Tuesday, January 3, 2012

McLeod Ganj, day 6, Gyuto University, Norbulingka, Dalai Lama's summer residence

January 3rd, 2008

This was really one of the best days of my trip, despite being rifled by a gang of street kids.

I met my Rinpoche friend in the morning and we took a bus down to Dharamsala, where we had dal-baht and lassi.

After eating, we headed out to catch another bus, but the moment we hit the street, I was swarmed by a bunch of kids begging for money, and fell behind Rinpoche without him noticing. I told them I didn't have any money, but they kept at me, until I noticed a faint tug on my backpack. I spun around and in a flash, they were all gone. I didn't even see one of them run away, they just vanished. I looked at my bag and noticed they'd hauled my cloth mala pouch out of the side pocket and snapped the link off of a little cloth dolphin charm that said, "I love you"when you squeezed it, that a Korean friend had given me for my travels. For what ever reason, they left my pocket sized Dalai Lama book untouched in the other side pocket. I thought maybe it was out of reverence, but the fact that it wasn't worth much to them is probably more likely... I was very disappointed about loosing that mala, though. Not only because it was the only expensive mala I'd ever bought, but also because of the where I'd acquired it, at Gatbawi, the stone Medicine Buddha on top of Palgong Mountain, in Daegu. Sure, there are lessons to be taken from lose, such as non-attachment, impermanence, the illusion of ownership, but all those things are just annoying while the wounds of separation are still fresh.

Rinpoche noticed I wasn't beside him, turned back to tell me to come quickly and stay beside him, but it was too late. I checked my bag, and fortunately, my camera and lenses were all still with me. It's a backpack designed for photographers, with a storage space in a closed off section at the bottom, and though they managed to undo the clip, it was only unzipped a few inches. I might have turned around just in time by the looks of it.

On the bus, he told me of a foreign friend he'd had who stayed in McLeod Ganj and volunteered working with the kids in Dharamsala. He said that man did not step foot in Dharamsala for any other reason than to work with them, and even while working with them, could not trust them for a moment.

As we rode further away from the center of Dharamsala, lower into the plains, the view of the mountain range became more and more spectacular. We transferred from the bus to a car and drove a short way to the Gyuto Tantric Monastery, the most famous university in Tibet, founded by the first Dalai Lama's main disciple.

Rinpoche lead me to the temple at the far end of the court yard, framed by the Western Himalayas. The hall was empty, but was obviously a busy place at other times, with long rows of desks laid out, bisecting the buzz of energy held within the tall yellow walls.

I, again, found it reminiscent of a Korean temple, but with a definitive Himalaya spiciness. That said, I've yet to see anything in Korea that compared to the statues inside this temple. To be fair, I've yet to see statued that compared to this anywhere. Well, now that I've said that, Michelangelo's Pietà is in a realm of its own, carved when he was only 24 (To the total disbelief of his peers who began listing off other artists who must have carve it. Afterwards, he carve his name along Mary's sash but then felt so guilty about it, that he never again signed another of his works). And the Gate of Death, also in the Vatican, is also remarkable. David can start eating his heart out now, with those big hands of his, though!

Next, we went to the Norbulingka, a center for the preservation of Tibetan arts. It was great to be in the middle of an artist community, a Tibetan Buddhist one, at that! We visited a studio where painters practice tangka painting, and went into the museum that had a wonderful little display of Tibetan puppets acting out frozen glimpses of Tibetan tradition, including one of Milarepa, seated in his cave, hand to his ear, listening to the inner voice of Dharma.

The grounds of the Norbulingka were stunning, temple-like architecture surrounded by carp-filled ponds and carefully tended gardens, strings of prayer flags, and the beautiful Tibetan creamy silk scarves, presented as a greeting to monks and lama's who then place them around the neck of the one who gave it to them. I enjoyed walking between the buildings as much as I enjoyed seeing what was inside.

We continued into the back, where the Dalai Lama has his summer residence. This was the highlight of the day for me. It wasn't the building itself that I found spectacular, though it was beautiful, it was more the sense of connection I felt to the Dalai Lama being in his summer living space, albeit without him, that thrilled me.

We then stopped by the craft store, but I couldn't really afford anything, though I had a greedy eye on the rack of malas, rasping against my craving for the one just lost...

Returning to Dharamsala, Rinpoche suggested that we climb the ridge back up to McLeod Ganj. The trail passed through many of the important buildings of the Tibetan Government in Exile, including their parliament, the Tibetan library, and more monasteries. We stopped at the Tibet Bakery & Cafe and Rinpoche ordered two cups of Tibetan butter-tea. I'd heard a lot about it and was excited to try it, but after just one sip, I almost gagged, and as bad as I felt, I wasn't able to drink it. I've never liked butter, except drizzled on popcorn, where, somehow, I can't get enough, but that it. This wasn't only tea made from butter, it's made from rancid yak butter, and pungent doesn't begin to describe it. Rinpoche gladly drank the two of them, and seemed to understand my inability.

We ended the day with a last visit to the Dalai Lama's Temple, circling the prayer wheels three final times, then had dinner together. He asked if I would mind giving him 300 rupees for having guided me, and said it would pay his monthly rent. I gladly handed him 350 rupees and thanked him for all he'd shown me and the amazing places I'd been.

ༀམཎིཔདྨེཧཱུྃ། THE DALAI LAMA'S SUMMER RESIDENCE ༀམཎིཔདྨེཧཱུྃ།


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