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Part 3

                              The Ordeal to Dharmsala

      

          Well I was dutifully met at Jammu airport by another small Indian and his hustler assistant that insisted on carrying both my big, 50 lb suitcase AND heavy computer/camera case all the way to the car outside, bracketed by more armed Indian Army types. A bigger and official looking white Tourist Van this time. The hustler, which, as soon as I was in the car, hit me up for a fee for carrying my bags. I gave him two dollar bills – 90 rupees worth – and he complained, so gave him three. Clearly not part of the prepaid car cost. Just a helpful airport hustler. I could have carried and rollered everything.

My Driver  "Horn Please!" Crowded Roads

          Downing and his wife got in a second, identical car. And yet a third conference attendee supposed to be on the flight was being looked for to occupy yet a third car. All three cars going to the same place over the rated 5 hour trip. The concept of doubling up where there was room was obviously disregarded. Much less chatting with fellow travelers the long ride. Anything for a buck – including the travel agent’s commission for arranging those separate cars.

          Now the fee for the car to take me to Dharmasala – rated at 5 hours up the mountain roads for the last third of it – was $100 US.

          Good madman driver (they all are, and horns and switching light dimmers are a universal language of their own) started out at 2:30 PM at breakneck speed through incredible crowded honking Jammu city streets and ‘avanues.’ Jam packed. EVERY road is occupied by at least as many large honking high body trucks, ornately decorated with Indian motifs, as modern smaller cars, AND by three wheel jouncy gas engine vehicles, AND by bicylists, AND by walking pedestrians in the roadway, who dash across the road during traffic. (I thought I saw one light signal the whole way) AND by both slowly driven field tractors, AND by one horse pulled flat bed with the owner standing up driving the reins. Cars AND trucks darting in and out of traffic, cutting each other off, getting three abreast in one direction while the very, very bad, rough roadway is just two lane, with appropriate horn blowing, dashing around trucks in the face of oncoming traffic. Often as not, the Trucks, Busses have a sign on their back that says “Honk me!” I’m not kidding. Its INVITED. And doing that right into the black of night

          But with a large, endless road upgrade project, there were so many traffic jams, traffic going one way stopping for up to 30 minutes, not because it is well directed by soldiers or police, but because the roadway gets jammed and trucks just press through on narrow bridges so the other direction has to stop – for 20 or more minutes! Drivers jumping out of their cars joking ahead and muttering to themselves. With NO helpful signs of any time except big green ones “Diversions” meaning detours. All India is a roadway detour, I concluded.

          Bedlam. Cars whizzing past each other with their car mirrors only inches from each other routinely. Only one accident spotted. A big high piled truck tipped over when it got too high on work-dirt piled high beside the road. (All construction dirt piled up is put right in the roadway, constricting the road to one operating lane. Nobody cares. Driver’s problem.

          It took 3 hours to get out of  the city of Jammu! And it was black dark by 6,  while we then hit stretches of good paving but still very narrow, while all the OTHERS were still in the roadway – without lights of course. Asian cattle in the road just doing their own thing, untended, one herd of tended sheep but no lights. Speeds up to 60 mph for stretches. Big dips in the road with fast stops. Broken macadam 75% of all the way. Evidence of ‘modernizing’ the larger roads, with divided highways – but taking, I am sure, years to get done. No Cosmix or CDOT efforts during contruction in Colorado Springs to keep the traffic moving. Catch as catch can.

          Billion people India.

          I actually lay down and slept on the rear seat, using a blanket the driver had for over two hours total.  Bending my glasses of course. And bending them back later with my heart in my mouth that they would not snap off. Without breaking.

One piss break at outdoor urinals in an outdoor,, many boothed marketplace, all lighted with small yellow bulbs,  at a toll road (into the next ‘state’) stop. Haggling over the toll.

 

Indian 7/11

          I couldn’t see the signs well but the roadway itself got, for at least half the distance for 3 hours, well maintained, good signs. I THINK it was in Punjab State. They have their roadway act together comparatively to the state which surrounds Jammu.

          Over rivers, few running with much water, but obviously flood plain. And ALL piled high with water borne disgusting trash. Nobody cleans up riverbanks.

          Then we started climbing up from perhaps 200 feet elevation – which I thought all India was, toward Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills, over roads with washouts, construction sites with equipment parked willy-nilly all night long. Unguarded. Rough dirt stretches, some pavement stretches, mad men driving scores of steep upgrade hair pin turns, not a one of which would meet US highway mountain driving standards. But all crowded. Honking and getting past each other as fast as possible. With incessant shifting of gears. Which is why European made cars are so small but sporty. Le Mans all the way.  There are NO slow or cautious drivers in India!

          Some Japanese cars, many Indian made ‘TaTa’ their big GM, dominating, both trucks and cars, a very few European like Mercedes, and just a sprinkling of American. One in 100 what I would could ‘luxury.’

          Long tortuous way up, bumpy, madcap, potholed, washed out, all the way. A thousand 90 degree or greater turns. Didn’t arrive until 9:40 PM, when we were scheduled to be there by 7:30 PM. Seven incredible hours. But, like most drivers in India, not reckless, just fast pressing like a road rally race. And no dents in the car.

          So except for twinkling lights on the ridges, I saw little while getting there after dark. Not until morning did I see we were in mountains most like the ones around Central City, Black Hawk and the ‘Oh My God Road.’ Near Route 6.

The Cozy Neighborhood where the Dalai Lama lives
Ornate buildings in downtown Dharamsala, outside the Monestary

 

Me on the street, Prayer wheels behind me Young Novice Monks Downtown Women at the Prayer Wheels

 

Part 4

                                        Hiking Tour Day

 

          Today was Sunday, October 22, 2006. Dealer’s choice, but for those game, one of three tours. First one was largely to be a very strenuous 6 hour hike to ‘see’ the deployment of Mesh antennas on the surrounding hills. I’ve seen plenty of antennas, in harder places (Mt. Everest) so I declined that one. Third one was largely by bus mostly to see tourist sights. The Second one which I opted for would be – they promised – ‘no hills to climb’ and about 5 hours. Would include some mountain views, some downtown antennas on buildings, and a closer look at the Monastery and Dalai Lama’s home.

          That tour started in the Tibetan’s Children Village complex – TCV – whose very large (1,000 seats – benches to sit on actually – auditorium would be the venue for the entire conference.) I will present there tomorrow afternoon. In the back hallway lots of computers, connected to the Internet were set up so conferees attending could connect up to their homes. I was able to connect via their wireless mesh network. My id and password imprinted on a plastic card identifier on a cord around your neck – sort of like 1st Graders having their name cards on strings around their neck – not considered mature enough to remember their own parents names and addresses.

 It was from that Conference center, in a hurried fashion, I sent all the first four reports. And unfortunately as the tour was going to start at 10:30, I had to haggle the hotel staff for a half hour to get a taxi ride to the Dal-Lake stop, from which I then had to do an exhausting climb of stone stairs walking a half mile that way JUST to get to the auditorium and start my email before the tour started. Little time. I had no choice if you in Colorado were to see any of the earliest pictures, to dump all of them in your email as attachments (one batch being 12 megabytes). Sorry about that.

          The Tibetan Children’s Village – TCV – is very interesting. It was created to house and school both Tibetan Orphans, and semi-‘orphaned’ children whose parents are still in Tibet, got their children into India and away from the Chinese, even while they themselves have to stay there in Tibet. To give their children a better future.

          TCV supports over 2,000 Tibetan expatriate children. Not all of them are at this Dharamsala school and extensive complex. Perhaps 400+ are here. They have many other centers.

The wireless mesh by the non profit Tibetan Technology Center to the Internet supports centrally  that facility, and all its staff and children, who appear to range from 1stgrade to 12thor so. And the Center supports, to at least 2,000 computers in a 60km radius,  with 30 locally made routers, local schools and non profit organizations.  In return the TCV gives the Center small facilities from which to operate and office its small staff.

The extensive wireless Mesh network is not an ‘open’ community network for just anyone with a wireless computer. One has to have an id and password to get in. There are separate, commercial, ‘Cybercafes’ also in the local area. 

          More about the Tibetans in India later.

          So Tour #2 with about 25 of us, started out. First offered bottled water, bananas and fruit to carry along – at least until the lunch. I already had mine with me in the pack I bought to carry my laptop and assorted stuff.

          Poor old Malcom Matson from London, whom I met in Djursland, Denmark in 2005 and has a ‘business’ orientation toward wireless and the Internet (got screwed out of his business by rapacious British Telecom – worst than Qwest if you can believe it) is about 68 years old. Not in great shape. Joined the Tour at the last minute, after Yahel Ben-David (Israel) the main geek with the wireless mesh said there would be no ‘hill climbs.’

          Immediately the Tour guide who is part of the organization, started us up stone stairs and rock paths at least 300 elevation feet as bad as the first half mile of Barr Trail – which is really the toughest short stretch. Malcom was hurting all the way. But he made it to the first overlook high in the trees. I did ok, though it was strenuous.

 First stop was a stand of very tall ‘Himalayan Cedar’ trees. Famed for their hard wood.  And also a place with a maze of Buddhist  Prayer flags tied at least 10 feet off the ground between the trees. A holy place.  Like hundreds of colored prayer flags maintained by devout individual Buddhists who live in the region.     

And below them was the first hand piled up rock and stone ‘Stupa’ below them I had seen. I thought Stupas were always made carefully with mortar, paint, and structure, about 15 feet high. Like the picture of me up in Namche, Nepal two years ago. No way. Many are obviously put in the wilderness just out of rocks piled up in pyramid shape, with prayer flags around them. But just as holy, as the constructed ones – four of which are inside the Monastery.

          After lots of questions we then trekked about for two hours to various scenic overlooks of the deep gorged valleys, and built up places that were increasingly ‘religious’ the closer you got to the monastery.

The Holy Lake On the guided trail through the sacred cedar trees Rock Stupa beneath hanging religious flags

          I was unable to buy a good ‘walking stick’ for such trekking. Really miss mine. My climbing boots are fine, but the well worn paths that crisscross the entire area, are very uneven and rocky.

          We passed a bunch of unmolested monkeys on the trail – which seem to be pests for the techies, because they screw around with the antennas in the trees, steal the wires, and otherwise interfere with the network in the woods. And just wander about close to homes.

          Finally we reached what I could call a wilderness rural ‘strip mall’ of India. One street thick with shops on both sides, perched on the side of a steep hill. We then entered a shop and climbed steep dark stairs to look from the roof, at one of the ‘antennas’ for the mesh network, which served the organization downstairs and its computers.

Disappointment when I took out my wireless laptop I had lugged all that way, and could not connect! As the guides told us – well that antenna is a was a point to point encrypted radio only to serve the computers in the shop below. NOT to be accessed from portable devices, like from the street! All along the bragging about the wireless network which connected ‘2000 computers’ around Dharamsala had given the impression to all there was a full scale OPEN ‘community network’ there. Not really. Free to those in those organizations, with the backbone Infrastructure being wireless mesh, not fiber or lan wires.  

          Then we walked through the street mall – and beginning rain (I was able to buy an umbrella to protect my Sony Cam, for only 140 rupees – about $4) to a restaurant, where we were served up a nice meal – all 25 of us – and really got to talk to each other (all very technologically accomplished as all were either speakers or panelists for the next 4 days.) From this list

 

I got to renew acquaintance with both Pavan Shakya, who, as a Nepalese who works for Worldlink, big ISP in Nepal, accompanied me on my trek to Namche on the Mt Everest path, three years ago.

And Mahibar Pun, the OTHER Nepalese who has an impressive wireless network of his own, 100 miles west of Kathmandu in the – more or less – lower foothills.

I am afraid Tsering Sherpa may not make it. He emailed me that weather stopped his flight from Lukla, (two days hike down from Namche) to Kathmandu in Nepal, and thus probably won’t get to the Conference. He was to be on one panel discussion. I’ll have to fill in for him. Rats.

I got to talk to many who knew me only from afar – and for more than 20 years. I am well known, that’s a fact. And chatted with strangers who are tech journalists,  digital media creators, one ‘non-profit support’ New York start up funding capital manager. A Filipino tech woman who was delighted I knew (classmate) Fidel Ramos a star of the Philippines.  A very eclectic bunch.

I also chatted with two men who told me (I am in the habit of starting conversations with everyone in groups like this I don’t know, where are they from, and what they are famous for) they came from the Indian State of Punjab. Who were Sikh’s. I complemented them on the obvious (to me at least) better maintained roads and traffic signs I encountered on the Ordeal from Jammu. They were flattered and confirmed that indeed, Punjab has its road infrastructure act together. That I was right, the roads ARE better in Punjab, than in the rest of India. That Punjab was headed (like a governor) by a ‘military man.’ Which figgers. And something I had not known, that Sikh started as a ‘secular’ religion. 

Then we headed, after everyone refreshed their water bottles and recovered from the hike, to the place we all were looking forward to – the Tibetan Buddhist Monastery where the Dalai Lama lives, prays, and tends his faithful – and is known world wide.

Photos in the Museum - which never forgets The Retreating Tibetens who fled to India with the Dalai Lama The Story of the Chinese Invasion

We first saw the Museum that Chronicles the 1950 (the very month I was fighting in Korea!) invasion of Tibet by the Chinese. Which ultimately forced the Dalai Lama and all his close followers – at least 10,000 – out of Tibet into India. Where they have been ever since – with a ‘Tibetan Government in Exile’ in and around Dharamsala. Which, because I was fighting the Chinese from the Korean War side, while the defenseless pacifist Tibetans and monks were resisting from the other side. Even though there had been a ‘negotiated’ agreement between the Lama and Mao Zedong (and Deng Xiaoping) to share power with the religious government of Tibet, headed by the Dalai Lama, from 1951 to 1959. But a brutal repression of Tibetans by the Chinese in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, caused the Tibetans to rise up. The Chinese Army put down the uprising ferociously. That forced a mass exodus. Many thousands of Tibetans loyal to the Dalai Lama and Buddhism and called Tibet home,  died during the tough exodus during the harsh, 20,000 foot Himalayan winter, into northern India.

The museum vividly chronicles that sad story in spades, with pictures, panels, paintings and text. (Sorry Haning, millions of people who know that story, and the hundreds of thousands who visit the Monastery and its museum, have never forgiven the Chinese for their invasion, or buy into the Chinese contention that Tibet was ‘originally’ part of China. Trying to justify the take over, repression and driving of the Dalai Lama and the entire government out of  Tibet. As a matter of fact, neither have I. I am convinced it was, and still is, just a land grab for ‘lebensraum.’ And to top things off, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, rampaging Chinese Red Guards sacked the Buddhist temples, destroyed thousands of years of scrolls, sacred texts, Tibetan religious art, in a futile effort to teach the Buddhist Tibetans a lesson in the superiority of Chinese Marxist culture.

As a consequence, from the Chinese-condemning Resolutions by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959, 61, and 65,  many non profit ‘support’ foundations, including one big one in Dharamsala, donate, and do many things to support the place, the monks and people, the memories (of the 14 Reincarnated Dalai Lamas)  and their religious culture. Which is centered right here. The holiness of the place is palpable all around the region. I have attached some pictures, including from inside the Temple. And saw many a pilgrim prostrate himself before the altar and large Buddha Image, some from outside, on mats and wooden sleds.

It was clear, although no one talks about it, for security and privacy reasons, that the Dalai Lama was ‘present’ in his quarters right there, which we could approach and photograph from the outside. With a surprising relaxed atmosphere surrounding it  - no armed guards. And gentle, English speaking older orange robbed monks walking about, some carrying religious rolled up scrolls and meditating, or tending the thousands of little flame candles burning inside glasses in enclosures. All with smiling faces and easy to talk to. Relaxed.

The Tibetan Children Village folk are such a part of that – and its high tech wireless Internet that the Dalai Lama himself personally supports - that the kids just seem to see as ordinary everyday stuff. Very high tech communications in an ancient culture. Now taken for granted

Now while the government of India accepted the Tibetans who fled in 1950 and 1959 and gave them what amounts to green-card visa status, those Tibetans cannot legally own property, and their children born in India do not become Indian citizens. No hostility toward them, as political ‘immigrants’ even though India is largely Hindu. They get along peacefully. Many Tibetans work very hard to get their children into India, mostly via Nepal, so they can be accepted by the school and get educated. Situational orphans, mixed in with thousands of real orphans. (though we passed handfuls of beggars in the strip malls, whom I started giving coin to in their cups, I saw not one urchin child. Unlike large parts of Latin America and Africa. They care for their children.   

I was  aware that one custom for anyone approaching the Dalai Lama himself, in the form of a greeting, may give him a pure silk white shawl as a sign one’s motives are pure. And as often or not, he gives back the proffered shawl.

While I was shopping yesterday, I decided that I was going to buy such a shawl. Whether or not I had a chance to meet him face to face or not. As is also the custom, one can give it to a monk to give it to him, as a token of respect.

The very fine white silk shawl I got cost over 3,000 Rupees (at 45 rupees a dollar) $70 dollars. And several in our group who touched it agreed it was of the finest make. They knew the custom and got the point. And was surprised at this old soldier, in the midst of as a pacifist a culture as exists anywhere in the world.

 

After I inquired into how I could get it to him, a smiling monk let out the secret that the Lama himself was going to visit the Tibetan Children’s Village ‘tomorrow’ It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out, that since he had, in writing, greeted the AirJaldi Conference warmly before it happened, I would NOT be surprised if he makes an unannounced (for security’s sake) appearance tomorrow at the opening ceremonies. I do not expect to be able to approach him, and would want to film or digital snapshot him, but that shawl will be given to one of his monk assistants, or the Dalai Lama himself, one way or another.

 

The Holy Temple For the Dead The Dalai Lama's Residence - quite approachable

Until tomorrow.  

  

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