I went to the railway station in Amritsar for my 8:20 train a week ago and discovered all trains had been cancelled-not only for that day but for four days. I had no choice but to take a taxi east to Pathankot and then north from there to Dharamsala and McLeodganj further up the mountain.
It was 85 degrees at 8am and the AC was not working. There was no way I was going to travel 4 hours in a car with no AC. So I told the driver he had to go back. He fiddles with the fuses, goes to an auto shop (an unmarked doorway behind a closed storefront), but can’t get the AC to work. Forty five minutes later, I tell him he can get another taxi to meet us. Soon his brother shows up.
Pathankot is about 120 km from Amritsar, and there was another taxi already there to meet me and take me to the mountains. All of this amounted to an unexpected expense of about 6000 rupees ($90), plus the train ticket I had already paid for.
There was also no internet in Punjab for three days because–a local guru with a global following of 60 million was convicted
in an Indian court, in a trial lasting ten years, of two rapes committed 15 years ago. His followers hit the streets in mob actions that killed 38 people. The government response was to cut off internet, all train travel, some of cable TV and even schools in multiple western Indian states for three days.
The main square of McLeod Ganj, the confluence of seven roads. This is early morning. By 10am and well into the night, it is jammed with taxis, cars, buses and people
But yes, I arrived in McLeod Ganj just fine. This is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. It’s cooler, more colorful, cleaner, with safe food (a Big Deal!) a large Tibetan population, monks and more spoken English. The Dalai Lama is teaching for three days starting Tuesday here at (the main temple) Tsuglakhang
, so there’s an extra contingent of global visitors. Lots of backpackers, a few grizzled hippies, western tourists and western monks from everywhere.
McLeod Ganj has the feel of an Alpine village, with the center of town full of boutique-y shops, street vendors, restaurants and cafes selling clothing, a wide range of jewelry items, religious objects, textiles, thangkas, coffee, fancy pastry and international foods. A Little Lhasa. I’ve seen it all before, but it’s still interesting to browse. The rest of it is narrow, rough roads tucked between layers and layers of structures stacked far up the hillsides one upon the other.
Looking down this stairway from street level, I thought I’d stumbled into an Escher drawing. Five walkways going different directions.
I came here for teachings that were scheduled for Buddhist communities of Vietnam, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The venue is quite modest, really. Very simple compared to everything I’ve seen in Nepal and Tibet: a small inner shrine surrounded by large, multi-level, covered patios with a capacity of several thousand.
Every square foot of this space and large spaces upstairs will be filled with those attending.
Inside the temple, the walls are lined with paintings of Tsongkhapa, of course, being the founder of the Gelug school. There are no large statues, only a couple of enclosed shrines and the teaching throne.
Each morning, the Dalai Lama enters from a residence behind the teaching venue, walking a corridor between seating areas, accompanied by his considerable retinue of security officials and high lamas, all of this to the strains of the Tibetan national anthem.
Large monitors are strategically placed to permit wider viewing. Seating areas are roped off for international groups from Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Romania, Russia and more. Thousands of Tibetans are attending. Ninety percent are sitting on the concrete floor. I sit in a designated area with several hundred chairs.
Each day, the teaching is opened with a different international group reciting the Heart Sutra in their native language. Simultaneous translation of everything is occurring in 7-8 languages. The material for the teaching is Buddhapalita’s interpretation of Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Verses of the Middle Way (Mulamadhyamikakarika), a text written 500 years after Buddha which has been a primary basis of buddhist instruction for 2000 years.
Afternoon recap of the morning teaching.
Teaching on the Buddhapalita is new, but the Dalai Lama’s fluency with Nagarjuna’s highly sophisticated, meticulous and sometimes impenetrable logic is so impressive. He has taught it many times, I’m sure. The ease with which he conveys the material makes it seem, ironically, both fundamental and very advanced at the same time-which, of course, it is.
Meanwhile, up here in the clouds, moments of clear weather are few and brief. Best to take note when they arrive.