Getting into India proved an awful lot easier than getting into Pakistan. I cadged a lift with Mike, Tanja and Ipi in the 33 year old Mercedes van that they'd driven all the way from Austria. Crossed over the border at Wagah-Attari but managed to miss the border closing ceremony due to combination of pain-in-the-ass border officials and enjoying our first beers for a month. 15,000 people go to watch it on the Indian side alone and it felt like being at a football match with crowds streaming towards the border. The beers tasted good though. Well, the Tigers were good but the Hayward's 5000 which we picked up later was vile. Sounds like engine oil, tastes like engine oil, and about 9% to boot.
From the border we headed off to look for somewhere to park the van up for the night. Ended up on the side of a farmer's field. Beautiful place. The local farmers were very interested in who we were, and we paid them an extended visit in the morning, although not quite as extended as they wanted and they were very disappointed when we finally took off. I think they'd invited all the neighbours to come and meet their new guests. I did get to drive their tractor before we went though.
From there we headed up country towards Dharamsala, stopping off en route in Nurpur for the night. Nice temple, lots of monkeys, quite a few annoying kids and an early morning wake up call from a guy from the Indian Archaeological Survey to encourage us to move on.
We were parked right next to the fortress/temple complex. It was also at this point that I remembered my 'when I get to India' cigar that Karima had bought me, which I'd been carrying since home. So I sparked that bad boy up to celebrate.
From Nurpur it was a short hop to Dharamsala/McLeod-Ganj so we stopped off at some hot springs. Hiked a few kms as the bridge was still being built. Acquired some dogs that did their best to spook all the farm animals along the way. Local farmers were not impressed and I'm not sure our attempts to tell them that the dogs weren't ours were completely understood. Also met a bunch of Tibetan bikers from McLeod whose cafe we went along to when we got into town.
McLeod-Ganj is an old hill station which is now the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. A very traveller-heavy place and it was weird seeing lots of tourists for the first time in ages. The scenery is spectacular. The town rambles up the side of a steep hill with mountains in the background and loads of pine forests.
While in McLeod I thought I'd get down and spiritual by signing up to a course on Buddhism. 6 days of silence, abstinence and meditation at the Tushita Meditation Centre, at the top of the hill above McLeod.
Actually very interesting. While I might not really buy into any form of religion in a big way, I certainly found the meditation to be a worthwhile thing and I may well carry on doing it. While meditating you have to avoid two elements: dullness (i.e. thinking about nothing) and agitation (i.e. thinking about lots of random things). I'm simplifying massively here. I was almost totally devoid of dullness. Insert your own joke here please.
After 6 days all of us on the course were ready for a bit of fun so all met up at a bar back in McLeod for drinking, singing and (most importantly) TALKING!!! A great bunch of folks and a good night, so a lot of us did the same thing again the following night.
Today I'm off to Shimla Hill Station on the overnight bus. After almost 10 days in McLeod it feels a bit weird to be back on the road again.