vehicles.


Pema looking adorable and stately

We later passed through Anandpur, one of the holy cities of the Sikhs. Entering and exiting the area was marked by these white gates:

Really beautiful gurdwaras (Sikh temples) everywhere...IMG_0395.jpgIMG_0396.jpg

And a very modern-looking museum:

At the border of Himachal Pradesh, the road turned to dirt--but they're clearly trying. Actually, in several places there were sections of new-looking pavement, though Tara-la said it's been like that for a few years--a slow, drawn-out construction process very much unlike the Metro and other big new projects in Delhi.

At first glance, Himachal seemed poorer than Punjab,

but a closer look revealed some sturdier constructions, as well as a consistent architectural aesthetic.

And some whimsy!

These cement folks are everywhere, presumably associated with the construction of roads and other things. This fellow looks pretty strong, no?

Some traditional-style houses remain, though many families have switched to more modern materials. And colors.

A packed little storefront; too bad the picture was blurry. The shop in the second shop has "STD" above the door; I initialy thought this was kind of funny, but then started seeing it lots of other places. Any idea what it is?

Finally we arrived at the Judge's Court, so named because it was the home of a prominent Indian judge under the British rule. The presence of this landmark, plus the general look and state of the town, caused Pragpur to be listed as a "Heritage Village," a status which provides support for local crafts, etc. and restricts new-style constructions in town. Built in 1914, the Judge's Court is now a high-end hotel; while there's still a geezer (hot water heater) in the bathroom that needs to be turned on 15 minutes before a hot shower, the furnishings are remarkable and the service excellent--as if to make us feel like British rulers.

Here's what one of the rooms looks like--note the tea/coffee pots and fancy chairs...

... and one of three panels of switches. So much power:

The food has been most interesting of all--half Indian, half British. There was a pot pie at our first meal, and dishes served at the buffet line seemingly alternate. Bread pudding, anyone?

I had trouble deciding which exterior images to show you, so here are a bunch that I took from the roof of the main building. A forthcoming post will have a shot of that building itself.

(Sorry about that; I got a little shutter-happy. But there are lights in the trees!) It's beautiful and a wonderful respite from the bustle of the city and highway. It's also been a study in the intersection between British and Indian cultures in upper-class India, though we've been made to feel like the colonial administrators, a position I'm not entirely comfortable in. Then again, there were bagpipe players to entertain us before dinner today.

A simpler example of the India-British interface: this package of cookies left in our room. "Biscuits," not "cookies..." "glucose biscuits" at that! But apparently five of them is the equivalent calories to one roti.


Boy did I sleep well that night on a fancy bed.

Next day, we were split into groups and assigned to go into Pragpur on a scavenger hunt--to find out various silly pieces of information about the town and India and take pictures of local sights, necessitating lots of interaction with the locals using English and a few words of Hindi provided us by Tara-la. This was our first time in a low-English zone without supervision, and I was pleasantly surprised with how well it turned out. I felt far more at ease with the locals than I'd expected--maybe linguistic fieldwork won't be that bad after all!

But before we got down to business, my partners Carl and Hannah insisted we look around some... so we passed through town before coming back in. Here's a shrine on a hillside outside Pragpur:

and a pretty sketchy electrical pole:

There I am surveying Pragpur; most of the town isn't visible from here, but it's just over that rise.

Streets in Pragpur.

That's the Taal, the water tank the middle of the town, with a shrine to Hanuman under the tree on the opposite side:

As for the scavenger hunt, we got much of our information from Amit, a twenty-year-old on holiday from his university in Shimla, where he's working towards and MBA. Interesting story of a kid from a little town in the hinterlands climbing up the social ladder. Anyways, he invited us in for chai, and we accepted--three of the four groups of Emory-CIPA students in town had chai experiences that day. That's Amit on the right:

I'm really loving the staircase here:

And the drainage system here. Lots of gutters around town, though i doubt how well they handle the monsoon. Who knows, though?

Stories beg to be told about what's behind these gates:

Today was a pretty low-key day too--the calm before the storm. Some of us walked to Garli, a nearby town and back, about 5 km each way; afterwards, we all gathered for orientation about life at Sarah. I'd just gotten used to this bopping-around-India mode with the Emory-CIPA crew, so to adjust to a settled life with Tibetan roommates and such is sounding pretty intimidating. Then again, India was pretty intimidating too, so I suppose it'll be fine. But still, nervous now. By the time I next post I'll have moved in and be settled at Sarah... we head off tomorrow.

Posted by cageissler 08:51 Comments (3)

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