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The Road to Dharamsala - The Road Trip | Print |
Written by Akiba   
Wednesday, 17 April 2013

I finally arrived in Delhi, India and the first thing I noticed was that immigration was opulent. I was a bit nervous because I was there on a tourist visa but had a huge amount of wireless electronics in my suitcase. If customs checked me, itís likely they would have confiscated most of the electronics and rendered the workshop useless. Luckily, they didnít and I was allowed to proceed to the exit. Customs always freaks me out, mostly because I usually have a lot of strange electronics gear in my suitcase.

It was now about 1am outside of the Indira Gandhi airport in New Delhi and it seems like India hits you like a ton of bricks. The sights, sounds, and smells are all in your face. Taxi drivers were all over the place trying to hustle me into their cabs. The first taxi driver quoted me 1200 rupees (~$24) to get to my airport hotel. After talking to multiple drivers, I got the price down to 400 rupees (~$8). After arriving at my hotel, the guy at the front desk said 200 rupees was on the high side to get to the hotel since it was right next to the airport. That kind of calibrated my expectations which meant that I was in a high ripoff zone. I later found out that itís to be expected for foreigners in Delhi.

I picked up Jacinta (JC) from the airport the next morning. She arrived to write a magazine piece on Dharamsala and the people behind Air Jaldi, the organizers of the workshop. We spent the day wandering around Delhi and mentally preparing for the road trip up to Dharamsala. Dharamsala was a 12 hour car ride away from Delhi at the base of the Himalayas in Northern India. It was in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh which almost borders Pakistan to the west, the Kashmir region to the north, and Tibet to the east.

The road trip was crazy. The first leg of the trip took us over hours of flatlands. New Delhi was a bizarre mashup of modern and traditional India, like seeing a horse drawn carriage next to a BMW in the street. There were also dogs and cows all over the place which I really enjoyed seeing. As we went further north, it became more and more rural. We passed through the state of Haryana and then into Punjabi. All the while, I was marveling at how the women could wear such beautiful clothes and still work the fields in searing heat.

The final leg of the road trip was when we entered Himachal Pradesh. From there, the roads gradually became narrower and narrower until we hit single lane dirt roads. I had thought the driver was taking us on a shortcut to get to Dharamsala but he said it was the main road. Ha ha ha. I half expected to die in a head-on collision on the way up there, but the drivers in India work together and follow some unspoken protocol which relies on the car horn. Oncoming traffic magically moves out of the way at the last second and a series of short beeps from both cars honk out a thank you and youíre welcome message.

The mountain climb to Dharamsala made me thankful that we had a skilled driver. The roads were narrow, single lane, and partially paved. They also had steep inclines where oncoming traffic would suddenly pop out from around a corner. Monkeys would sit on the side of the highway sunning themselves while watching oncoming traffic.

When we finally arrived at Dharamsala, we found out that we werenít staying at the original location which was a hotel in the nearby town of McLeod-Ganj. Instead, we were put up in two rooms at the Tibetan Childrenís Village (TCV) in Upper Dharamsala. It turned out to be very fortunate because both JC and I fell in love with TCV as we spent time there. Every morning, weíd wake to the sounds of children singing and doing morning Buddhist prayers and chants. They were always playing near our rooms as well and gave a sense of life to everything.

The Tibetan Childrens Village is a Tibetan boarding school and orphanage founded by the sister of the current Dalai Lama in 1964 for Tibetan refugee children who were either orphaned or were sent to escape from Tibet by their parents. They teach a traditional Tibetan education including reading and writing in both Tibetan and English, Tibetan culture and history, and mathematics. I could actually write a few pages on TCV, but if youíre interested, Iíd recommend checking it out on the internet. Me and some others are currently tossing around the idea of doing a popup makerspace there in 2014.
 
I guess thatís about it for the road trip. Next up is the main workshop.

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