MANDI TO DHARAMSALA - July 8, 2012
I had stopped along a mountain road to take some photos of the Kangra Valley when I saw this fellow (above) walking briskly up the road in my direction. He was barefoot, carrying a staff, and I think he was either a gaddi, a nomadic shepherd of northwestern India, or a sadhu, an itinerant holy man. His eyes were coal-black and fierce and he radiated intensity. He reminded me of Grigori Rasputin. I couldn’t resist stopping him and asking with hand signals if I could photograph him. I don’t think he ever understood me, but I just took the photo and bowed deeply in gratitude.
This is the residence of the Dalai Lama, who has lived here in Dharamsala in exile since fleeing the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. When I approached the well-armed military sentry at the gate, I asked if Mr. Lama might be in. I was told he was in Ladakh until August and could I come back then. I handed the guard my phone number and gave him the thumb-in-the-ear, pinky-over-the-mouth “Have him call me” signal. So far I haven’t heard back. Makes me wonder whatever happened to common courtesy.
This is one of the market streets in Upper Dharamsala, just up the road from the Dalai Lama’s residence. As you know, cows are considered sacred throughout India and they pretty much wander where and when they please. I was standing in front of a food stall the other day, eyeing some tasty momos, when I felt a rude thump on my backside. I turned around indignantly and was about to yell “Hey, what gives?” when this enormous, four-legged furry guy with showoff-y horns lumbered by, acting like he owned the place. I think it was a huge mistake letting the cows know how “sacred” they are. Now they just bully pedestrians and chuckle under their mangy breath.
Every afternoon, Buddhist monks from the Namgyal Gompa, the temple adjacent to the Dalai Lama’s residence, gather in small groups in the courtyard to debate arcane points of Buddhist philosophy like Socrates in the Gymnasium. These discussions get quite animated, their arguments punctuated with great flourish, a stamp of the foot or a theatrical clap of the hands. Here, watch them in action:
Here’s a brief slide show of the ride to Dharamsala:
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