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ciz&iz’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 06 Aug 2005

Location: Laddak, India

MapBagsu and back again at last....
Itís been a while since we have had the opportunity to write in the travel journal and a lot has happened so pay attention there in the back and fix yourself a cup of tea. The good news is that we are still alive and we are well so well done to all those betting for us in the sweep stakes. Still in India and we are in the sweet mountain town of McLeod Ganj, Dharmasala for the second time. It is a great place being home to Dali Lama and the soon to be elected Tibetan Government in exile. It is set in the beautiful Himalayan Mountains with its gorgeous woodland slopes and waterfalls, I wish I had a picture to show you but we lost all our photos we had of the area. The staff in these internet shops are never the most technically minded and well accidents happen, I guess, so next time. The area is of course full of Tibetans and Buddhist monks with their swanky starch pressed wine coloured designer robes. Itís a real tourist town snaking up the side of a mountain. The guest houses get cheaper the higher up but also more prone to the basic amenities being lost, also itís a hefty climb especially with yer rucksack on the fist day so surprised or not weíve made our nest happily at base camp level. Itís also like a little Israel. As far as I can tell Israelis donít travel. Instead they congregate in three towns in India and spend a few months there chilling their testosterone levels after their compulsorily tour of duty by smoking copious amounts of marijuana and trying to outdo each other in wearing retro hippy style clothing (we fit right in). Theyíre an alright bunch but so far hard to infiltrate as they tend to keep to themselves and not let outsiders in despite being an eclectic mix of races themselves. As long as they donít start building any walls through the town thatís fine by me (kidding).
Iz and I (Ciaran who being his turn to write the travel page and no thatís not why it took so long this time) spent a week here after Rishikseh. We met up with Brendy which was a great laugh (full power to ya Bendy). We were supposed to walk down to the main temple for the Dali lamaís birthday celebrations but being Monsoon, you know. It is said that when Buddha reached enlightenment the India Gods tried to spoil the day by sending heavy storms and it seems there has been no change in policy there. This day it rained and it rained and just when you thought it was going to break it got heavier. We sat under a porch in our hotel eating cake and drinking chai watching the monsoons best wondering if any one turned up for the birthday. I can just imagine the poor auld Dalai Lama sitting in front of this cake, with his cone hat, the only one there, poor chap. Bendy, Iz and I did some hiking around the beautiful landscape and saw some amazingly mystical waterfalls which I can only describe. Perhaps Brendy will be good enough to send us a photo. After a week we said good bye to the beautiful wet landscape of Himanchal Pradesh (this state) and traded it in for high altitude, cold desert (no oxygen) landscape of Laddak.
The bus to Leh (main city) is something in its own right. It takes two days across passes as high as 6,000 meters and really nothing to call a road (and Iím from Ireland). The teak the bus takes is a dirt path as wide as the bus winding around the sides of mountains. It goes so slow and bounces the whole way. Iím still amazed and a bit shaken by the way the bus managed to get by the trucks and many military conveys we would meet. Along the way the beautiful forests faded away and were replaced by the emptiness created by rock laden landscapes and barren mountain slopes. It was a long strenuous journey. The only soul you would see were the Dalit (lowest caste) road workers left in the middle of no where to clear away rock slides and fix the road where it had caved in. My heart goes out to those wretched (Charles Dickens word) men and women.
In Leh it was a different story. Where tourism goes life flourishes. Really itís amazing the difference. Tourism in Asia is the cash injection a local economy needs to get on its feet. Unfortunately the economies come to depend on tourism and it isnít long before youíre ordering an Israeli salad or English breakfast in a restaurant, but without tourism there would be no restaurant. The contrast in Indian towns is amazing. Towns without tourism are poor, dilapidated, dirty and often overcrowded. Those with it are lush, trendy and prosperous. Leh is a perfect example. The tourist areas are green with young trees representing the new growth. Little streams run along streets and often under buildings proving irrigation sourced form glaciers stacked upon the high peaks. Shops sell Tibetan and Buddhists artefacts. The old town looks like an archaeological dig, dry, dusty and run down. Great for doing the washing though, nothing stays wet for long.
While in Leh we got the chance to go and explore the surrounding valleys. Farmers a thousand years ago irrigated the valleys and in summer when the snow melts, itís beautiful to see the green barley fields set in steps with little stone walls contrasting the barren mountains and white peaks behind. For people here life is remote. A thousand years later and it feels like little has changed for them. Iz and I were lucky enough to meet a local man who brought us to villages were no westerner had gone before. An anthropologist would wet his pants at the thought. Amazing, but Iíll let the photos talk for themselves. For now its getting close to lunch time and Iíve written my share and i'm starting to get a pain in my arse from sitting here so long, so I'll talk to yeís laterÖ..Slan/Hej sa lange.