Today I saw the Dalai Lama!

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Mon Apr 30, 2001 7:42am
Subject: Today I saw the Dalai Lama!

We’ve now finally hit upon some clean fresh air again, in McLeod Ganj – Dharamsala. But quite thin though, even at only 1800 meters. New Delhi depressed the hell out of me, first I had to wait for my friend Trude to arrive, then we waited for our Chinese visas to come through. It was 44 centigrades and extremely dusty. I was happy to see the Indian Himalayas yesterday, while sitting/laying on the roof of a speeding bus dodging powerlines and low branches.

I have some difficulties breathing in this altitude and I’m quite dizzy all the time. Think maybe my long lost asthma is acting up again, I will have to take it easy, and just see how it develops. On top of this the room has wet spots on the walls, the owner has built his guesthouse with only a flat concrete roof. Not very good against rain. I’ll probably have to move, the stale air is not good for me.

Tomorrow I’ll do a dry run on trekking in higher altitude, I’ll walk up to the snow line at around 3500 meters. The weather is very nice today, I just hope it will be the same tomorrow during the first big trek.

Sitting under a tree by India Gate

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Sat Apr 21, 2001 10:23am
Subject: Sitting under a tree by India Gate

Next to me on the bench is a local guy who doesn’t speak much English. I guess that in a big metropolis like this people have other sources of income, which don’t require them to communicate with us tourists. I noticed the Norwegian flags all over the park and asked him if he knew why they were there. He had no idea what I was talking about, so I pointed out the red pieces of cloth with white and blue cross, hanging from all the light posts – waving in the wind. He didn’t know. We kept on chatting for a while, during which a beggar came crawling up to us. I shook my head and told the beggar I didn’t have any coins – and my new friend on the bench made it very clear to him by yelling something in Hindi. The beggar crawled further on his way. Some monkeyboys came running to us as well. I don’t know whatever their deal is; but these assholes were all over the park, keeping monkeys in a tight leash and dressing them up as people. My best guess is some kind of freak entertainment and torture show. I don’t really support animal cruelty so I waved them away too. The man on the bench assisted me in translating the following words to Hindi: bike, tree, water and fountain. I’ve forgotten all about it now of course. I bid him goodbye on his own language (something resembling the ultra imperial “cheerio”) and went walking down the path towards the monument.

India Gate has a striking resemblance to the Arc de Triumph in Paris; and is situated at the far end of the Rajpath Parade Street, the street leading down from the Presidential Palace. Seeing it gave me a sudden craving for freshly baked croissants. I walked over to the nearby stalls to see if they had anything to eat, but of course they only had the usual plastic knickknacks and other useless crap the Indians love and cherish so much. “Can I help you, Sir”; a man peered out from his auto-ricksaw. By then I’d been walking around in the scorching sun all morning, and started to get quite hungry. “Yes” I replied, “How much to New Delhi Railway Station?” “Where’s your hotel, Sir? In the Main Bazaar?” He had me pegged within 10 seconds of meeting me. “Yes, the Vivek” I replied. “I know it” he said, and demanded “Pipty rupees!” Way to much of course, “What, fifty rupees? -No way my friend, I’ll walk It.” – “Excuse me Sir, I thought you meant going there then back” Why ever would I want to go to my hotel and then come back out here, I briefly pondered. “Thirty” he said. “OK, let’s go”, I was getting hungry. About a hundred meters down the street he stopped the ricksaw, and turned around and offered to show the governmental buildings in the area – for free – provided I’d accompany him to a shop he knew, and then maybe buy something. He obviously had a percentage deal with them. I had no special plans for the next half-hour – other than getting something for lunch. And he looked nice enough, so I went along with his proposal. We drove past the Military Buildings, Prime Minister’s office, Presidential Palace, and what not. A good tourist guide, actually. He told me he’d been driving for the last 21 years and he was still a poor man. He stopped the ricksaw in a back alley somewhere, and guided me down a flight of stairs.

The white bearded Kashmiri owner of the store greeted me welcome as I reached the bottom of the stairs, and wanted to know whether I was interested in carpets or other handicrafts. I told him handicrafts, as the notion of lugging a big Arabian style carpet around for the next who knows how many months, didn’t appeal to me that much. “OK, just follow the boy” he said and nodded in the direction of a man of about my age. “Please make yourself comfortable” this new guy offered, and held his open palm towards a small stool by the counter. I sat down, and another guy appeared with a cup of Kashmir tea, which he handed to me. I had a few sips, and suddenly remembered a story about a hotel here in India that ran a scam during several years. They deliberately gave their guests severe food poisoning – and as a friendly complementary gesture signed them into a cooperating private clinic which put the poor victim on an overpriced drip, while dipping into their credit card and travelers insurance. The professional salesman laid his well-rehearsed sales pitch onto me. The general idea, I soon figured out, was to trick me into leaving his store with one of his Pashmina shawls, deprived of a fat wad of my hard-earned cash. He presented me with some embroidered ones, some very nice double side embroidered ones, some single color ones, and some multicolor ones. All in various mixed percentages of cashmere wool – and other materials like silk. Some in a 70/30 per cent blend, some “pipty/pipty”. All kinds of shit and all of them just for women. “Gifts” he said, for my wife, my mother, my girlfriend, my aunt, or my sister – any woman in my life. He went on about how marvelously the light was shining off the fabric, when I started to get lightheaded. “Hold it, hold it!” I yelled, “What are the prices please?” I was thinking about the possible drugs in that tea. Maybe I was just overheating because of the 35 centigrade outside, or was I overwhelmed by this asshole’s fast talk? All good questions in that particular time and space. Who knows? “Well, we accept all major credit cards, Sir.” I was not about to hand over my Visa card to this thief, so I snapped back at him: “No! Cash only! And the PRICE please!” “How many do you need, Sir?” I had no idea; “How about those two?” randomly singling out a couple of blue ones. “In this shop, Sir. We don’t sell our stuff. We actually GIVE it away in return for a nominal fee.” “Whatever do you mean?” I said, “and please name your FEE!” “Well Sir, for those two SIMPLE ones – together: 3000 rupees only, Sir.” “WHAT? I’m a backpacker! I can’t afford fucking 3000 rupe’s on gifts!” I was quickly backing out of the deal. “Okay, give me your best price” he shot back with the cheap standard hawker question. “Look, at a hypothetical TOTAL maximum, I could only manage to pay you about two thirds of that. How does 2000 sound?” He reached out and grabbed my hand – “Deal!” he grinned, and snapped his fingers. All kinds of activity started going on in that cellar. “Pack up these two MARVELOUS items for this gentleman please!” Some obscure guys in a dark corner scrambled. “Wait a minute” I said, “I don’t have that kind of cash on me right now.” “No problem,” apperantly ” I’ll just accompany you to the bank” the sales bastard uttered.

My next and carnal primitive instinct was to gnaw my wounded leg out of their trap – SOON and FAST! I freaked out and went totally paranoid over the possible drugging scenario. “Fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU!” I yelled, backed out and ran back up the stairs. I ran away not knowing where the hell I was going, other than fleeing. I stopped halfway down the street remembering the ricksaw driver who was waiting for me at the store. I turned around and saw him storming out onto the street after me. I waved for him to come down the street to pick me up. He was at a complete loss looking like a question mark, as he pulled over by my sidewalk refuge. “Get me out of here, quick!” I screamed at him. “What happened?” he asked as we came around the bend and onto another dirty smelly downtown street. My heart was still racing, and my paranoid thoughts kept on ripping through my brain. I was on the edge of my seat. “Calm down” he said, “I’m on your side.” Yeah right, I thought. I wanted to cover my tracks, and demanded that he’d drive me straight down to the train station. “I have all my luggage there.” I lied, I’d already told this guy which hotel I was staying at – goddamn it, so I wanted to give the impression I had figured them out, that I was going to leave town right away, and not falling for their hospital insurance scam. As we came up by the station, I told him I’d changed my mind. “Drive me to the German Bakery in the Bazaar instead, I have friends there.” He obeyed.

“I think Delhi is getting to me” I told my backpacker friends as I chewed down a croissant with my Masala Chai. Smiling because of the action I’d just been through.

Excuse me, but Mecca is THAT way!

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Tue Apr 17, 2001 1:09pm
Subject: Excuse me, but Mecca is THAT way!

Visiting Mumbai this time around was a much better experience than last time. Getting over the initial culture shock; Mumbai which is India’s main seaport, turned out to be a very nice city with beautiful British imperial buildings and Indian monuments. Colaba is the travellers centre, and this part of town was the one I liked best. Of course everyone wants their fair share of your money – so hawking and overpriced services are prominous in the area. The Prince of Wales historical museum for instance just introduced a “foreign tourist” ticket which is priced at fifteen times more than the normal rs 10,- adult entry fee. My friend Mark and I never bothered to enter.

Right now I’m in New Delhi to meet up with my traveller companion for the upcoming couple of months. She is a very dear friend of mine from Norway, who is a journalist and a writer, and will hopefully provide me with some indepth background information on Buddhism and Tibet while we travel together in the vast Himalayan mountain range. I’m really looking forward to finally have someone to share all the experiences with for a longer period of time. I don’t know too much about Delhi yet since this is only my second day here. I’m staying in the Main Bazar area in Pahar Ganj, in a basic hotel called Vivek Hotel (Phone 0091 11 3512900 – if anyone want’s to give me a call). This area is wonderfully Indian; noisy, dirty, smelly, weird, and I suppose dangerous too. I hereby rename it to Main Bizarre, since I got my pockets picked yesterday and the guy got away with my wallet containing approximately rs 650,- and my drivers license. Bastard I really liked that leather wallet too. On Thursday we travel to Dharamsala by “Deluxe” bus (whatever that means) – I’ll let you know.

On the train from Mumbai to Delhi I met a bunch of interesting characters, amongst others an older muslim man from Saudi Arabia. We had some quite deep conversations about religion, but I must say he was very narrowminded in his views on life. And stubourn too! Here’s a laugh: He had asked at the Mumbai Bandhra station which way Mecca would be during the trainride, and they told him it would be on the righthand side of the train, but since we were travelling north, that would be east of course. Saudi Arabia is west of India so I told him that had to be wrong. He just kept on praying with his ass towards Mecca!

Second impressions of Bombay

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Sat Apr 14, 2001 10:57am
Subject: Second impressions of Bombay

Coming here for the second time was not as scary as the first time I landed here three months ago. The city is still smelly and noisy, but I’m getting used to this sort of thing now. On the sleeper bus from Goa I met Mark, an Australian working on a documentary on techno music and rave parties. We’re now sharing a room at the Volga II guesthouse in the Colaba area – nice rooms and very comfy beds. The bus ride itself was quite nice, but bumpy, and I had to book two beds so I could sleep diagonally across both of them to have enough legroom. Normally that would have cost me rs 700, but I got it down to 500 by some quick haggling with the hawker.

Today we’re going to the museums, and tomorrow we’re traveling to New Delhi together on a 22-hour train without AC. It’s around 35 degrees Celsius here now, no wind, and 80% humidity. We need to drink a lot.

In Bombay, everything is not always how they appear: Walking down a street yesterday I passed a woman in rags sitting on the pavement holding a few coins in her hand. I had a two-rupee coin in my pocket and decided to give it to her, poor soul. She gave me two bananas! She was no beggar apparently.

Finally please remember these wise words taken from the Goan highway billboards: *Every happy home is built with Rajashree’s 43-grade cement!*

This is not India

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Mon Apr 9, 2001 2:14pm
Subject: This is not India

“For how long have you been travelling now?” the woman behind the counter asked as a Pepperoni pizza materialised in front of me. I chewed away into my first slice, burning the roof of my mouth, as I said “A little more than three months now.” She continued her smalltalk by questioning: “And how do you like India?” I needed to cool down my terrible burns with some cheap glycerine beer. “I just love this place” I said and swung my pointed finger in the air around me. The music was pounding from the Nine Bar across the street. “Goa is not India!” she smugly replied.

She’s right. Goa is tourism.

There are some weird characters here as well though. The other night I met a guy called Jim at the Nine Bar, a Hawaiian who’d been escaping paradise half of the year – since the seventies, to another paradise, Goa. He had some stories to tell too. “What? NO THANKS?” he yelled as I regrettably declined his honourable offer of joining in smoking his chillum pipe. I was trying to explain that I really get bad coughing from smoking the tobacco they mix in with the marihuana, when he interrupted by saying “I’ll tell you a story about smoking”, and passed the chillum to the next person in our circle. “It’s basically taking cough syrup which is the main cause of us people contracting lung cancer. We’re suppressing the body’s natural reaction to germs and viruses, man! And smoking which triggers that same reaction helps us get rid of whatever causes cancer.” He went on about how dried leaves give us their life force when we smoke them, and opened his cigarette pack on the table in front of us. “Well, you DO smoke joints don’t you?” he asked and passed me a readymade one. “Sure, give me a few puffs” I replied, and accepted his second offer.

I passed the spliff onto the next guy after a little while. The music was fantastic!

So you’re here to save the world, are you?

From: Tommy Hermansen
Date: Sun Apr 1, 2001 10:53am
Subject: So you’re here to save the world, are you?

This trip has lately been turning out being a much deeper journey into my mind than first anticipated. I’m meeting different kinds of people from all over the world, and we’re all at similar stages of our lives. Some have been continuously doing this since the late sixties, and some newcomers like myself have only been at it for a few months. After sunset at these paradise-like places we’re gathering around a table or a bonfire after long days doing nothing much in particular, to discuss a wide range of topics; everything from political disasters in the Middle East to obscure derivations of philosophies and religions. People aren’t polluted or disturbed by everyday influences like TVs and careers, and are getting deeply philosophical most times. And also getting very drunk or stoned sometimes!

The basement of the Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam around happy hour, the North Cliffs of Varkala and Ciaran’s Bar in Palolem after sunset, have all been very good venues for me to develop and fine-tune my own ideologies and views on various aspects of my life. I’m nowhere near a conclusion yet of course – probably not until another 20-30 years, but being out in such environments really boosts my mind. I’m not going to impose my recent discoveries onto you in this newsletter, but if you’d like to take anything up for a discussion; I’m usually online on the MSN Messenger Service every day.

The tourist season is pretty much over here in Goa now; everywhere it’s getting real quiet. Temporary beach restaurants and huts are being dismantled and stowed away before the rainy season kicks in soon, some people are working franticly to finish their construction of new rooms for next November, and foreign workers are renegotiating contracts for the 2001-2002 season. Good luck to everyone!

Next week it’s about that time for me to move on again. I’m thinking of visiting North Goa and to spend some more time in Anjuna and Arambol. I suspect there’s more to that area than just the fantastic raveparties and beaches, the Portuguese might have left their mark on that territory too. I’ll investigate the matter, and get back with an in-depth report in a future version of the magnificent TommyOnTrip Newsletter! Just make sure keeping on subscribing!

Tommy