Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dharamsala: Seeing The Dalai Lama

The train ride up to Delhi from Kerala was 49 hours, straight and really wasnt as devistating as it may sound. I feel a great contributor to this was that I had Ryan, a friend with me to keep me company on the ride. What also added to the expierience, both good and bad, was next to us on the train was a family of, a mother, her 4 year old daughter, her 6 year old boy, her two brothers, and her mother. The children made the ride a real test of patience. The 6 year old boy turned the train berths into a elementary jungle gym. When he wasnt monkeying around over EVERYONE's berths, he would torment his sister doing whatever he could to make her cry, no matter what time of the day or night. This little girl never seemed to stop crying and was the biggest test of my patience. And what crying it was!! It was the kind of blood currtling balling your eyes out you would think it was produced from a megaphone two inches from your ears it was so loud. Out of the two mornings I spent on the train, the whole train was woken up by her wailing at a staggering 4:30 in the morning and it would continue all throughout the day and into the night, stopping for short unexpected intervals. Ive never appreciated silence as much as those few and precious moments. Both the mother and grandmother looked warn out, the look on their face was a expression of defeat, for it seemed they have given up on their childrens crazy antics. It seemed like the kids has drained them of all their vitality, but that didnt stop them from making small talk with Ryan and I, and whenever they looked at us would shower us with their smiles.

The whole ride did not turn out to be so unpleasant. When I was in Kerala, about a week before we left I bought a giant papaya, that needed a few days to rippen, hoping to eat it long before the train ride. When it came time to leave it still wasnt ripe and I didnt want to leave it, I really really wanted this papaya, so I carried this giant fruit craddling it wherever I went hoping it would rippen faster in the fresh sunlight. It was starting to get ripe on the second day of the train ride and the grandmother looks at me and motions at my papaya with a cutting motion of her hands.
"She wants your papaya" says the mother
"So do I...Ive been caring for this papaya for almost 10 days and it still isnt ripe"
"Yes, good to eat now, she wants to cut it for you...And ofcourse she wants to have some herself"
Grandma nodds, smiles and puts out her hand for the papaya
Knowing that the papaya wasnt ripe enough yet, I grab the papaya and hand it over...It wasnt completely ripe, parts were still quite hard but their family mingled with Ryan and I as we all shared this fruit, and for the briefest of moments, I felt like a part of their family sitting on the train, getting fed and conversing with this indian family. I love the compassionate hospitality indians give me expecting nothing in return. Straight from the heart.

So arriving in Delhi once again...Eh...Delhi...Ryan and I wanted to rest for a day or two at most before heading up to Dharamsala. We were in no rush either because we thought we had to register to see the Dalai Lama speak, but when I called to confirm if this was true, they said it was not, because it was only a few hour speech sp there is no need to register. So we had more than a few days in Delhi, if we wanted.

We saw that there was a peace conference at a hotel in Delhi for a few days while we were in Delhi so we went to get more info on it. The Dalai Lama was advertised to be speaking at it along with many other extremely powerful and intelligent figures. We walk up to a 5 * hotel with valet parking, and more attendants waiting at the entrance to serve us than I could count. After the massive security check we go inside and try to find the registration booth. Its up stairs and with each step I am blown away at how nice this hotel is...I thought to myself,
"This is going to be exspensive"
We find the registration desk and after seeing only people in suits, the person at the desk looks up, gives us a up and down glance and continues to her paperwork...
"Where do we goto register for the event?"
".......(after a long pause) Here"
"Ok how much is it?"
"75 thousand...Rupees"
"Oh...Ok thank you."
After we figure out just how much that event cost we start laughing at what she must have been thinking. That event cost about $1500. We both walk in with dirty clothes looking like we just got hit by a bus and ask to register for a $1500 event...No wonder once she saw us she didnt give us any attention. This was quite the comical expierience but I think you had to be there to get the full picture.

The other few days we were in Delhi we just took it easy, which is a difficult thing to do in Delhi but very needed. I ended up meeting with my friend I met from Rishikesh, Martyn for his last day in India and continued the good times with good food for after he had to catch his flight back to Holland. Ryan and I ended up seeing another bollywood movie, it was supposed to be a comedy but it left us feeling shorthanded. Indians have what foreigners would call a weird sense of humor. Some of it strikes me as funny, but the majority is really immature and not. Still quite a treat to watch a bollywood movie in Hindi, in a theatre more comfortable than what you are used to, and with a big bowl of popcorn infront of you.

Some things in Delhi were not as planned. Im walking through the crazy bazaar of Pahar Ganj and I see a hand extended out infront me, I look up and it is Mr. Jung Singh.
"Hello, I remember you"
I start laughing,
"I remember you too, even though I am--"
"Alittle insane...Yes..Please come talk with me and have a chai, just talk, please come"
I look into his eyes and there is not a trace of ill will in this mans eyes, just love so I agree.
I turn to Ryan,
"Dude I have to do this, remember the story with the guy who told me I was insane?"
"Yeah, this is him?!
"Yeah, I have to see him, something tells me to, plus I have nothing else to do, I could really go for a cup of chai right now"
I then walked with the plump bearded Jung Singh through shady alleys where no tourists were in the streets or "shops", people gave long hard cold stares, the smell of excrement was so strong I almost fell over, and I didnt know if these would be my last breaths but there is something about this guy, this Jung Singh, I knew I wasnt in any harm.
We get to the chai shop, sit down and he pulls out some cards, muttering some prayers, looks at my hands and begins to unfold my prohecy...He proceeded to tell me a few facts about my life about certain people in my life, how long ill live, what my traits are, what is blocking me from fully expieriencing life, and how I am insane. But before all of this he writes down something on a piece of paper and gives it to me and tells me to "hold on to this".
He then writes down 4 numbers and tells me to point to one, and the one I pointed to was the number written on the piece of paper. He did several things like this, claiming he can read my mind. Convincing..
He wanted to tell me more, about how to stop my insanity and fully expierience the divine, but for a price. I put down all the money in my wallet ($3) and he proceeds to tell me about how attached I am to money.
"Money you use to only eat and then you shit out. Come on, put down big money."
"Im not putting any more money down than this. This is big money."
He proceeded to tell me that he uses this money to feed orphans, trying to pull on my heartstrings but it wasnt working.
After 10 minutes I said
"Im not going to put any more money down, so lets just finish our tea and I must be going."
He told me some crazy things and I made a vow that if I see him when I leave India I will put down big money to hear what he REALLY has to say. His presence stayed with me for the rest of the day. His eyes were so inviting and warm, he is a very goodhearted and wise man, I have no doubt about that in my heart. Hah! What a trip...

Walking through the crazy uneven, dirty street of the main bazaar I kept slipping and messing up my cut on my foot even worse. Fighting off an infection in India with an open wound is quite the hassle. Everything is so dirty and just the open air alone, especially in Delhi is like an airborne anthrax its so polluted. My healing process alone seems to be slowing down in India, I dont know what it is, but cuts/bruises etc. take twice as long to heal for some reason.

On our last night (or what we wanted to be), we tried to get a late night local bus and this was quite the expierience at the bus station. First off we took Delhis metro to the station (which totally didnt feel like India, being in a nice metro station? In India? No way) This bus station was nothing like all the many other bus stations I have encountered in India. This was complete madness. You had to buy a ticket from one of the booths lining the sides of the station and some are so crowded with people I wonder how anything ever gets accomplished...In America, there are lines. In India, there is pushing to get to the front, most people dont believe in lines. Ryan ad I wait til the tickets go on sale for our bus and a Buddhist monk sits down next to me and starts talking to me. His tibetan accent is so thick I keep having to ask him to repeat everything atleast 4 times. At one point, he pulled out a book in English and wanted me to help him with his English. Oh, this was a great expierience, teaching english to a tibetan monk.

When it came ticket time I sharpened my elbows and headed for the crowd, doing whatever I can to squeeze, shove, and push through hundreds of Indians packed in a space that is meant to hold 10 people. I finally get to the front to hear that they are sold out of tickets for the bus we need. We waited and fought for 4 hours until the early hours of the morning, even went clear across town for a sold out bus. You gotta roll with it, I tell myself...However, I will never forget how chaotic of an expierience that was, oh my goodness...We try to go back to our hotel but have to deal with shady rickshaw drivers who wont take us where we want to go..After running completely out of patience and much arguing we get taken back to our hotel and crash out, fast. Oh Delhi...How it sucks the life out of you...

The bus ride to Dharamsala was a typical ride. No sleep, and our seat numbers were completely ignored as we were placed in the bench row once again..The ONLY seats in the bus that do not recline...I didnt sleep at all during those 14 hours. So uncomfortable and squished.
Ryan, whos never ridden a bus yet in India looks at me and says,
"Yeah your right...I will never forget this bus expierience.."
"Yeah? Wait til we get airborne..."

When we arrive in Dharamsala, there is alot going on. Apparently that morning The Dalai Lama made a speech for this day marked a very important day in Tibetan history. This marked 50 years of Tibet's injustice from the tyrannical China. So we goto the temple to get more info about the speech tomarrow and yeah turns out we just missed one of his speeches.This speech wasnt listed on his website and I was quite pissed that I missed him...People crowded the small and narrow streets outside the temple, all in hopes to get a glimpse of the Dalai Lama rolling away in his car. I knew I would see him the next day, but still, any opportunity to see this man, I would take even if it would kill me to get there. If there is one person in the world I respect and admire the most, it is by far the Dalai Lama.

There was a peace protest shortly after. I went and bought the biggest Tibet flag I could find and Ryan and I waited around for the protest to start. Male and female monks in their maroon robes, tibetans of all ages carrying banners with different sayings on them, cars with loudspeakers all await to start. Some banners said
"China STOLE my land, my voice, my freedom"
"There is no freedom of speech in Tibet"
"Stop the killing in Tibet"
And all of a sudden it seemed like it came out of no where for people started roaring and walking. There were a few things that were shouted or on the loudspeaker then followed with a shouted response from the crowd:
Stop the killing - In tibet
Stop the tourturing - In tibet
What do we want - Free Dom
When do we want it? - NOW
Shame on China, Shame on China!
Tibet belongs to? - Tibetans!
Long live - Dalai Lama
Release Release - Penchen Lama
What do we want? We want freedom!
This was the best part. Waving my Tibetan flag, surrounded with monks screaming for peace in their country and for their people. The kinship that was felt with these people was beyond words. They were so grateful for any foreigner that was there, and there was quite alot, especially from America. Out of all the days in Dharamsala this was the hottest. The sun only came out for the protest scorching the marchers and went away behind the clouds when it was over. We marched probably 10 kilometers, atleast. We covered all of Dharamsala starting from McLeod Ganj in the north all the way down the dirt and uneven roads to southern Dharamsala. Indians came out of their shops, stopped their cars, and came from far distances to see the protest. At the end of the protest I was done for. I cannot tell you how many times people stepped on my hurt foot and how many times I slipped stretching the skin ripping my cut even further...Not to mention the amount of dirt that probably got in it as well. We reach the bottom of Dharamsala and there is a speech from an important figure in Tibet I am presuming. I dont know who exactly but by the way he is dressed and admired I could tell he meant business. Once the speech was over, Ryan and I took a taxi back, and I hibernated in the room the rest of the day, for the next day was a day I have been looking forward to and more excited about than any day to date. I was to see the Dalai Lama in the person!

Waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get to the temple @ 6:00 was a small price to pay for being able to see the Dalai Lama speak in his hometown in India. I stretch, yawn and make a screech hearing the sound of the alarm clock. I loungue in bed, warm and comfortable, and wait for Ryan to finish getting ready. When it is time, I roll out of bed, blanket still wrapped around me, I hobble into the chilling dim cold morning air surrounded with views of the snow capped mountains around the hotel and ultimitely the whole city. Ahh Dharamsala has great energy here, I could easily live here its so peaceful. My foot is still so messed up from the giant protest the day before. I tell Ryan to go ahead and that I'll catch up. Ive been using the stick from the flag I bought as a cane. This helps tremendously, I call it my old man cane because thats exactly what I look like using this thing hobbling around and whatnot...The speech was at The Dalai Lama temple (go figure) and we get a seat around 6am. It is so cold I cannot feel my toes and fingers and am constantly shivering. We find a seat around the 3rd row and there we sat for 2 hours, waiting and shivering. I sit next to a dreadlocked backpacker from Brazil, who kept giving me food even when I would deny it, he insisted. Aside from giving me food, all we talked about to each other was The Dalai Lama. He kept saying with the biggest smile he could make,
"He is such a good man...The Dalai Lama, good man.."
Infront of us was the seating for the monks, so I was probably only 100 feet away from The Dalai Lama and had a perfect view of where he would be sitting. Stoked. He had a elevated seat wrapped in a gold cloth, fresh flowers around him, surrounded with Tibetan Thankas (Thankas mean rolled painting and are typically of different gods) and banners everywhere with different buddhist symbols or displaying the 50 years of injustice Tibet has suffered.
Over time people keep pouring into whatever space they could fit and make into a seat. Monks started to flood the place in their maroon robes and everyone sits patiently awaiting his arrival. People start to murmur and point at the stairs as a few maroon figuers creep down the stairs. Deep bellowing tibetan monks start chanting over the loudspeakers and The Dalai Lama begins to make his appearance. At first a few monks are only revealed, then some heavily decorated monks proceed after with huge yellow mowhawk hats and loud flutes follow. After them, the man of the hour is revealed being helped down the stairs by a few more monks. I have waited many years for this exact moment. There isnt anyone I respect and admire more than The Dalai Lama. His uncondtional wisdom and compassion for the world will always continue to grow in my heart and inspire me. He has been the main influence for the positive changes in my life and will continue to be my main source of inspiration. The man I admire most in the world has now reached the bottom of the stairs and I have a clear view of his one of a kind smile greeting people at the bottom of the stairs. When I saw that smile strike his face, the happiest tears Ive ever shed came rolling down my face. The brazilian next to me starts muttering somthing in his language but I could tell what he was saying was exactly what my heart was feeling for we both had tears in our eyes with our hands at our heart. When I saw him, I put my hands over my face in disbelief, rubbed my eyes, and yes I was not dreaming. My hands now are trembling and a joy that I cannot express with words took over my enire being. The trembling turned into my whole body and all I could keep saying was
"I cant believe this...I cant believe this..."
He gets to his chair, gets helped up and he immediately puts his hands together over his head and immediately everyone puts their own folded hands on top of their head, then at their heart, then at their navel, bow down, put their head on the ground three times. 5 monks were kneeling infront of him and they accompanied The Dalai Lama chanting in deep tibetan chants. After the audience was in awe. You could hear a mouse fart until The Dalai Lama spoke. At this point all the foreigners put on their headseats to tune into a live broadcast of the speech that is translated from Tibetan into English. Even though The Dalai Lama has quite an exstensive knowledge of English he gives his speeches in Tibetan while in Dharamsala. The speech was mainly an introduction to Budddhism and how it differs from other beliefs, according to Ryan. His mp3 player could pick up radio stations while I was perfectly content with just listening and watching. I was completely mezmerized that I was in India, 3rd row (in foreigners section) wittnessing The Dalai Lama give his speech.
After a few hours when the speech is over a few monks that squeezed into a few inches infront of me goes to get up, and places her hand right on my hurt foot using that as acrutch to help her up. I scream out in agony which doesnt stop her until she is fully up and doesnt even look back to see what was making those sounds right next to her...
Ryan asks,
"Dude you ok?"
"No Im not..If it wasnt anyone other than a buddhist monk...This foot is never going to heal man..."
The flute players lead the path as The Dalai Lama gets bombarded with cameras and people who just want to shake his hand. He eventualy works his way, 4 feet away from me and he starts talking to one of the little tibetan children infront of me. Ater a few seconds he lets out a hearty laugh and giant smile right before me, that instantly brought me to tears. He overflows with true happiness and just with the sight of his genuine smile, you will be smiling for weeks. He truly is what the Tibetans believe, a reincarnation of the God of Compassion. The further he kpet walking away, the more and more people were brought to tears until the whole crowd was speechless and crying, but not a signle person was sad.

The rest of the days in Dharamsala, I just kept what I did minimal. I spent alot of time talking to the nice shop/restauratnt owners that I met when I was there in November and taking it as easy as possible to maybe give my foot a chance to heal, hobbling around on my old man cane. Aside from reading and eating, we at one point ended up seeing a movie at one of the "theatres" there. Which was just a small room with chairs and a projection screen. Whatever it was 2 bucks and better than the theatres back home, for the reason that other than 3 other people, we had the whole place to ourselves. IT doesnt matter how small and shady it was :)

Im back in Delhi right now but am leaving tonight for Nepal. I will be there probably tomarrow night if all goes as to plan. I am extremely grateful to be able to fit seeing Nepal in this trip, and will be just as excited to tell you all about each second of it. I dont know how my internet situation will be there, so dont be alarmed if I do not post a blog for a few weeks to a month.

To conclude, I will give you all a quote from the Dalai Lama to reflect on.
"There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection."

I love you all.
Be happy!!