Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
149Trip End Ongoing
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After many ups and downs, we finally camped at about 700m, 50km from McLoed Ganj, in a field near Kangla
The last 50km to McLoed Ganj were an unremitting climb, and the cooler weather meant that the previously unrecognised luxury of instantly evaporating sweat could no longer be enjoyed. I was sticky, smelly and exhausted within five minutes of setting off, and remained that way pretty much for the duration of the 1200m climb to McLoed Ganj.
Very close to McLoed was the church of St. John In The Wilderness. Built in the 1850s, it looks like any British rural parish church of that era, including some beautiful stained glass windows. We had to knock on the door to see inside. We were let in by a man we thought initially was a caretaker, but later transpired to be the vicar. As we were leaving, he handed me a sealed envelope, saying, this is my testimony
McLoed Ganj is a small town, over half it's population are Tibetan refugees, and a good number of them are monks, so it has a far less hectic, demanding atmosphere than much of India. The Dalai Lama was not in, when we arrived, so there were not too many tourists, international Buddhist pilgrims or hippies to spoil the calm. We found a hotel room with a view of the valley and the snowcapped Himalayan peak behind the next ridge. I was delighted with view, the fresh mountain air, the novelty of needing a hot water shower and not needing a ceiling fan, and the prevalence of Tibetan cuisine. The routine of dal fry for lunch and alu ghobi for dinner had begun to wax tedious. Tibetan cuisine, as interpreted in McLoed Ganj, consists of 'momo', which are basically dim sum steamed parcels of veg or meat, either on their own or in a clear soup. Alternatives are soup with flat noodles or soup with spaghetti-esque noodles, all improved with generous helpings of soy sauce and chili oil.
The Dalai Lama's temple is surprisingly plain, given that Lhasa's famous Potala Palace was only his winter residence in his former life. There are two halls, with murals of Buddhist mythology, offerings, lamps, and in one a sand mandala, both within a larger complex which feels a little like a multi-storey car-park covered in yellow plaster. We watched the monks perform various rituals, involving reciting mantras and wearing impractical headgear. It is often said that Buddhism is not a religion, it's a philosophy
While having dinner one day, Peter and I were joined (as is the custom if a restaurant has run out of tables) by a French/American/Danish hybrid named Emmanuelle, who, due to Yolana-inspired changes of plan, became my only companion for the next week. There isn't much to do in McLoed Ganj, apart from enjoy the natural beauty and watch pirate movies in the various video halls. So the three of us arranged a mini-trek through some of the surrounding villages to a nearby waterfall. Fortunately, there's plenty of natural beauty to enjoy. The walk combined invigorating exercise with stunning scenery and monkeys, what more could you ask for? When we got back we'd already resolved to do another, longer walk to the top of the next ridge, from which one can see the mountains proper.
It was a week before Emmanuelle and I summoned the energy to actually make the trek, and Peter had already moved on, but it was well worth it. Five hours climbing to get to the top of the ridge made us really appreciate the view, even though it was partially restricted by clouds. On the way up we ran into Marty, who, with his fiance Ellonie, I have accidentally met on four separate occasions
Emmanuelle, being a proactive and community minded soul, lost no time in befriending several monks and agreeing to help them improve their English. Since there's not much you can do in a week, I hadn't responded to any of the advertisements requesting english teachers and conversation partners. However, I'm not mean by nature, and I'm easily led, so I did join Emmanuelle and 'help' with a couple of her lessons. Getting in with the 'Monks Masseeve' led in turn to us being invited to learn momo making. While none of it's constituent parts are complicated- pastry made from flour and water, filling of mashed potato, onion and coriander- putting a momo together is a highly skilled operation. I was shit at it.