McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala
Our morning flight from Delhi to Kangra Airport, fourteen kilometres southwest of Dharamshala, was uneventful, but on arrival in McLeod Ganj I discovered that I’d left one bag on the airport luggage belt, necessitating a speedy, (read racing), return taxi trip down the hill by my steadfast partner.
As we travelled north from Delhi we began to fly over the lower foothills of the Himalayas, landing in the green and luxuriant Kangra Valley, sheltered by the Dhauladhar range, after one and a half hours. The Kangra Airport, at almost 2500 feet in elevation, is about half the elevation of Upper Dharamshala.
The first time we flew into Kangra in 2015, I was quite nervous. It was February, a season of unreliable weather, with plenty of rain and fog. Several years earlier I had read Mick Brown’s Book, The Dance of 17 Lives, about the seventeen incarnations of the Karmapa, the third highest Tibetan Buddhist incarnation. In the book the author described his flight to Kangra during the month of February in bad weather. His seatmate, a monk who happened to be one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers, was petrified, constantly repeating a scary mantra: “Maybe today we will die”, unnerving all around him. We were fortunate, our weather conditions were fine for both our 2015 and 2017 trips, and we never flew over high mountains, as Brown’s book seemed to imply.
Settling in at Pema Thang Guesthouse came easy, as we had stayed there previously, and the staff really make you feel like you’re home. We had the good fortune of moving into the best room in the guesthouse after our initial two nights, with a discount, as a large party of Danish students had booked all the less expensive rooms.
Our view was superb, and we could observe the activity at the Dalai Lama’s temple any time, day or night. It was an excellent November and barely a drop of rain fell during the entire month we were in McLeod Ganj. Temperatures did not drop significantly at night until mid month.
We wasted no time; knowing we might not return to Dharamshala, we began connecting with our dear friends the day we arrived in town. Dr. D., my “Tibetan sister” came to our room with her young daughter that afternoon, with the usual arrival gift of fruit and khata welcome scarves. The next morning we visited K. and T., an older Tibetan couple who live near the temple.
This trip was memorable due to our deep connections with individuals. We built on already established relationships with very exceptional people, some of whom we have known for ten years over our many visits to the town. Their deep spirituality, their love and generosity, allowed us to connect heart to heart at a new level. Over the years we have come to know and appreciate each other in many new ways.
Dr. D. administered to our medical needs with her powerful Tibetan medicines, invited us to her home and took a road trip with us. There was a particular reason for visiting Dharamshala this fall. The family is leaving the country, moving to the west, and our time together was especially poignant.
Our dear friends K. and T. a deeply devout couple, have taught me much about love. They and all their children are full of light, what I perceive as pure love. Being in their presence opens my heart. Formerly comfortably off nomads in Tibet, their life both in Tibet and in India has been spent in devotion to Tibetan Buddhism and to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Twice each day they visit Namgyal Monastery, close to their apartment, circumambulating the temple grounds, (ie, moving around a sacred object or idol on foot), during the morning visit, a 45 minute journey, uphill for the last part. At the temple they do multiple prostrations.
We do not shared a language with our friends, but it does not seem to matter. Their son, a monk who disrobed in order to support his family, joined us from Kathmandu on WeChat video during our first visit and interpreted. Dr. D. accompanied us on one visit, but we went alone on our final visit, enjoying ourselves as always, miming what we needed to say to each other, and eating the delicious Tibetan food, K insisted on feeding us.
Our hearts and souls know each other; it is not necessary to speak. Once I asked T., through his son, what he thought our relationship was in the past. His clever reply was “The Buddha knows”.
During the final weeks before we departed Canada to journey to India, many times I felt an urgency to leave, and heard a voice in my head saying, “I have to get to India, I have to get to India”. Having reached Dharamshala and begun reuniting with the town and our friends, I felt content to be home once again.
Copyright Ellen Besso 2018
Next: The Dharamsala International Film Festival, (DIFF)