First impressions of India: The taxi ride from the airport was astounding! Already there was chaos, pollution, poverty, cows along the highway seemingly oblivious to the traffic... Really third world. I hired a bicycle rickshaw to guide me around Old Delhi. What a culture! What a difference from Moscow! India is going to take some getting used to.
Tonight I'll take a bus to Manali to visit David and Detchin.
I asked David, "How long is the bus ride from Delhi?"
He said, "12 hours, but maybe 24 hours, and if it's 24 hours that's good, since it will help your karma, as you'll learn to be more patient."
Welcome to India.
Namaste. The bus ride to Manali from Delhi was 18 hours, but aside from being uncomfortable, it was fun, thanks to a group from France that I met at the bus stop. Now I'm settling in at David and Detchin's house.
Manali has much to offer: stunning scenery, trekking, a Tibetan community, Buddhist and Hindu temples, good restaurants and stores, all cheap. Rooms start at one US dollar. There are some beggars, but nothing like Delhi (it'll break your heart). Manali is fantastic, and I plan to stay a while, enjoying the forested Himalayan foothills. There's a yoga ashram next door. When I first decided to come to India, this is not what I imagined; it's nicer.
We hired a jeep and drove to Indian Tibet, our destination being the Pin Valley monastery where we stayed as special guests. Travelling with the local Rinpoche, we visited villages, gompas (shrines), and caves where people reside during spiritual retreats. Villagers offered us tea and delicious meals. Some of the gompas contain wonderful art that escaped from the Chinese Red Army in 1950. I certainly learned a lot about Buddhism! We got within one kilometer from China at the village of Gue. The border guards are paranoid, I'm told, and photos of them are strictly prohibited. That's why guide books do not list the village of Gue. Also, it's really remote. But it does have a unique 500-year-old mummy (see photo).
The Tibetans plant barley (with the help of horse and yak) which they trade for other essentials. Winters are harsh. Women do most of the work. The villagers speak Tibetan as their first language, but the signs are in Hindi. The single-lane dirt tracks were okay, but we averaged only 20 km / hour. Of course, the scenery is dramatic. Going up from Manali, everything is green and humid with waterfalls, but once across the first pass, everything is mostly brown. There is a huge difference between Tibetan villages and Indian towns like Kaza; two different cultures. Beer up here is served warm, and it's not so good, so we procured the local home brews. Chung comes in two varieties, rice and barley. Rice chung is like thick sake. There's also arak, distilled barley chung (strong). Some ex-monks at the monastery had some. These beverages were also warm and not so good, but drinking them with ex-monks was good fun. I saw no computers in Indian Tibet. The only beggars were children asking for candy.
Manali was good to me, and it was hard to leave. Ah, relaxing at David and Detchin's house, going for hikes, meeting new friends, reading good books, hanging out with monks, and practicing yoga every morning at the Shri Hari Yoga Ashram. Tourist season is coming to an end as most foreigners head south to Goa for the winter. But I'm on my way to Nepal.
I rented a motorcycle and drove with Stephen & Ela to go paragliding at a ski area. There's no lift; you have to walk up. I got in one solo ride, then quit while still alive. What an adrenaline rush! The motorcycle was a Royal Enfield, a powerful bike with antiquated technology. On a different day, while touring mountain roads, despite the fact that my fuel gauge did not read empty, I ran out of petrol. It was almost dark. I hid the bike behind a tree. Then I flagged down cars until an old man who spoke no English gave me a ride. My bike happy with fuel, my headlights didn't work. So I waited for a truck to pass, and then followed it back to the city, a bit sketchy. India has been quite the adventure!
I'm back in Dodgy Delhi having finally gone beyond the plans I made in Boulder a year ago. For the first time I have no schedule, and that feels great. I'm getting used to India. Contrary to my first impressions, I now see an emerging world power with excellent infrastructure and a growing middle class. The people are generally peaceful, tolerant, and I feel safe regarding violent crime (but not theft). The beggars and the filth are terrible, but that's reality, and I think everyone should see these things with their own eyes, because if the eyes don't see it, then the heart doesn't feel it. Watching it on TV doesn't count.
A word about Buddhism: I am not a Buddhist because I don't subscribe to the "religious" aspects of ritual prayer and belief in reincarnation. But these are not important to the core philosophy as there is no deity, nor is there an eternal self. Buddhist ideas are consistent with the laws of physics once one realizes that reincarnation doesn't really exist. Once one gets past the ritual fluff, the philosophy is plausable even to scientists, and the teachings are full of wisdom. Take the notion of karma for example, cause and effect. Good people tend to cause good things to happen, and this makes them happy. The idea of meditation is designed to teach people to control their thoughts, so as to control their speech and actions, which helps create good karma. Buddhists thereby teach themselves how to be better, happier people. The same ideas are taught in Hindu yoga class. The core philosophies are similar at this level, especially compared to the Christian notion that humans are inherently sinful, so in order to go to Heaven, we must ask forgiveness from the Church. Hmmm. But OK, the idea of sin does teach many Christians to be better people, so great; but the idea of believing impossible things on faith teaches them to dismiss science (and logic), so not great. Religion has proven itself incapable of solving the Earth's urgent problems, but science has a fighting chance. Teach science to the children, so that they learn to discern fact from myth. Also teach the Buddha's wisdom regarding how to be a good person.