I paid a grand total of 10 Indian rupees (about 12p) for a roadside chai tea masala (with extra ginger please!) The cardamom circled my tongue and went down a treat. As we drank the sweet tea in little paper cups, under the star light – we were joined by an old man, who proudly told us that he was 70 years old.
His smile was crooked and his voice was soft and sounded like a nightingale’s song. After speaking with us for a maximum of 30 seconds, he touched my head and gave me his blessing. He then said, “tomorrow, you be here.”
“No, I’m sorry. We leave Amritsar tomorrow.”
“No, tomorrow, you be here.”
“No, sorry. We leave and go to Dharamshala tomorrow.”
“No, tomorrow you be here.”
He really wasn’t getting it, was he?
But before the 70 year old man got on his scooter and rode off into the moonlit side road in central Amristar, he touched my head once more, blessed my precious life, and said for the final time, “Tomorrow, you will be here.” He tapped his heart whilst saying this. “You will always be with me here.”
Today we venture further north to Dharamshala. It is in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains and it is a place both Mum and I are struggling to say. It is supposed to be Dar-am-shall-ah, but so far it has been Duh-haram, D-haram-salla, Daram-sall-shalla…
Yesterday Mum told Gobind, “We’re going to Dar-am-shlow-mo tomorrow.” — That is definitely not correct.
Dharamshala, Dharamshala, Dharamshala. We practice and laugh.
After a five hour drive, we arrived at our hotel in between upper Dharamshala and lower Dharamshala. I guess you could call it, ‘middle’ Dharamshala. (Man, I’ve said Dharamshala too much). It’s almost 3,000ft above sea-level and apart from the loud, barking dogs, it’s rather quiet. The place we are staying at seems more like a house than a hotel – it’s old Indian style – quite grand but in a ‘could-definitely-do-with-a-lick-of-paint’ kind of way.
We spent the afternoon hiking to upper Dharamshala. Mum got a bit cranky and did not appreciate my springy, hiking enthusiasm.
The nights are cold. Freezing in fact. After an Indian feast I returned to the chilly room to find that a kind member of staff had put a hot water bottle in my bed. Ah, they know the way to my heart.
February 28th saw us trek a different, more beautiful way to upper Dharamshala. We walked amongst yellow mustard flowers with splendid mountain views, admiring their snowy peaks. We were privileged to visit many temples and learn about 3 million facts regarding His Holiness The Dalai Lama (who lives in exile there). Our guide liked facts. He liked facts a lot.
Ever had rice pudding but instead of rice, it’s noodles? I have. Dinner was an intriguing, triumphant feast once again. The staff kept coming out with more and more, loading your plate with fabulous flavours. I thought it was fabulous anyway, however, a British man who sat opposite me would disagree. I soon learned that his name was Stan (his wife Barbara enjoyed saying his name after every sentence).
“I want fish. Where’s the fish?”
“There’s no fish, Stan.”
It was a silly idea to attempt a run really. After about 6 strides, 4 stray dogs were jumping up at me. They were skinny and looked hungry. I had a mild heart attack but did my best to stay calm. It took me right back to last year, in Indonesia and Thailand, when I had some awful experiences being alone with stray dogs. Breathe. Breathe. Close the gate. Of course, they jump over the gate. Breathe. Breathe. Back in the room. Alive. All good.
We venture to Pragpur today and will be staying in a place called The Judge’s Court. It’s in a Heritage Village and has a rich history. Founded about 3 centuries ago, Pragpur has held onto the essence of an earlier era – unchanged shops, cobbled streets, ornamental village tank, mud plastered and slate roofed houses. I hear that The Judge’s Court will be grand and have that ‘croquet on the lawn’ and ‘more tea Ma’am?’ kind of feel.