I spend several more days in McLeod Ganj, not thrilled (the way I was with Manali, or Benares and Pushkar on previous trips) but not suffering either.
I wander out to Bhagsu (3ks away) which has become an "alternative" to the main scene in town. There are endless guest houses, an abundance of places to eat, and an array of classes on offer for anyone who feels like educating themselves. If you want to learn to play the sitar, cook vegetarian curries, chant Tibetan style or become an expert in Ashtanga yoga, you're definitely in the right place.
The scenery is charming, the waterfall nearby beautiful, and the locals friendly but, in truth, the vibe is way too "New Age" for me.
At my age, I have a good sense of who I am - a "Das Capital/Hegelian Dialectic in Steve Maddens, eating dark chocolate and having an existential crisis" girl, and it doesn't sit well with the holistic health talk and astrological charts that's all the rage here. I'm a live-and-let-live type but I know that having to eat breakfast to the sound of "soothing chants" and having mud dripped into my nose (an ancient ayurvedic treatment) to "cleanse" my body could really induce a bad hair day on my part. Nope, it's really not for me.
That afternoon, back in the "real world," I settle down in a tiny cafe I've stumbled upon, in a quiet backstreet, with an Americano (yes!) and my new novel. One of my great pleasures on these trips is having time to read seriously. However, it's not to be as the woman opposite me asks to borrow a pen and soon we have fall into casual conversation. Her name is Ayelet and - what a surprise - Israeli. "What?" I think to myself. "I come thousands of miles to experience another culture and all I get is...my own people?!"
Seriously though, Ayelet is interesting . Older than I am, married and with her own successful business, she's left her two teenage boys in their father's care and buggered off here to India, to spend a month wandering. I'm impressed by her courage, and also the fact that she's eschewed the "tour group" route. We talk for a while but I'm tired after my long wander and ask her if she'd like to continue the conversation over dinner. She happily agrees. That night, en route from my guest house, I'm shivering and pull my sweater around me tighter. The tiny restaurant we're in has a top floor and as I sit down at the table (Ayelet has yet to show) the shutters from the window bang loudly. The wind is howling and, peering outside, I can see rain bucketing down, hitting the ground like bullets. Seems like the monsoons have arrived in full force. A tremendous bolt of lightening then a terrifying crack of thunder follow.
Then, just like that, the power fails.