Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I think there might be drugs around here

McLeod Ganj is unique. Home to the Dalai Lama in exile, thousands of Tibetan refugees and a gentler species of Indian, the town attracts a mulitude of backpackers. Everyone is on a search. Everyone is engaged in the struggle for the freedom of the Tibetan homeland, empowering Tibetan refugees with basic English phrases.

So many people practising yoga. So many people radiating bliss. So many people clearly smoking much weed.

The town is perched on the slopes of a verdant valley, and maroon-cloaked monks peacefully go about their business among the Indian-owned souvenir shops and restaurants serving the backpacker community. I go about my own business. Which consists in watching other Western tourists. Fashion-challenged cooler-than-you people provide a bottomless supply of free entertainment. I get to laugh a lot. Which is my favourite sort of therapy ...

It's a travellers' 'scene'. It's all very Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman; you can appreciate that a lot of effort has gone into the making of the characters in their setting, but something still rankles, something still nags. It doesn't quite fit.

Take Pippi Longstocking seated opposite me in the Japanese restaurant. An attractive woman with the English rose complexion that looks even better in a cold climate, she has cultivated a look that requires detailed knowledge of the Von Trapp Family singers. Pigtails are cute on little girls, and we expect them on people named Heidi and Gretel, but, seriously, come on ... She is dressed, or more truthfully, swathed, in a gargantuan shawl that gives her the shape of a lazy sack of turnips. She is such a vision of beige that I'm unsure where she finishes and the rattan chair begins.

Most brilliant is her facial expression, the consequence of studied tranquility and perhaps limited intelligence. Faraway, dreamy eyes. A mind drowned in Valium, or submerged in peace? Who knows? She reads 'The Tibetan Book on Death and Dying'. Very original ... It's all a little bit too recherche, n'est-ce pas?

When she upsets the entire contents of a freshly arrived bowl of miso soup into her lap, she gazes about as if in religious ecstasy. What? Hot liquid scalds, woman. Please, give me a sign of life, some reflex movement. Scream. At least search hurriedly for a napkin. She is Michelangelo's Pieta. Serene, unnerving. And apparently made of stone.

Still, I'm not criticising. I still dress like my mother chooses my outfits (just joking Mum). So I fit in well here, and have participated in some of the most challenging conversations on the journey. I'm always intrigued by those on a quest. I had a huge debate-cum-argument with a young Amercian girl who droned on and on about the genocide of American Indians in the 18th and 19th centuries. It wasn't so much her reasoning I disliked, but she kept calling me 'dude'. Every sentence commenced, 'Dude, you know ...' I really wanted to slap her but doubted it would bring her out of that Simpson-esque stupidity that appears to have infiltrated all North Americans under thirty years of age.

I am in my mid-thirties. I do not want to be called 'dude' by someone half my age who sounds like she just stepped out of the usual trash US TV crap that Australian stations continue to purchase. I'm quite happy for her and her type to exist on screen, she's easily switched off. I have no desire to discover these people are real human beings.

So, anyway dude, the Dalai Lama is in town and everyone's attending his daily readings and talks. I haven't been, but it's only because I'm too ignorant of what this entails. I know little of the Tibetan people's struggle, and don't feel right taking the place of someone who is genuinely interested in the cause and in becoming enlightened. I'm not really in search of some higher mode of thinking - I guess I'm a bit lazy in that respect.

McLeod Gaj is a good place. It rains a lot. The landscape is magnificent and dramatic. I have seen snow for the first time in many years. Travellers are open, friendly and relaxed. No one hurries or moves fast. The streets are too narrow to allow much traffic, and my hotel is situated down down in the valley a light of 147 steps from the main road. I sleep well. The air is fresh and clean.
Many travellers stay for extended periods of time. Which is what I would also liked to have done if only I had been more organised ...

So now I have to return to Delhi. Yep, Delhi.

Think of he naughtiest, baddest word you know. If you scream it out loud, you're getting close to how I actually feel.

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