Friday, August 21, 2009

The Buddhist’ capital of the world

As I sip my chilled beer in a cozy restaurant in Mcleogandz, Dharamsala Linda, a young Scottish girl who had just joined me in the front seat tells me, ‘I moved from Scotland to America to complete my studies and started working there. I had everything before I reach 30; a good job, a big house, fancy car, a steady boyfriend and lots of friends to hang around with. But I was not happy inside. Then I found Buddhism. Now I am very happy. I have been practicing meditation whole day in my hotel room”.

It was just before 10th march, the Tibet national uprising day and Dharamsala, the small hill town in the northern part of India is teeming with unusual people and activities. I landed there early in the morning in a Himachal tourism deluxe bus and I had to wander around for almost an hour finding a place to stay as most of the hotels were full.
The Dalai Lama’s teachings was a few days away and so hordes of foreigners from America, England, Switzerland, Netherlands, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Taiwan, Mongolia, Korea have come down to this Buddhist capital town of the world. I enjoyed a chat with whoever I can from these countries due to my insatiable habit of digging at people and things.

Other than the Dalai Lama’s teaching, there was a Buddhist crash course in Tushita, 9days Tibetan opera in Tibetan institute of performing arts (TIPA), Tibetan arts and crafts exhibition in Norbulingka and of course preparations for the Tibet national uprising day that was coming up. Monks & nuns in red and yellow robes from Karnataka, Ladakh, Mongolia, young Tibetan kids selling their national flags, momo and Tibetan music cd/dvd vendors, Buddhist postcard retailers, white skin foreigners in sunglasses, backpacks, gigantic cameras; they are all around.

One of my travel companions Jan, a 65 something year old high spirited lady from USA walks around with a 17 kg still camera bag and introduced me to so many things about the place.
I went up to Norbulingka to meet the managing director Kim Yeshe as referred by a friend from Los Angeles before coming down to Dharamsala. She had gone to Thailand to promote their products and came away awestruck by their exquisite paintings on silk. (Her PRO called me up in the morning the next day in my hotel).

In the evening a film producer from The Netherlands has brought her film Buddha’s lost children for a screening in TCV (Tibetan children village) school and I made another rush.

A few of the veteran foreigners nostalgically revealed they don’t like Dharamsala anymore as it is not it used to be years back; a quite place where one can come down and seek tranquility in a local Buddhist setting. Now you find bars, restaurants, resorts, alcohol vendors, Italian pizza outlets, loud traffic, travel agents, Buddhist antique shops that thrive on the tourists. Even His Holiness teachings had to be listened in an FM radio with earphones as he preaches in Tibetan while you hear translations in French, English, Japanese etc. Somebody told me His Holiness quipped in one of his sermons that while the Western people are now running after Buddhism chanting ‘om mane padme hum’, Tibetans are frantically running after materialism and chanting ‘om money home come’.

It is not only the Tibetans who are laughing in the cash counter but the local Indians are also excited about the business prospects the presence of His Holiness has brought to Dharamsala. And though the Tibetans and Indian locals are seeing dollars, euros and pounds in their dreams, Eric from The Netherlands tells me, ‘ if you visit Netherlands, you wont find any hotel room below 3000 bucks or get a pizza below 360 bucks while in Mcleogandz, you get them even in a 200 and 75 bucks respectively’.

His Holiness, the Dalai Lama escaped to India in 1959 from the Chinese onslaught and since then has set up a Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala. It is such an irony ( I called it the test of faith) that millions from around the world relentlessly flock to him to hear about the Buddhist principles of human compassion while the same righteous virtue is being tested upon him by the unscrupulous Chinese invasion of his own homeland and being forced to live as a refugee. A young Tibetan youth sitting next to an obtrusive donation box in Mcleogandz tells me ‘we have overstayed in India. We thought we would win our freedom and go back home to Tibet but....’

I saw a cute little Tibetan boy sitting in the lap of his grandma among the opera audience in TIPA. I cautiously pointed my camera at him to take a picture. He puts up his two little fingers in a V sign. I was amused. He did this whenever I point my camera at him which I did several times being awestruck. I wonder what the little Tibetan boy who hasn’t even learned to speak meant by that symbol. Yo or Peace!

I guess the Buddhist superstar, His Holiness must be in the same dilemma.

~OINAM DOREN is a writer / filmmaker who is fulfilling his childhood dreams of making connections with different cultures and races