Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Baijnath, Palampor, and a toy train

 Indian buses look just like how you would expect them to look... 

 With only one day per week off from working in the monastery, we looked forward to our Fridays off a lot. Unfortunately, our day in Tso Pema was the last bright sunny day we had on our days off. The next Friday it poured and we did nothing but lay around the monastery and sleep. And the following Friday, after a week of beautiful weather, we woke up to thunderstorms again. But, as my days in India were quickly flying by, I couldn't let my last Friday off from work be ruined by another rain storm. So this time, my Tibetan co-worker, my new American co-worker put on our raincoats and our umbrellas and trudged out into the rain to catch a bus to the nearby town of Baijnath.

The good thing about traveling by bus is that you can go between towns for almost nothing. I think we paid about 20 rupees or so for this bus ride, which is about $0.33. Though, the downside is that the buses are crowded and take more than double the time of driving.

 In Baijnath, there's really only one thing to see, and that is the town's namesake, the Baijnath temple. This is a temple dedicated to Shiva and it is ancient. The temple was constructed in 1204AD and apparently there was even a temple on these grounds before this one was constructed. So, basically folks have been praying here for a really long time.

As uncomfortable as I sometimes feel in temples which are not my own religion, I must say, being in Hindu temples was one of the most uncomfortable experiences for me. I know in a church I should cross myself or kneel in a pew, and I know in a Buddhist temple I should bow a few times, but in a Hindu temple I really have no idea what I should/ should not be doing. There's often a lot of different things going on in different places... people ringing bells, people making offerings, people chanting, etc. etc. Sometimes a lot of people are just sitting around on the floor doing... stuff... that I don't have any clue to even make a guess at what they could be doing. 

Holy Cow

 One thing that I noticed in Hindu temples is that you have to take off your shoes and socks. And not just when entering a building, like in Buddhism, but when entering the temple grounds. Which leads to very cold feet when it's raining, or very painful feet when walking over gravel to get from one part of the temple to another.  

Another thing that India seems to be very strict about is photography in religious places, like temples. There are signs everywhere about no photography, and in Delhi and Dharamsala I had to leave my camera at the front gate of temples. However, here in the country they were a bit less strict, and despite the warnings everywhere about not taking photos, since many Indians were also taking photos I decided I might as well go for it...

 Palampur Bus Station

While the temple was beautiful, it was not so big, so 20 minutes of exploration of the temple was more than plenty. We then had a quick snack and the boarded the next bus headed for the city of Palampur, the nearest 'big city' to our monastery.

We didn't really need to buy anything in particular here, so we just kind of wandered here and there. Since I was kind of in the market for some Punjab style clothes, I kept my eyes open. I missed a few good deals here because I thought I could find something better later... But, the problem (or good thing, however you choose to look at it) with buying clothes in India is that it seems most people prefer tailor made clothes. So, it's very easy to find textile shops and tailors, however, finding shops selling pre-made clothes can be quite challenging. The particular store shown above had a mix of both pre-made clothes and fabrics for tailor made things. 

Cows in India are not just for the country. It's not unusual to find cows even in the middle of the city, sadly eating trash (Though, I'm sure even the country cows are eating a lot of trash, too).  Our region had put a ban on plastic bags because, not only the obvious problem of too much waste, but also because animals like cows often eat them and they are eventually killed by the plastic in their stomachs. However, despite the ban on plastic bags, it was still possible to find them here and there, and there is still plenty of plastic used in packaging. Ah, the joys of consumerism.

 Palampur Toy Train Station

We spent about two hours wondering around Palampur and then it was time to head back. We had heard about the famous "toy train" of Himachal Pradesh and wanted to give it a try.  The train is called a "toy train" because it is a smaller gauge (2ft 6in) than a normal train. The train is also incredibly cheap. From Palampur back to the monastery in Chauntra was just 10 rupees ($ 0.16), though you get what you pay for. The train ride takes nearly triple the time it would take by car.

We checked the schedule online which told us that the train left at 4:30pm from Palampur. Upon arrival, they told us that it would be 4:45, though I shouldn't have been surprised when we took off no later than 5:00pm. The train inside was basic, but it had a toilet in each car. We were lucky to get seats, as one person offered us his seat because he was getting off soon. Otherwise, at least one of us would have been standing for the ride. 

Upon reaching Baijnath, the train stopped and all the people cleared out. It seems as though most people only go as far as Baijnath. We waited in the train car for a little while, but finally we got impatient and went outside. We were quite surprised to find that besides our car and the one after our car, the rest of the train was gone! We bought some chai and street food and waited patiently for our engine to reappear. It finally did, and they coupled the train back up again, this time which much fewer cars and filled with much fewer people.

 Tracks near the "swimming pool" during the day...

We continued the rest of our ride back to Chauntra and arrived at the "swimming pool", which is what the locals refer to as the reference point for the station. The "station" is not on any road and there are no signs. Basically, to find it, you've got to walk down a hill behind a house, then keep walking down until you find the tracks. Then follow the tracks until you find a tiny hut on the side of the tracks. That tiny hut is the station and it happens to be across from a swimming pool. So, if you ask locals where to catch the train, they may tell you to go down to the swimming pool.

We arrived around 7:30pm, in the rain and pitch black night. Had to use my cell phone flash light to find the way back up to the road and back to the monastery. While it wasn't the most exciting day in India, it was good to get out of the monastery, despite the rain.

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