Sunday, July 29, 2007

Meeting the Dalai Lama

Om Mani Padme Hum

Nestled in the Dhauladhar Mountain is McLeodganj one of the most sought after destinations in Himachal Pradesh. The place known as Little Lhasa has a curious mixture of people. What starts off looking like a typical hill station until you begin to spot the Tibetan monks of all ages scurrying through the streets. Sometimes sipping tea and sometimes just walking down the narrow lanes.

The Church of St John : In the Wilderness was built in 1852. It is a Neo-Gothic stone church is on the way to the main market square of Mcleodganj. There is a small graveyard by the church. The gravestones are neglected. The flowers that grow wild are all that the graves get these days. The odd traveler comes from some remote pocket of the globe in search of the grave stone of an ancestor or in search of one's roots.

People seem to go to Mcleodganj when they seek a high. The number of people seeking spiritual heights seemed to be larger than the those seeking salvation through grass. The shops that sell beads and scarves are the largest in number. These are designed to cater to tourists. So bargain away if you are looking to buy the cool junk jewellery and beads, Tibetan Prayer Wheels, Little charms and even Tibetan medicine. Here is the shopkeeper who sold me a CD of Buddhist Chants. I protested and told him that the CD cover clearly says 'Lounge Music from the Buddha Bar'. The guy shrugged his shoulders and asked if I would prefer music for meditation instead.

"Where is the Temple of the Dalai Lama?" I ask some monks going by. They do not speak English or Hindi. But they understand the magic words "Dalai Lama". They refer to it as Tsuglagkhang (The Temple of the Dalai Lama). The entrance to the temple looks surprisingly desolate. It is lunch time. I can smell food as I walk up the flight of stairs.

I am mentally not prepared for the sight that greets me. There are literally hundreds of monks in the maroonish-red clothing that I will always associate with McLeodganj. They all sit patiently in groups. How can I meet the Dalai Lama I ask everyone that I meet? "You have to be very lucky.", says one monk.

I try and spin the series of prayer wheels in the courtyard. The large brass cylinders. Someone points me to an office building. "Take an appointment. Maybe His Holiness meet you Monday.", says the person at the counter. Come at 12 noon on Monday I am told.

Every Dalai Lama is the reincarnation of the Compassionate form of the Bodhisattva or Buddha. The present Dalai Lama is the 14th Dalai Lama. Born to a peasant family on 6th July 1935, Lhamo Dhondrub as he was called at birth was recognized as the reincarnation at age two. He has been in India since 1959 when he fled Tibet. The Dalai Lama has many names. After becoming Dalai Lama, he was renamed Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso - Holy Lord, Gentle Glory, Compassionate, Defender of the Faith, Ocean of Wisdom. Tibetans normally refer to His Holiness as Yeshe Norbu, the Wishfulfilling Gem or simply Kundun - The Presence.

I spent the whole night charging the batteries of my camera so that I could take pictures of His Holiness. As I walked into the heavily guarded palace and passed through a series of frisking stations and metal detectors that would have done an airport proud, I was asked to hand over my camera. I was reassured that His Holiness had a photographer who would be happy to take a picture if HE asked him to.

Finally the big moment happened. The Nobel Peace prize winner came up to shake hands. I knew no one would believe me if I said that I stood right next to him and that the Dalai Lama put a white silk scarf around my neck and wrote out a small prayer for me. So I have put the proof here for you to see.

If anyone can read and tell me what the prayer is all about I would be much obliged.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

The Write Time for a Vacation

Memories of Sojha

The evening before I left apple country Thanedhar, I made a quick stop at the sole church at Thanedhar ie the St Mary's Church. The church was built in 1872. Loved the stained glass work in the church. That always looks really quaint.

If the Beas River was a treat to watch on the way to Thanedhar, the Sutlej was even The road girdles along the banks of the river. It gave me a feeling of holding hands with the river as she walked me home. I drove on to reach the sleepy village of Sojha and passed through miles and miles of fields of Blue Iris. Did you know that the Blue Iris is like the cousin of Gladioli twice removed. So if you see references to the Gladioli flower in my second novel Married But Available, you know which part of my vacation inspired it !!

The Retreat
where I stayed at Sojha smells of fresh cedar wood. We met Preetam Reddy and his wife Pallavi who were volunteering their time at Sojha. Preetam and Pallavi are both programmers. Preetam most recently worked for iGate in Japan and was in Infosys for a while after doing Civil Engineering (Rascal Rusty's favorite oxymoron) from IIT-Madras. They are bother avid trekkers and were disappointed at not being able to convince me to join the gang. All I did was to join them for a walk to the Sojha village where I met Johnny.

Johnny is the village mascot. He is a 15 year old dog who rules the area. Last year he was attacked by a Snow Leopard and survived. You can still see the scars on Johnny's body. Johnny escorts the visitors around the village. He did that for me and walked back to laze around and play with the village kids. The Teerthan River flows close to Sojha. In the evenings, the Preetam would organize a bonfire to be lit. There was fresh trout served in the evenings for guests. That's one rendezvous Johnny will never miss. He would join us for his share of grilled trout and then go back to ensure that the village is safe from the attacks of the snow leopard.

The evenings in Sojha are just magical. It would . What a welcome change it was from the sweltering heat of Gurgaon in June. I would just lie under the warm quilt and pray that someone would make yet another cup of hot coffee for me to make the plotline move faster. Here is the sight of the rain soaked Sojha that greeted me when I woke up. It was going to be a lazy day. Just the kind when you can sip chai and tap away at the keyboard. Just the perfect day to write out the romantic portions of the novel.

A couple of days at Sojha and this gypsy was ready to move on to the next destination - McLeodganj - the home of the Dalai Lama.