FAMILY VISITS FOR MIGRANT WORKERS AND REFUGEES

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A BOTTLE OF BEER AND EIGHT GLASSES OF WATER, PLEASE

Posted by David Pugh on January 7, 2012 at 12:10 AM Comments comments (0)


I went to Sikkim in an attempt to get close to Tibet, I didn’t succeed but I was fortunate enough to get close to some lovely Sikkimese people.  The Tibetans are fully integrated into Sikkim’s society and are perfectly happy with their lot.  The sharpest insight I had into Tibetan life came in the upstairs room of the Dai Chi Bar & Restaurant, Gantok, more of a drinking hole than a gourmet establishment but good food nonetheless.  I was on my second bottle of Hit, the locally brewed strong beer, when a Tibetan amla and pala came in with their seven children.  Pala ordered one bottle of Hit and eight glasses of water.  They occupied two tables between them and the waiter didn’t bat an eyelid, such a contrast to the UK in the early 80s, when I used to find it so difficult to find a pub that would let me in with my beloved little Esme.  The reason this scenario touched me so much was that both of my dear Tibetan co-workers, Rinchen Paldon & TamdinYangzom, came from families of seven children. The expense of trying to run such a large family was the main reason that they decided to take the long walk out of Tibet and become refugees.  They came from nomad families and I have seenTibetan nomads on the Tibetan Plateau in Ladakh, so a hard life yak herding I could understand.  I’d never given a thought as to how difficult modern life must be for these large Tibetan families on a very small income.  A lesson learned from behind a bottle of beer.

 


The Hippie, an endangered species.

Posted by David Pugh on November 28, 2011 at 11:55 PM Comments comments (1)

The Indian embassy has refused us a six-month visa; we have been given just three months, as of yesterday. We just haven’t been given the time to do all we had planned, so apologies will be sent out to all those people we shall be letting down. 

It’s almost like 1947, instead of getting rid of the British, India now wants to get rid of the riff-raff travellers, who just take advantage of the cheap cost of living and also those that the country considers busybodies.  I hold my hand up here and admit to being both but I’d like India to remember that there are a lot of small businesses, particularly guesthouse owners who depend on the riff-raff trade.  The New Indian business traveller would never set foot into some places we’ve stayed at, they have money and education and have more self respect than us “hippies”.  India would ideally like to emulate Bhutan, who have a mighty $200 a day visa charge, aimed at keeping out anyone wearing dreadlocks and Aladdin pants.  Bhutan even asks its own citizens to dress traditionally, so as not to lose its culture and identity.  We are to blame here, we are not respecting Indian culture by pretending to be sadhus, not matter what we might think, we are on extended holidays.  There are of course exceptions, our good friend Diana Dreadlocks converted to Hinduism many years ago but as her name implies,she is dependent on the riff-raff traveller to earn her 2000 rupees an hour. Now you can bet India will want her out and an Indian earning that sort of money in her place.  Most barbers charge 50 rupees for a shave and a haircut but wouldn’t have a clue about sorting out your collapsed dreads.

We now need to rethink our plans, we’ve no intention of returning to the UK before our year is up. This Gap Year has taken a lot to arrange and we’re very grateful to dear Jon Haward for minding our house, while we are away.  One obvious solution would be to return to Nepal and our dear Tibetan friends in Tashiling.  On the other hand our long term plans are tied up in West Africa, so it would be nice to visit South East Asia again.  The last time we were in Bangkok there wasn’t a dreadlock in sight, today will be very different I know.  Cambodia and Burma have beckoned me since my youth, so maybe we’ll head there.  Another possibility is Ethiopia, I’m told there are cheap flights out of Mumbai.  Now there’s a country where your dreadlocks will always be welcome but I’m afraid that Africa doesn’t have the same appeal to the hippie.  Here in Nepal and in India, the hippies still have their roving communities, culture and tradition but most of all both countries still have over hippies to mate with.  Alas though, it seems that as far as India is concerned the hippie is quickly becoming an endangered species, so we had better encourage them to breed while they can.

 

 

KATHMANDU

Posted by David Pugh on November 9, 2011 at 8:10 AM Comments comments (0)

Despite living in the London suburbs for two years, I’ve never been much of a city person.  This is probably down to the fact that I’ve never earned the kind of money it takes to live the city life.  Kathmandu, I love, despite the hideous scar that is Thamel, it’s lived up to my teenage dreams. It’s a science fiction vision come true, a fourteenth century heart  with the worse case of concrete pollution I’ve ever seen in it’s dust coated suburbs.  It’s as if the God of Builders has emptied his cosmic cement bags in a circle around the old city, entrapping the centre in the 1970s.  We’re living onFreak Street for the next month, just to help me refocus on a more creative direction for Bus Fare and for Pauline to plan out her yoga classes.  This city is an inspiration, I always envied the artists who created the Metal Hurlant comic anthology title of the Seventies.  Where did Phillipe Druillet and Moebius get their crazy architecture and weird people from?  Last Saturday I found myself inside the pages of their artwork, weird temples dwarfed by ugly towers, tiny hobbit doorways, with little people still able to pass through them without stooping, beautiful elfin girls on motor scooters, complete with hooped tights.  Off duty soldiers practicing their marching techniques on rooftops, chill out music and the voice of Leonard Cohen vibrating the air.  Buddhas rising serenely above the stoned hippies, Moslem extremists, proclaiming their Aryan superiority, hiding amongst this melting pot of Nepal’s tribes.  If I had been able to come here in my hippie days, it would have changed my life, the magic of the Old City is intense, it leaves me on a perpetual high.  I do not understand why the younger generation have occupied the Thamel district to the north, it’s a dead zone of shops and pretentious restaurants.  Here in the Dhaulagiri Guesthouse, I look out on an inner courtyard, down onto a stone lingam, passing through a yoni, under the voyeuristic stare of Nandi, the black bull of Shiva.  From the roof I can see the many towers of Durbar Square and this sunny morning, through the smog, we saw the roof of the world. 

I found myself lapsing back into alcoholic comfort, while staying at the Tashiling Tibetan Colony in Pokhara.  I was having a litre of raksi, rice wine, delivered daily, after a bottle of strong Star Gold beer, maybe finishing the evening with a glass of Officer’s Choice whisky, all very cheap and available in almost every food shop.  Yes, I slipped into the Tibetan Nepalese drinking culture but it was more to deaden the enormity of trying to steer a tiny charity, with small aims, along a  motorway of huge demands.  The demands I have been receiving are for far more than a bus fare to visit their mother, they want airfares to escape poverty and have a slice of the good life they think we have.  One Indian Moslem extremist told me two evenings ago, “These Tibetans living here don’t know how lucky they are, they have a much better life in India and Nepal than they would have in Tibet”.  From the dilation of his pupils, this man who sported an Egyptian headscarf, was plainly, escaping his own many problems, which included leaving seven children back in India.  He continued, “Tibetans just want an even better life than we have offered them. They want the wealth and women that  Australia, Canada, Europe and America can offer them”.  I thought he was on the point of spitting on the floor, when he mentioned the Israelis, who travel in India and Nepal, after their years of National Service.  “These young Jews come here, still thinking that they have a gun in their hand and can order us about, spending as little as possible.  They steal areas of towns, to try to make them Israeli colonies. They have stolen Palestine and you British helped them do it, now they want bits of our land’.  I protested tha tI thought we were wrong to have gone along with the plan and it would have been a help to world peace if a New Israel could have been built in America.  “That is such shit”, he snapped back,“Israelis are Americans and Obama wants his little supporters exactly where they are, a US state right in the Middle East”. I was getting a little more than uncomfortable by this point, as he ranted on about the British abuse of India and how quick we are to lick the American boot.  We were in an ordinary Dhaba and I hadn’t had a drink since I tasted the intoxicant that is Kathmandu but he was very high and very angry.  He then switched his venom towards the Chinese, the New Americans, as he called them and their hopes of world domination.  Foolishly, I challenged him that he, like everyone, bought Chinese goods.  He said that his shirt and trousers were made in India, his sandals made in Thailand, even though they and ALL the South East  Asians are Chinese.  I egged him on thathis jacket looked Chinese made and to show me the label, he said that he didn’t like labels and had cut it off!  He admitted that he only had one Chinese belonging, “One of those things for killing mosquitoes”.  He slapped the table hard to demonstrate his killing power, I sensed he would swat human beings as easily as the gorged mosquito. Curiously, I saw an aspect of myself in this slightly younger man.  He plainly was an idealist but for one reason  or another was hiding in Kathmandu’s “Where’s Waldo?” crowds.  I heard Joni Mitchell’s voice singing the song that I’ve predicted as my own future, if I didn’t take this time to refocus.  “All romantics reach the same fate someday, cynical and drunken and boring someone in some dark cafe”.

 

A bit of Tibetan Yak

Posted by David Pugh on October 24, 2011 at 1:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I’m not one for birthday parties but I couldn’t let my 60th pass without making an occasion of it.  I couldn’t ask for a better location than here at Tashi-ling’s community guesthouse kitchen and in the company of our two new Tibetan friends, Phurbu Damdul and Bhumo Tsering with their families.  Phurbu is married to Tenzin Dhadon; they have two little girls and run the Tibetan Yak restaurant here in Tashiling.  At the moment they have Tenzin’s cousin, Angmo Giurung from Mustang, visiting, so of course she was invited.   Tsering’s husband, Tsering Choedan is on three weeks leave from his army posting in Ladakh, he used to be one of the Dalai Lama’s security guards, as his father was in the Dali Lama’s escort party, when he left Lhasa.  He’s fourteen years older than Tsering and they have two children, Tenzin Woser their daughter and Tenzin Choesang, their little son.  Tsering isn’t too happy with her lot, as she left her family in the South Indian,Tibetan colony in Mysore.  This colony has the largest group of Tibetan refugees in India, larger than Dharamsala, it’s so strange to meet a Tibetan who was born in the jungle!  This demonstrates why I set up Bus Fare,Tsering has no income of her own, only what she can earn doing casual work inthe Tibetan Yak.  If she wants new  clothes, she has to ask her mother-in-law, so a trip to her visit her family in Mysore is out of the question.  I’m not sure she’d be given permission to do the journey, even if Bus Fare were to pay.  I’m a little uneasy that she’sstarted to have quiet words with me about wanting to go to Europe for a fresh start, she’s only twenty-six, so you can’t really blame her. Our other party member, last Saturday, was Lobsang Dolma, Tsering’s sister-in-law, born inTibet but now living in Dharamsala.  It turns out she’s a friend of my good Tibetan friend, Sonam Dolma!  Sonam Dolma featured in this year’s McLeod Ganj June album, throwing cake at Yangzom on Facebook.  We’re moving into Phurbu’s house next Friday,as part of a proper homestay.  He has a spare bedroom and has even put in a western toilet, at the bottom of hisgarden, to encourage us softies to stay in his house.  He’s borrowed a huge amount of money to open the restaurant, so every little helps. I’m making use of the huge kitchen here in the guesthouse to catch up with hours of video editing, as it’s still very hazy here.  When it’s clear there are terrific views ofthe Annapurna from our bedroom window and some high peaks behind the camp, todo some full day trekking.  The kitchen here, it’s like the top of a capital T with two rooms either side of the downstroke, all with western style bathrooms. Elizabeth Jatta would die for a place like this in her compound; she’sstill in her zinc shack.  I’m sure there’s a market for Gambian township homestays, this place is regularly booked up but we are the first people to spend the extra 50NRP a day to use the kitchen, with fridge and gas included. The cheapest Dhal Bhat in the main town is 100NRP per person, local price!  You can’t really drink the water here though,as it’s from storage tanks topped up for just two hours a day from the mains.  We’ve just had 19 litres of drinking water delivered, as we have a dispenser, at 50NPR, they sell the same water in most shops at 10NPR a litre, so a good profit.

Not sure how much work I’ll get done, as my right eye isstill not quite right but there’s so much video to work through, a lot of really bad jungle stuff.  I have hours of last Monday’s wedding to get down to less than ten minutes.  I’m hoping to gain the trust of people here,so I can do some interviews but they are very careful.  You have to live five years in Pokhara, while they check to find if you are a Chinese spy, before they let any more Tibetans live in the camp.  You really have to stay off the subject of Karmapa, there are two Karmapas now living in India.  There’s the official, Dalai Lama recognised one and the one the Chinese Tibetans choose, who is now living in Delhi.  This second one is the guy linked to all the corruption charges but he’s broken with the  Chinese, to set himself up as THE REAL KARMAPA and is even accepted by someTibetans in India.  The Dalai Lama is doing a gig in Bohdgyia, India in December, it’s not far from here so most of the camp are going, as they don’t need Indian visas.  Now wait for this, HH 14 is being supported by the TWO Karmapas, one after each other, it’s going to be like some rappers showdown!   How crazy is this? 

 


MEETINGS WITH UNREMARKABLE MEN

Posted by David Pugh on August 26, 2011 at 1:00 AM Comments comments (0)

I came to Rishikesh with an open mind; I had been here sixy ears ago and liked the place.  My mind was like a sponge, ready to soak up spiritual wisdom.  The opposite has happened, I’ve had my sponge squeezed of almost every last drop of faith in “the guru”.  I’ve been called over by many a sadhu; the locals just call them “Babas,” to impart words of wisdom.  I’ve gone over to them expecting revelation, just as John Lennon expected the secret of life, when the Maharishi took him upin his helicopter.  I kid you not, not once have I spoken to a Baba, without the word “chapati,” being tagged on the end.  These guys should listen to the teachings of Jesus, “Man shall not live on chapati alone”.  The truth is that for most  of these old guys, finding the next meal is the priority of the day.  Take away the orange robes and drop them in some other tourist town and they would just be beggars, there are a few of these idle bastards in Dharamsala.  Feedt hem and they will feed your mind.  They only thing they are interested in feeding your mind with is fifty rupees worth of Charas.  There are a few ascetic exceptions who starve themselves during the day, practice intensive yoga moves but at night, even they will demand sex from the very few “Holy Women”.  I’ve spoken to one of these ladies, I think I mentioned we let her use our bathroom. Like her, most of them have got themselves to “the nunnery,” to escape abusive relationships.  They are here expecting spiritual reassurance and all they get is more violent abuse from these wasters.  The younger ones at least don’t have to rape old women, there are plenty of good looking Western women who will give them as much sex as they wanted, in exchange for the better sex lessons they disguise as Yoga.  Kamal,our dear, little innocent of a yoga instructor, will be very upset if he readsthis but 90% of the Westerners here are doing yoga to get a better lay and why not?  Eastern ladies DON"T DO THIS, THEY ARE SERIOUS STUDENTS.  Yoga really does stretch places that don’t normally get stretched but I just wish it would get my heart racing ;I miss my daily jog but the knees can't take it any more.  The young folk who come here, do talk a lot about inner peace and enlightenment but it’s just to get laid and make good use of the new postures they have found. Most sign up for a month’s “teacher training” at Yog Peeth at $1150 a course, so they can go back to California or Tel Aviv as fully qualified 200 hour, trained in India, yoga instructors.  Krishna Cottage is the home of Yog Peeth and the rooms are always fully booked, by incredibly fit and beautiful young people, a yoga knocking shop!  There is no shortage of yoga teachers here, most of whom are sleeping under balconies and ffer personal training in your ashram room. Hopefully too, they can persuade some rich young woman to let them be their guide on a spiritual tour of India, sleeping a clean double bed in a nice hotel, rather than some make-do shelter.  A lot of them won’t worry too much about the ensuite bathroom, as they believe that stale body odour is nature’s way and some women like it like that.  The babas have the Holy Mother Ganga as their bathroom but few commune with her, they’d rather have a hot and sweaty live woman than a goddess.  I hasten to insert, that our Kamal is incredibly clean inside and out, he swallows a wet tablecloth every month to floss his oes0phagus.  Most of these young “swamis” are very clean and very well groomed, looking like the forever young Bob Marley, a few even have their own motorbikes.  It’s a wonderful site to see their orange robes and dreadlocks streaming behind them, as they honk their way through the crowds of pilgrims.  Richard Thompson wrote the spiritual guide book for these young sadhus, in his song, “Vincent Black Lightening 1952”. 

 

 


Back on the Bus

Posted by David Pugh on August 23, 2011 at 2:35 AM Comments comments (2)

I’ve met a very nice Nepalese man in his early forties, named Prem.  He has been running the Namaste Cafe in Laxman Jhula for eleven years and has had enough of it.  He wants to go back to East Kathmandu, where his family is, now that more tourists are visiting the country, in these post-Maoist days.  He hasn’t been home for two years and is missing his folks. On the face of it he’s an ideal candidate for a Bus Fare grant but thisguy is making a lot of money feeding tourists, so he does have the funds to make the journey.  He told me he couldn’t possibly go now, as the main tourist season is about to start and the dollars are rolling in.  So why didn’t he go home in the off season?  Quite frankly he doesn’t have anyone he can entrust the Namaste Cafe to.  His staff are all young Nepalese men, all hoping to make lots of money in India, anyway they can.  Just like the “yoga instructors” they’re looking out for that rich young Californian girl to take them back to the USA to open their own Nepalese restaurant in Santa Monica. Prem never found his dream girl, he’s too old and a little too overweight to find her now, so the road to Kathmandu is calling to him.  The road to Nepal is beckoning to us too, in about three weeks we’ll take the nine hour bus ride from Haridwar to Banbasa on the India/Nepal border.  We’ll be travelling east to Pokhara, where we hope to stay for a month and there maybe we can find someone else who needs the Bus Fare.

 

Good Art from the Dead Zone

Posted by David Pugh on August 9, 2011 at 3:10 AM Comments comments (0)

An ambition has been achieved, unfortunately it is purely personal and of no use whatsoever to Bus Fare. I finally got inside the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s ashram, now known locally as the Beatles’ Ashram; the Maharishi is probably spinning in his tomb.  More than likely his ghost isstill wandering the grounds, looking for tourist ladies’ bottoms to pinch but I picked up no sense of his presence at all. He will always be remembered as the Beatles’ guru and the man that Prudence Farrow didn’t want to play with. There’s a surprising amount left to see, I was fortunate to have Bhuwan Chandra as a guide, who led us in through the back entrance, avoiding the bribe to the Forestry Commission gatekeeper. Bhuwan brought his sitar, along with a handful of his music students and treated us to an impromptu concert from the top of one of the egg domes.  Bhuwan has a huge appetite for life and an infectious personality, I’ve been hoping that I could have caught some of it but I still can’t chase away my inner demons. 

I’ve always found meditation an impossible task, it opens the doors to ALL the demons that have pursued me through life.  I can fight one demon at a time but when they all come at me together it’s an overwhelming struggle and they just drag me down to Hell.  If I had sold my sold to Mephistopheles, then I’d have no reason to complain about being torn apart by demons.  I have never been approached by a stranger at a crossroads, offering me life’s temptations, well very rarely as to not count in the scheme of things.   I am not complaining, I’ve been given two wonderful children, who have brought me so much joy, a greater joy than producing a piece of GOOD ART, that’s just satisfaction.  I’m still on the quest to produce GOOD ARTand not really getting there, so there is no time for relaxation.  I can relax for eternity when I’m dead, so I feel no need for the practice runs that meditation offers.  I enjoy the stretching part of Yoga but it’sall geared to take you to the Dead Zone. Having spent the last twenty-seven years working six days a week in a solitary room, I don’t need to be told what the Dead Zone is like, I’ve been there.

 

 

Rishikesh is bright, Rishikesh is Orange!

Posted by David Pugh on July 22, 2011 at 9:53 AM Comments comments (0)

We are well into the first week of the Shiva Festival, here in Rishikesh.  Thousands of young men in unprepossessing orange t-shirts and knee length shorts are parading around town chanting, in-between plunging into the Ganga. The two white, sporty stripes along the thigh detract from any spiritual appearance; they are mostly farm boys on a two-week holiday, getting high without the aid of alcohol.  Nonetheless,it doesn’t prevent them from behaving badly. Bhuvani, Bhuwan’s German sitar student, left yesterday, as soon as she vacated the room a gang of Orange Boys moved in, trashing the place, takeaway food everywhere and the toilet unflushed. Cleanliness of the body is very important to most Indian people but they do not hold their environment in the same regard.

I’ve been a bit tardy with the blog, as I’ve been helping promote Bhuwan’s work here with the children.  Bhuwan Chandra is such an accomplished sitarist, I saw him in concert last Friday and his fast, modern style blew me away.  I’m not easily impressed but he really took the audience along with him, getting their full attention.  There are quite a few links to his performances on YouTube but shockingly very, very few written reports and no interviews.  I guess I’m going to have to conduct one, which I may well film but we’ll both avoid wearing orange.

 

 

A bite of life on the Ganges

Posted by David Pugh on July 8, 2011 at 10:48 AM Comments comments (0)

Fourteen wet hours on the bus from Dharamsala to Rishikesh and a much milder monsoon, in fact two days with no rain at all.  Our first week was spent at the Ganga Guesthouse, Swargashram, the only guests in the only room with a view.  We’ve been very fortunate to get the only apartment to become vacant at the Aakash Ganga Yatri Niwas ashram, where Bhuwan has his yoga and concert hall.  We can now look forward to the next two months with a view of the Ganges from our bed.  It’s a good time to reflect on the future of Bus Fare on my own direction for the next thirty years.  Unless the time in Nepal will change my perception, I’m getting more and more convinced that Bus Fare’s future should lie in Africa, I’m stretching myself too thin. So far I’ve donated 10,000rps of Bus Fare’s money to help out very little, while I know that the Jattas, both in the Gambia and Guinnea Bissau are raking the dirt for pennies.  I have several ideas to help them out but it would mean that I’d have be out there at least six months a year there to supervise the projects, otherwise the money would be wasted.  It’s very sticky here in Rishikesh tonight, I’ve had to move indoors to avoid the mosquitoes.  There aren’t that many and they don’t bite as hard as the ones in Jamaica, or even Belgium but none of those mosquitoes carry malaria.  The same can’t be said of West Africa, almost all my friends there are likely to go down at least twice a year with the fever.  If they survive childhood then they develop a natural resistance but are still bedbound for a week with the debilitating symptoms.  For us Westerners it can be fatal, should it attack the brain.  We’ve been twice to West Africa with no protection at all and have been very lucky. Spending six months there would require some long term protection and we certainly can’t afford the prohibitively expensive Malarone, that’s only for the wealthy holidaymaker.  I feel bad that I have the choice as to whether to take the risk, my friends have no alternative and no escape.

 

WHY MAN SHOULD WORK

Posted by David Pugh on June 22, 2011 at 4:41 AM Comments comments (0)

I’m losing my respect for McLeod Ganj monks and I’m not alone, several Tibetans have mentioned that they are lazy lot who don’t pray very much.  Now this is generalising in the extreme, there are some very devout and spiritually motivated people here but a growing band of young men are damaging the image of Buddhism.  These lads are from rich Tibetan families, from parents who don’t know what else to do with their layabout sons.  They sport designer sunglasses and stubble, flashing the latest gadgets, quite happy to pay the high import tax on the latest laptops. They hang around the tourist cafes, looking for rich foreign women to give them one to one “English Lessons”. They’ll drop their robes without any qualms if it means a chance to get into Europe, Australia or the USA.  Of course, they can use their crimson robes to get them to one of these “DreamCountries” as long as there’s enough money hidden in the folds.  There are Tibetan monasteries all over the world and some of them in very lush corners, where a fine quality of life can be had, just check out the number of empty fine brandy bottles in some monastery rubbish piles.  We recently picked up a religious tract entitled, “Why Man Should Work” a salute to the nobility of toil.  Almost all Indian people are busy, almost all the time, the work ethic is celebrated, no matter what that occupation is.  Your work is your Karma, your definition of who you are but it seems that the holy man needs to look inside himself to make the same discovery as the worker.

 


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Flood destroys Jatta home in the Gambia, West Africa.

Elizabeth Jatta's house was destroyed by flooding in 2009.  It was a lovely mud brick home but without electricity, now they live in a zinc shed.  She finds it impossible to visit her family home in Guinea Bissau.  Bus Fare would like to give her the opportunity to travel back to her home village.  If we were to send her the fare, she would spend it on the house but it is nice to give people the option.