Adventures In Bhagsu

There are about a thousand things to do in the hippy training camp that is Bhagsu in between saluting the sun and having all the blood rush to your head in a decidedly unpleasant manner as you attempt pre-breakfast yoga. Jess had been teaching me macrame. I’d learned a bit of it in Hampi with Tarrant and I’d found it incredibly hypnotic and relaxing. Jess taught me a few knots but there was loads she wanted to learn too so we’d gone in search of a teacher and mostly they were pretty similar, offering classes for the same kind of price. You can buy the waxed string in the supermarkets here for either ₹5 a metre or ₹200 to ₹250 a roll, depending on your negotiation skills. As with the yogis we’d gone from guy to guy, trying to find someone we liked, when we happened upon a fella who we bought some string off because he had some cool colours we hadn’t seen elsewhere, and got chatting. He asked us if he’d spoken to us on the street before and although Jess didn’t think so, he seemed familiar to me. I asked him if he had a shop anywhere else and he replied,
“I am Shiva! I am everywhere!” Haha, soooo Hampi then. He was the bloke that taught me and Tarrant to macrame so we decided to take lessons from him despite him being a little bit odd. He has a tendency to watch you work for a minute before shouting, “What are you doing?!” in a tone which suggests he just caught you trying to embroider your initials on his grandma’s nipples. At first you stutter and try and explain yourself but then I remembered from Hampi; the only answer you have to give is, “Macrame!”

Shiva, our macrame teacher. Winter in the south, summer in the north, teaching foreigners to knot string. Not a bad life.
Constructing some manner of abomination from string and calling it macrame.

I’d learned some basic stuff off Jess and after one session with Shiva I decided that the complicated things weren’t for me on account of all the thinking I was required to do. Fuck that shit. I was happy making simple eight string bracelets for mates back home but anything requiring more than that and I ended up getting everything in the kind of tangle I tend to just stare at forlornly until someone takes pity on me and helps me. I also have this thing in that if I’m not a total fucking boss of something within the first five minutes then I decide it’s shit anyway and my obviously precious time could be spent doing something else such as consuming cake and beer or sleeping or whatever. I managed half a fancy bracelet in our allotted time. I’d like to think I’ll try and finish it at some point but at the age of 34 I pretty much know myself. It’ll stay in the bottom of my bag and serve as a reminder of my failure at pointlessly knotting string together in intricate patterns.

Despite the obvious concentration I still managed to frequently hit myself in various parts of my anatomy.

Other things to totally suck at in Bhagsu include poi and me and Theo decided to have a bash at that with a slightly mad, quite funny, and very intense teacher called Sunny. Theo has done this shit before, he has dreadlocks, I think it’s compulsory for white dudes with dreadlocks to have tried their hand at some manner of spinny twirly circus trick at least once in their life. It’s the rules. Turns out that poi is basically the art of trying to get your hands to do two totally different thing without hitting yourself in the face. Easier said than done but Sunny is a good, albeit slightly scary, teacher. He has you doing things with just one hand first, then the other, and he stops your hand in mid-air to get you to think about what position it’s in, and all whilst never seeming to take a poi to the head. He seems to get frustrated with you and shout at you a lot but not in a bad way, you can banter with him as he tells you, “Sorry, please, you can make 1000 mistakes, it doesn’t matter!” Tell you what though, learning poi makes me very fucking glad I don’t have bollocks given the amount of time I hit myself in the genitals. I never realised I had so little control over my own limbs. I managed a few simple tricks over the course of three lessons and I even bought a set of poi, fire poi no less, fully intending to practice as much as possible and become a fucking poi legend so I could rock it on the beach back home at sunset in front of the West Pier and become the toast of everyone’s Instagram. Let’s face it though, they’ll probably just join my half finished fancy bracelet at the bottom of my bag where I’ll pointedly ignore them for the rest of my trip.

Altitude has its benefits.
You shall not pa… wait wait wait, I’ve got an itch…

When it comes to shovelling things into my facehole, one of my favourite things about Nepal and north India is momos. Momos are the way and the light. They’re little dumplings of joy that I can’t believe I’d never had until I came to India and fully intended to make up for the momo deficiency in my life by consuming as many as possible, and what better way to do this than learning to make them? Mainly so I could then pass the knowledge on to the mrs so she can make them for me. So the three of us wandered down to Lhamo’s Kitchen in McLeodGanj for a cooking lesson. Lhamo will teach you to make thukpa or Tibetan bread if you like, all in separate classes though. This time it’d just be the momos. We were shown how to make and knead the dough and told that you then cover it but not with paper and leave it for six minutes. Easy enough so far. Then you portion the dough and turn the portions into lovely, perfect circles which apparently requires the skill level of a ninja. I’ve never been able to do it. Then it’s a case of filling it with whatever you want, closing it into the desired shape, wiping the bottom with oil and steaming them for 15 minutes. Sounds like a piece of piss, yes? It’s not. I don’t know why I find closing them so difficult. Seriously, he made it look so easy. Lhamo created perfect little parcels whereas I managed some manner of abomination that you might not feel entirely comfortable putting in your mouth.

Selfie with Lhamo, our tutor in the ways of momo construction.

They were good, though. He taught us a more traditional vegetable filling that involved finely chopping stuff such as cabbage, carrot and onion. No no, finer. Finer still. Seriously, use a blender or something. Get that shit fiiiiiine and mix the crap out of it. He showed us a cheese and spinach filling which is a little blander, and a traditional sweet momo filling made from sugar, sesame seeds and flour and is proof that the deities love us and want us to be happy. You can dip the sweet momos in melted chocolate. Go on. Your dopamine levels with thank you for it. You can basically put anything you want in them. You could live off them. I’d be happy to try. And the thing I love the most is the spicy dip that momos come with, the achar. He even told us how to make that. I’ll put all this shit at the bottom of this post, mainly for my benefit because at some point I’ll lose the piece of paper this is all written on and I have the memory of a retarded goldfish. Lhamo is a cool guy to learn from, he’s a Tibetan refugee who fled 10 years ago and made the journey on foot across the Himalaya. He’s met the Dalai Lama, all refugees are granted an audience with him. I’m never really sure where the boundaries are with this kind of thing. I mean, having to flee your home must be a pretty traumatic experience, would he actually want to talk about it? Would he welcome questions or would he just wish we’d shut up and make the bloody momos? Jess asked him a couple of questions which he seemed happy to answer but they’re such a polite people, the Tibetans. I don’t think you’d really know if you were offending them.

This is my favourite yoga pose.
Our new yoga buddies.

So after nearly two weeks of hiking to waterfalls, watching epic thunderstorms from the patio of the guesthouse, pulling wedgies out of my crack during our daily yoga sessions, stuffing my face with hummous and desserts, meeting some awesome people, knotting all manner of coloured string together into bracelets and generally having a brilliant time, it’s time to leave Bhagsu and McLeodGanj. We’ve got a couple more days which we’re gonna use to trek up to Triund, but that’s it for now. I don’t think I’m ready to leave. I’ve gotten way too comfortable here. But as much as I’d love to stay I’m also looking forward to the rest of north India. I’m excited about travelling across the region, leaving a trail of macrame string in my wake. And yeah, I even managed a head stand all by myself. Ok, kinda all by myself. Ok ok, Om helped me up but I managed to hold it for a few seconds before my body put a stop to such nonsense because being upside down is not the natural order of things and it involves muscles I’m not sure I possess. I’ve also realised that yoga isn’t for me. I’ve had a lovely time with Om and I recommend him, I just don’t find yoga an enjoyable way to wake up. I shall stick to tea. Tea makes mornings doable in ways that contortion does not.

Nailed it. At least for the few seconds necessary to get the photo.

Momo Recipe
To make enough dough for about twelve momos…
– ½ kilo of any kind of flour
– 2 tbsp baking powder
– 300ml room temperature water

Mix the flour and the baking powder in a bowl and slowly add water. Stir well. Dust a flat surface and your hands with flour then knead the dough for three minutes. Cover it (not with paper) and leave for six minutes. This is just enough time to consume some tea and check your Facebook.
Roll the dough into a tube and and cut two finger width pieces, roll into a ball and flatten slightly. Roll them into thin discs, or the closest approximation you can manage in my case. Fill them, close them, wipe the bottom with oil and steam those bad boys for 15 minutes.

To make enough vegetable filling for about six momos…
– ½ medium sized cabbage, finely chopped
– 1 large carrot, peeled and grated
– 2 medium sized onions, finely chopped. Seriously If you think they’re fine enough then think again.
– 1 tbsp finely chopped capsicum
– 1 tbsp finely chopped coriander
– ¼ tsp crushed black pepper.
Mix the absolute shit out of it. Totally go for it. Maybe chuck a bit of Jeremy Kyle on the telly to keep you entertained because you’re gonna be there a while.

Spinach and cheese momos…
– One handful of washed and squeezed spinach
– 1 tbsp cheese. I don’t think he specified the manner of cheese. They’re Tibetan so if you can get a hold of nak’s cheese then I guess roll with that, but it’s probably not something you can just pick up from Tesco’s so cheddar will probably do.
– 1 tbsp spring onion, finely chopped
– 1 tbsp coriander, you guessed it, finely chopped
– 1 tbsp garlic, crushed or finely chopped
– 1 tbsp oil
Mix it like you’ve never mixed before

Sweet momos. A whole world of yes.
– 2 tbsp oil in a pan on the heat
– 1 tsbp sugar
– 1 tbsp sesame seed
– 2 tbsp flour
Stir it all together until it goes a brown colour.

The utter joy that is achar
– 3 tbsps oil in a pan
– 3 tbsps chilli powder
– Minced garlic and ginger. I’ve not written down how much. To taste I guess? Lots?
– Sesame seeds
– Pinch of black pepper, pinch of salt
Fry everything in the oil for a few minutes and add a little bit of water.

You’re very welcome. Go see Lhamo. He explains it way better than I do.

Blurry bonus photo: Thunder cocks are on the move, thunder cocks are loose…

Bhagsu, Mcleod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India
Stayed at: View Cafe Guesthouse
Activity: Cooking classes with Lhamo and yoga with Bhagsu Yoga Institute

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