I am very excited as I write this, under the electric light, with my laptop plugged in and recharging - we have electricity - it came back!! The power went off Sunday morning, made a brief reappearance for a couple of hours that evening, then disappeared without trace until twenty minutes ago; it's Wednesday evening. Add to this the fact that it had been raining constantly for two and a half days, and you will understand my exuberance. I will admit I have been going a little bit stir crazy. The rain has hampered my plans to visit the nearby attractions (quite literally, as the roads have been closed, including the one to Manali, had I wanted to cut my losses and beat a retreat). If the power had been on I'd have happily spent my time working on my photos, and doing other computer-based activities. If the sun had been out, the lack of electricity would have been less of an issue as I'd have been out doing stuff - but both together have been a little trying. Anyway, the sun came out a few hours ago, and for the time being at least I am able to recharge my phone, laptop, camera batteries and ipod. I can have a shower, as the electric water heater is working (15 degrees is too damned cold for a cold shower!); tonight I don't have to read by candle light and go to sleep at nine!
So other than moaning about the weather and electricity, what have I been doing since I got here? Well I've been enjoying the hospitality of the Mandala Hotel, a most welcoming place. My new friend Songam Lamo, aged eleven, had me hula-hooping in the restaurant my first day here, and has been showing me the stories and poems she writes in English - her English is better than most adults' that I've met in India. Her younger sister, Tanzen Zompa, is as cute as the proverbial button. She's about three, and is often found wandering around the place with her hands in her pockets and her jeans falling down. Today, while she was playing excitedly with a pink balloon (balloons are her favourite thing in the whole world), hopping from leg to leg, spinning round, falling down and making odd squeaky noises, I realized that she reminds me of Po, that cutest of all the Telly Tubbies.
Sunday I put aside as my day of rest, acclimatising to the altitude . . . plus it was a tad overcast, so I thought I'd leave the pictures until the following day - of course if I knew then what I know now . . .! I emailed home from the expensive and slow Internet cafe to let my folks know I got here okay, and checked the time of the bus to Tabo for the following day - 0730. I woke up nice and early on Monday, and looked out of the window - where had the mountains gone? They were obscured by clouds, and I as looked a few drops of rain hit the window. Never mind, I thought, it'll probably clear up in an hour or so. I dressed - but not in anywhere near enough clothes - grabbed my umbrella and set off for the bus stand, which is only 30 seconds away from my hotel.
The bus journey there was a tad on the bumpy side, but generally not too uncomfortable - save for the fact that I was shivering with the cold and rather damp, but that was undoubtedly my fault, not the bus's. I'd bought my ticket from the booth before I got on, being issued with the prime seat number 10 - just behind the door, whit plenty of legroom. The seat next to me was occupied by various people during the two hour journey, including one lady wearing a grey shawl, who appeared to have a hunchback . . . until she slid the shawl off and out popped a tiny baby, so well wrapped that his cheeks squashed his little nose. I was sat on the less interesting side of the bus as far as scenery goes, so I had little to take my mind off how cold I felt - I had warm clothes in the room, why the hell wasn't I wearing them?
Tabo was something of a disappointment for me - I know that this was largely to do with the rain. Zoom lenses and rain are really not a good mix, and trying to balance my umbrella and take pictures was tricky, to say the least. The brolly kept getting tangled in my hair and collapsing about my head, as I shivered my way around the outside of the monastery. It is the insides of the mud and straw boxy buildings that make the monasteries particularly notable, as they are decorated with elaborate paintings of various Buddhas (there have been many Buddhas, although Shakyamuni, commonly referred to historical Buddha, is the one most of us think of), plus boddhisatvas and demons. Photography is not allowed, and the lack of electricity meant that the illustrations were barely visible. I wandered round, seeing as much as the low light allowed, and then wondered what I was going to do to kill the time until the return bus at two thirty.
The limestone hills above Tabo have a number of caves that are used for meditation by monks. Whilst in the monastery grounds I'd spotted some people up there, so I thought I'd go check them out. I made my way to the road, which the caves overlook, and then tried to figure out how to get up there. I walked a way without seeing any obvious access route, so I decided to ask a dog for directions. I've been doing this since Manali, when I asked a cute little puppy if he knew of any available rooms - he led me straight to Chandra Cottages, which is where I stayed (and the puppy lived). I saw a likely suspect sitting on a pile of gravel, and politely asked him how to get up to the caves. He looked at me for a while, no doubt translating the English into Hindi, and the Hindi into Dog, then nodded his nose in the direction I should go. Sure enough, just a minute later, I found the path I was looking for.
It led up first to an irrigation channel, then on through a most definitely human toilet area (Spiti seems to be the Land that Toilets Forgot; they are very few and far between here), on past a graveyard for unwanted clothes, shoes and schoolbags, and then turned into a civilised, paved path, which zigzagged up to the caves. The caves were . . . well, caves, with prayer flags strung outside. I tried to drum up some enthusiasm for the view of the town and monastery, but the drizzle made it difficult. I made my way back down, had some food, and waited for my bus home.
I was lucky enough to get seat 10 again going back - which this time was on the more scenic side of the bus - also the side nearer the precipice. Somehow though, I seem to have developed the perfect attitude about such journeys - and if I can translate this attitude to life in general, I'll be a much happier person. Whether or not the bus crashes is independent of me worrying about it . . . so why worry? Instead I looked up at the scenery, and enjoyed the views. I did occasionally look down, and play a light-hearted game of certain death or probable death, should the bus leave the road, but I didn't feel scared at all. Most unlike me.
An hour or so into the journey the bus pulled to a halt, and the conductor leapt up with an anxious look on his face, and rushed to the door, leaping out. Oh dear, I thought, something must be up with the bus. A passenger jumped up and followed suit - then another man alighted, and another - ahh, I thought, impromptu toilet stop. What's sauce for the goose and all that, I'd been needing to go for a while!
When I got back to my room I put on almost all the clothes I had - seven layers in total. I went downstairs to get some dinner, and Songam Lamo laughed at me for wearing so many clothes. "But it's summer!" she giggled. Admittedly it gets down to an almost unimaginable -30 degrees centigrade here - and no central heating! They must be a hardy lot. That night I shivered under two duvets (it's a blessing that they have proper duvets here, with clean covers - in most places you get a dry-clean-only blanket, which is invariably blackened with filth. I refuse to go anywhere near them).
The next day was, if anything, wetter than the last, and I felt sniffly and chilled from my outing to Tabo. The power was off, so I couldn't have a hot shower to warm me up, so I had a duvet day. I had a read of my Nepal guidebook, and learnt that the penalty for killing a cow in Nepal is the same as that for killing a person; while I am much less likely to be sexually harassed there, I have a much greater chance of picking up something nasty from dirty sheets; a chest infection from the pollution in Kathmandu is almost guaranteed; and there's a high likelihood of getting nibbled on by leeches or malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Deep joy!
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