Misty Mountains of Peace...
Our train pulled into the station just as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. We were in Dharamsala!
Well, not quite. We still had a two hour car ride up the mountains until we our Himalayan hotel. As we went through the same routine of negotiating with cab drivers, we finally found a guy who would drive us for a realistic price. We showed him the name and address of our hotel and he ushered us into the back of his cab. As we climbed higher and higher in elevation, through sporadic trickling rain and sharp mountain curves, I stared out the window smiling. Ever since Khajuraho, I had been fiending for a laid-back rural setting. I wanted to chill in a place that was not flooded with people or reeking of trash. I knew Dharamsala would give me what I wanted; peace, tranquility, and natural beauty.
Not even the taxi driver’s horrendous display of mountain maneuvering could bring me down. As we skid around on the wet road without even a brake pump, I maintained positive thoughts and a cheesy grin.
When we were about 20 minutes away, the driver pulled over and asked to see the hotel address once more. As he looked over the paper he told us that our hotel was farther up the mountain and demanded 250 more rupees to take us to our destination. After three weeks in India, I am used to this kind of money-grubbing mistreatment and instead of starting an argument in the car I simply said, "Please take us to our hotel”.
As we pulled into The Snow Crest Inn, I prepared myself for the forthcoming battle. I was determined not to let this conniving cabbie rob me for any more money than I agreed to in the beginning, but I also didn't want our verbal sparring to turn me into a Debbie downer.
I calmly told him that I had the receipt which stated the price and the location, and I was not paying him a dime more than that. He started arguing, quickly raising his voice from angry to irate, waving his arms around like a crazed Chimpanzee. I handed him the agreed upon amount and said, "Sir, I'm going inside now, where I will no longer be needing your services. If you have a problem, please feel free to call the police and I'd be happy to sort this out with them."
"I call police!" he yelled back as I skipped inside. "I bring police!"
I never saw that man again.
Satisfied with my verbal sparring knockout, I headed into my mountain paradise, The Snow Crest Inn.
After a short check-in process with some of the most competent people in India, two teenage boys helped me upstairs with my luggage. I opened the door to a giant room with a balcony that looked out into the gorgeous Himalayan mountain range.
I was in heaven. Besides an occasional "mooo" there was silence. No people, no horns, just the serene hum of nature.
Today was a day of leisure; no museums, no monuments, no shopping. I chilled in the room most of the day. I sat on the balcony and gazed out into the beauty. I watched the mist roll in from miles away, until it completely engulfed the hotel and I could see nothing.
This blinding fog was like nothing I had ever seen before. I couldn't see three feet in front of me and the damp air had a dreamlike quality that made me feel like I was living in a cloud.
I pried myself out of mountain meditation just in time for dinner. We headed out of our secluded hotel and took a five minute taxi down to an area called McLeod Ganj. Although it was dusk and I didn't have much time to explore before dinner, I could already tell that I was going to enjoy this place. I could walk down the streets without being harassed, I wasn't surrounded by salesmen, I was happy!
I wandered into the first restaurant I saw. It was called Jimmy’s and advertised “The Best Italian Food In Town". After a month of eating a steady stream of Indian food, Italian sounded great. Also, I am always curious to find out how other cultures interpret ate different genres of cuisine. For instance, the South American interpretation of fettuccini alfredo is cooked spaghetti with a bland milk sauce. Not a favorite of mine. Varanasi had aced my test on pizza, so I was hoping that Jimmy’s would come through with the Italian.
The restaurant was funky and fun. Framed movie posters lined the walls and the contemporary lights hanging from the ceiling gave it a relaxed, modern feel. The wait staff was prompt and polite and I jammed along to the sweet sound of The Doors as I waited for my meal.
The first to arrive was my peach iced tea. I was floored when I looked in my glass and saw small blocks floating in my cup. Is that was I think it is?! Ice! Hurray for ice! After you haven't seen an ice cube in two months, this is how you react! It's the little things life that make you jump for joy, and ice is one of them!
The next thing to arrive was my tuna salad. So far every time I order a salad, it's a gamble. I could receive the most delicious blend of veggies and dressing in the world or I could get a plate of 2 radishes and a slice of cucumber with no dressing. I was pleasantly surprised when a stunning platter of neatly arranged vegetables arrived in front of me. It was a delicious dish of carrots, green beans, olives, tuna, and egg drizzled with creamy vinaigrette delight. Success.
For the main course I ordered a four-cheese Fettuccini Alfredo with garlic bread. I wanted something rich, creamy, and fattening and that's exactly what I got! It was one of the best Fettuccini Alfredos I've ever had. I left the restaurant stuffed and stoked! A+ for Jimmy's Italian Restaurant!