Wherever you go.....
Wherever you go, there you are. Although sometimes 'there' is an enigma.
To save a day of travel, we opted to not train back to Delhi, stay overnight, and train or fly to Dharamsulla. Instead, we hired cars to take us from Rishikesh/Luxmanjulla to Raissi, pictured on their web site as a bright, modern train station, from whence we could hop a train directly to the mountains. And hop it might be, since often trains stop for only a few minutes.
Ah, India. After an hour or so's drive, doubts about the nature of Raissi began to surface as the road became less and less paved. Meandering thru farmlands, it soon degrades further to a rutty, muddy excuse for travelway. Finally, we spot a RR crossing gate with a sign proclaiming 'Raissi.' A falling-down shack blocked our view to the other side, the Station must be just over there. With the gate down, a growing congregation of assorted vehicles gathered, engines quieted (they must know something we don't!) For half an hour pedestrians, motorcycles, bicycles and beasts squeezed thru the blockade whole we waited. Tic toc, until finally a single Mighty Engine chugged thru.
Gate up at last, we bumped across the tracks. And laughed and laughed.
That falling-down shack was once a gate house. Next to one tin-roofed lean-to. Under which sat one park bench. One street, about a block long, intersected the rail, manned by about four merchants.
Uh, no.
We laughed and laughed. Shashikhan, manager of our Rishikesh hotel, had the MOST infectious laugh! He had never heard of Raissi, yet had enthusiastically arranged two minivans and insisted on accompanying us. The gracious hospitality of India, the sense that 'we're all in this together' seeds a sense of responsibility to help where one can. After hours of arguing with a driver who refused to believe his smartphone GPS, Shashikhan still laughed. He called council with M'mSaab and the two drivers, piled us back into the vans, and away we bumped toward the next stop, which a Raissi villager had assured him was a proper station.
Half an hour later, increasingly insane traffic indeed foretold a larger town, and gave hope for, perhaps, a real platform, station master, toilets, and maybe even the possibility of food for sale.
Uh, no.
The gathering of the stares and subtext commentary in clumps of waiting travelers around us confirmed what the lack of English language signage had rumored.... they don't see many westerners here.
And no, we wouldn't jump down and cross the tracks then climb the wall on the other side to get to the right platform. On-train toilets in India are nothing more than a toilet seat over a hole -think out house in motion - and there are no lights down there. So up two flights of steps our three heroes dragged our burgeoning bags, across the pedestrian overpass, and down two flights on the far side.
Gathering our troupe and our stash around the one bench, we settled down for a long wait.
I got out my IPad to pass two hours reading. The crowd materialized in seconds. So I switched to 'Photos' and showed them their country.
Finally our train heaved into the station. Down the platform we sprinted, suitcases bouncing, hair and scarves flying, calling to one another, "Hurry!" " Is this the car?" "Careful, don't trip!", racing to find the one sub-A class out of about fifty cars, the one to which we were assigned. Anxious moments of hauling bodies and bags up steel ladders led to tiny dark passages between berths, only then to learn that in sub-A, the berths are not only narrower, they are also lower to the floor, so our suitcases would not slide under as they had on an earlier overnight train in Class A. Now the train began to edge into motion, and Shashikhan and the drivers, who had insisted on seeing us and our belongings safely stowed away, were still sitting on our bags trying to squeeze them into the shrunken space. Finally they awoke from single mindedness of purpose to notice our cries, "You have to go! Now! The train is moving!" Off they sprinted, and we completed the wedging process. Unbeknownst to us, we found out via FB the next day, they had indeed not been able to debark. They stayed on until the next stop and purchased tickets back again, only then finally setting off for hours of driving on dark, unknown, unmarked, winding roads home. The gracious hospitality of India.

For us at the other end of this journey, we face another mad scrambling panic to wrench our suitcases from solid embrace, and stumble along the long narrow passageway to the end of the car, brushing extended arms and legs of still-snoring passengers bound for Kashmire, with just enough time to jump off and yank our bags with us to the platform at Dharmsalla.
Sigh, another aftermarket minivan rocky ride twisting and turning, this time up endless switchbacks to the sky. The cliff grazes the van on one side, and falls off on the other. This driver relentlessly cycled through horrible Bollywood and screeching hip-hop styled traditional Indian tunes until we begged for silence.
Once clear of the urban grease and dust of Dharamsulla itself, the skies and landscape open to horizonless vistas of terraced hillside farms, forests, and clumps of dwellings. Truly Endless Mountains. A little taste of Tibet awaits us in Dharamsala/Macleodganji. We slip and stumble down a muddy walkway in the rain, a narrow, sort-of-paved, grimy way I'd never choose to tread on purpose. Thank the gods for porters carrying multiple bags on their heads. Turning a corner, there before us was a Palace of Delight. Which to us meant: unlimited hot showers, real beds with hot water bottles between the sheets at sleep-time, fluffy pillows and clouds of comforters, in-house tasty and healthy and probably safe food, and clean, clean, clean.
About this town:
kindness is the prevailing attribute;
crisp cold and pristine air the notable sensation (at 6,000 feet!);
steadfastness of faith, purpose, and determination to preserve their culture in the face of the heinous atrocities of the Chinese government an impressive force.

Framing rows of prayer wheels, countless shops open to the street, thematic as every market in every town we've visited. I imagine it's as Elfreth's Alley was when that Colonial street was America's first working class neighborhood, with merchants living right over their shops, doors and windows thrown open to passing shoppers, shop keepers calling out, "Buy my wares!" In the mix of Hindu and Tibetan merchants, I steer for the refugee Tibetans. Here, a tailor stitches garments, over there a grandma knits away, and across the street, embroidery and leather working. The colors, although bright, don't match the garishness of the Hindu palette. Patterns are decidedly different, too. The temp here is 40-50s in the day, so hand knitted, polar tech lined socks and gloves are high on my list!

We're sad to learn that since His Holiness the 14th Dali Llama is away in the south of India teaching, all of the monks from the main temple have followed him. So although the architecture and icons and vistas seen in circumambulating the Dali Llama's Temple Complex are splendid, and the 'air' is rarified, we will miss out on debates and chanting.

A secondary circumambulation custom is drenched with prayer flags twine round and round and over and through acres of woodland walk. I think I can hear the murmurs of the praise and wishes of those who hung/hang them, united like the whisper of a babbling brook, and, rising as the roar of the ocean's crash on rocky shores.
There's prayer on the breeze and prayer upon the earth. Solid rocks and boulders are not only painted, but also carved away in reverse relief, recording sacred scripture.

"When man writes, he inscribes words upon rock, leaf, paper, wood, or steel. When God writes, the characters He writes are living creatures." HIK

And around each bend, another burst of color, the effusive rows of prayer wheels, add a crescendo of Om Moni Padme Ohms, thousands of chants contained in each wheel. With each twirl, you invoke the full power of all those pleas. Along the way are a few really large prayer wheels: walk around, Pulling the wheel 'round with you, and ring the bell with each rotation. Reminds me of grabbing for the golden ring on the merry-go-round. But this prize is far less ephemeral.
My plodding along leap-frogs a group of elder Tibetan pilgrims, whom I have to admit, seemed to handle the altitude and the climbs better than me. We grow friendly as time passes, lacking language, communicate with gaze and smile and nod.

Then the path begins to climb again, steeply, and (remember, it's 6,000 feet!) I think I just MUST stop to rest, when, rounding a bend, there are my new-found friends, taking a break on a well-placed bench. They eye me speculatively.
So now I am the clown. I pretend not to see them, stop and bend forward, holding my sides, and pant dramatically. But I can't suppress a giggle. They burst into laughter. Pretending now to notice that they notice me, I stand upright and flex my biceps, announcing, "I am strong!," and resolutely march past them, arms pumping. HaHaHaHaHa! Touching hearts and minds, weaving the world together, one shared bout of laughter at a time.
The nighttime NRG is not so uplifting, and we are warned, as in other places, to not go about alone. "There are men who gather at night who are up to no good." So seeking out the late evening chanting of an isolated monetary gets cut from the list. But no matter! The next day, at the Women's Craft Collective, we learn that just across the path, and just 200 feet from our hotel, there is a small monastery where we can arrange for special 'mass' to be said.

But that's another story.....