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Spider, Spider
a challenge to India's non-violent way


Patricia Munro-Conway spent four months travelling solo in India and Nepal. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday in McLeodganj. This is her story.

In India, surrounded by pine, oak and deodar forest, the village of McLeodganj has been the home of the Dalai Lama of Tibet since 1960. It was here that I had come to rest and reflect.

The Hotel Tibet, a stone's throw from the bazaar in McLeodganj, is not far from the Namgyal Monastery and the residence of His Holiness. My routine was to get up early just after dawn, hike back into the hills to one of the many herdsmen's villages, then return to the hotel for a late breakfast of Tibetan banana pancakes and masala tea. Afterwards, I would relax in the sun on the roof listening to Mozart or Handel on my portable CD player, watch falcons circle the mountain peaks and try to do a little writing. Afternoons were spent exploring the many hill trails behind the village and evenings, chatting with new-found friends over a late supper and good beer.

I returned one afternoon from a pleasant mountain walk down to the tiny church of St John-in-the-Wilderness, where Lord Elgin (one of India's Viceroys) is buried, just in time to avoid a downpour. For three and a half months in India, I had not seen a single drop of rain. But here, in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, the occasional thunderstorm presaged the coming of the monsoons. And it was spectacular! For fifteen minutes, the air crackled with ozone and rain obscured the landscape. Then, almost without warning, the sun broke through the gloom and the thunder rolled back into the hills.

Twilight was warm, muggy, fragrant after the mountain cloudburst. I decided to retire for a good read with a pot of ginger tea--my first solitary evening in a week. I turned on a light and there, on the wall, was the biggest spider I had ever seen indoors in my life! The body was the size of a child's fist; it had dark, hairy legs and predatory eyes. What on earth did it live on and why had it picked my room? It wasn't the sort of creature one could squash easily with a newspaper. Besides, this Buddhist village was the residence of compassion incarnate. Even to contemplate such an act was akin to sacrilege.

I rummaged around my things for a large plastic bag. My plan was to hold the open end of the bag up against the wall, gently shoo the spider into it, then deposit it outside on one of the trees overhanging the roof terrace. But this spider wasn't to be shooed anywhere! Scorning my bag, it scuttled past my hand down the wall and behind the bed. Now what? How could I be expected to sleep with that six-legged repository of venomous malevolence lurking beneath me!

Now, that's just silly, I reasoned. The spider didn't get to be the size of a rodent overnight. I have been in this room for over a week and nothing untoward had happened. I must breathe deeply, empty myself of superstitious fears, recite mantras, become one with all things in nature. Besides, my terrace was a mere twenty feet away from the rooftop where monks performed their daily rituals. Surely all that incense and chatting had instilled in my spider a peaceful heart. Thus soothed, I read my book, sipped my spiced tea and slept in confidence. By morning, all memory of the spider had vanished.

I spent the day hiking up near the snowline. Upon my return, there was my spider as large, many-legged and furry as ever. I really couldn't face talking myself down from panic a second time.

I would summon experts. The assistant manager and the nephew of the Tibetan hotel owner had virtually adopted me as their auntie.

"There's a spider on my wall--a great big hairy one--huge, in fact. I'm probably just being silly, bit can you remove it for me?"

"Is it poisonous?"

"I don't know: I didn't think to inquire."

Polite chuckles. "Of course, Madame. No problem. We'll take care of it. You were quite right to call us."

One of the young men fetched a bamboo broom and headed up the narrow stairs to my quarters. The other seized the only large heavy book at hand, a Gideon's bible, and started off in solemn pursuit. How pragmatic, I thought. Try the Buddhist, non-violent solution first, and if that doesn't work, implement the Christian one--bash its brains in.

The spider turned out to be quite cooperative. Climbing onto the broom, it was transported out of my room and shaken onto the tree below the terrace. It is probably still there instructing its young in the fine art of terrorizing foreigners.


Ed. note: If you enjoyed this article, you'll probably want to read:

India - She Fights Her Fears
Preparing for a trek
Spider, Spider
India -- Do Your Pre-Trip Research!
A mixed bag of travelling tips




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