May 16th Wednesday. We are sitting in our room dressed for the cricket and wondering what we have let ourselves in for. The day before yesterday, Goolum told us about the IPL match that was on and offered to get us tickets. A couple of hours later we had the tickets in our hand. R800 ($16) each. It’s six o’clock, a knock at the door and Goolam tells us the taxi is here. Off we set down the incredibly steep windy road towards Dharamsala dodging other cars, motorbikes, cows, people, children and the odd monkey. The taxi weaves through the increasing traffic as we go down through Dharamsala town towards the cricket ground. There seems to be lots of police and army around … must be a pretty big event.
It seems that the Kings XI Punjab don’t get here all that much, in spite of it being their home ground, because there isn’t an airport nearby and so the whole circus that is the IPL has to come to town by road. For that reason, once they do get here, they play several games in a row … we are going to the match against the Delhi Daredevils which starts at 8pm.
We had wondered why we needed to go so early, but now we are approaching the ground it is becoming more obvious. We have been turned back at one army check point and are now backtracking to another entrance. Actually not an entrance, just another road with a long queue of traffic surrounded by a throng of excited pedestrians. We are eventually motioned into the Kangra Police Sports Ground which looks like the main car park for the match … no one is allowed further down the road.
“I will meet you over there” says the taxi driver, pointing to a white wall on the side of the car park, having assured himself that I have his mobile number. “Call me when you are leaving”. We are planning to leave at half time to avoid the chaos that will prevail at the end of the match, and then hightail it back to the hotel to watch the second half on the tv. Now we join the walking multitude, resisting the efforts of the hawkers selling all the things needed for such a match … flags, wigs, trumpets, face paint, water and other such necessities. We approach the first gate where six army officers are checking everybody. “No water” one says to me looking at my water bottle and pointing to the pile of plastic bottles next to the gate. I protest, but empty my water bottle.
“No cameras” he then says. “What do I do with it?” I respond, and after some back and forth and head wiggling we are through cameras intact.
The next gate is looming and the whole ritual is repeated and again we are through cameras intact. Now we are actually in the final shute towards the gate – single file. A smart young lady army officer is waving us down to the front of the queue … a distinct advantage of accompanying a woman it seems. I again wonder how everyone will get out of the ground through this single file gate. Almost there and another body frisk again reveals the cameras. A sergent is called over. “Is this a camera?” he asks pointing to my camera bag. I smile and wiggle my head but say nothing. “Have you got a camera in this bag?” he asks again. I respond with another head wiggle. “Oh well, it is up to the organisers” he says and he waves me though, camera intact to the row of organisers. I exchange head wiggles and smiles and they too wave us through with cameras intact.
We are in … just follow the signs to gate 7 up onto the terraces and the floodlit ground appears before us. We choose seats at the end of a row so that we can get out and then settle in for the show. It’s now 7pm … an hour to go before the start. The stands and terraces are filling fast as both teams warm up on the field. I am surprised how good the view is from up here. Never having attended a live match before, I have had it in mind that it would all be too far away to see but that doesn’t seem to be so. I understand why people come. The music blares though the load speakers, trumpets sound and cheers go up as the scantily clad cheerleaders (mostly blond and fair skinned- good job for the expats) enter the ground and strut their stuff. The mostly young males around us shout their delight. Looking around the crowd is actually quite mixed … next to me is a family with two young children. I notice that the no camera rule is a farce given all the mobile phones that are busily recording the scene. Everyone is very smart and well groomed, and they contentedly drink Pepsi’s Mountain Dew and munch on popcorn or ice creams – not a beer in sight!
The toss is won by the Daredevils and Punjab are sent in to bat. Australians Adam Gilkrist and Shaun Marsh open the batting, very familiar names from home, and soon the ball is being pounded to all parts of the ground. We jump up after each boundary as the cheers go up. When the ball actually disappears out of the ground (literally) a couple of times the crowd roars it’s approval accompanied by dancing on the seats. The big screen asks “Can we have our ball back?”. Time is flying by and now the last over is bowled with a total of 170 for 4. It is time to leave.
I call the taxi driver and we begin our walk back to our meeting place. The taxi driver appears out of the darkness before we get to the car park and we are on the way back up the winding roads to the Annex Hotel and our cosy room. We watch the rest of the match on the tv and the Kings XI prevail comfortably when the Delhi Daredevils don’t make the 22 runs needed in their last over.
May 17th Thursday In the early morning light we walk down to the circumnamulation path that goes around the base of the hill on which the Dalai Lama’s home and temple are built. It is another beautiful morning with the sun glistening on the pine leaves and the troop of monkeys, the cows, dogs and beggars wait along the path to see how the morning will unfold. The Kangra valley stretches away beneath into the distant blue haze. The snow peaks rise behind the hills above. The air is warm and gentle. We accompany the trickle of people murmuring their prayers, rosaries swinging beside them. Two really old ladies, who are shrinking into themselves, leaving shining eyes in deeply wrinkled faces and stoops that need sticks to support them, make their slow way around. I notice with interest that if I live, this is the next stage for me.
The birds sing, the prayer wheels rattle as they spin good wishes to the world, the prayer flags flutter in the morning breeze, the black kites soar on the updraft, a stream of urine sparkles in the sunlight as a man relieves himself beside the trail, the smell of juniper smoke fills the air.
I rest for a while on a bench and an old man walks past in a newly knitted sleeveless pullover over a freshly pressed shirt; a cap on his head and a stick in his hand. He reminds me of my father and tears spring to my eyes … I wish I had got to know my father better when I had the chance.
I find I love the giant prayer wheels in separate little alcoves that you have to walk around to spin. They clang a loud bell as they turn. I wonder what I am doing here … muttering mantra to myself and spinning the prayer wheels as I walk by. Being amongst a stream of people who are all wishing the world well seems reason enough. I feel the effort I make to find peace of mind and contentment with myself and the world will bear it’s own fruit. I am not sure where it will lead …
On this morning it leads to the tea stall where Jacqui and I sip glasses of hot sweet tea and smile at each other and the world. 🙂
You can find Jacqui’s musings on our trip here.
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