Reality is always more complex than you might imagine it to be. It just is, and you have to get used to it. Brilliant happiness and unfolding sad stories mingle in the same lives and communities like competing ingredients in a recipe, and this bizarre little town of McLeod Ganj is a dish filled with spice.
A couple days ago Alex and I took the afternoon off and went for a swim in the river just downstream from Bagsu Falls just east of Mcleod Ganj. The river is filled with monks bathing and washing clothes as tourists walk along the path uphill to the waterfall. We joined a small pool with a half dozen monks in boxer shorts who were swimming back and forth across the three foot deep pool. Everyone was laughing. A friendly goat was wandering the edge of the pool enjoying being scratched. The water was deliciously cold. It was just what I was needing since being away from Barton Springs in Austin. Here are a few pics from that day…
On the way back to McLeod Ganj we stopped briefly in a Hindu temple, rang their bells and I paid my respect to Ganesh, the god worshipped by practicers of Ashtanga yoga. I’ve always liked the idea of Ganesh, because he is the god of overcoming obstacles. Later that evening we had dinner with five monk friends from five different countries: India, Tibet, Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. All the monks here converse in Tibetan, except for the one from Myanmar. Most of these guys speak 5 or 6 languages, but when they are together as a group they speak english – the language they share with their friend from Myanmar. The evening was epic – good food, Alex played his guitar and sang, most everyone took a turn at singing something, talks about philosophy, music, and buddhism. At one point in the evening, one of the guys asked what the word cosmopolitan meant. We explained, and I dubbed them the Cosmopolitan Monks Society.
None of these guys are from Dharamsala. They are all here from other monasteries to learn english. Hundreds of monks come to Dharamsala for this, because learning english can help them further their goals as a monk. All of these guys are also from huge monasteries – some with as many as 5000 monks. These gigantic institutions are basically universities of Buddhist learning. Lekshey in the picture below comes from a monastery in the south that has 5000 monks and a massive debate hall. They have to engage in debate every day, and they are judged by the logic of their arguments. I had no idea. You would also never guess from all the laughing and singing that evening. Totally fun.
The next day I had meetings with three NGOs – the Tibetan Democratic Party, Students for a Free Tibet and the Former Tibetan Political Prisoners Association. Everyone is very interested in my project, but the after an afternoon of fun the day before the message was sober. I have to be extremely careful about who I take photographs of if I am going to exhibit them in the context of the Sino-Tibetan conflict. Tibetan refugees who still have family in Tibet can put their families at risk if they publicly speak out about the conflict. Of course, many Tibetans have spoken out, but not everyone is willing to take the risk that a family member might lose a job or be imprisoned on their behalf.
After several recent self immolations by monks in Llasa, China closed Tibet to foreigners this month. Tomorrow I go to meet with several former political prisoners. This is a serious situation.
If you want another take on this trip you should also look at Alex’ blog: http://alexpullen.com/the-kashmir-analogs/