Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


If you haven’t caught this by now, I’m a sports junkie and in India that means cricket. Thirty years ago, cricket was the most boring, god-awful waste of time the sporting world had ever devised. Basically it was a way for Brits to spend endless months in foreign lands in between trying to kill all the people in those foreign lands. The foreigners took their revenge by dominating them at their own sport. Cricket is far more popular than baseball and is the top sport in India, Pakistan, Australia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South Africa. It also competes with soccer in all of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. In England and New Zealand it shares time with rugby and even the Irish have now put up a formidable side.

What cricket has done, more than any other major sport, is change the game dramatically to make it more palatable to the international market. Although the five-day test matches are still taking place, the recognized world champion is the winner of the World Cup, which is a tournament consisting of one-day matches. And just five years ago, the world governing body, realizing they couldn’t get TV time for these 8-9 hour contests, came up with a stroke of genius – the 20-20 format.

20-20 (or T20 as it’s more commonly referred to) takes the best part of the sport (free swinging batting) and squeezes all the excitement of a 5-day sport into a palatable and exhilarating three-hour format. In the five-day format, each player on both teams was allowed to bat until they were forced out. In the T-20 format each teams scores as many runs as they can in 20 overs (6 pitches or bowls/over) then the other team bats. In the old format a batter could be at the wicket for days on end and never had to take a chance. They could bunt the ball for hours with no penalty. In T20 the batters need to swing early, often and hard. The ball leaves the grounds at unprecedented rates and the crowds go crazy for it. They also don’t have to plan a 5-day holiday to catch a match. They can go after work and even bring the kids.

Three years ago, the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), devised a new professional league consisting of the best players in the world. The Indian Premiere League (IPL) was born and it’s been a huge hit in India ever since. The IPL brings the best players in the world to India for a short season of t20 matches and spreads the games all over the country. Each match has the flair of an NFL or Champions League Soccer match, with local fans getting to see their heroes, many of them for the first time in their lives.

In 2004 in an attempt to attract major sporting events to Dharamsala, the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Board built a beautiful 30,000 seat stadium that any spectator (aside from someone in a wheelchair) will agree is the most spectacular stadium in all of sport. The stadium is perched high above the city so the grandstands rise above Dharamsala like a glowing red temple. The perfectly manicured pitch is the only flat piece of ground for hundreds of miles so spectators are in awe the minute they walk in. Looming just a few miles away are the dominating peaks of the Dhauladhar. 17,000 ft. Moon Peak, the king of the range, is only twenty miles away as the crow flies, although it would take days by any means of transport to get there.

Unfortunately for me, the Dharamsala Cricket stadium is without question the least accessible venue I’ve ever been to. To begin with there are no simple gate attendants or ticket takers. They only people working the game were police men and local army troops. Any time there’s a huge gathering in India, terrorism is not far behind so security is at a premium. I’m all fine with that – in fact there was a bomb at an IPL match in southern India on the same day. But the HP Cricket Board did absolutely no training with these people on how to manage the crowd. None of them knew where any of the gates were and spectators were universally ignored when asking where their seats were.

In trying to decipher the stadium layout, I was given directions far from the main entrance which lead me down a path through a military base (the terrain around the stadium is used for army exercises) down a huge rock pile (I was carried by four Punjabis), and finally down a series of two-foot high stadium steps. Once I got in line there I compared my ticket to one of the Punjabis and discovered my seat was on the far side of the stadium.

The four huge Punjabi guys (their team, Punjabi Kings XI were the home team) took it upon themselves to help me out. They lifted me back up the stadium steps (about 35 ft vertical), back over the rock pile and finally back to the far side of the stadium where I finally found my entrance. This entrance was through a metal detector and up a huge dirt embankment which of course I had no chance of getting through.

Once I was pushed up to the top, an army officer ran me down and spent ten minutes going through my bag. I had to explain to him what I was doing with catheters, petroleum jelly and rubber gloves in my bag. He spoke little English so I had to wait for another spectator who spoke English and could understand what I was doing with this medical gear (it’s for peeing, if you didn’t know).

I finally got to my gate, but my whole reason for getting there early (I was two hours before the first ball) was that I got in contact with a TV producer who was going to let me work in the TV booth. I called him and told him where I was, but seeing as all I could see around me were stairs, there’s no way I was going to make it work. He told me he was going to scout things out and call me once he knew how to get a hold of me. I didn’t see him again until the next day when he came to my hotel to apologize. There was simply no way to get me around that stadium.

But even though I was well ahead of game time, the stadium was filling up. There was plenty of music and entertainment planned, so I decided I should just get to my seat, relax and enjoy the game. I found the entrance to my section and discovered I was only 30 stairs away from the inside. Before going up, I found a bathroom, which luckily enough had no stairs. I did my duty which was going to have to last, because there was no way I could get back down once I made it to my seat.

Again I had to find four willing spectators to lift me to my seat. Everyone there was in an upbeat festive mood so this really wasn’t a problem. I found four huge cricket fans who lifted me up and carried me up the stairs to a floor section about four feet from the rail to the pitch.
Front Row! How about it! Biggest show in town and I was living large. Unfortunately they turned out to be the worst seats in the yard. This was the only exit for 5000 spectators so for the next five hours I was passed several times by each spectator. There was just enough room for them to walk in front of me so they did just that – all night long. Also, to my left, guarding the entrance were a dozen Army troops blocking 30% of my view all night long.

So it sucked for me, but for the rest of the crowd, it was a magical evening. This was the first time the IPL had come to Himachal Pradesh so the local fans were seeing their heroes live for the first time. Most of these players have enormous international reputations, so every time a defender would come close to the stands, the crowd would scream like a rock concert. The pitch is one of the smaller ones the IPL goes to so balls were leaving the yard at a good pace and scoring was high.

One of the funniest spectacles in the yard, however, were the cheerleaders, who were brought in from South Africa. I found out the next day the cheerleaders were staying in the hotel next to mine with the TV crew (that’s how I made my contact that wasn’t working!). But these were not the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. These girls were average looking, not in any kind of athletic shape and were crappy dancers. They didn’t know the rules of the game, celebrated only when they were cued and seemed bored out of their skull every time they were required to do a dance. But the Indian men went absolutely bonkers for them. The locals rushed to the rail when they danced, threw them all sorts of notes and even tried to copy their dances (yes, the Indian MEN).

At first I thought they were mocking the cheerleaders, but they were absolutely going nuts over them. Marriage proposals; flashbulbs; the whole works. The next day when I spoke to the cheerleaders from my balcony I discovered them to be bitches of the first order, thinking they were some kind of television stars. I’m telling you right now, they couldn’t have made my high school JV cheering squad, and here they thought they were as big as the players. It was really pathetic.

The Punjabi Kings XI were defeated with only a few balls left in the match as the Deccan Chargers hit a boundary sending the home side down. The 5000 people in my section now had to all pass by me again, as the army captain told me he would help me down as soon as everyone left. So I waited until nearly the entire stadium was left before four soldiers carried me down. Luckily there was no beer at this venue because had I put down three or four glasses of suds, my bladder would have been bursting. As it was, I was dehydrated and hungry. The only drink at the stadium was sugary soda and the only food was potato chips and ice cream. I had some of everything, but it made me feel kinda gross. Thank god I ate a huge meal before going inside the stadium or I would have been a wreck.

Luckily for me, a group of performers from the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts were doing a dance before the game and I hooked up with them for a ride back to Bhagsu. Had I not connected with them (they only saw me as I left the stadium) I would have had to roll more than two miles up a steep incline to the nearest taxi stand – then wait until 2 a.m. for an expensive ride.

In the end it wasn’t quite the magical night for me that I’d envisioned. But for the 30,000 ‘normal’ cricket fans it was glorious. The play was top quality and they got to be proud of Dharamsala for something besides being the home of the Dalai Lama. So kudos to cricket! Had the game stayed as boring as it was in the 50’s a night like this would never have been possible.

Now if they could only consult an ADA architect before building huge monuments to the game, I’d be a lot happier!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trekking on a Quickie

(pics to come. My USB cable is stuck in the bag with my broken laptop!)

One of the main reasons people come to the Himalayas is to go on long walks through the biggest things on earth. This is my third trip to these behemoth creatures and unfortunately I’ve only been able to go on a few day hikes in Nepal back in 1991. Ever since landing in Dharamsala on this trip, I’ve been sequestered by injury, weather and chair breakdowns so the hilltops I see from my balcony have gone completely unexplored.

Ten years ago when I was here in a much better wheelchair, I managed to climb high above McLeod Ganj on the TIPA Road, a winding neighborhood path, to see a view most travelers take for granted. One of the coolest things about living in Dharamsala is taking in lunch on one of the rooftop cafes. The tourists gaze out on the city, the mountains and the plains miles off in the distance. But seeing as those cafes are three or four stories up with no elevators I’ve never been to one.

Knowing this splendor was just outside my grasp has been eating away at me for five months. On Wednesday I decided to throw caution aside and push my three-wheeled, frame-cracked wheelchair to the citadel hamlet of Dharamkot, three kilometers up a steep, crumbling road from McLeod Ganj. It’s not trekking in the Annapurnas, but in a wheelchair, it’s the next best thing.

The road to Dharmkot starts harmlessly enough rising slowly from the main square in McLeod. After a few hundred meters I was rising above three story buildings and actually looking down at some of the nicer cafes. Whereas most of the crumbling roads around Dharamsala were recently paved, this road remains a semi-paved obstacle course of potholes and chunks of concrete. When I made this assault in 2000, the road was nothing more than a wide path but it was somewhat smooth. For most of the climb I could grab both my wheels and push as hard as I could. It has since been paved, but during the monsoon season this road morphs into a raging wadi. Sometimes it’s dry, other times it’s a flowing creek. This of course has all but destroyed the surface.

Besides the road, my chair is in a sad state of disrepair. I bought this chair in 2004 and it’s been problematic from the beginning. The geniuses at Quickie thought it would be a great idea to put motorcycle shocks in their sport chairs. They thought it would cushion the blow when hopping off curbs. I personally never felt any pain when jumping curbs and when I first tried riding on the shock it felt like I was swimming, not rolling. I also had a justified fear that the extra parts would lead to extra parts breaking. Last year the aluminum bar that holds the shock snapped leaving me sitting six inches above the ground. I had to constantly lean forward or I would tip back. I found an aluminum welder in Eugene, Oregon who pulled the chair apart, fused the broken parts and sent me on my way. That weld lasted a month. When it snapped again, I found another welder, this time in Corvallis who fused a support bar along side the broken seam. That weld lasted two months. The next time it broke, I was in Kayseri Turkey.

This time, when it broke it stayed semi-attached so I didn’t need immediate surgery. I was on my way to France where Jackie Couty, my French substitute father lives. Jackie is a witch with any kind of building materials and he solidified the crack with a strong steel brace. That was in July and that is how the chair sits today. I’m a low rider, but it still functions albeit much less efficiently. Sitting up high and pushing is much easier than sitting down low and pushing. Had this been the only problem with my chair I would have tackled the TIPA road months ago. But as luck would have it, three months ago I cracked the support to my right front caster wheel (the small grocery-cart wheels in the front of wheelchairs). I had the support welded and that weld lasted all of two weeks. The second break was a month ago and I’ve just given up and gone on three wheels. I have to put a brace under my footpad when I transfer into bed or on the toilet, but in regular riding I don’t notice it’s gone.

Unless, of course, I try to do some climbing on a crumbling road. Then it becomes a major pain in the ass. Instead of leaning forward and pushing for all I’m worth, I have to do wheelies over the uneven sections. Leaning back and pushing forward is NOT the way you want to attack a big climb. But the houses of Dharamkot had been taunting me for months. Even if I did crack my third wheel, forcing me to ride in a wheelie until I get back to the States, I was going to attack that hill.

A half a mile into my trip, the road lifted above the buildings and curved around the hill that is the back drop of McLeod Ganj. Outside of the neighborhoods where there is less traffic the TIPA Road is much more consistent. It is also much steeper. But here, I could lean forward and push hard on both wheels. I was making good progress until I came upon a washed out, really steep section. I started attacking it with mini switchbacks, but it was one step forward for two steps back. I had to wait for help, but it came almost immediately. Two Tibetan hikers were on their way to the local peak at Triund and pushed me up the ugly section. Although everyone who walks next to me in Dharamsala offers to help me (even when I’m passing them up!), this was the only assistance I took on the day.

Once back on relatively smooth road I continued chugging up the ever-rising incline until I came upon the TIPA campus. TIPA or, Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, is a school started by the Dalai Lama to preserve Tibetan music, art and dance. Children enter TIPA between the ages of 12 and15 and are rigorously schooled in every aspect of Tibetan culture. The Secretary of the TIPA is a friend of mine Tenzin Lhoksam. I stopped in for a chat with Lhoksam (goes by his last name) and he told me I was crazy for trying to get to Dharamkot on three wheels. Of course, by this time I was a sweaty, filthy mess (it was an 80 degree day) and I told him it couldn’t get any uglier.

Lhoksam sent me on my way and of course it got much uglier. The road past TIPA became so steep that I couldn’t go straight up. My chair was leaning back so far that I simply could not push forward without tipping over. I had to resort to tight switch backs in the middle of the road. This went on for about a hundred yards until the grade lessened enough where I could push forward. Unfortunately at this point the pavement returned to the crumbling mess it was on the lower sections. I was pushing as hard as I could, but there was absolutely no glide whatsoever. If I let go of the wheel, I would slide back ward. I was making it up this hill one stroke at a time. The hardest day I’ve ever had on a bike was a 78 mile romp into gale-force winds on a dead-flat highway in Mississippi. On that ride I was going stroke for stroke, much like this ride and averaging 8 mph. Eventually this ride would take three hours which meant I was going 2 mph – including rest stops.

I kept up this horrid non-pace for an eternity until I could finally see the first structures in the hamlet. The road was heavily wooded and I didn’t like gazing over the edge, because at most sections there was a 300 foot drop off. Between the trees, however, I could see my neighborhood in Bhagsu quietly going about its business. The buildings that mocked me for months were now just a few hundred yards ahead.

But of course, thinking your there and being there are two different things. Just a stone’s throw from the top, the road crumbled completely and even got sandy in spots. I could see the chai stand full of hikers who had passed me up along the way, but I was at a virtual standstill. My only resort was to put one wheel in the ditch alongside me where there was some traction and grunt the final few meters to the finish.

When I finally burst over the summit, I was greeted by two Belgians who were slugging down a victorious cup of chai. I pounded a liter of water then looked down at Bhagsu which was now open before me. The road continued in a rolly-polly fashion for another kilometer along a ridge so I continued until I saw a steep sandy downhill section that I knew I could never conquer.

But my conquest was complete. I was sitting amongst the neatly manicured lawns that I’d been spying from my balcony for more than four months. My chair survived the ordeal and so did I.

For a while at least. On the way back to the chai stand my right hand popped open and a dime-sized blister forced me to put on my gloves. I knew I was going to have to put on gloves for the ride down, but I really didn’t want them on for the climb. The gloves are made of hard leather and it makes holding on to the wheel and rim very slippery. I never would have made it past TIPA had I been wearing them. I was just hoping to get to the top before I ripped some flesh. I should have covered up at the chai stand, but I was too psyched to be done with the climb.

After a few snapshots, I pulled on the gloves and prepared for the descent. As hard as the climb had been, the descent was that much more dangerous. On a bike you can just drop your head and try to hold the line. But with a wheelchair I’ve got no brakes except my ripped up hands and the soft side of my forearm.

I propped into a wheelie so as not to let my lone front wheel dig into a rut and snap off. I held this wheelie for hundreds of yards at a time, only setting it down to give my hands a rest. My hands and wrists were already heavily abused by the time I started the drop so I had to hold on to the rim loosely and let the wheel slide through my fingers. Any time I picked up too much speed I had to squeeze down without burning through the leather. On the super-steep section outside of TIPA, I had to clamp down hard and let the wheel roll a meter at a time. Speed on two wheels front to back is good. Speed on two wheels side by side is a recipe for disaster. One slight turn with speed and I’m 300 ft down the side of a cliff.

The other problem I encountered was that this was an open road with plenty of traffic. Dharamkot is a popular picnic spot so those not wanting the reward of making it on their own simply hop a three-wheeled cab and bust on up without sweating. Every time one of these cabs passed me I had to slow down or even stop. Just a slight nudge from one of them would also send me over the edge. And they surely were not stopping for me.

Finally after two and a half hours of back-crunching climbing and 25 minutes of a harrowing descent, I made it back to McLeod. I felt like I was finished, but I still had to climb the Bhagsu Road hill and do one more drop before I hit the shower. I bust that hill at least ten times a week, but it was never as hard as it was after tackling the TIPA Road.

When I got back to the Akash Deep Hotel, I ordered up some fried rice and woke up two hours later with a plate of cold dinner sitting outside my door.

Monday, April 12, 2010

India: The Country Where Nothing Works.

I’ve gone beyond frustration with the amount of things that don’t function in this country and have resigned myself to accepting that nothing here works. That way is something does work, I’m pleasantly surprised.

I woke up yesterday and decided to take note of everything I came in contact that does not work. I could barely go thirty seconds without running into some non or semi-functional piece of junk.

I woke up around 8:00 with the sun blasting through my windows. The room was pretty hot so I turned on the ceiling fan. It works, but there’s a crack in the base where it’s attached to the ceiling. So unless I keep it cranked up to ten, it makes an annoying click each rotation. The amount of pleasure it brings is negated by the annoying tick reminding you it's busted.

I flipped on the television to see if I could catch some highlights of the Masters. The on-off switch on the remote works, but not much else. The only number key that functions is zero. Channel up works, but channel down functions only 20% of the time. If I pass up a channel I have to decide whether I should ruin my thumb pressing hard, or go back to zero and start up again. Volume up works, but volume down again only works about 20% of the time. Most of the time I listen at barely-audible levels. There are plenty of other buttons like 'last channel' and 'tint' but they've never worked.

Luckily for me, ESPN/Star sports had a three hour Masters highlight show. The third round was on and Phil Mickleson hit back to back eagles when the power in the hotel went out. The power goes out about five times a week. There’s no way to know when this will happen or for how long. You just have to be ready for it. Sometimes it’s off for a few minutes, often times it’ll be off for several hours. An American friend of mine asked me if my hotel or job had an elevator. Hah! With power that sketchy I’d never set foot in one here. In December I was told by the man that runs my hotel that the power in Dharamsala was much much better than it was five years ago. I lived here ten years ago and I can tell you that the power situation is actually worse than it was back then. The fan stopped and my room turned into a sweat box. I picked up my book and read for a half hour before the power came back on. I flipped the tube back on to see if I could catch a few last holes and every station returns – except ESPN/Star. (This morning when I woke up, hoping to catch the last Sunday holes, ESPN/Star was still out.)

I gave up and decided to hop a shower and head into town. Enter the bathroom zone. Every pipe in the bathroom leaks. I have to turn off the main inputs to the sink and toilet after every use. I did my morning duty, making sure my pants didn't hit the ground because after opening up the toilet valve, the water in the cracked pipes seeps onto the floor.

After I flushed, I turned off the toilet input and transferred onto a wooden chair I use for showering. Before going to bed I turned on the hot water heater because it takes a few hours to heat up a nice supply of shower water. Showering here means dumping buckets of water over your head. I have one faucet for hot and one for cold. I opened up the hot tap; filled three-quarters of the bucket then finished the job with cold water. I dumped it over my head then soaped up. In winter, when there was no heat in my room, I had to do this job fast. But yesterday it was warm so I can took my time. After I washed my hair and removed all the crud from daily living in India, I filled up another bucket and got ready for the rinse cycle. Unfortunately, I forgot that for some unforgivable reason, the plumber ran the hot water pipe through the toilet. The flush I implemented five minutes earlier took with it all of my hot water.

I did a luke-warm rinse then went for an extra scrub on my still open leg burn which was caused, of course, by a faulty heater. I brushed my teeth using only mineral water as the water in this bathroom is non-potable. I spat into the sink and turned the faucet to rinse down the toothpaste, but I forgot to turn on the main water valve under the sink. I reached under the sink, turned it on and rinsed out the basin. I was going to shave the crust under my chin, but now that there’s no hot water left that’s out of the question.

I toweled off put on some shorts and rolled onto my balcony to get some sun. Once I was good and dry I returned to my room, and shut the door, but I can’t lock it. There’s a sliding latch along the bottom, but it doesn’t line up. I’ve got the same unaligned sliding latch to the main door into the hallway. I can lock the door from the outside, but I can’t even close it tightly from the inside. When I’m in my room, the door is always cracked open. This has lead to a number of occasions when Indian tourists simply walk into my room and stare at me. They know they’re not supposed to be there, but by leaving quickly they would admit to having made an error. That is simply not permissible in this culture. They stare at me trying to think of an excuse as to why they’ve barged into a stranger’s room, then turn and leave without saying a word. They never close the door behind them either.

After barricading my balcony door with a chair, I put my shoes on trying not to tip over due to my missing front wheel. The wheel, of course, was broken off after hitting too many potholes in India’s broken roads. Unbelievably over the past three weeks, Dharamsala has gone on a massive road repaving initiative. They’ve asphalted at least three miles of ripped up road making my day much, much easier. Unfortunately, they never stop traffic while they are repaving. As soon as the substance is down and steamrolled, they open up the street. So just a few weeks after this massive road project, many of the potholes and all of the bumps are right back to where they were.

As I’m rolling into town I’m passed by any number of vehicles that run, but wouldn’t exactly pass inspection in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. I pass by stores with broken doors; restaurants with rigged-up stoves and internet cafés with virus-ridden computers and connection speeds that are so slow a five-minute YouTube clip takes over an hour to download.

Basically nothing in this entire country works. It all just kind of half-functions. And India is a nuclear power and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. My friend, Sam Courtney called India ‘a 9-wheeled lorry’. It’s broken, but eventually it’ll deliver the goods. Just don’t try to do anything in a hurry here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Ugly Side of a Tourist Town

I’m sure I don’t know a lot of what goes around me here, but I was shocked with what happened to me Tuesday night – as well as the reaction of the people around me.

It all started innocently enough as a few friends went out to dinner to welcome Mari Lang, an Austrian journalist who’s going to be helping out at 90.4 Tashi Delek FM for the next few months. Five of us sat around a table at Nick’s Italian Kitchen talking about the station and helping our friend, Wen, construct a web project. She’s working on a site to offer Chinese translations of Tibetan and English news stories concerning Tibet. Most of the Chinese content on Tibet is propaganda spewed by the government, so this project is a worthy cause that really needs to get off the ground.

We hashed over ideas, ate dinner and even had a slice of cake as Wednesday was Mari’s birthday. After dinner we strolled over to the Hotel Tibet and sat around a table loosening up the conversation over a few Kingfisher beers. Since it was a work night, we polished off our beers and went on our respective ways home. The stores in Bhagsu are all closed by 10:00 so I rolled to the center of McLeod to buy a big jug of water for the night. The center was still bustling, so I sat for a spell to see if I could find some musicians for our Saturday Night Dharamsala Live radio show. They only way I’ve found any of the musicians so far is by stopping people carrying a guitar or flute case and asking them to perform.

While I was parked at the bus stop two Punjabi tourists approached me and wanted to know if I knew of any big parties. I told them they were looking at one big party and they could go into any of the cafes where plenty of people having a great time. The first guy, was a long-haired hipster dufus who pulled out a hip flask of Indian rum and asked me if I wanted a pull. I said I was fine, but he insisted. I took a swig then washed it down with my bottle of water. Then the second guy, a short-haired smooth talker asked me if I wanted a girl.

The local Indians know me and have long since stopped bugging me for business like they do all the fresh-faced white tourists. These guys were out-of-towners and were bringing in some shady business to McLeod. I’m not so naïve as to think a town with a 95 percent tourist economy doesn’t have some illicit slave trade going on, but I’ve never been approached by anyone. I told the pimp that western tourists aren’t coming up to McLeod Ganj looking for women, so he might try a 'different demographic'.

The two of them caught my insult, told me to get my ass back to America then stopped just before hitting me in the busy marketplace. I’d had more than enough of the conversation so I packed up my water bottle and headed back to Bhagsu.

That in itself was the most unsettling event of my four months in Dharamsala. I rolled through the now-quieting streets of McLeod onto the dark hill that leads to Bhagsu. I got a few hundred yards up the climb when I heard a motorcycle behind me. I welcome the motorcycles because they light the road and I can plot my course around the potholes. But as the bike got closer I heard the familiar voices from the bus stop. It was the two Punjabi guys heading to Bhagsu where I’m sure they were told can be some raging vacationers. They saw my chair and made a slight effort to run me off the road. Then they passed giving me the finger and yelling what I’m sure were a long list of profanities.

Again, another very unsettling event, but I was sure this would be the end of it.

No such luck.

Just short of the summit of the hill I heard a commotion and saw the bike parked with the two Punjabis beating the snot out of two girls. I realized the two Punjabis came up to McLeod with a stable of women who were not faring well in the local skin trade. I’m sure they thought a town full of rich tourists would be a layup for them, but this just ain’t that kind of tourist town. Even the Indian tourists are coming for spiritual retreats, not coke and whores.

But now I was in a bit of a fix. Up until I heard the noise, my head was face down cranking out the last few meters of a tough climb. Before I realized what was going down, I became the prime witness to a crime scene. The Punjabis saw me, slapped up their women a bit longer then got back on the bike to chase me. By this time I was on a flat section just before the long decent into Bhagsu. I was hauling ass with the same pace I use when I'm chasing someone on the last mile of a marathon.

But I was no match for a bike. They pulled up next to me; the long-haired pimp jumped off the bike and grabbed the two handles on my chair. He tried to dump me off, but I tie my shoes to the side bars of my chair and that was enough to keep me in the saddle. He let go and I made the final fifty yards to the hill. I flung into a wheelie and shot the hill without once letting my caster wheel (note: still on three wheels these days!) touch ground. Thank god the road has just been paved or, at the speed I was carrying, I would have wiped out.

My crib, the Akash Deep Hotel, is at the bottom of the hill and luckily the hotel workers hadn’t shut down for the night. I burst into the door with the pimps chasing me into the lobby. I yelled for the concierge to call the cops, but he was too shocked to react. Before he knew it, two raging strangers were shoving him around and yelling god-knows-what in Hindu. The commotion woke up the second-in-command at the Akash Deep, who is a much sturdier fellow.

A scuffle broke out, but when I screamed ‘I’m calling the police,’ the fight broke off and, amongst what I’m assuming were a series of profane threats, the two hopped back on their bike and took off down the street. That left the two hotel workers looking at me, wondering what the hell I did to merit their rage. I locked the hotel door and told them I saw them beating up women and we need to call the police immediately. They told me to go to my room, clean up and they would take care of everything. I was drenched and filthy so I took their advice and went to my room to take a quick shower.

After my shower I rolled back to the lobby and saw the two of them asleep in their sleeping bags in the dining room. I woke them up and asked them when the police would get here.

“No police, sir,” the concierge said, “It’s a very bad look for the hotel.”

I was stunned and demanded he get up and call the police.

“No, sir,” he protested, “It is too late and this looks very bad for the hotel.”

I’d just been attacked and I witnessed two violent men commit a crime. Not only that, they knew where I lived and I know the hotel has several unlocked windows. I had enough information to lock those two guys up for a long time and I wasn’t satisfied to let this go unreported.

I whipped out my cell phone and demanded they give me the number for the police. I then realized that I had been living here for four months and I had never even thought of alerting the police. India must have a 911 number, but I didn’t know it and had never seen it publicized anywhere.

As it ends up their 911 is 100. I called the police station and waited for a half hour for them to show. I made my report and they said they would take me around in the morning to see if I could identify the two men.

With three gallons of adrenalin running through my veins and two crooks on the loose I didn’t fall asleep until sunrise. I woke again at 8:30 and cancelled my ride to the TCV. I laid back down in bed and waited for the cops to call so we could make our run through town.

At noon I finally awoke and rolled into the lobby to see the two workers staring angrily at me. “You should not have had the police come last night,” the concierge said. “Very Very bad for the hotel.”

I told him we’d see what the police had to say about that when they get here. He laughed and said, “No police coming. They were tired. Want to get to bed. They tell you this so you go to sleep.” Then the two of them laughed at my naiveté on the Indian justice system. 

I was victimized; had the balls to report it and was being mocked by the two guys who run my hotel!

I’m fine now and the two pimps are back in their hole-in-the-ground hut somewhere in the Punjab by now. But my respect for India has dropped several notches.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Computer Crash Kills Blogger

What I thought would be a temporary setback has become a major bummer for this trip. My laptop has completely fried taking with it my ability to sit in my room at night and write these blog posts. I do have computer access at work, but I also have stuff to do at work so it's not real cool to spend a couple hours writing up posts and editing pics. And these computers don't have Photoshop on them either so I'm forced to use some piece-of-crud Microsoft Photo Editor to tweak my pics. Quite disappointing, but I'll try to make a bit of a go at it anyway.

Aside from the computer crash, life here in Dharamsala has improved greatly. The reporters at the station are really cranking it up and we're almost ready for an official launch. The weather has gone from 'really nice' to mostly 'freaking fantastic'. We've got a high of about 75 degrees every day and a low of around 45 at night. Some days we have clouds, but most days we don't bother with them. McLeod Ganj really is a paradise this time of year. No cooler place in the world to be.

"And now back to the music on 90.4 Tashi Delek FM!" 

Our 'Dharamsala Live' open mics have become a huge hit. Last Saturday we had a crowd of about 50 people inside Nick's Italian Kitchen, another 20 listening on the outdoor patio and a slew of passers by on the street who created a traffic jam. The musicians ranged from a Swedish harmonica player to an old English loon who got the entire crowd singing, "I Love Life!"

Rolf just wailed away on his harps!

Stevie P. and Johnny had the entire crowd singing nearly every tune. 

I'm getting my kicks out of it to because I play a 30-45 minute set by myself while the crowd slowly comes in. We announced a 7:00 start, but the musicians don't start showing up until 7:30. As long as I don't see people running out of the restaurant, I'll keep playing!

I begged this street musician to come in and play his tuntuna, but the room full on Ex-pats freaked him out. 

Next week is the biggest event in Dharamsala all year: The IPL Cricket Matches. The 25,000 seat stadium will be packed and the Dalai Lama himself is going to make it down to Lower Dharamsala on Sunday afternoon to catch a few overs.

So I'll keep posting sporadically, but until my computer comes back, I'm down to about one a week. Thanks for reading you guys!