Sunday, August 2, 2009

What a good day looks like in India

Ilan, Josh, Ross and Levinia

A couple of weeks ago we had a total solar eclipse in these parts (not sure how much you could see it where you are). Turned out to be one of the best days I've had in India for a long time:

A group of us (Josh, Ilan, Ross, Levinia and myself) wake up at 4:30 am in Dharamkot to hike up and see the eclipse. After some difficult pre-caffeine discussion, we decide the view would actually be worse up in the mountains as they were enclosed in clouds. Instead we head down past McLeod Ganj to try to get a clearer view out in the open. The monsoon had been coming to the area and we'd had a couple of weeks of intermittent rains. It was pretty cloudy, so our chances of seeing the eclipse appeared slim.


We walk out the back road from McLeod and find a nice open part with very little around - basically in the middle of nowhere. A very closed-looking tea house is the only thing around. Still cloudy. We sit on a bench and wait for things to clear. One thing you can count on around here is the weather changing quickly. Suddenly out of the blue a taxi pulls up and this slightly drunk-looking Irishman jumps out. He offers to sell us some welder's glass to look at the eclipse, which is funny because I'd just been reading about that online and wishing I had some. Still very cloudy and no eclipse in sight, I optimistically plunked down 200 rupees (enough money for a very nice dinner) to get a piece. Everyone is looking at me like "I don't know, Eric".

Ross and Levinia

As the taxi pulled away, as if on cue the sky gets very dark and it started pouring in that monsoon-y way I've never seen before this trip. It rains so hard that umbrellas make little difference - you get soaked from the water splashing up from the ground. We look around and there is an abandoned half-finished building nearby that happens to have a great balcony on it. We hurry up there, interrupting the morning routines of the Indian construction workers who are sleeping there. They don't seem to mind at all. We hang out on the balcony to wait out the rain and take photos.

After about a half hour the rain dies down but things are still overcast. Around that time an old man comes and opens the tea house. At this point we're pretty resigned that the eclipse is not happening, so we go down to see if we can get some tea and breakfast. The tea house is like a little wood cabin with huge stacks of egg crates as the only decoration. After a lot of back and forth with the owner, we realize that aloo paratha (like a thick potato naan) and plain omelettes are the only things on the menu ("scrambled eggs?", "no", "fried eggs?", "no", "masala omelette?", "no", etc). Takes a while but by the time they come they are some of the best food I've had in a long time. Doughy eggy goodness (plus having been up for almost 4 hours didn't hurt).

We're happy sitting there eating, and forgetting all about the eclipse. Then one of us looks back out the window and says, "Hey, the sun's out!" We all look and the clouds have parted just enough to see the sun. No moon though, so we are wondering if we had missed the eclipse. Then I hold up the welders glass to the sun, and whoa, there it is! Like a magic trick. Not a total eclipse because I think we were a little late (and Dharamsala wasn't on the direct path anyway). But very cool to see.


The clouds stayed away for just long enough for us to go outside, take turns with the welder's glass, and get some photos through it as well. Then, just like that, they closed back up and the sun was gone. We felt extremely lucky for those few minutes!

Main Temple Kora

After that we hiked up the back side of the Dalai Lama's temple, and walked along the kora, or religious path. It started to drizzle again and just as the rain was really letting loose, we came to a big rain shelter with a couple of small shrines in it. We stayed out of the rain with a bunch of Tibetans who had been walking the kora as well, and after about a half hour made it the rest of the way around.

Main Temple Kora (monsoon)

I spent the rest of the day getting a Tibetan massage (this guy really knows how to stretch out your back and neck and has helped my back pain go away), and then heading down to Dharamsala proper for my volunteering job down there. I'm working at ANEC, a non-profit which educates Tibetans on effective nonviolence resistance strategies. My main job is to redesign their website but since the power was out all afternoon, instead we had a great discussion on which strategies are appropriate for the Tibetan cause.

Later that night I saw Josh and Ilan off as they took the bus to Manali. All of us had been staying in Dharamkot for many weeks, so it was a bit sad to see them go. But we were in good spirits anyway because of our day. So that's what an excellent day in India looks like. Things rarely go as you expect them to, but somehow you end up with many beautiful moments that you are thankful for.


sarah said...

Wow, that does sound like a great day. So glad you got to see the eclipse! I'm really enjoying living vicariously through your posts. :-).

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BHubbard said...

Hello Eric,
This is quite an impressive journey! My wife and I live in the U.S. but are currently teaching abroad in Thailand. In April we are planning on hiking the Annappurna Circuit in Nepal and my search for photos led me to your blog. I love it, very well done.
We were wondering if you might be able to offer up any advice or send any helpful info about your trip (tour operator, do's and don'ts), etc.). I realize your trip was a few years back, but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Please feel free to contact me via email at and I look forward to hearing from you. Good luck!