Highlights from my second visit to Mcleod Ganj

Now that I’ve finally caught up on posting about the group trip, I’ll try to get up to speed with what Roman and I have been up to. 🙂

I loved being back in Mcleod Ganj. We ended up staying for a total of seven nights. It was a pretty leisurely stay; we didn’t end up doing half the things we talked about, but it was really lovely nonetheless. Here are some of the highlights from my second visit there:

The Dalai Lama’s teachings

Even though it made for a more hectic atmosphere during my last stay, it was cool that the Dalai Lama was in residence. We did manage to get the required documentation to attend his teachings in the end.

The teachings were held at the Tsuglagkhang Temple. We showed up after they had already begun on the first day. The temple is in a larger complex. At the main building, the actual temple is on the second floor, with a large space around it. Last time I visited, the monks were within the temple praying, and the space outside the temple had a good amount of Tibetans sitting to join the prayers.

This time, that whole space upstairs was reserved for special groups. We could walk around after the teachings and by the looks of things, the area was packed to the gills. We, along with hundreds of others (mostly Tibetans and Westerners) were able to hear the talks from the courtyard below the temple, via loudspeakers and one large screen television. His Holiness and the other monks who were giving instruction were speaking in Tibetan, but we’d been advised to pick up a small radio, on which we could pick up the English translation. Unfortunately the reception was really poor, so we weren’t able to catch much at all of what was being said. Still, it was really great to be there and to take in the atmosphere.

Seeing the Dalai Lama

Even better was my second time attending. Some of you will know, Roman is not exactly an early riser, and everyone had said for a chance to get a good seat and maybe see the Dalai Lama, you had to get there early. I’d been hearing the monks early-morning chanting from our hotel every day, and if nothing else, I wanted to be there for that, so on the last day of His Holiness’ teaching, I went by myself down to the temple at around 7am. It was lovely to be up and about that early, while the streets were still quiet and peaceful and there was still a chill in the air.

The courtyard was also comparatively empty when I arrived. After wandering around a bit, I settled on the ground, sitting comfortably against a tree, enjoying the people watching. A nun approached me; she was British and was explaining the morning’s ceremony to the English speakers who were there.

She was in the midst of talking about the blessing the Dalai Lama was going to perform when mid-sentence she gasped and said “His Holiness is coming”. In an instant, all talk in the courtyard ceased, and everyone bowed down as the Dalai Lama approached. It was still relatively empty, so I was actually quite close – probably 3 or 4 yards away from him. What was best about it though was seeing the impact his arrival had on the Tibetans there, how much it meant to them to see him, and the way he would casually stop for a quick chat with a person in the audience here or there as he made his way to the temple.

Making a friend at the temple

The ultimate highlight of the teachings though was meeting Tsering, a young Tibetan. After the Dalai Lama had come through the courtyard, Tsering came up to me to ask about the document the nun had given me, and we ended up having a long conversation. He’s a student, 19 years old. He and his family walked from Tibet to India nearly ten years ago. He was motivated to leave because when he met the Dalai Lama as a child, His Holiness told him to study hard, and there were no opportunities for him to get a proper education in Tibet. He is determined to eventually get his PhD and become a specialist in English, at which point he wants to put his skills to work for the cause of Tibet. He is already working on a book about Tibet in his free time, on top of all his studies.

What struck me the most was just how genuinely friendly and generous he was. He invited me to share the blanket he and his mother were sitting on; they shared their food with me (some sort of fried, crunchy, lightly sweet pastry); when the monks came round passing out steaming Tibetan butter tea (more like a creamy broth than tea) from huge metal kettles, he made sure I got served right away and got seconds.

Sitting with Tsering and his mother, I was in the middle of a larger group of Tibetans. What I loved most of all was the merging between the spiritual and every day life, which I had seen during my first visit to the temple during the group trip as well. As revered as the Dalai Lama is, among the Tibetans the atmosphere was more like a big group picnic than some religious event. Some of them were praying with malas or prayer wheels or listening to the speakers intently, but just as many were chatting and laughing together, eating and drinking, nursing babies, watching after their children – just normal every day stuff. I just loved how relaxed it all was, and how intermingled the spiritual and the “mundane” seem to be for the Tibetan Buddhists.

Tibetan “traditional” dance provides unexpected gifts

We’d received a flyer for a “Traditional Tibetan dance performance”; for 100 Rupee entrance we thought we would show up and take in some culture. The performance was at Tennor Restaurant – apparently it had only opened a week or so prior. There to meet us at the door was the same guy who had handed out the flyer – a young Tibetan named Dorjee with hair like a lion’s mane. Apparently this was a one-man gig – not only did he do the marketing and manage the finances, but he was the act as well!

The place was filling up, so we ended up sharing a table with some other tourists who ended up being just lovely. Ben, a young guy from Wales who had just completed some sort of autorickshaw race through India, Rob, a fun and talkative Aussie Buddhist who was on his way to Rishikesh for some sort of meditation course and Liz and Ben, an awesome Scottish mother who was taking her 11 year old son on a tour of India (husband was home in New Zealand with their younger daughter). It was great to have such good company for the show – which ended up being pretty amazing, nothing at all what we expected and a good laugh.

I don’t know what traditional Tibetan dance is really like, but I suspect that Dorjee was doing some sort of interpretive version of it. The guy had tons of passion, enthusiasm and energy and danced like no one I’ve ever seen before.  He’s definitely got strength, talent and guts, but when he started rubbing his sweaty brow on Robs shoulder, or grabbed a hapless tourist from another table, lifted him up till the guy was straddling him and started jumping around the restaurant, we just lost it. Really, words can’t do the performance justice!

The double gift was: Number one, the lovely folks we met because of it – ran into them again a few times around town and that was so nice. We were reliving our experiences with Liz, Ben and Rob the next day at the Green Hotel café, where we also met a family from America (never caught the parents’ names, but the sons were Miles and Ellis) who were also really nice. It was totally inspiring to me to see Liz and the parents from Vermont – I just think it is so cool that they were traveling for multiple weeks with their kids in some place like India.  I hope if and when I have a family that I will be such a cool parent. 🙂 Number two was discovering Tennor restaurant, which has a very sweet waitress and brings me to my next highlight…

Food

🙂 Have I mentioned, I love food? So, highlights in Mcleod Ganj were:

•The aforementioned Tennor restaurant. Their Indian food is not the best I have had since in India, but it is solidly good, and the garlic nan is the best I have ever had! 🙂 Their steamed vegetable momos are also the best that I had in Mcleod Ganj.

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•The chocolate cheesecake and Tibetan porridge with bananas at Green Hotel Café were the bomb! 🙂

• The food was basic, but eating breakfast in the sun every morning on the rooftop terrace at the Annex hotel was so nice. Was great to just sit there and take in the incredible landscape all around us.

Retail therapy

Knowing that everything I am traveling with has to fit into the limited space of my luggage, I have been totally restrained in my shopping during this trip. The last day in Mcleod Ganj though, I went a bit nuts and splurged on some bigger purchases. 🙂

First a sort of tunic top for myself and a super cute hoodie jacket for my nephew from a shop called Tamana. (They have a limited blog: http://tamana.over-blog.com/) Their tag is “A combination of Indian materials and spirit with a French touch” – a French woman created the designs and the high quality material is from a special Indian supplier; the company employs eight Indian and Tibetan seamstresses to make all their clothes. 🙂

Second was a painting by a Tibetan artist. We happened upon a small but awesome gallery called Peak Art, and I fell in love with the paintings by Ngawang Dorjee (http://www.peakartgallery.com/Ngawang.html). I ended up buying one called “Break time” of young Buddhist monks hanging out outside a temple; so sweet. The guy, Tashi, at the gallery was really nice and helpful. The painting is now (hopefully!) en route to the States; my sister will hold on to it for me until I have a home of my own again to put it in. 🙂

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Weather

It was also really cool to experience the change in weather while we were there. The first half of our stay we had nothing but sun, but gradually afternoon thunderstorms brought cooler temperatures. By the end, it felt like the night was coming earlier and darker. Our last day there were two great storms – the first was just thunder and heavy rains as we were making our way up to the waterfall outside of Bhagsu; the second was much bigger and longer, with about five minutes of hail in the middle – luckily we were indoors for that one! 🙂

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