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Dalai Lama and some momos on the side

INDIA | Thursday, 14 May 2009 | Views [463]

Long last, arriving in Dharamsala felt sooooo good. After twisty turny roads up and down and all around through the mountains just standing stationary felt excellent. Immediately upon pulling up to our hotel we ran into the other Irish kids who also had been staying on the houseboat and were now staying at Hotel Mount View in Mcleod Ganj as well. We all headed for a late dinner on the roof of Carpe Diem where our new friend Mark made a great point with me. He had ordered a piping hot personal pizza and it smelled divine. After my mentioning that it looked great he told me I should order some. I immediately said I could never let myself eat Italian in India. I think I should only eat the local food of the destinations I travel to so I can fully take advantage of the experience and authenticity of the location. Mark then said, "Yeah, when you are traveling for a week or so. But when you are traveling months on end, let yourself get what you feel like eating!" Good point Mark, good point. Although, (I'm playing catch up currently writing this in Calcutta) Ans and I just attempted an Italian meal at a restaurant dubiously named Moulin Rouge and we are pretty positive the tomato sauce was ketchup. This conversation did remind me of the fact that my approach to traveling this time around would be different. I am living while simultaneously traveling nonstop, different than study abroad in Seville where my friends and I took off every weekend to sample a different member of the EU. This time around I do not have an apartment to return to during the week. No home base. My home base is a backpack which is already racked up and Ans.

Our first morning we woke up later than usual and headed out to a sub par breakfast which was included with the hotel. I miss having maple syrup with pancakes. The meal was very doughy, I had some dough with my dough. Banana pancake and some Tibetan bread (tasted like the rolls my college dining hall used to serve). After breakfast we ventured out eager to explore this new town enveloped in the mountains. Mcleod Ganj is home to primarily Tibetan refugees. Walking up the steep hill people are selling shirts, bags, bracelets, you name it with "Free Tibet". The smell of this town is one of the first aspects which took me off guard. I had assumed, as others would, that this would be a pristine little enclave which would enable me to breathe in and taste some fresh mountain air. Well, no. I would definitely not want to taste this air. The town is charming, but they basically have an open sewage system with gutters carved out on the side of the road. Dirty water and trash are constantly traveling through these channels down the mountain.

After wandering around the hill we found ourselves at Tsuglagkhang which comprises the official residence of the Dalai Lama. The temple was scattered with other tourists, Tibetan monks, and Westerners who looked like they had come to find themselves and decided to practice Buddhism. It was interesting to see people who you would least expect practicing, one girl looked like she had previously been a Suicide Girl and had escaped Brooklyn to come to terms with her spirituality in Mcleod Ganj. Prior to going to this temple Ans and I went to the Tibetan Museum which was primarily about how the Tibetan political system is structured but the museum also featured some heart wrenching pictures. The takeover and persecution the Tibetans have gone through hits much harder when you are living amongst them surrounded by their sincere and peaceful faces. Monks strolling one of the 3 main streets draped in their deep red robes contributes to the soulful atmosphere of Mcleod Ganj and I definitely felt more at peace.
That evening we went to Taste of India. The meal was pretty tasty- mushroom curry, nan, chana masala, vegetable biryani. I wish that cottage cheese (paneer) was not included in most vegetarian dishes in India. It just does not appeal to me. I have been eating vegetarian ever since I arrived in Delhi so not to get sick from the meat. Most of the meat is not kept cold, often sitting out in the sun. The nan that I have had so far in India has also been somewhat of a let down. More like a flattened out cold pita than a hot fluffy utility to sop up some curry with. That being said the spice factor in everything we order is definitely present. I can be guaranteed with each Indian meal that arrives before my eyes my taste buds will be thoroughly stimulated with the variety of spice which occurs in each dish: cardamom, cinnamon, curry, green chili, ginger, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, saffron, and masala! With that list of spices we are just getting started to begin the sensory overload the curries, gravies, and chutneys provide. After drinking plenty of water post dinner to cool our palate we headed to bed early as I had signed us up for an early cooking class the next morning at Llamo's Kitchen where we would learn to make momos!
We woke up extra early because we wanted to see the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy. Partly because we were so high up in the mountains. I decided to crawl back into bed and read until it was time to go to breakfast then the cooking class. Our cooking class took place up the hill in what I believe was Llamo's home as well as his kitchen. He ushered us in to take a seat with the four other students. A man and woman from Israel (not sure how they were related) and a young couple (girl from Canada, guy from Sweden). Llamo was teaching us how to make three different types of momos.

First I should explain about these momos. From the moment I arrived in Dharamsala I saw men and women on the side of the street selling "veg momos." They appeared to be plump little dumplings stuffed with a morsel of your choice. I had wanted to taste one, but was hesitant. So this cooking class presented the perfect opportunity to sink my teeth into one of these babies. The three different types we made were the following:

1) veggie- cabbage and carrot

2) spinach and cheese (it doesn't matter what type)

3) cooked sugar and sesame seed

After Llamo mixed up the ingredients in three different bowls he called on me to knead the dough. We then spent the majority of the class learning to make the three different momo shapes out of the dough so you could tell the three different types apart. Ans and I got into a competition about who's momo was better and who Llamo would say "very good! perfect!" to first. At the end of class we all sat around and ate the momos together. The spinach and cheese seemed to be the favorite among the group. The sweet momo was adorned with a thick honey afterward making it incredibly sweet. The filling was crunchy since it was mainly hardened sugar. For the two savoury momos Llamo showed us how to mix ketchup, soy sauce, chili, tomatoes, and cabbage to eat with the momo as a type of elaborate condiment. After class Ans and I had decided to go check out of the Hotel Mount View and move to the Green Hotel up the road.

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