I’m up in the Indian Himalayas in a village called McLeod Ganj, the northern part of the bigger town Dharmasala. McLeod Ganj is a pretty sizeable Tibetan settlement. After China invaded Tibet, the Indian government granted access to this area to all the Tibetan refugees and they’ve been here ever since. Some say the Indian government did that out of guilt for not stepping in and trying to stop China’s invasion. McLeod Ganj is also where the Dalai Lama has called home since the early 1960’s. He was just in town this past week, speaking every night. I wanted to see him at least once but my schedule wouldn’t allow it, and as it turns out it was probably better. A local was telling me the town was swarming with people and all the hotels were booked up way in advance. Interestingly most of the visitors were Taiwanese and from other neighboring countries.
Hardly anyone from Europe of the U.S. as I would have expected. And definitely not Richard Gere who I recently learned is BANNED from entering India ever again. This is all because he kissed a woman in public during a speech they were both giving. And he’s also banned from going to China. That wipes out quite a bit of landmass that he’ll never get to go to again in this lifetime. I’m feeling pretty good about myself right about now as should most of you reading this.
I can actually see the Dalai Lama’s home from my hotel. It’s not more than a ten minute walk. We’re practically neighbors. I may go over there and ask to borrow some sugar. “Lend me some sugar, I am your neighbor.” I like to quote Outkast whenever possible when speaking to distinguished people. And his response will probably be something deep like:
“Emile, look within yourself and you’ll find enough sugar to sweeten the whole world.”
And I’ll walk away in a daze, not sure how to do what he just said, but feeling enlightened anyway, and still without any sugar.
And he probably wouldn’t call me Emile either. He’d probably call me Emily as the hotel clerk in Delhi did when checking me in. Looking at my passport he says, “Excuse me sir, but Emily is a lady’s name, no?” Thanks man.
The bus ride from Delhi was an adventure in itself, better than anything Six Flags has ever put up. We waited for an hour in 95 degree, sticky Delhi heat just to board the bus. And of course there isn’t any A/C on the bus. Luckily they have little fans mounted next to every other seat. Unluckily, none of them worked. I don’t even get surprised by things like that anymore. I just start to be thankful when something goes as I hoped it would. Things cooled off once we started moving and we got a breeze playing through the bus. The ride itself took over 14 hours and it was nearly impossible to sleep as the bus had zero suspension and you could feel every, single pebble we drove over. And when we drove over one of the big potholes I would be lifted two inches off the seat before I came crashing down again. I can’t wait for the bus ride back to Delhi.
(a monk just sat down behind me; I’m curious as to what he’s doing online…just looked, it’s a whole bunch of Tibetan text. I hate to be that tourist but this is all still a novelty to me).
Tomorrow I’m beginning a 10 day meditation course here, which is the whole reason I risked my life on that bus ride last night. It’s at a place called the Tushita Meditation Center. The course is an intro to Buddhism and meditation which are two things I’ve been drawn to this year. And for the entire course, students are required to keep silent. Not a word. For 10 days. I’m pretty excited and a bit nervous because my legs fall asleep within minutes of sitting and here we’re going to be sitting for hours at a time. Ouch.
I was sitting on a bench near the big temple in town this afternoon, and this local guy Tinzen and his dad sat down next to me.
Tinzen and I chatted for a while and I learned he’s 30 (claims he’s really old) and single (claims it’s because all the tourist women leave after a few days) and really misses homeland Tibet. He was born there and moved over here in 1999 because it was just getting too tough to live there. And now he works at a non-profit where he is promoting awareness of the Tibetan cause. The whole time we were talking, his dad was lost in his own thoughts mumbling some mantras or prayers, all the while running his prayer beads through his hands. As we got up to leave, Tinzen told me we should meet for tea after my 10 day course is over. I said great, how can I find you? He laughed and said “This place is very small. This is not New York!” Then we went our own ways.
And I ran into him 20 minutes later.