Hello! I'm Renee Garland. I've been traveling to Asia for the last 13 years in order to escape snowy Maine winters, hoping to live sunny adventures. My company began 11 years ago with $250 worth of chopsticks. I started selling them at craft fairs and festivals all over coastal Maine. Unfortunately, many people didn't know much about chopsticks! (or Asia for that matter.) Nonetheless, I trudged through the festival scene for several years expanding my inventory to clothing, accessories, gifts, and art. The mission has always been the same; to work with individuals, women's coops, and small home-based businesses to help support and encourage small enterprises. I opened my first store in Portland, in 2006 called "Waterlily." It's filled with Waterlily brand handmade gifts produced both from my travels abroad, and by local artists. I still go on buying adventures, 'cause that's what it's all about. . .

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The 5 day bus/train ride to Nepal

Our friend Gil at Aliance Guest House set us up with the travel plans. We learned he is an expert tour guide. So, we naturally looked to him for advice on the best way to get to Nepal from Nagaar. We mapped it all out, and got our plans together, and sadly meant that we had to leave perhaps our favorite stop on the trip.

The plan revolved around waking up early, and heading for Kullu, and then Chandigar, to Lucknow, then Gorakpur, then the border town Sonali, and into Nepal. The important part being, waking up early. Not something we exactly liked or could do very well. Then we remembered that our laundry was being done, and when we arrived that night to retrieve it, they were already closed. So, we now had to wait until 9am to get the stupid laundry. So, in the morning we picked up the laundry, and went on our way, much later now. Now because we were running so late according to plan, we were going to arrive in Kullu around noon. From there, we had to take a local bus down to Chandigar.

In Kullu, we actually had to wait until the 3pm bus, great! This takes us into Shithole Chandigar at like 2am. This made us miss the train leaving from Chandigar to the next stop, Lucknow. Now, here we are 2am at the Chandigar bus station. Tired, and unable to make a decision.
I made one for us, sleeping in the bus or train station, not an option. Finding the cheapest hotel was the only way to go. We had to wait now until 8pm for the next train to Lucknow. So, we tried a few cheapest hotels near the bus station, and to no avail, all full. So, we did something that I hate to do- relied on the rickshaw driver for advice on where to stay.
He took us to a place he described as cheap, and very near the train station.
Great! We now had like 20 hours to spend in beautiful Chandigar.
He took us to the hotel, and it was the absolute worst place we've seen. But at 2:30 am what can we do? This was the last resort.
After I had asked them to change the bedsheets twice, and re-clean the bathroom, and so forth, we decided to stay. I paid half of the rent, and assured them that we'd pay tomorrow after we had changed $$.
So, here we are. The only thing to do is go to sleep at this point. The room smelled horrible, and they actually had in the end, no clean pillow covers nor towels.
So, we were asked to use a spare sheet for the pillows.

We woke promptly at 9am to the sound of Jackhammers, and pounding. Thud, thud, thud.
What the hell?
I tried to go back to sleep but it sounded like it was in our room!
So, Jake got up for his morning coffee, came back to the room, and reported to me the news.
They were demolishing our hotel!!!!!
Let me repeat- our hotel was being demolished!
I guess we were too tired, and it was too dark to see the construction site at 2am.
Not only was the building being torn down, for reasons that were not explained to us-but it was in actuality the rooms just before ours, and the entire face of the front.
So, let me explain, we had to actually duck, and cover to get down the stairs to the front desk, and to outside.
I will always remember Jake yelling "STOP" on our way down, so that we could pass without cement rocks falling on our heads!
I was up in arms.
We had still an entire day to spend in Chandigar before our train.
That was the day that I had a fast food breakdown.
KFC for Breakfast and Subway for lunch.
Used the internet, and decided to try to rest a bit before the train, Jake tried to watch a movie, but with all that banging. . .
I had reached my limit-
"let's get out of here"
So, we decided that the rest of the day at the train station, sitting on the floor, was better than this!
That is exactly what we did. We refused to pay the other half of the bill.
Caught our train at 8pm, and took the overnight to Lucknow.

We arrived at the Lucknow train station at like 9am, and immediately made a move to get tickets for the next leg, to Gorakpur.
We waited until noon at the station for the train, and finally heard over the intercom that it was delayed for another 4 hours.
We decided to return the tickets, and hoped on a bus.
From about 1pm to 9pm we were on the bus blaring Hindi movies, and music. Stopping at a few roadside dives for a Indian Thali. I was afraid to eat anything at this point beyond japatis, and rice. (So that is what I ate until we got to Nepal)
Got to Gorakpur at 9pm, and found the Hotel Bobina. Which Jake had likened to the hotel in "The Shining."
Got some rest, and were happy to have a hotel that was not being torn apart.
The following day took the bus to the border town of Sonali. That was about a 5 hour local bus ride. (Supposed to have taken 2.5hours)
And finally we made it!
Crossed the border, and into Nepal.
Yeahhhhh! Out of India.
The food tasted better, cleaner. Even the air smelled better.
We got to the bus stand, and were informed that the last bus to Pokara had already gone, and the only thing now to do was to sleep at a hotel right there on the border.
Ahh shit, I was not looking forward to a bus stop hotel.
It ended up being the best place we had stayed since Aliance in Nagaar. I start to notice a higher standard for cleanliness in Nepal.
Maybe things were looking up?

Kullu/Nagaar, India

I was sad to leave McLeoud Ganj, the home of so many Tibetans in exile, and so many great memories for me. (Great momos, great mountains, butter tea, and lots of prayer flags) But we felt like we were on a tight schedule, and in order to have time for Nepal, Thailand, and all that. . .
Jake was a big fan of the famous Russian artist and writer, Nicholas Roerick, and had discovered that there was a museum dedicated to him, and his family in Nagaar, India, seemingly not too far from McLeaoud Ganj. We waited at 9pm at the bus stop outside of Dharamsala, and boarded the local bus.
I think that we didn't know what we were in for. (Us and the 8 year old monk that was clinging to us as well, on his way to Manali.)
It fastly became the most difficult bus ride of my life! The driver was on a suicide mission going so fast. And of course in the Himalayas the roads are hardly in good shape, and non-stop winding around this bend, and that bend. . .
We should have realized what the side of the bus had already been sprayed with. . .

So, Jake being the gentleman, let me lie down in the back after I felt so sick. So, the young monk, and I shared the very back of the bus's bench seat. Jake sat up, and continued to get sicker, and sicker with every lurch. He moved to another seat while I was asleep, I didn't realize that he was hacking up dinner, along with all of the other passengers.
The kid, and I managed to skirt it, but after Jake was so sick, I woke, and gave him the blankets, and seat-bed.
So, I sat there upright, tending to the boy, and the sick boyfriend. Thought it would never end.

We arrived in Nagaar around 4-5am.
Nothing is open at that time of morning,we were lucky to find a taxi driver to wake up. He took us to various hotels, and none would wake for us.
Finally, we arrived at our last option at the top of the road, Aliance Guest House.
We rang, and no sooner did a tall Frenchman in only his underwear, and red henna hair, appear at the door.
WHEW!! Saved.
Aliance Guest House turned out to be far worth the difficult journey.
Gilbert has lived in Nagaar for 25 years. He raised a family there, and runs this guesthouse with superb skill.
The food was the best we'd had in India. And the service made us feel like royalty.
The heater, the strongest.
And come to find out, we were in the closest g.h. to the museum. Which was the real purpose of our visit.
We were able to afford a long sleep in- and rushed over to the Roerick Museum in the afternoon.
I quickly understood what Jake had seen in his art, and purchased several prints, as we took in the sights of his old home, and reliks he'd collected on various expeditions all over Asia.
We stayed in Nagaar for about a week. It was just too nice.
But sadly after the museum, and several fabuluios nature hikes, we felt the urge to move on to our planned trip into Nepal. Back on the bus. . .

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Seeing His Holiness

So, we have just spent a few rainy days in McLeoud Ganj, just north of Dharamsala, India. We have been attending His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama's teachings, when we can tough out the rain, and find a seat amongst all of the others in the English translation section. Some Russians got so angry with us, and started yelling that we were in their seats. We didn't realize that they had put a piece of tarp down for themselves, and we were infringing. Some Buddhists! We were publicly humiliated. So, after that experience, we were really cautious about where we sat. The teachings were fantastic!

I was a bit disappointed in myself for not going more, but the rain, and seating situation were terrible. One day, we headed over for the second half, the after lunch teachings, when we got there we were told that it was over! What! It was the 13th, and I was lead to believe that it was going until the 15th. How disappointing. I thought that I had missed my last chance to see His Holiness. So when I found out that the following day would be a special ceremony for the celebration and prayer for the long life of H.H., I was soaring again.

We woke this time early, and arrived around 8 and passed through the security checkpoint, found a spot on the concrete, and once again set out our pillow, and blankets out for comfort. It was full chanting through all the streets and in and around the temple. We just sat, and took it all in. For hours, we sat. There was no English translation, but I didn't need one, just sitting, and listening to the chanting was enough. The monks started to come out, and offered sweet butter tea to the crowds. Then came the swarms of monks handing out foods of all kinds. There was a group of Tibetan school children in front of us, and they were having so much fun diving for the presents of chocolate bars, breads, and other sweeties. It was fun to watch! The Tibetans started throwing the white scarf offerings forward also. First forming them into tight balls of silk, then throwing them onward. It was a sight to see, white comets swirling, and lurching forward through the air. There were many people dressed in traditional clothing from different regions of Tibet. They formed a line, and paraded up to H.H. with chants and offerings of many kinds.

When it seemed to be almost over, I picked up the blankets, and waited over by the path that I knew he, and his important procession would take from the temple to the gates of his home. I was about 4 people back from the front. I stood for about 30 minutes there vigilantly holding the spot.
Then the procession of religious dignitaries, security, and His Holiness himself came through. There he was right in front of me!! The Dalai Lama!! I would say about 6 feet away. I couldn't suppress the tears that were now streaming down. It was magical, a powerful moment in my life.
After he and his procession walked by, the crowd scattered, and left. I was caught in a sea of Tibetans, Indians, westerners, monks, and happily made my way back to our guesthouse.
A bit later, Jake and I decided to take a hike up the nearby mountains, and explore.