At 1500 meters the cool air of the mountains invigorated us and we excitedly explored the former hill station that serves as the home of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. With mountain views all around and Dharamsala below, you will notice Tibetans chanting "Om mani padme hum" under their breath as the spin hand held prayer wheels or pass 108 beads through their fingers. The town is much more relaxed with merchants waiting for you to come to them instaed of trying to heard you into their store. We instantly felt at ease here and new we were going to enjoy it.
On the second day in McLeodganj Mo happened to meet a Tibetan monk who was in need of a English teacher. Since she didn't feel quite right for the task, she suggested that I take up the challenge. I excitedly accepted and that night Mo and I went to Gendun's for his first lesson. Gendun is a sweet, generous man with a smile permanently attached to his face. His thirst for learning is inspiring and I do believe he taught me far more than I taught him.
One day when I went to see my new pupil at his room, I found a note saying that he forgot about a special ceremony for His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. It continued that if I wanted to see the Dalai Lama I should make my way to temple. Uhmm... Ya!!! Then ridiculous thoughts of meeting the Dalai Lama crept into my head. What would I say? "Should I buy Apple stock or stick with GICs? Where should I go for dinner tonight? So?... How's enlightenment?" Nothing that came to mind seemed suitable, which was fine as there was no meeting. There was just a handful of westerners and 2000 Tibetans and me tightly packed vying for a glimpse of His Holiness.
Neither the monks nor the Dalai Lama were visible at first but their chants rang throughout the temple penetrating all in attendance. After an hour of chanting the Tibetan high monks and officials came down from the temple followed by the Dalai Lama. They were all seated on a raised platform a mere 50 feet away. I definitely felt a calming excitement in seeing His Holiness. Once settled, there was traditional singing and dancing in honor of the Dalai Lama and monks threw treats and dispensed tea for as many of the worshipers as possible. Then the Dalai Lama gingerly rose to speak. Lamentably it was in Tibetan so I was unable to understand what he said, but I'm pretty sure I heard a "Go Colts!" in there somewhere. Before I knew it he was gone surrounded by a small entourage. I felt extremely fortunate to have had this opportunity.
For the next ten days I proceeded to have daily classes with my new friend. Everyday I would arrive at 4Pm where we studied for an hour, ate thukpa (Tibetan noodle soup) and shared stories. One day after class we began to discuss Tibetan Buddhism and their practices. After our discussion Gendun demonstrated just how big his heart is by presenting me with his prayer beads and one of his Buddhas. Overwhelmed with emotion I tried to express that his gesture was far too generous and not necessary. Upon his insistence I accepted and took both gifts with great appreciation.
On my last day in McLeodganj I decided to hike Mt Triund. Not knowing where the trail started, I headed towards the mountain asking locals every ten minutes for directions. While resting a quarter of the way up I met up with two Czechs and after some pleasantries I was off again. To my surprise their pace of hiking is similar to my pace of walking. Far too fast for hiking a mountain. After maintaining that pace for two hours with legs burning and gasping for air at 2500 meters I had to let them go ahead and continue at my now turtle like pace. Running out of time and energy I stopped just below the snow line and sat enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of my surroundings. Even at these heights there where chai-wallahs here. I've yet to find an uninhabitable place in India. There is no place to be alone.
After 7 hours of hiking I was glad to get back into town. The hike was a little ambitious for my first in 5 months and I definitely felt the effects the next day. After dinner and good-byes with Gendun he presented me with a khata scarf. A beautiful embroidered white scarf offered as a sign of love and respect. I will always remember our time together with great fondness.
At 7PM I boarded my bus for a 13 hour journey to Rishikesh.
"Goodness speaks in a whisper, evil shouts."