Seven Days in Tibet
- Dharamsala, McLeodganj, India
Greeting again from high in the mountains of Himachal
Pradesh ... Dharamsala, the home of the Tibetan Government in
After leaving Amritsar, we
traveled west through the
beautiful mountains of northern India to a remote
area called Dharamsala. Small, but famous the world over as the
home of the Dalai Lama and his courageous fight for the spirit and
culture of Tibet. Some history first.
the Maoist Chinese Government invaded and occupied
Tibet. After ruthlessly suppressing the local
by 1959, the Chinese were firmly in place and the
Dalai Lama fled to India to carry on the fight to
his culture and people. He was only seventeen at the
time. Since then, Tibet has been subject to horrible
devastation, both culturally and politically that can only be
considered genocide. Today,
in a massive population transfer, over 50% of Tibet
is now ethnically Chinese. And in the especially
brutal Cultural Revolution, 95% of Buddhist
and temples were completely destroyed. To save
Tibetan culture and their way of life, the Dalai Lama
has set up a government in exile in the remote
deserted outpost of Dharamsala. Today, it is a
Tibetan village which welcomes thousands of refugees
from Tibet every year. They have built numerous monasteries and
cultural centers to preserve and pass on the Tibetan
lifestyle. It's setting is at once, both beautiful and
wild and remote terrain that has resisted all efforts to tame it, so
they learn to live with it.
There we discovered first hand the devastating
of a people without a home. We visited the actual
government offices including the huge library, a
repository of the invaluable collection of Tibetan
Buddhist manuscripts, saved from destruction within
Tibet. There, they offer courses in Buddhist
and meditation. We sat in on a few classes. They are
taught by a high Buddhist lama and translated into
English. The teacher and the books are held in very
high regard. The lama sits on an elevated platform
while the students sit on mats on the floor. Shoes
not allowed within the classroom and you are
not supposed to point the bottom of your foot at the
lama, any manuscripts, or any photo of his holiness
Dalai Lama. Class begins with ten minutes of daily
meditative recitations and chanting.
At the information center, we gathered literature on
Tibetan history and the current political and human
rights situation in Tibet. It is indeed extremely
dire and we would encourage all of you to find out
more how you can help stop this genocide!
Back in the town itself, after sampling the wonderful
Tibetan cuisine, Ann enrolled in a short term cooking
class. In it, I learned how to make delicious
Tibetan momos, very similar to dumplings and perogies.
Our class made vegetable, ginger-potato and sweet
momos. The next night I learned how to make Thentuk,
a homemade stretch noodle soup as well as rhu-chose,
momos in soup and finally a fried noodle dish.
We will have to have everyone over for delicious
Tibetan food when we return.
ON another note, we met an interesting character at the cooking classes.
His name was Sangye and he was a new refugee there, having just arrived
two weeks prior. He was all of 18 and seemed so young and naive, very
happy despite the trauma of escape and his passage over the mountains.
Happy, I believe, to just be free. He knew no English, so I offered to
come early before the cooking class and teach him. He was staying with
the people running the class, and even on the last day when the women
chef was sick, he pitched in and helped to prepare the meals. I spent
some time with him, not enough though, and soon we had to say goodbye.
But, he has a Chicago postcard with my address and email on it,
hopefully, soon he will be able to use them to keep in touch.
For entertainment, we partook of the two video
in town showing all the latest in bootleg movies.
(T refused to go on moral grounds.)
The theatre itself was hilarious. Imagine, if you
a small tin shack, with wooden benches arranged
before a 20 inch screen TV. Very primitive indeed,
the movies themselves were all the latest hits. We
saw The Sixth Sense (great ending) and Austin Powers.
When watching bootleg movies, you have to realize
the laugh track is provided by the movie theatre
audience and the occasional blacking out of the
is due to patrons exiting stage left to head for the bathrooms.
And of course, the strange cinematography, especially
at the beginning when they are setting up the
camera and filming the opening titles. They tend to
cut off. But we had so much fun seeing real American
movies that each morning we eagerly awaited the
daily lineup on the chalkboard outside the shack.
The town itself is chock full of Tibetan Buddhist
monks and is a repository of Westerners seeking
and whatever else. The notice boards are full of ads for
yoga, philosophy, meditation, massage, and any other
mind-out-of-body type experiences that you desire.
One day out shopping, Ann met a wonderful monk. We
had tea together and then he invited me to his
monastery. Thupten Woser was actually a member of the Dalai
monastic order and I was given a personal tour of the
wonderful facilities. Afterwards, he ran to his room
and then the local bookshop and when we parted he
gave me a ritual Tibetan blessing complete with long
white scarf which he wrapped around my neck. Then he
presented me with some Buddhist scriptures and even
a few Free Tibet stickers. It was a lovely experience
and I hope to keep in touch with him. He even invited
me back for the Tibetan New Year celebrations in
February and said that he could get me accommodations
within the monastery for monk's private guests.
We also met another monk, Yeshi Nyima (his name means
wisdom and sun) that specialized in Tibetan
astrology. He did Ann's chart based on a few personal
details (the usual suspects -date of birth, time,
location, parents info etc.) and came up with some
interesting results. He actually told Ann how many
children she would have and how long she will live.
That was a bit strange to say the least and we still
don't know what to make of it. The rest was rather
vague but intriguing. There may have been a bit of
translation difficulty as he is still learning
but he was so sweet and we hope to keep in touch.
He mentioned that if anyone would like to have their
chart done, he wouldn't mind doing it via email.
Ironically, in this
Buddhist outpost, we managed to
to mass on Sunday at St. John's in the Wilderness
church. The church itself is a remnant of the
British occupation of India and the mass itself was
quite different from home. An Indian priest started
mass but then handed over the pulpit to members of
congregation for the homily. The readings were done
Hindi and English and then the homily took up the
remainder of the hour. There was no mention of any
type of eucharist and the mass ended with a blessing
after the Apostle's Creed. Quite refreshing!
As for the main reason to be in
Dharamsala, we missed
the Dalai Lama himself. While we were visiting his
residence, he was off touring America. He had just
given a public audience two weeks before we got there
and then he was off to America. But I guess that
means we will just have to come back to this slice of
Tibet in India.
Ten Four Good Buddies
Ann and Doug
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