Munro-Conway spent four months travelling solo in India
and Nepal. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday in McLeodganj.
This is her story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
summon experts. The assistant manager and the nephew of the
Tibetan hotel owner had virtually adopted me as their auntie.
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?"
know: I didn't think to inquire."
"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.
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.