Nobody, but nobody has small change in India. Your average auto driver looks in amazement when you offer him 100 rupees for a 50 fare. There is some insane rupee collector who must be massing quadrillions of small notes. I generally make a point of breaking large bills at places like restaurants where they have lots of change.
Another issue is that I had been advised before coming to India that there was a currency crisis here. Arbitrarily the government had withdrawn 1000 rupee notes, and for several months there was no alternative currency. Something to do with anti-corruption. The other dilemma was that my good old standby, travellers cheques, are no longer accepted. “What to do”, I asked a Canadian friend living in India? “ATMs, credit cards and carrying a lot of cash”. Knowing the unreliable infrastructure, I had my doubts that I would find functional ATMs or places accepting my credit card. That was borne out in Delhi where I tramped from one ATM to another until the 10th one yielded me a paltry $50. Swaraj came to my rescue and directed me to his own personal favourite which spit out thousands of rupees – sufficiently adequate for my trip to Bir. And there MUST be a functioning ATM where paragliders abound, I reasoned.
I started my enquiries on day one of arrival; researching costs of my return trip that DIDN’T include the toy train. The choices were taxi or several local buses. A taxi to Pathankot, where I was to catch my overnight train to Delhi, was 2800 rupees. More than I would be spending my entire time here. But a very welcome alternative to doing hard time on buses. I counted my remaining rupees, and with a shock realized that I didn’t actually have enough. Where might there be an ATM, I enquired? “One down the street”. Which naturally didn’t work despite prayers to Shiva, Ram and every other deity I could summon. Followed by some not so spiritual curses.
I began to consider skipping meals, transferring back to the dorm (only 100 rupees per night)… and for the first time felt what it might be like to be destitute. Skipping out and not paying my lodging bill briefly looked attractive, but of what use was all my spiritual development to be negated by non-payment? And worst of all, cheating a Tibetan monastery. I think there is a special kind of hell reserved for such sins.
So it’s the buses, I thought melancholically. I have studiously avoided them ever since my first “luxury air-conditioned air-suspension overnight sleeper” bus from Goa to Hampi in 1998. The only air in the suspension was that in the place of actual suspension. And sleep was nigh impossible due to endless potholes that had jolted me awake every 10 minutes.
So I resigned myself to this fate. I adopted an enjoyable schedule of meditating in the beautiful big temple, watching Mooji videos on my laptop, and wandering the lovely countryside. Interspersed with interesting conversations with the other guests, who turned out to be an eclectic lot. One Mexican/ Indian couple befriended me and turned out to also be Mooji devotees. They suggested coming down to one of the larger monasteries at a neighbouring village to witness a large Tibetan puja.
I set out early to walk there, and realized about halfway it was far longer than I had calculated. I hit the main road and decided to stop for chai and a phone recharge, as my trusty guide, Google Maps, was about to fade and leave me in a mapless wilderness. And then I spied another ATM. Aha! May as well try. By now I had come to terms with sharing a sweaty tin box with 100 plus other passengers for 7 hours as my inevitable return journey.
But it’s a strange thing that when one gives up to ones fate, that an altogether different alternative universe can open up. The machine clattered and coughed, then delivered a healthy wad of those most coveted greenbacks: 500 rupee notes. Enough to secure my freedom: to luxuriate instead in the AC bliss of my own chauffeur driven taxi. To celebrate, I jumped into a cab and grandiosely directed driver-ji to take me post haste to my Tibetan puja, and damn the cost. Luckily my chai sojourn had replenished Google sufficiently to show him where I needed to go. I was doubly rewarded by the spectacle of watching a mass chanting of a Buddhist script that was mesmerizing and overpowering.
Somehow this finale is a totally fitting intersection with the beginning of my trip with the wisdom of Mooji. There is a certain timelessness that is contained in both. I have come full circle. Mooji to Tibetan Buddhism and back. What a strange beautiful trip it’s been.
YOU CAN FIND MORE PHOTOS OF BIR HERE: