THURSDAY, MARCH 16, 2006. I have arrived in Dharamsala after a harrowing twelve hour bus ride from Shimla through mostly winding, cliff-hugging mountaneous roads (The conductor placed me in the front seat opposite the driver). The Tibetan government in exile is actually located in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala, where I am staying. Both of the hotels I tried booking a room over the telephone were full even though this is not high season. I learned upon arrival that the Dalai Lama was in town and just started two weeks of teaching (which explains the lack of available accommodations). What fortuitous timing on my part! I will try to attend one of His Holiness's teaching sessions. The weather is chilly and cool. According to a NRI (Non Resident Indian) from New York that I met at dinner, it's been raining here for the past week. But it looks like it will clear up tomorrow. Good weather always follows me :-)
SUNDAY, MARCH 19, 2006. This morning I attended a teach-in by the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the 1989 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people. Upon arrival in McLeod Ganj a few days ago, I learned that the Dalai Lama was in town and was conducting two weeks of teachings (15-29 March) at the main temple a few steps from his residence. (I had tried to see the Dalai Lama during his visit to the University of California, Irvine (near my home), last year, but wasn't able to get a ticket then.)
During each day of the teachings, there is a morning session (0930 - 1130 Hrs) and an afternoon session (1330 - 1530 Hrs) (No cameras or video permitted). Everyone attending needs to register with the security office and obtain an identification card. Upon entering the temple complex, two lines snake through the entrance, one for monks and one for foreigners. There really was no line for foreigners as I walked past hundreds of monks in their red robes. Just past security and in a large, open courtyard between the Dalai Lama's residence and the main temple, I saw Jindy (a Canadian/American of Indian descent staying in McLeod to write a book) amongst a sea of people sitting and waiting for the Dalai Lama. I had met Jindy a few nights before at dinner.
The Dalai Lama entered the courtyard at 0930 and walked to a dais at the base of the temple. Everyone was quiet, with many bowing and in silent prayer (in contrast to the boisterous Italian crowd attending the Papal audience). For the next two hours, the Dalai Lama spoke (preached?) and chanted in Tibetan. Jindy had a radio which he bought to hear a simulataneous English translation broadcast on FM. I decided to listen in Tibetan. Although I did not understand a word, the Dalai Lama's wisdom and humor needed no translation. He appeared quite older than I recall from seeing him a few years back on 60 Minutes, an American television newsmagazine. Still, he smiled often and seemed genuinely happy to be conducting the teach-ins. Not surprisingly, there were a number of Westerners among the audience, perhaps representing five percent of the total. Most surprisingly, however, was the number of monks I saw who were of Caucasian descent. The Dalai Lama's spiritual guidance and wisdom obviously appeals to many non-Tibetans. It was definitely an honor and privilege to attend his teach-in. At the conclusion of the teach-in, the Dalai Lama walked back to his residence with his entourage. He paused briefly to shake hands with one male Westerner. The Westerner had perhaps the biggest smile of his life. I'm sure he's still smiling.
I've been here for three days and plan to stay for another day or two before heading off to Amritsar in the Punjab state of India. McLeod Ganj is very relaxed and removed from the chaos of traditional India. From Amritsar, I will decide whether to continue my travels in India (Kerala, Goa, and Mumbai) or to head to Bangkok, Thailand.
One thing I haven't mentioned about India is the shopping, mostly because I haven't been doing much of it. India does offer great, cheap shopping--clothing, shoes, jewelry, art, crafts, food, etc. You do have to bargain in order to get the best deals.