By Leona Thomas
India is a melting pot of cultures and in and around Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj) Lord Shiva gives the Tibetan Gods a run for their money.
My massage friend announced one day that it was the perfect day to do a fire ceremony with Lord Shiva. We had to write on paper all the things that we needed to forgive. And the ceremony ended with us burning those papers. It was intense.
Heavy rain came lashing down but we were sheltered outside. Still, that night I had a problem.
I woke up with severe stomach pain and was groaning. A Spirit voice told me I had a chill. So I threw my hot water bottle out of bed and bravely turned the electric blanket on. I don't like electric blankets at all. I figured that only a madman would leave it switched on whilst sleeping in India! But I felt like I was dying anyway so I plugged it in and braced myself. Eventually all that toasty heat got rid of my pain and I slept like a baby.
The valley was beautiful but my mini flat had no heating. I could cook in the tiny kitchen and that was a blessing because there were days when there was ice on my flat roof. But no matter what I did I just couldn't get warm.
I discovered that boiling water really wasn't that hot. My glass of water would be steaming so I would leave it there to cool down. A few minutes later the steam was still wild but the water was just tepid.
I had the same problem in the bathroom. The shower would create loads of steam so I assumed it was very hot. But this wasn't so. I would brave the steam only to find cold water freezing my body
I don't know what the temperatures were inside my rooms but I was unable to warm my body up when walking down to the main town.
So I took matters into my own hands.
I decided to take my hot water bottle everywhere I went. I would stuff it inside my fleece jacket and then put more layers of clothes on over the top.
This plan worked perfectly but one day I got caught out.
The man at the Dharamkot Tea Shop invited me in to the kitchen to sit in front of the fire with him. I had to tell him that I couldn't fit through the gap between the wall and the counter because my hot water bottle made me too fat.
The man thought I was joking so he made me prove what I was saying. When I unwrapped my hot water bottle for inspection his face was incredulous! From that day on he would always ask if I had my baby with me.
Eventually the weather warmed and a villager taught me a new way to brush my teeth. He did it in the best possible way - he led by example! I watched as he walked through the fields brushing so vigorously and for so long that foam was spilling from his mouth!
In England we are not so adventurous. We must have a sink. And if that is not a bathroom sink don't let your Mother see you.
It felt liberating to stand on the flat roof brushing my teeth. I also wandered off down the country road and stood near the trees, bravely brushing. I kept my eyes firmly on the road so I wouldn't see any monkeys who might be above me.
Meanwhile, the warmer weather brought a new entertainment.
The local monkeys would come to our village 3 times a week and swoop down on our yellow mustard fields.
These were well coordinated raiding parties. And the village women were ready for them!
The ladies would wait nearby and pick up big stones, threatening to throw their missiles, whist making strange whooping noises. Most of the monkeys would scamper back to the cover of the trees.
And then storm off down the roadside to take their frustration out on the tourists who were beginning to trickle in for the beginning of low season.
It was time for me to leave. Nepal was calling. But I had yet to meet the star attraction of Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj). It was 2012 before the stars aligned and brought us together....
The Final Instalment
Dharamsala - The Dalai Lama at last