Dharmasala: adolescent odyssey.


Susumu and I took the bus from Manali to Dharmasala. The bus wound its way through the serrated foothills of the Himalayas. Much of the road was not hard top. We traveled ovenight. We stopped at a roadside restaurant beside a precipice. Huge cauldrons bubbled away with chapatis and suchlike. I supped upon local fare. I slept but fitfully. I dislike bus travel. Before dawn we came to a bus station down the mountain from Dharmasala. Susumu and I got off the bus and took out rucksacks. We had to wait in the chilly half light for the bus up the mountain. The bus we had been on was going on to another destination. I was in light summer clothes. I had to dig out some extra garments from my pack. I lay there almost shivering on the floor of a small and dusty bus station for a couple of hours till our bus came. By the time it was fully light it had warmed considerably. Mercifully the bus journey was only a few minutes up the very steep mountain. I saw fir trees for the first time in months.

Soon we were in Dharmasala. We easily found a hotel a couple of minutes from the main square. We checked in and went to bed. The crisp white sheets were very welcome after a rough night on the bus. After a few hours I came around again. A hot shower later I was a new man.

Only then did I take time to admire the vista. There was only the odd wisp of mist around. The place was like something from a dragon’s tooth painting. It was tranquil and clean as can be. I made a jarring but pleasant contrast to the crowded and scorching plains of India. There was a little balcony there. I stood on it for  minute. I saw beige coloured pink faced monkeys scrambling over the corrugated irons roofs of houses below. The green hills tapered away to the flat land on the horizon.

Our hotel was pin clean and had tiled floors. There was a laregish dining room upstairs. Susumu was sombulent for  a long time. I went out for  a stretch of the legs. It was rewarding to explore this small city.

Dharmasla means refuge. I am not sure which language it is from though – maybe Hindi. This northern Indian town is not far from the Chinese border. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China invaded Tibet. The Communists cruelly oppressed the Tibetan people in a manner that since 1945 only communists have managed. Non-communists have certainly oppressed people and murdered them since 1945 but not on this scale. Mao Zedong in his monomania sought to root out Tibetan identity. Their religion and culture was systematically destroyed. The Dalai Lama had at first not resisted the Chinese invasion. It soon became apparent just how horrific communist ruled was. He fled to India. The Chinese authorities have since become cannier. They realise there is propaganda mileage in easing off the oppression plus there is money to be made from tourism if they allow some Buddhist temples to function.

The Dalai Lama – spiritual leader of the Tibetans – came to India. He settled at Dharmasala. A large Tibetan community is there. Dharmasala has a lot of Western tourists. Some of them see it as a place with cool weather and a decent spot to relax. Others are afficionados of Buddhism. Buddhism is mainly a peaceful religion but it also strikes me as dull. There were many Richard Gere type wankers around. In fairness they are far from the most obnoxious religious nuts.

The town was built on a slope. Many of the streets did not have a hard top. I went to the Dalai Lama’s temple. He sometimes puts in an appearance there. He was not in town for the few days I was there. There were the usual Buddhist statues and bells. The building was white and unremarkable.

When I returned to the room Susumu was smoking. He said he only did that after sex or taking a dump. He told me tales of banging hookers in Thailand. He worked as a hotel receptionist in Japan. It said much about how wealthy Japan was in those days that a hotel receptionist could afford to take a few months after to go travelling.

In the mornings we would breakfast in the dining room. We had to share  a table. We met a Danish woman in her 30s. Like most Danes she spoke flawless English. She was slender and had flaxen hair. She would have been attractive had acne not been so spiteful. It was notable that even at her age her cheeks had those angry red marks. She was animated and intelligent. She told me of her adventures in Italy in her teens – getting all the way there by hitching rides with lorry drivers. How she got drunk and ended up in hospital in Italy. Her parents had told her not to go and if she went to Italy they would never forgive her.  But when she returned they threw their arms around her. She studied Medicine like her father but in the end became a computer programmer. Here she was chilling in Dharmasala. She took time to walk in the hills.

Over the next few days I tried to meet this Dane again. There was a slim chance I would get to shag her. I left a note for her. It was to no avail.

In the dining room on another occasion we chatted to a chubby middle aged German woman. She nodded at one of the Tibetan monks who ate at the place. She remarked how that man had been through the most ghastly ordeal. She precised his experience at the hands of the Chinese secret police. On the bookshelf there was a tomb with the monk’s photo on the dust jacket. It was a moist account of what had happened to him. I did not read it but the story could well be true. There were plenty of mountebanks out there pretending to have been tortured by the Chinese police because this sort of tale was sure to elicit sympathy and hard cash from gullible Western tourists. Such abuses often did occur in Tibet but one could not believe every story.

I was a little sceptical about the cause of Tibetan nationalism. Tibet had been independent but not free under the Dalai Lama. It had had slavery. Tibet had at times been a province of China. I looked back into many history books that showed maps of Tibet as a Chinese province.

On a balcony cafe Susumu and I spoke to a Tibetan aged about 30. He was not a monk and wore Western clothes. He told me how Tibetans never fought. I then told him how I had read about the Tibetan Army fighting the Chinese centuries before.

”Well if someone come and shit on your head what you doing to do?” He replied.

That was not what he had been saying a minute before. He could not have it both ways. Either the Tibetans were pacifists or they were not. Now he was saying they did fight but only when gravely provoked and only for rectitude. That would be admirable but it was incompatible with his earlier boast.

There were too many credulous Western tourists who fell for every claim of these Dalai Lama disciples. I suspect some of the so-called Tibetans were Indians of Nepali stock who could pass for Tibetans.Not all Indians look Indian if you see what I mean. Some of those from near the Chinese border resemble East Asians not South Asians.

It was in Dharmasala that I discovered that India has the cleverest monkeys in the world. One day I was alone in the bedroom. I left the door to the balcony open. I saw on my bed with my snout in a book. I heard something and my eye was drawn to the baclony door. A monkey had cheekily come into the room. He was a filthy little mange ridden simian. I looked at him for a moment – unsure what to do. Then he growled at me and made a menacing scratching gesture towards me. He was a few metres away so it was not immediately threatening. I said to him, ”Could you go away please? Would you please leave?” So he did. I learnt not to leave the balcony open. Moreover, I also realised that staring at the animals makes them aggressive. There would be troops of them in the streets snaffling snacks offered by tourists who were eager to add to the monkey infestation.

In one cafe we used to go to we met some Japanese tourists. One of them was Yasu. Yasu was in fact Korean. Susumu later elucidated something to me. Even though Yasu’s family had been in Japan for 90 years he was not a Japanese citizen. He only spoke Japanese and had never been to Korea yet he was a Korean citizen. I even saw his passport once. Susumu was fairly blinkered but on this issue he was fair, ”It is a shame for Japan.” He felt bad that Yasu was not allowed Japanese citizenship.

I later told some Korean pupils about this. They told me that that young man had been very Japanese in their eyes. Koreans in Korea would never have the name Yasu since in Korean Yasu means ”beast.”

Susumu persuaded me to buy a blue duffle jacket. It was bracing at night. I quipped that he was getting commission. Somewhere along the line I lost that jacket. That is a pity because it was fetching.

One evening we went to a restaurant sort of place that was showing Time Will Tell. This is a documentary about Bob Marley and it shows many interviews with the man himself. I had seen it 6 years earlier. These being the days before You Tube if you did not see something on telly it was difficult to see at all. The video was not easy to find. I sat on a wooden bench and two score tourists watched it too. Many of them had dreadlocks and tie die clothing. These were the sort of hippies who peopled Dharmasala. They exclaimed their approval every time they saw Bob inhaling wisdom weed.

Sususmu and I went for a walk in the woods one misty afternoon. The trail twisted away up the hill. There was a pine forest on one side and a bare dank hill on the other. Eventually we came to a placid pond. It would have been picturesque had there not been so much refuse floating on it. Sadly so much of India is like this. Waste disposal leaves much to be desired.

After a few days Susumu wanted to depart and I did not. So I escorted him to his coach and said farewell. I took his photo and we kept in touch by email. We have never met again. I would like to see him.

We have a bet that by 2019 a white American will be Dalai Lama. He said that and I wagered this will not happen. If I am wrong I have to come and work for him for a week. I cannot recall what he owes me/

He sent a round robin out a few weeks later boasting of tupping a hooker in Bangkok. ”She was sweet, sweet, sweet.”

I spent time on the internet after Susumu had gone. I looked up political parties websites. I chatted with a ponytailed Frenchman. He saw I was looked up the Ulster Unionists. ”Are you engaged to this party?” He meant – was I member. Oddly, I had grown timid about speaking French so we only spoke in English. We would have had more of a rapport had I spoken to him in his native tongue.

After about a week I decided to head on.

About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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