December 07, 2004
In favor of all the friendly people that I've met on my journey and that welcomed me so kindly into their lives and homes, I will write this message in English. In addition to an update about my time in India, I'll try to compose a summary of my travels uptill here so far, so part of it doubles with previous posts.
INDIA - DELHI and DHARAMSALA - November, December 2004
Arrival in Delhi, India for the first time in my life was quite a shock -as was to be expected- but despite the warnings and preparations I was overwhelmed by this madhouse of traffic, noise, dirt, smells, crowds, poverty, touts, beggars, saddhu's, children, dogs, cows and cockroaches. The first two days I explored the surroundings of my hotel in small sections, almost block by block, street by street -all I could handle- until I was able to work my way from Pahar Ganj to Connaught Place, where banks, bars and western hotels can be found. But even there.. this is nothing like any European city. There is hardly any refuge from the pressure, hardly a place to chill-out, so I often ended up fleeing back into my hotel room. As I was well aware -since it was obvious- that I had reached a different continent when I came to Bangkok as well as Jakarta, this time it rather felt as if I had landed on a different planet.
Still I managed to buy a train ticket from the New Delhi train station to Pathankot. An overnight trip in a reasonably comfortable 2nd class sleeper. I suppose after four days of Delhi my standards had already become somewhat adjusted to the Indian way of life.. From there the local bus to McCleod Ganj, Dharamsala took four and a half hours of squeezing, bumping end jumping - preceded and concluded with a climb up onto the roof in order to stow and recollect ones own luggage. This four and a half hours included several detours in and around Pathankot due to heavy traffic, the driver's lunch break, and the replacement of one flat tire. To my relief I had met with three Dutch fellows in Pathankot who were going in the same direction, so there was plenty of opportunity to chat and exchange experiences. However, by the time we arrived in McCleod Ganj, around four in the afternoon, we were all sick and tired and very happy to check in to our respective guesthouses.
After two days only it became clear to me that this was a place to stay for at least a while. That while has now turned out to be more than a month. A month well spent I may add. Daily activities would comprise of long walks into the mountains with astonishing views into the valleys as well as onto the snowpeaks, following lectures on Buddhist philosophy in the Tibetan library, teaching English to some Tibetan (political & cultural) refugees as well as to some of the poorest Indian children in a dusty tent camp (economical refugees), socializing with fellow travelers, reading, writing, drinking chai and gazing into the depths and heights from my guesthouse balcony.
Here too, like in Japan I was granted the experience of an earthquake - this time even more fiercely, because the epicenter was just one valley away. What a way to wake up. Then during my meditation the aftershock came, which disturbed me so much I decided to get a shower instead. However, then I realised that being naked in the shower is probably the least fortunate position to be in during possible further turbulence, so I cancelled that too.
Eventually I found it was time to retire into a 10-day introductionary course on Tibetan Buddhism, so I climbed up to the Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamkot, just above McLeod Ganj. This course gave me a much better intellectual background of generic and Tibetan (Mahayana) Buddhist principles, in addition to some new meditation techniques. Interestingly enough this place is right next door to the Goenka Vipassana centre which is following the "other", Theravada (or Hinayana) tradition. This is the very same one I did last May in Switzerland.
I have to clear out something about the names of the places around here. When people say "Dharamsala", they usually refer to a cluster of small villages including Dharamsala, Dharamkot, Bhagsu and McCleod Ganj. McCleod Ganj is the absolute centre of it all and this is the place where both His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile reside and where most travelers will stay.
Finally, I've started saying goodbye to Dharamsala, which appears hard for anybody who tries to do it. This is "Hotel Dharamsala": "You can check-out any time, but you can never leave". I've come to like this place so much, as apparently almost everybody does - one after the other would postpone their leave and often even cancel plane tickets. This is the gateway between many different worlds. Here you find everything you need to know about your next step on the journey, any journey.. and then there's so much in and around this place alone, that the necessity to leave becomes less and less.. Here it is where worldly and spiritual worlds touch, where lowlands and mountains join, where poor and rich, Indians, Tibetans and Westerners meet. In only the six streets of McCleod Ganj, in the mountain hills above and in the Kangra valley below, the universe is contained.
And then from here, any kind of next destination can be chosen. Up into the Himalayas of Ladakh, down into the deserts of Rajastan, on towards the Sikh world of Amritsar, or the Hindu Rishikesh and further along the Ganges, and into spiritual adventures in the many classes, courses, retreats, ashrams and monasteries.
One high-light yet to be mentioned was a 3-second encounter with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.. Leaving the Nyamgal restaurant -part of the temple complex and residential area of HH- some friends and I noticed a gathering of some westerners and Tibetans by the side of the road. His Holiness (which is how everyone here refers to the Dalai Lama) had been giving some teachings outside Dharamsala and was apparently about to return to His residence. One of my fellows exclaimed in excitement: "O Hans, His Holiness is arriving!" and we placed ourselves with the other spectators. After a brief ten minutes a siren was heard and in came a queue of cars swiftly passing by. In the front seat of one of those sat the smiling and waving figure of His Holiness. Everyone folded their hands and bowed in serene admiration. Within ten seconds all had passed. The euphoria remained for hours.
Tushita Meditation Centre - http://www.tushita.info/
Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition - http://www.fpmt.org/
Tibet, Tibetan government in Exile - http://www.tibet.com/ http://www.tibet.org/
Volunteer work in Dharamsala - http://www.volunteertibet.org/ http://www.lhainfo.org/about_lha.htm