Near Death by Tuk Tuk © 2012 strengthofasnowlioness. All rights reserved.

Tuk Tuk Trouble: New Delhi to McLeod Ganj

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky  (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta)

Abstract: This article depicts a typical experience travelling solo as a white, American girl in New Delhi. Enjoy.

Dear Readers,

Please read to the end of this entry for important information on the upcoming week!

But first, I would like to make a disclaimer about this blog.

One of the reasons I am conducting Strength of a Snow Lioness is to reach beyond an oftentimes-polarized media that confuses my understanding of Tibet/Tibetans and just live their story alongside them for a bit. However, my first blog entry relating to Delhi encounters this past week held back some less-than-exoteric details about how India is impressing upon my mind, body, and soul as this project unfolds. These gems of my labor, though frightening to polish in front of you all, will enable you to come along with me on this journey as a fellow truth seeker. I am therefore compelled to write a bit more candidly about my Asian escapades from time to time to maintain our honest relationship and inspire a deeper, well-rounded curiosity for this subject among all of you.

As I mentioned previously, India is a land of extremes. This label extends not only to the flurry of sensory overstimulation that I will attempt to translate into words and pictures (As promised, I will include photos of the food!), but also to my personal rollercoaster that will inescapably piece together this tale for you in different ways every time we chat. Some days may sound sunnier than others: please accept my honesty as complementary to such thought-provoking topics.

To absorb my experience in New Delhi, I related my revelations in the Nizamuddin Basti to Indian social services and questioned the stability of taxes being so graciously spent on Tibetans. Academia is often my cop out for processing intense situations, but I think we have all been guilty of throwing ourselves into work when the going gets rough— I hope you enjoyed getting a little nerdy with me, and perhaps learning a thing or two along the way.

So please accompany me as I share with you another way I enjoy accepting the ridiculous, “educational” situations that India has provided me: though humor.

The afternoon before I left for Dharamshala I anticipated trouble with my travel plans. I had just witnessed a fellow backpacker, this fabulous Brooklynite named Tiffany, learn the trouble with trying to bypass Indian travel agencies the hard way. Now for those of you who haven’t tackled India yet, think of traveling in India without going through an agency as dealing with the DMV of all DMV’s, we’re talking of national size: every step of the process is infuriating, people aren’t speaking your language even through you apparently both speak English, your forms of payment are unacceptable, you don’t know what half of your expenses (”taxes”) are even for, and at last you give up and just pay the outlandish fines (you give into an agency) because you are hangry “hungry+angry”… though you’ll have to come back tomorrow because it’s 5 p.m. (or in the case of India, someone has sold you a fake ticket).

My bus to McLeod Ganj was set to leave at 6:30 p.m., so I figured I would leave at 4:30 p.m. just to be safe. Google promised that the bus depot was two metro stops away at the Old Delhi Metro station, so I hopped into an overpriced Tuk Tuk (superstition told me not to bother haggling down 10 rupees) and made my way through subway security, but not without pulling an “American” and getting physically stuck in my backpack at the metal detector—the security lady had to unravel the strap and then laughed in my face. One point for India!

I would like to propose that the reason Old Delhi Metro is called “Old” Delhi is because although the entire metropolis is signed in English and Hindi, Old Delhi likes to keep it real and strictly Hindi. Now I would relish in such authenticity on any other occasion, but when I discovered that Google lied and my bus depot was across town, of course I was in one of the only parts of the city where no man, police officer, station employee, or taxi/rickshaw driver could speak English. I secured a prepaid Tuk Tuk (see photo above of this enjoyable and adorable little deathtrap!) to rush me to my destination, only to find that my driver was not planning to take me there and insisted on dropping me off on the side of the highway to hang out with gambling groups of men three separate times.

Don’t worry, I loudly objected and made the bus with time to spare—such treatment is disappointingly typical. I even gave my driver a pat on the back for locating what turned out to be an unmarked construction site at the end of a nameless alley where some buses and Tibetans were gathered among stick shacks. I managed to sit next to a splendid woman from Hong Kong who was fortunate enough to see His Holiness perform the Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya a few weeks ago. We spoke at length about the distinction between Chinese people and their government, career pursuits and permutations, and how I apparently look slightly Asian (an opinion that has been shared with me repeatedly on this trip).

And now, here I am: Tashi Delek! I’ve made it to McLeod Ganj, but only after a rather entertaining 13-hour overnight bus ride with my seat-mate, Yi Wan. Apparently the “rubbish bag” they hand you at the beginning of the drive is not for trash, it is for the chorus of vomiting ignited by the twists and turns of this bus-from-hell’s Indy 500 driving aspirations. On the bright side I’ve discovered my love for untranslated Bollywood (Click to see “Mausum” acted out by stick figures), heard a Tibetan tribute to the recently deceased Whitney Houston in the morning via cell phone rings, and consumed five cups of tea only hours after arriving. I also might turn into a momo, as I have eaten so many of them I feel slightly ill.

Despite the minor obstacle of arriving in McLeod Ganj at 6 a.m. on a rainy Monday morning when no stores, restaurants, or hotels were even close to opening (Yi Wan and I had to harass our taxi driver into keeping us warm in his car), this Tibetan haven has been a wonderful host so far. The air is crisp and damp, actively refreshing my northwestern complexion, and the wild dogs wag their tails more here than in Delhi– they are well taken care of by the locals and share pillow beds provided for them under covered areas.  Snowcapped Himalayas are to the left of my hostel’s balcony, an array of humble houses decorates the valleys below me, and prayer flags point to His Holiness’s residence down Temple Road on my right. Oh, and a heater is right in front of me because it’s bloody freezing.

Though Delhi provided me with many ups and downs, I must emphasize that the atmosphere in McLeod Ganj is one of mourning for the recent self-immolation of an 18-year-old nun in Tibet this past week. In fact, the immense emotional outpouring made me reluctant to post this blog at first, though I value the importance of tempering the good and the bad and want to clarify that this is also how Tibetan life is: balanced. I ask that you please stay tuned for a more serious examination of self immolations in the next few days as we head into Losar. Some dates and situations to be aware of:

Currently: Chinese Vp Xi Jinping is making his controversial rounds in America. Tibetans  here have a surprisingly optimistic outlook on Jinping– his wife is a singer, and the Tibetan conversations I have overheard agree that he “seems to have more humane qualities” than Hu Jintao. For example, Jinping has reportedly made a special trip to Iowa to visit his former American host family—he stayed with them over twenty years ago.

February 20: The last day of the Tibetan month, when Tibetans rid their homes of dirt and bad energy. Most likely a time for Tibetan resistance activities…

February 22: The Beginning of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. KT Lobsang Sangay has asked that Tibetans wear traditional dress on this day and refrain from celebrating this year in honor of those suffering in Tibet. Tibetans will also join together in a Global Solidarity Fast, among other actions such as turning out the lights at 9 p.m. that evening in recognition of self-immolators.

March 12: International Women’s Day—a day to celebrate Women around the world, especially here in McLeod Ganj.

March 22: World Water Day—a day to recognize water issues around the world with a particular emphasis on Asian water security.

March 29: Chinese President Hu Jintao visits New Delhi, India: a historical event for endless reasons.


  1. Xiao-Yue Han

    Did you have access to a smart-phone while you were in India? Or did you rely on wi-fi networks? Both?

    • strengthofasnowlioness

      I used a very basic Nokia phone that was lent to me by the nun to whom I was teaching English. Many of the nuns and monks have a stash of leftover phones given to them by the foreigners who teach them, and even more importantly– they have extra SIM cards. There were many signs around McLeod Ganj warning that an individual could be tracked by their SIM card, which has to be purchased with a passport. Exiled Tibetans fear being tracked by the Chinese, so using a SIM card purchased by a foreigner is preferable.

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