McLeod Ganj is the home of the exiled Tibetan Government and Dalai Lama, and is filled with monks and Tibetan refugees and anti-China free-Tibet propaganda. It’s also a very rainy and humid place, where we sat (or ran, if our planning was a little off) through a rainstorm every afternoon, and the clothes that we washed and hung out to dry ended up refusing to do so and instead mildewed on the line. It’s definitely a traveler’s hangout; another one of those backpacker towns filled with cheap guest houses and Internet cafes. Despite being a bit touristy, though, McLeod was a great place (Despite being touristy? I just read what I wrote and here I feel compelled to note that Denae and I, like many other travelers, will sometimes complain about the commercialization and numbers of tourists in a given place, and then hypocritically and gratefully go there and utilize its facilities and drink its real drip coffees). The climate was nice and cool, if a little humid, and the town is perched in the middle of some steep hills that were usually shrouded by clouds and mist. It was very green and felt kind of like a temperate jungle, a feeling contributed to by the monkeys walking around town. There were lots of great restaurants, but our favorite source of food was one particular lady (of the many) selling vegetable momos on the street. Four momos cost 10 rupees, which is about 20 cents and I could never eat more than twelve.
McLeod was a very relaxing place, where four days passed in the blink of an eye and afterwards we had trouble
recalling how exactly we spent our time there. One day we visited the Tibet museum and learned a lot of disturbing information about the Chinese occupation of Tibet. A lot of time was spent wandering the town, eating, reading and other exquisitely enjoyable slothery, but one notable exception was attending a teaching by the Dalai Lama. We were lucky to be in town while it was going on, as apparently these teachings don’t happen all that often, and followed the crowds of people through security. It was there that we noticed the signs advising attendees to bring an FM radio with headphones; the Dalai Lama’s speech would be translated into English (and a couple other languages) and broadcast for the audience to tune into. We didn’t have such a radio, and as we found our seats we wondered what to do. I asked a security guard if I could buy one there, and he said no, only at the main market. But it wasn’t that far away and he thought I had time before the event started. So off I ran, and that is how Denae got to see the Dalai Lama.
He came out of a building and the crowd surged forward, soon to be pushed back and forced to sit by his bodyguards. Since everyone was sitting all had a view of His Holiness standing above, surrounded by his entourage of monks and wearing his trademark glasses. He walked very slowly, touching people from the crowd, and was accompanied by an emotional electricity that seemed to permeate the air around him. Several women wept, many people bowed and chanted, and all were struck by the feeling of awe at his presence, at the significance of seeing this man that many believe to be a living God. Or so Denae tells me.
At this point I was up the hill in town, sweating from my run and hurriedly trying to negotiate a fair price for the radio I was buying. When I made it back to Denae the Dalai Lama was upstairs and out of sight except for on the closed circuit TV, the teaching already begun. We tuned the radio into the English broadcast, but the translator turned out to be mostly incompetent and vocally stumbled his way through, with so many awkward silences and “how do you says” that it proved to be unlistenable. Still, the teaching turned out to be a very profound and memorable experience. For Denae.
Side note from Denae: while I remained optimistic, Andy had suspected that we probably wouldn’t get to see the Dalai Lama when we came to McLeod Ganj. Like His Holiness says, negativity plants the seed for failure.