Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stuck in Chennai?

"Suffering is how Life tells you that you are resisting or misperceiving what is real and true. It is the way Life suggests that you are not in harmony with what is."
 ~ Adyashanti, "The Way of Liberation"

About 10 days ago I was trying to decide where to go in June - Europe being out because of the 90-day limit for tourist visits. I had a long and silly list of choices, including Pakistan, Burma, Bhutan, Iran, and Mongolia, of all frickin' places. About a week ago someone mentioned that their friend was in Bali, and bah-dah-bing! I'm going to Bali. Four days before the flight left I booked it and bee-lined to Delhi on the 12-hour overnight bus from Dharamsala. (It's a Volvo! says the advertising. Volvo may as well be Swedish for pain-in-the-arse-hell-ride based on my experience.) After minimal bus-sleep and four hours sleep the next night in Delhi, I got to the airport this morning for the first leg of my flight: to Chennai.

As I went through security for the flight to Singapore, I was a little nervous since I was leaving after 181 days in India, one day longer than the 180 day maximum stay. Turns out - I had a good reason to be nervous. I discovered the first 24 hours count as two days, not one, so I was actually two days over.

Of all the scenarios I envisioned, here's one I didn't: the immigration guy tearing my boarding pass in two, an hour before my flight, and saying, "You can't fly today, you have to go get cleared at the police headquarters in downtown Chennai." Mommy! (Did I whimper that out loud?)

The "police station" was actually the Foreigner's Registration Office, known as the FRO to those with the bad luck to have gone there. After a month in the cool mountains, Chennai was baking me like a batch of chocolate chip cookies as I wandered in with my two bags and crest-fallen expression. The place was packed with people, all waiting for the two measly counters that seemed to be processing people at a snail's pace. What is it I'm supposed to do, anyway? There's no one to ask, I'm sweating buckets, and it's not looking good for even seeing someone today.

Eventually someone came, had me follow some other guy who led me to a nice lady who made me jump through some hoops, including writing down an I've-been-bad letter, listing everywhere I'd been and what I'd been doing. Umm, I don't really do anything, I wanted to say. But when I'd told the original Immigration Monster at the airport that I'd been taking classes, he said that's against the law - you need a student visa or a yoga visa for that. I'm not always a quick learner, but I knew then that I don't take classes, not in the against-the-law sort of way. Sweaty rickshaw rides to book another flight and a copy-office clerk I wanted to throttle, and eventually: I'm flying out tonight at 12:45 a.m., just 12 hours later than the original flight, and about $75 lighter. This will be my third night in a row of crummy sleep. Pity me.

The good news: I'm staying with my old friend Ann, who I met trekking in Nepal on my first trip in 1991. She has a husband a baby, both of whom I haven't met. About a week later - I'm off to Bali, where I've only been once 21 years ago. Probably hasn't changed much. Like me.

Much love,

All the photos are from the last month in Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama.

One of the typically ornate Tibetan statues of the Buddha inside the main monastery here in Dharamsala, commonly referred to as the Dalai Lama's monastery.

On a hike to the waterfall, this little chai shop makes for a pleasant rest stop.

One of the BIG benefits of a trip to Dharamsala - the food. One of the consequences of eating the wrong food in Dharamsala - a trip to the bathroom, repeatedly. A lot of people have been sick during the three weeks I've been here. I paid my dues in Varanasi, so the Big Guy gave me a pass this time! (Did I mention that I was sick?)

A group of us walked on a little-known route to the popular destination of Triund, high on the crest of a mountain ridge. These shepherds huts are on the way. Someone described the route to me last time I was here, three years ago, and it was a bit of a challenge to figure it out again.

Three young Indian guys were happy to come across us, because they had no idea where they were going. They followed us like puppies. We checked out this small temple at the edge of the mountain, overlooking the Kangra Valley to the left and Dharamsala to the right.

Domesticated goats still feel more comfortable climbing up on rocks, even if they don't know why. It made me wonder what choices I'm making where I don't know why, or even that I've made a choice.

These are some fine looking goats.

I started to take this photo and my friends all bunched together, as people do. I said, no, stand apart like my movie star cousins do when they're taking a photo. Spread out and act like you're in the mafia, or in a rock band. Voila.

Heidi, banana-eater Bernie, Kailash, and Eyal, at a chai shop on the way down.

Closer to the center of town, this little shack hangs on the edge of a hill. It's the only of its kind that I've seen in the area.

Kids from the shack selling wooden printing blocks.

Hot day, cold water. Like, COLD. You practically get out before you're all the way in. Except for the Norwegian guy, who relaxed and floated around and said it's just like home.

Eyal relaxing.

The view from the balcony of my room on full moon.

The full moon behind dark and scary clouds, using the Illustration mode on my camera.

Tibetan prayer flags carry the printed prayers on the wind. They are typically found at holy places, temples, and high mountain passes.

Lovely Rebecca, who came up to me in a restaurant and said, "Were you on the yatra in France two years ago?" As a matter of fact - I was. We had a nice time hanging out and hiking together. The stories about her stomach problems are off limits, she told me! It's amazing that I need to be told.

Slate roof tiles, split and shaped by hand.

A big, no doubt unattractive building will replace what had been a steep and tree-covered hill. The boys are raising a heavy re-bar structure for a pillar that will eventually be filled with concrete. Not a steel toed boot in sight - everyone is in flip-flops.

What could go wrong? The owner of the property was an Indian man who lives in Los Angeles. I guess he straddles both worlds more easily than most of us tourists. It looks like a set-up for the movie The Omen.

A sweet little Tibetan nun who sat next to us on the walk around the outer path of the Dalai Lama's monastery. The first time I was here, in 1992, I spotted Harrison Ford on this same path. (Why is he telling you that nugget, he wonders?)

Monks debating in an old Tibetan tradition. One monk stands, asking questions, punctuated by a slap of the hands. From a website: "The central purposes of Tibetan monastic debate are to defeat misconceptions, to establish a defensible view, and to clear away objections to that view."

Rebecca takes a photo from the deck of the locally famous Lung Ta Japanese restaurant, where the vegetarian sushi is a winner.

The number of buildings that have gone up since I first came here in 1992 is a little overwhelming.

(The End)