29 April 2008

Imprisoned for 13 Years

The yellow ribbon around this man's head says "Imprisoned for 13 Years". I just thought you should know...

Well, now that I have your attention, I'm not sure where to begin... there's a lot I want to accomplish with this post, a lot of pictures to show and tell, and if I get a little lost and disorganized, please bear with me.
I'm in Macloed Ganj now, the Tibetan settlement and home of the Dali Lama seated above Dharamsala. I left Mysore a couple weeks ago by cab to Bangalore, took a plane to Delhi, and then stayed in Delhi a night and a day. It was only enough time in Delhi for me to understand that it would take at least a year to even begin to understand Delhi. It's a huge, sprawling, polluted, crowded, impoverished, ancient, complicated, smelly, dangerous, bizarre, convoluted and mindbogglingly crazy city. Luckily I had my friend Madde with me who had been on the streets of Delhi before and who knew a quiet place to spend the night in Majnu Ka Tilla and the proper price of a rickshaw into Pahar Ganj, the main bazar. While she did some shopping, my head was on a swivel taking in the overstimulous of sight and stink. Knowing I only had this day in Delhi to take photos, I rushed to absorb it all. If I do end up back in Delhi this trip, and it's really just a matter of time, I'll be ready for it.
These photos all come from Pahar Ganj, the "backpacker's area" and main shopping area.

Morning smog and a bicycle rider waiting in traffic.

Bicycle rickshaw drivers waiting for work. These must be some of the hardest working men in Delhi. You see their rickshaws carrying everything around the city, sometimes piled 20 feet high with parcels, or...

Seven deep with school kids. The government wants to make bicycle rickshaws illegal, but I don't see how they could.

Hopefully these three street scenes give you some idea of the crowded noisy smellyness of the city. Did I mention how hot it is this time of year? One day in Delhi and your skin is black with grease; you can just see the pollution suffocating every surface.

So many kinds of rice!

At the end of the day in Delhi Madde and I got on our overnight bus to Dharamsala and Macloed Ganj. The bus seemed nice enough, but once we got to moving and to feeling every bump in the road, some of them tossing our bums far from our seats, it became clear we wouldn't achieve much sleep this ride. But dawn came as we ascended narrow roads through the streets of Dharamsala, and I began to get my first glimpses of the incomparable Himalayan mountain range. Barging past the hawkers trying to push you into staying at their guest house as we got off the bus, we found our way down one of the main streets to a place offering breakfast on the roof. We ate a well earned breakfast, found an apartment with a Himalaya view at a great price, and somehow overcame our exhaustion to find our way back onto the streets to begin acclimitizing to our new setting.
Who is Madde you might ask? What am I doing dashing all over India with this good looking Sweedish vixen? Actually Madde and I are just friends. We met in Mysore and coincidentally ended up flying to Delhi on the same day. Sticking together made moving to Macloed Ganj easier, cheeper, and nicer. We encourage eachother's yoga practice, and having a companion kept the loneliness blues that often come with traveling at bay.
Perhaps you my dear readers have heard a little something about Tibet's struggle to become a free and indepedent nation? Maybe there is a bit of news coverage about China's countless human rights violations? Maybe you've even seen a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker on someone's car, maybe someone you know's car! This issue, which has been around since the China's hostile takeover of Tibet in the 1950's, has come into the world spotlight once again with the 2008 Olympics arriving in China. Here in Macloed, I'm standing in the heart of this issue. I'm standing side by side with red robed monks and nuns, hearing first hand about torture, about people's arduous escapes in winter over the Himalaya, and about a systematic attempt to erase a proud and ancient culture. My first real welcome to Macloed Ganj came my first morning in the form of a massive march.

Just watching this massive procession, hearing the loud conviction of the marchers chanting their slogans, I was broadsided with so much emotion. I felt so much guilt about being so ignorant for so long, and for having done nothing for this cause or any other. Haven't I had plenty to march about in America? Besides my guilt I was pissed at the world for giving China the Olympics.

Women marchers wearing red gags.

Monks and refuges at the main temple in Macloed Ganj where the Dali Lama gives audiences. His Holiness just got back from a trip around the world and if I'm lucky maybe I'll bump into him.

A beggar lying in the street of Macloed. I've been practicing a new effect for me, the "zoom pull." The radial blur is achieved by quickly zooming out during exposure.

I went out hiking by myself and this dog followed me. We met up with a family of sheep herders and in order to follow me this doggy had to fight through two bigger, meaner dogs. When we got to the river, where I took this picture, I fed him some cookies to say thanks.

This is a good example of how the mundane is extraordinary to me. Just a sheep herder, a common sight around here, and something I've never encountered before. This man seems to live nomadicly with his family well outside of the city; when I bumped into them they had just put out their camp fire and were feeding the sheep.

There's a high concentration of beggars on the streets of Macloed. The place is so packed with foreigners feeling guilty I think they do pretty well, as far as being a beggar goes.

A monk washes his clothes in the river, his robes drying on the rocks nearby.

A view of Macloed Ganj perched on the steep hillsides as seen through many fluttering prayer flags. Perhaps you can get an idea of how steep things are around here... there are 250 steps from the door of my house to the street!

Besides the demonstration I saw my first day, every evening about 6:30 there are candle light marches. Hundreds march every day in a procession that circles the main shopping area and then goes down the hill towards Dharamsala.

These monks are waiting to join the march as it goes by. I asked how many times they have marched... "Thirty." They will continue as long as they are here are there are marches.

Please look...

Please look...

Please look...

Please look...

Please look...


A few times I've gone to a conversational English class put on by the Hope Center.

Tibetan monks, laypeople, and really anyone looking to improve their English come to practice speaking. We just talk, according to our "students'" level, and they tell me about how they came here, who they are, and they ask me questions about America. They ask if people in America support Tibet and know what China is doing. I told them they are beginning to.

Some night scenes.

Eek! When I see big spiders I remember my sister's birthday party when about 8 girls all jumped on chairs (not my sister though!) at the sight of a spider maybe a quarter this big.

Madde doing Yin Yoga with our semi-adopted stray Snoorkroka. Madde has been teaching me some Sweedish, but I'm a bad student and Snoorkroka is really the only Sweedish word I know... it means booger. I named the dog. I'm not as fond of her as Madde.

Monkeys doing some dumpster diving. Gross and sad... fairly standard.

This made me think of work back at SUWS when we did wood runs, and how kids would complain about how far they had to carry wood, and how they wouldn't get much wood sometimes because they didn't want to carry it. I would like to show them, especially the young women I worked with, these "BMW's" (Burly Mountain Women). Note the flip flops.

High above Macloed Ganj in a saddle perched at the edge of the Big Ones, the Himalayas, is Triund. Taking my tent and sleeping bag I spent two nights up there enjoying the peace and quiet, the views, and the clean air.

Check it out...

Moo with a view.

Poor me...

Poor poor me.

That peak is really beckoning me. There's a guy up here who says he'll take me...

Looks like paradise, but...

It's not paradise... it's India. Lots of people come up here, and they all buy water from the cafes conveniently located at the top. But it isn't just plastic bottles littering the ground. There's not a bathroom up here either, and people are just shitting on the ground and there's yards of toilet paper all over. Maybe I'm over sensitive, but the way this beautiful place is trashed really bothered me.

The cafes... how great is it to have a man making you tea, giving you a cold soda, sellng you some cookies, how about a grilled cheese? after you hike the steep 8k up hill. But there in lies the problem, with the convenience comes the crowds comes the trash.

The first rays of sunlight penetrate the valley.

A very picturesque horse in a very picturesque place.

A fisheye view of the massive thunderhead building over the mountain intimidating us all. Never did anything but rumble though.

There's lots of Tibetan prayer flags up here too. These, all white and strung up with the barbed wire fence, seemed particularly symbolic.

Another hour hike up from Triund you make it to snow line. From here you are really right against 4500 meter peak and also en route to bagging it, but I stopped here at the Snow Line Cafe. Yes, there's a cafe even up here.

Abrupt. One of many words that comes to mind when I see the Himalaya.

Flowers for Mom. A public shout out to my Mom, who has been the most supportive, helpful Mother a mother could be, taking care of my messes at home, sending me emails like every day, and really doing a fantastic job of not worrying TOO MUCH. LOVE YOU MOM!

And thanks to everyone else who looks and reads. All the best to you, good luck, and much love.

PS: **BONUS** email me your address in the next ten days and I will mail you a home made picture postcard.