January 1st, 2008The first sight of the New Year was a small owl perched in a pine tree, looking through the window at me. We looked at one another for a while, but he flew off when I tried going out onto the balcony.
It was already mid afternoon, but I enjoying my down time in this chilled out little hill town.
In Korea, I had a few malas (Buddhist prayer beads) but I was always too self conscious to walk around with them. In McLeod Ganj, most of the locals you pass have their beads hanging beside them as they thumb through endless sets of 108 Om mani beh meh hum. For this trip, I brought a mala made from round white seeds with thin, speckled, pale brown vertical stripes, like a tiny white melon. I bought it at the sight of a stone Buddha in the mountain for $30, a bit expensive for a mala. That was a couple months before I left, and I'd hardly touched it since using it to count out 108 bows that day. But for the past couple of days,
After eating, I once again went to sit at the tip of the ridge, with the prayer flags and watch the mountain fade in the dusk. I don't think I've ever spent this many sunsets not looking at the sunset, but it was amazing to see the mountain slowly shift through all the chromatic threads of red.
The monk I met yesterday showed up once more, and invited me to his room before the light had finished it's work but I felt as though I should accept his invitation. He'd learned English from tourists he'd met at his home in Ladakh and appreciated the opportunity to practice. He offered me some trail mix, and I felt a little guilty accepting food from him, but thought it would be rude to refuse. He obviously didn't have much. He told me he'd come to listen to the Dalai Lama the previous week and someone had funded his trip, so he was very fortunate.
Back in town, circling the winding road back to my room, I stopped at a vendor selling bread on the street. He was talking to a monk when I came by and suggested that I buy a cup of chai for the monk. We went into a small Tibetan café/tea house and chatted. He'd fled Tibet a long time ago and had been living in McLeod Ganj ever since. He gave me some advice for when I travel to Bodh Gaya, telling me it's a very dangerous area, that monks are known to be killed by muslims in the surrounding area, so I should just go into Bodh Gaya, stay around the temple, and leave. He said he had some free time tomorrow evening and would to show me around the Dalai Lama's temple, then we said goodnight.
I'd grown really wary of people telling me things or talking to me just to get money during the past several weeks, but being in McLeod Ganj, people seemed like people again. It was nice to meet people other than fellow travelers who I felt really comfortable with and could trust.