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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 Exile.

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. 

In 1951, the Maoist Chinese Government invaded and occupied Tibet. After ruthlessly suppressing the local populace, by 1959, the Chinese were firmly in place and the Dalai Lama fled to India to carry on the fight to save 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 monasteries 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 formerly deserted outpost of Dharamsala. Today, it is a thriving 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 inhospitable. A 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 reality 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 philosophy 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 are 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 the 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 parlours in town showing all the latest in bootleg movies. (T refused to go on moral grounds.) The theatre itself was hilarious. Imagine, if you will, a small tin shack, with wooden benches arranged before a 20 inch screen TV. Very primitive indeed, but 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 that the laugh track is provided by the movie theatre audience and the occasional blacking out of the screen 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 get 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 enlightenment 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 Lama's 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 English 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 go 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 the mass but then handed over the pulpit to members of the congregation for the homily. The readings were done in 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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