Thursday, October 7, 2010

10 days in hamachel pradesh: part 1 - world tourism day

greetings once again from the hot and hazy plains of punjab.
i arrived in nawanshahr yesterday evening after a week and a half in india's second most northern state, himachel pradesh. it was a whirlwind tour, so to speak. thanks be to god, i made it safely to/from shimla, manali, kullu, and darmakot (north of dharmashala). i enjoyed myself thoroughly and have posted details, and ponderings of but one day adventures below; i hope you enjoy.  

on sunday september 26th i boarded a bus (or what i derogatorily, though light-heartedly, denoted as a glorified tin-can on wheels) bound for shimla: the mountainous summer headquarters of the colonial raj. we were greeted by monkeys upon entering the foothills of the himalayas. everywhere our primordial cousins (perhaps a loaded statement for some) scurried about, picking flees, eating garbage, and lounging in the warm sun. i was struck by their humanity, if you will.

the views from the crowded bus were beautiful. the road wove its way around the mountains, all but inches from steep hills which dropped to valleys below. my precipitous perspective was enlarged as i sat directly adjacent to the door - which remained open for the duration of the journey. the air was cool. fresh. new. a change from the southern smog. perhaps the relaxing breeze accounts for the prolonged sleep my anonymous travel companion feel into: my shoulder a seemingly comfortable pillow. to my surprise, himachal’s trees were deciduous, similar to forests of northern canada. here however, the pine and cedar were ephemeral, light, and almost translucent, like a dandelion ready to seed. moreover, the undergrowth was non-existent and i could see stone built bridges magically carrying trains around mighty tree trunks, slowly winding their way to destinations unknown.

after finding a place to stay (the ymca: complete with large, musty rooms, red carpet, and continental breakfast) i walked the city. up and down its hills; through crowded bizzares, packed with clothes, vegetables, and samosas, to the peacefully paved, british influenced, mall (not a complex, but rather the main street, popular with tourists) 

monday morning i agreed to eat with some young french travellers whom i had talked into the night with. they arrived, but disappeared soon after i stopped to sit with a kiwi couple in the porch of our hostel. my new friends (chris and ursula) informed me of a tour they had been invited to by a man claiming to be the president of himachel pradesh tourism. weary of scams, but ready for adventure, we decided we would attend together. chris pulled a piece of paper from his pocket; the invite: world tourism day 2010, please arrive at the house of the c.m by 9am. what's the c.m i asked?

looking to a local for help we were guided to a well kempt and gated complex, complete with multiple arms-bearing security guards. we were ushered through a metal detector and patted down, and asked to sit in what was essentially dry-walled holding cell. we were joined by a group of young westerners, soon after. "leave your bags in the cloak room and come with me". abidingly we followed the suited man. we emerged from our confines to a courtyard of a large stone home. somewhere in this process it had come to our attention that c.m was simply an acronym for chief minister: the equivalent of premier for you canadians, or governor for american folks.

we entered a side door to a waiting room surrounded by offices, still unsure of what we had gotten ourselves into. the room was filled with westerners and various suited indians. within moments waiters appeared with trays of water and juices: grapefruit, apple, or orange. a lady wearing a brilliant pink sari entered and everyone stood and shook her hand. she proceeded to greet us, as if we were aware of the purpose of our visit.

crowd gathered in front of the house. curious, as i still had yet to conclude what was happening, i meandered over. there the other westerners had lined up in front of a series of vehicles splashed with decals reading "shimla city tour" and adorned with bouquets of flowers. my new zealand friends joined me and we entered the fray. as stood chatting with a growing sense of anticipation, more waiters materialized serving glorious indian finger foods! excitement grew as we realized that we were to be the inaugural, the first, and to date, the only, participants of the tour. chris would spout endearing statements in his almost laughable accent like “this is going to be in-TIN-se”

suddenly there was a hush. the crowd parted, making room for media: cameras turned on and spot lights shone as from the front door, surrounded by yes-man, the chief minister himself appeared. peacefully he proceeded towards me: greeted me, pinched a handful of rose pedals held by a servant to his right, tossed them over me, placed a traditional hat on my head, and departed by placing a bindi between my eyes. a journalist quickly appeared asking my name and country and how i felt, whilst the c.m continued fashioning hats and bindis down the line. when he at completed decorating us, we were rushed into the vehicles.
we spent the day touring shimla, escorted by tour guides employed by the government. first to the temple of hanuman, the monkey god, which sat gracefully atop the highest mountain in the region – providing beautiful views of the snow covered himalyas in the distance. then to various museums, containinh a wide array of historical documents from ancient stone carvings to a poignant letter from ghandi to hitler, urging peaceful ends to the mounting tension of 1939. other sites included: gorton castle, the indian institute for advanced study (the former colonial headquarters, and building where pakistan was partitioned), cultural performances, and a luxurious hotel where we were served two magnificent indian feasts. the day was ostensibly arbitrary, bizarre, profound, and indeed, wonderful.

making it particularly enjoyable was the company. a group of 5 polish and german interns, chris and ursual, adutch couple, myself, and an indian couple shared the experience with our knowledgeable government guides. as we ate lunch, passing the abundance of chapatti and nan to dip in our delectable dishes, we recounted the series of events which delivered us to our shared adventure. we laughed at the seemingly random nature of it all. “if i hadn’t stopped and chatted”; “if i hadn’t turned this corner”; “ if i didn’t meet these folks at this hotel” and so on - we all appeared to know the reason for being where we were. it was extrodinary in our minds.

but isn’t that what life is? a series of seemingly random events, which lead you to people and places. a series of random events which move you in directions you may have never imagined, or even wanted? sometimes this is obvious, like my encounters in shimla - but i think that ordinarily, in less extreme and more familiar situations, the brilliant orchestra of life, the underlying cause and effect of our days, is hidden by our complacent comings and goings. that is, we become un-awed at the ways in which the world is evolving, unfolding, and being (re)created around us. realizations of how we met our friends, our spouse, how we ended up in this city, why we know what we know, and the emotional/spiritual ramifications of these material realities are forgotten, or worse, unacknowledged. but beyond our schedules, our deadlines, our life, lies a force which created the conditions for these interactions to play out in the first place.

as a christian, i believe in a creative god, working to redeem the world in counter-cultural ways, as evidenced through the radical love of jesus. while would take multiple pages for me to suss out how far and in what ways i believe this to be occurring and how i perceive/do not perceive this as the mentioned force ( if i could accomplish such a difficult task)  i know  that on world tourism day 2010,  i was humbled: i was awed. i was brought to a greater appreciation of the gift of this journey. i was reminded that there is so much cannot control.

i pray that by god’s grace we may step back daily and marvel at the ways in which things come together and the ways which things fall apart. and that we may be grateful for such complexity and creativity.
oh there's so much more to say,


  1. amen!

    though I am have no experience in the physical realm in which you are moving, your eloquent articulation of the spiritual resurrects a deep, familiar truth


  2. you are a great man robert. glad to find you in the blogosphere. to hear of your travels and humbling revelations on a frequent basis gives me deep, deep joy.

  3. Hey Rob! Its so nice to read ur thoughts on India. You write in a very engaging way, loved reading! Also good to knw u figured out how to purify water. Hope u keeping well and having a great experience :)