One month later and I still haven't made it to Kinnaur and Spiti, as every time I was on the verge of leaving I met someone and was enticed to go elsewhere. But such is travel in India (or perhaps travel in general)--I've come to realize that the true purpose of plans is to provide something for fate to completely overturn. If I had the courage to travel with no plans at all, then why, I'm afraid I might just become a true traveler and never reach home again.
So now I'm in the hippie haven of Dharamshala. Here the travelers truly do outnumber the locals, especially during the high season (I arrived smack in the middle of it) and the locals are taking full advantage of it. All streets within a two mile radius of the bus stand in McLeodganj are chock-a-block with restaurants, bookstores, and shops selling all sorts of hippie paraphernalia, from "fisherman pants" and colorful shawls to crystals and chillums. Frustratingly, I haven't actually *done* anything here or been able to overcome my scepticism thoroughly enough to try out one of the many courses offered here. From yoga to reiki to palmistry to silversmithing, it's possible to find any sort of "alternative" course which an enlightened (or perhaps just seeking enlightenment) traveler could want. Looking back on it, I still can't say exactly what I've been doing here, but the time somehow passed all the same. And like Kathmandu, this place exerts some strange force that keeps travelers here weeks after they originally planned to leave and gets stronger the longer you stay. It seems the only way to break free is to pack up and, with no plan whatsoever, walk into McLeodganj and board the first bus going anywhere.
I should be putting such a plan into action very soon, as I finally have the incentive of limited time to get my lazy bum out of here and back on the road. I've booked two plane tickets for the eighth of June that will eventually bring me back to Estonia and hopefully a more fruitful existence, at least for a while. After having good birch-twig beating in a much longed-for sauna, getting a taste of Parnu's beach, and experiencing the exuberant Estonian celebration of the summer solstice, I'll see about WWOOFing through the newly created WWOOF Estonia and then have a look at the rest of Eastern Europe that I didn't get to see last time I was in the area. I'm so excited!
Now for some pictures from my latest wanderings, however infrequent they've been.
After Shimla, rather than venturing to Kinnaur and Spiti, I found a trekking companion at the last minute and hopped in a bus for the little heard-of destination of Jibhi. The village itself consists of maybe twenty houses clustered at a bend in a one-way road, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Jibhi itself had a few modern conveniences (one very slow telephone service and an unfinished bank), but the surrounding villages were remarkably untouched. The pictures can do it more justice than more words, however.
Some friends met on the road:
Women proudly showing off their newly born livestock:
Here's a man I encountered on a day-hike, who herded his flock over to the base of the waterfall where we were sitting and then proceeded to haul the sheep one by one into the water and scrub them clean. The goats (producers of cashmere, as I later found out) were spared and, like us, were able to simply look on with amusement.
A woman spinning the traditional way, with the spindle supported in a carved bowl strapped to her waist. I actually managed to buy a few handmade spindles like this one when I was there, and plan to try them out when I get home. The long-handled bowl is a good idea, as it allows her to spin while walking and (presumably) herding sheep as well. I was told that in this area the men also know how to spin.
The view from Triund, a high ridge few hour's walk from Dharamshala. We stayed the night in a shepherd's hut up there and woke up to bleating of the hundreds of sheep who had hunkered down around the hut during the night. Quite a strange experience.
And last of all, another class of friends, brought out the torrential rainstorms we've been having here:
I found a truly monstrous one of these at my guesthouse a day or so ago and was crouched down admiring its bulk when one of the guys who works there discovered me. I'm still disposed to think he was pulling my leg, but he told me quite seriously that when someone breaks a bone here in Himachal, it's custom for his family to try to feed him some slug without his knowing it, usually in the form of soup. Supposedly, it helps with healing. Urrrgh! And this is the man who does all the cooking there! That was enough to put me off soup for a good while.