India Bound

Sunrise at 5.30 am Sunset at 7.05 pm

Location: Mussoorie and Delhi, India

Engaging in wild acts of exploration and inquisition.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tea time in the Himalayas

I have moved to the town of Mussoorie, which is 7,000 feet up in the Himalayas, where I am living in an Indian mountain lodge and attending the local language school. Mussoorie is only 90km from Delhi, roughing the distance from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, but it took us ten hours to get here as the roads are so awful and the hills so steep to climb. There are no traffic rules in India, lanes seem to merely be suggestions and people pass each other into oncoming traffic using horns to indicate narrowly-missed head on collisions. On the way up the hill, the car in front of mine broke down and rolled backwards until it hit ours, giving everyone a good shake. But honestly, sticking my head out the window to see thousands of feet down, I thought it was the most thrilling ride of my life.

We live in the clouds, half an hour above the town (to get down to town, you follow and intricate series of winding paths flanked by the most beautiful flowers) and the landscape reminds me of a mix of the Sierra Nevadas (Desolation Wilderness great pine trees) with the jungle and there are monkeys everywhere. Mussoorie is a town of about 30,000 and is a huge Indian tourist hotspot where everyone comes to escape the heat of the valley (the day we left Delhi it reached 115 degrees!). There is a main bazaar that branches off into other bazaars and so much good Nepalese and Chinese food (the best are these steamed vegetable buns called "momos"). Everyday at four we have tea time, which is masala chai and almond cookies and there is mango mango mango everything.

To get outfitted with Indian clothes (the salwar cameez, or punjabi suit, which is a loose long shirt over pants is much more practical than a saree) you can buy the outfit already made, or it is much cheaper (an a much more interesting experience) to go to a fabric store, pick out the fabric and then take it to a tailor who takes down your measurements and sews it for you. Yesterday a couple of us went to a fabric market where you chose a type of fabric, color and embroidery you like and then they proceed to bring out what seemed like hundreds of bolts of fabric like it. I settled for a sort of peach color with kashmir-syle embroidered flowers after much poking through zillions of different designs and colors.

It was an amazing experience, and to a certain extent makes you feel that you have more power as the consumer. Buying ethic is really interesting in India - upon seeing you are a westerner, prices are automatically inflated at least four times over, so it is the goal to bargain them down half way. This applies to everything - mangoes in the market to clothes and jewelry and is often very frustrating. After offering lower prices, sometimes shop keepers will get cross and say "have a good day madam" and turn their back on you. Its all very funny...

This morning was our first day of classes - we are attending the Landour language school which is in a small school right down the road from where we are staying. Class is from 8.20 -12.20 every day and is broken up into four classes, with a different teacher for each. Hindi is the first language that I have started off with from scratch, and so its interesting to wrap my mind around it. Learning the writing is a bit difficult, but the language is phonetic to pronounce - its all very interesting and the teachers are all very sweet.

It is quite chilly here... The thunder starts roaring around noon and then it begins to rain and rains all afternoon. We are literally living in the clouds, and so the mist comes and goes rapidly - one minute we can look over the hill into town and the next you can hardly see twenty feet in front of you. Every morning we go on small hikes through the woods and are confronted with families of monkeys who are very protective over the trash they find.

Three hundred miles of Himalayan mountains are before us, although it is often impossible to see them through the mist. After the intensity and exaustion of Delhi, it is absolutely satisfying to be here. If Delhi taught me to have a sense of humour about nearly everything, Mussoorie is teaching me to relax and breathe deeper the cold air.


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