Sunday, March 25, 2007

Holy hangover

That voodoo that you do
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

The Extra Special Super Auspicious Healthy Good-Luck Long Life pujas are finally over. I think I have a Triple H (His Holiness Hangover).

HH the Dalai Lama just left for a gig in Pune on the 23rd, and the town has resumed its rather pensive "waiting" vibe. The weather warms daily in preparation for "high tourist season."

Wild Kingdom
I have spent the last few days doing blessedly little, mainly taking wonderful walks out by the Bhagsunath waterfall, reading two Tibet-related books (Kundun by Mary Craig and Dance of 17 Lives by Mick Brown).

And, listening to the wild birds call. They have swooping, trilling songs that (to my western ears) sound like something out of the Jungle Book. There are all kinds of wonderful birds here, including a tiny black-and-white art-deco sparrow that looks like a windup toy, and some kind of magnificent magpie with long feathers streaming out behind like a kite's tail.

The white butterflies have hatched. My friend Victoria says that every year after Spring Teachings, they come out in their hundreds, filling the air in living snow flurries. You see them in twos, usually. Tiny pure-white butteflies.

The mongoose (mongeese? mongooses?) are having a high old time - it must be mating season. They are slinking round the hillsides, their tails far longer than their bodies. Raju says they live in a den just outside the guest house.

I can always tell it's Sunday, by the hordes of Indian family tourists traipsing / driving in streams of mini-cabs and SUVS like a parade, honking as though it were a life-threatening emergency, through Bhagsu. They never travel in flocks of less than nine (seriously). I think it's a requirement to get the group rate, or something.

This morning, I was awakened from my normally deathly-quiet slumber by a woman shouting. It was a Punjabi woman (and her family) who'd gotten a room directly beneath mine. I prefer the mating calls of the mongoose (mongeese?).

I have noticed quite a few of what looks like "group honeymoons." That is, a girl who is clearly a newlywed bride (judging by her traditional armsful of wedding bangles, and covered head while others have heads bare) on holiday with about eight or nine in-laws.

Since it's a holiday so soon after the wedding, is this their honeymoon? Are they (the couple) expected to enjoy it? Do they get any privacy? Maybe it's supposed to be a way of getting the bride to bond with her new family. Traditionally the groom's family is supposed to completely replace the girl's family, in every way. Everything she would have once done for her parents, she must now do for her in-laws - and they don't get a chance to get to know one another before the wedding.

Server Down
Life has been easier since Thursday, but Internet has been tough. "Server down" was the cry every time I lugged the laptop down the hill to hook up. When I finally did, I was rewarded with a horrible virus called Adober.exe.

It took a Turkish Buddhist systems administrator (he's here volunteering for the Tibetan Computer Resource Center) to help fix it, free of charge. What a boon! Thanks, Ilker!

Ilker got to have his solo photo taken with the Dalai Lama last week during the special Russian audience. Of course, Ilker is not Russian, but got into the audience because the Dalai Lama cannot visit Turkey, either - "The Chinese, they say if you allow him in, we cut the business," said Ilker, making a "snipping" scissors gesture with his fingers.

Ilker showed me the photo of His Holiness clasping both hands with him, like old friends. Ilker's eyes were shut in the photo, though.

"I couldn't open my eyes while he was holding my hands," said Ilker. I could see the tears coming to his eyes as he held the photo. Tears, and a big, irrepressible smile.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Waterfall garbage can

Guest column by Ashe & Macie
Dharamsala, Himachal

I spent most of today on a mountainside above the Bhagsu waterfall Ashe & Macie are writing about. As I came down the mountain, my hands were filled with potato chip bags and mint-wrappers.

What they said about garbage, India and Indian habits is so apt, I just thought I would let them guest star today.

If we could choose just one thing that annoys, frustrates, and saddens us most about India it is that the Indians we encounter just cannot stop lying. We listen and catch people lying numerous times every single day. Most lies are small and meant only to get money from us in some way, but the fact that lying seems to be such a normal activity really worries us.

Read the whole travelogue here.

Photo okay?

Intercultural multimedial etiquettisms
Whew, for someone who hasn't done much since Thursday, I sure am exhausted. Think I will recycle some viewer mail I received last week, from Ron in Missouri.

Ron writes:
Hello Sirensongs - I was referred to you by a member of Virtualtourist.

I'm a street photographer. I love photographing people in candid situations. My experience is limited to the western United States and Vietnam.

I am wondering about any special customs about photographing women in India, things I might not be familiar with. I notice that there are very few photographs of women in the website galleries that I have found. Much of my work is in open markets and at fairs and like events, so I frequently photograph vendors, then return with copies of the pictures to give them the next day. I try to establish relationships in this way, rather than just pointing a camera at people and then disappearing.

Anyway, I'm going to Gujarat in two weeks, my first trip to India, and any advice would be appreciated. I have enjoyed reading your travelogues.

Dear Ron:
Like everything Indian, the issue is complex and not without contradictions.

On the one hand, most of the culture adores (literally) images and imagery, everything from home movies to pictures of film stars to icons of the gods.

On the other hand, there are traditional concepts of modesty to deal with, as well as complicated inter-gender relations - that is, as a woman, it is much easier and less "intrusive" for me to photograph another woman than for a man to do so.
(You get mixed messages, too. The Bihari ladies at left are waving and yelling, "No photo!" - but still smiling playfully. They are "supposed to" be modest and shy, as a cultural expectation, but may actually enjoy a little attention - if no one is looking!)

Additionally, there's the perception of "rich" foreigner "taking something" from the local. All these things must be considered.

In general, when someone is in a public place doing a public job, (ie, selling things in the market or on the sidewalk, or working on the farm) I consider them "fair game" - but always approach them with a smile, and making the "click click" motion indicate, "Photo okay??" Again, this is much easier for me as a woman - it is never misunderstood as a "come-on."

Sometimes women will say no and dismiss me with a wave of the hand. More often, they will smile and indicate yes (the various 'head woggles' of south Asia can be confusing to newcomers, though).

Occasionally (very) they will demand money - I do not give money to them as I think it fosters a whole range of unhealthy reactions.

Also, sometimes they will indicate that they want you to give them a copy of the photo. Never promise "yes" unless you absolutely can do it and intend to. Otherwise, they think you're just another foreigner who does not keep promises.

Most often, I indicate "sorry, not possible" and shake my head. ("Not possible" is Indian English, understood by all.)

When I'm in one place long enough, though, I do as you suggested and return photos to the models, who are usually delighted.

Whenever feasible (if crowds are not too rowdy), I do show them the digital image in the viewfinder. More often than not this is met with a big smile and loud laughter. It is much appreciated, since many people have never seen a photo of themselves.

It also serves to bond with people and give something back to them.

A couple more things :
-Muslims in general, and Muslim women in particular, are very touchy about being photographed. Their religion officially frowns on any image-creation (though personally, they may enjoy it), and the women especially bear the brunt of extreme "modesty" requirements.

They may say yes, though, if you ask politely. I think it's more difficult for a man to photograph a Muslim woman. One exception is Muslim kids - boys and girls. They usually have no objection to being photographed!

Another thing to keep in mind:
Oftentimes, people will be engaged in activities on the street or sidewalk that are, in fact, private - washing kids, bathing themselves, cooking or doing laundry. (see photo at left)

This is the nature of lower-class Indian housing -a great deal of it is out in the open; lots of people live in lean-tos and sheds, half on the street and so on. Many people have to bathe at the public pump and have no privacy.

Try to be sensitive with anyone, but especially women, in such situations. Again, the kids usually have no objection at all and enjoy it!

And one more thing: Please check out and perhaps contribute to, after your trip, the group "50 Million Missing" - dedicated to representing the Indian women and girls who are "missing" in India's ongoing gender-wars.
Thanks for writing, and happy snapping!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Where the earth meets the sky

Singin' in the rain
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala

Has it really been a week since I wrote on the blog? -- unbelievable.
Yet, there is the evidence, in front of my eyes, on the Tibetan Rigpa calendar
(another calendar to keep track of - in addition to Hindu and Newari dates).
It's the year 2134 in Tibetan time.

The weather is really crazy- today we had:
1-cloudy morning,
2-heavy rainfall, then
3-beautiful sun WHILE it was raining
4- a rainbow
5-a hailstorm while sun came out and
6-around 6pm, yet another hailstorm, this time literally the size of moth-balls. You could have put an ice bucket out on the terrace and filled it quickly. I really thought it might break the windows!
and finally -
7-More lovely sun and another rainbow, only to be followed by
8-a late-night shower.

Tibetan tradition, like Indian and Nepali tradition, does everything by astrology (they have their own system which is a cross between Chinese and Indian astrology). This year is "an obstacle year" for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In fact, for anyone turning 73 their 73rd year is considered an 'obstacle' year. So, there are extra "long-life" ceremonies being offered for him, for the past week. I call it "extra special very auspicious healthy lucky long life merit puja" (a take-off on the way Indians love to embellish things!).

Yesterday was quite remarkable - about a thousand (literally) Tibetans came all the way from Nepal and western Tibet regions to offer stuff (elaborate hand-made gilded Buddha and deity statues, sacks of rice, potted flowers, precious sacred Tibetan texts printed on the traditional long-paper and wrapped in silk, hand-woven
carpets, bolts of brocade and so on).

Hundreds of the old folks dressed in their "traditional dress" which looks
like a rainbow-striped circus crossed with Native Americans from outer space (don't know how else to describe it, really).

Sacred Stomping

As HH came into the temple, they started dancing. Tibetan folk dances look a great deal like Native American dances (small steps from side to side, moving in a circle and spiral). Like a lot of folk dances, the individual steps were not so remarkable - it's when seen in a large group that it really makes an impact. The ladies looked like a moving, shifting wall of rainbow colours. The men, in their heavy boots, stamp and whirl with long sleeves outstretched, resembling eagles' wingspans.

They dance in a large circle, facing the centre, where a single drummer (always male) pounds the very simple beat - again, a lot like Native American music. It feels very shamanic and tribal. Of course, now in addition to the drummer there is a
videographer. So, at least one thing has changed in the tradition. I reflected on how they probably used to dance around a fire. Now, they dance around a camera!

They always sing while dancing. The men start their vocals, low and earthy. Then after a verse or so the women come in with their soaring singing and it sounds like the sky meeting the earth. What it must be like to see these dances on the open steppes under the endless blue sky of Tibet!

Most of the dancers were 50 yrs old or older, and one probably never sees such a gathering of traditional Tibetan attire even in Tibet, these days.

Wizards of Weather
To get my photographer's press pass for tomorrow's Extra Special Lucky Puja, I had to go allll the way down to "the library," which is the name for Lower Upper Dharamsala where the Tibetan Govt. offices are. (There's Lower Dharamsala, Upper Dharamsala / McLeod Ganj, and then what I call "lower Upper Dharamsala" below the temple, "Middle Upper Dharamsala" and "upper Upper Dharamsala" - above the main road). I was helped by a sweet-natured fifty-something Tibetan woman named Sonam Wangmo. It turns out she attended NYU on a Fullbright scholarship.

We discussed the crazy weather (always a fecund topic for conversation here) and she casually mentioned, "You know, maybe we should call a Ngagpa. Do you know what a Ngagpa is?" (pronounced "nakpa").

I did indeed. "A Ngagpa is a kind of Tibetan sorcerer or wizard."

"Yes, they can stop the rain - or make it rain, or snow. They can control the weather."

"Perhaps you should have one on staff!" I half-joked. Really, it would be a good idea.

"Yes...but you know," she added on second thought, "we do need the rain. Water is such a problem always here in Dharamsala." It is one of the weirdnesses of the locale that a place receiving so much rainfall (#2 rainfall in India, after Cherrapunji) also suffers from water shortages.

The whole conversation was very matter-of-fact -- as though Sonam had been discussing the pros and cons of hiring a particularly difficult plumber.

It is really lightning out and I have to walk back to the village before it starts raining AGAIN!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Western disturbance

Under the rainbow
McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala

"A Western disturbance," the papers say, is causing severe precipitation all over the subcontinent - even in the desert of Rajasthan, and normally arid south India. My Chinese friend is on her way to Jammu and Kashmir on a government bus, but she must be snowed-in, because the paper says the J&K Highway is closed for snowfall.

Here, we just got beating down hard rain, several hailstorms, and severe, cable-snapping winds.

There are two advantages to such crappy weather - one, everyone looks like hell so there is no need to fix my hair, or even shower or wash my hair - it's too cold to even take my clothes off (even for a hot shower). Most people are sleeping with their clothes, gloves and hats on anyway. Makeup is a long-foregone pretension and dirty hair is hidden under my fake-fur hat (the kind we used to call, in the hip-hop days, a "Kremlin hat"). I am wearing my heaviest pair of (cotton) pants, a t-shirt, my cotton chupa, and a flannel nightshirt over it all, with the fleece jacket zipped up all day long. Many people appear to be wearing every item of clothing they own.

The second advantage is that, since the rain is so cold and hard and relentless, fewer people show up for teachings, and that means if you are an early bird (I am not), you can get a good seat very near to the Dalai Lama. Or, at least near enough to sit under his benevolent "blessing" hand as he walks by on the ways in and out.

There's also the fact that such frigid weather makes me crave starchy foods. I hope my body is burning it off with the constant walking up and down steep hills and staircases. Dharamsala is not a place for the physically challenged - or even for those with a serious knee problem.

Finally, last night
Finally. The rain finally stopped last night - just in time for the Long Life Ceremony this morning, for HH the Dalai Lama. An amazing double rainbow came out over the Kangra Valley, just around 6pm, before sunset.

This morning's (thankfully dry) Long Life Ceremony was graced by none other than HH the Karmapa (head of the Kagyu lineage), HH Sakya Trizin (head of the Sakya lineage), and the head of the Nyingma lineage (whose name always escapes me). It turned out (news to me) that some people, even foreigners, had come and saved seats upstairs the night before (usually upstairs is only for monks). Some people arrived as early as 5.30 AM to ensure their seating. Live and learn.

The ceremony featured "special appearances by" not only the Nechung Oracle but two more traditional oracles of other regions of Tibet, representing Amdo, Kham and U Tsang. Evidently there are no less than four oracles residing in McLeod and many more traditionally in Tibet and Bhutan. Each "channels" or manifests a different god when they go into trance. Though I didn't get upstairs, my Taiwanese friend got video of the oracles. When they collapse after the trance, they are immediately carried out like corpses feet-first.

(At left: Nechung Oracle manifesting the god Dorje Drakden in a trance at the Nechung Monastery, March 7 2007)

After the ceremony, HH had private (that is, about 100 people at a time) audiences for the Russians, Ukrainians, Mongolians and new Tibetans. The explanation I got was that he gives these audiences for countries where he cannot travel freely (like Russia) because of the country's relations with China. However, I know he did go to Mongolia just last year. Not fair!

Also, I heard later that a German girl snuck in with the Russians. You have to get a piece of paper from security - but they don't know who's Russian and who isn't. Then the whole crowd of 100 or so Russians goes together and has to show passports. But, because there are so many people, they don't really examine all passports - just look to see if the face matches the picture inside.

Okay, now I know the deal.

Mongolians, Russians and Ukrainians all understand Russian - so they get audience together. Everything is translated from Tibetan into Russian.

I caught two Ukrainian kids as they emerged glowing from the HH residence. What did he say?

"It was very short - less than half an hour," Sergei said. "But he said that in general, it was better for people to stay with their own religion, the religion they were born into. To change religions arbitrarily creates confusion and misunderstanding for a lot of people. But, if you do want to be Buddhist and practice Buddhism, it is very important to study - and study well. To really understand the concepts and what they mean - not just go through the motions. And His Holiness was very serious when he said this - not joking, like in the teachings!"

On the road, for real
At rainbow time (6 pm), I was in the Shangri-la restaurant, run by the monks of a monastery. In America, a restaurant where you are waited on by monks would be some kind of novelty theme chain (with a cutesy name like "The Monkery").

I was with Lama Sherab Gyaltsen, the monk who prostrated all the way from Lhasa to BodhGaya, India. Sherab speaks no English at all, but was accompanied by a translating friend, Passang. (Passang is another monk. Most Tibetan names are bi-gendered, that is, Passang, Tenzin, Tashi and so on can be either male or female.)

Back in January, I went to find Sherab on the Patna-Gaya Highway in Bihar. I had read an Indian news report about the "Tibetan monk crawling from Lhasa for world peace" and wanted to interview him and photograph him for myself. I spent two amazing days with him, his two Tibetan companions and the Bihari villagers, who lined the roads to alternately stare and support him - bringing him foodstuffs and water at day's end. They seemed to regard him as a modern-day yogi-saint or "tapaswi" (one who does severe devotional austerities) out of some Vedic-era mythology. Certainly they did not hesitate to "pranam" him (devotional salute) and instantly recognized what he was doing as in the Indian tradition of devotion.

Sherab was explaining how he got permission, from the Chinese government, to exit Chinese Tibet and enter Nepal while prostrating. He had to get some kind of special religious-pilgrimage visa - lots of paperwork. People from his home town of Dege, Kham district had to vouch for him ("he really is a monk and devotee, he is not just escaping, he is for real" and so on). The fact that he is from Kham - now considered part of Qinghai province or China proper - helps a lot. People dwelling in Lhasa or other parts of the TAR ("Tibetan Autonomous Region") are considered more of a political risk and have a harder time getting travel documents.

I had my trusty laptop Tawanda with me, and made a disk for Sherab of all the photos and videos I'd taken of him while he was literally "on the road." He insisted on buying me dinner, and paying for all the CDs (a welcome change from most Indians and Nepalis, who expect YOU, the rich firang, to pay for everything) and requested a second CD of the videos "for my mother."
Sherab had gotten press notices from the BBC, Times of India, Asian Age, Jagran Dainik and a few other Hindi language papers. However, I was special - according to him - because they were all Indian. (The BBC sent a local Hindi-speaking correspondent.) I was "the only English person" who had come to see him.

On our way home
It's always with a combination of sadness and relief that I watch the crowds pack up and go home after a teaching. Sadness, because it's so great to be in huge (if sometimes maddening) crowds of people who have converged for such an elevated cause. I mean, contrast 7,000 people coming together to receive Buddhist teachings from a Nobel laureate with the energy of 7,000 people - for example - gathered at music festival to get drunk and get laid. Or at a political convention, or a football game.

Relief, because finally I will be able to walk down the street and end up where I had originally intended to go, without several people sidetracking me - and will be able to get a table in one of the dimly-lit, always crowded restaurants of McLeod Ganj, where people huddle against the chill drinking Hot Lemon Ginger and catch up on who's going where, which Rinpoche is in town and who's getting teachings from whom.

And, of course, the next reading of the Oracle or Oracles.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Typing with gloves on

Fools in the rain
McCleod Ganj, Dharamsala

It is beating down cold heavy rain, has been since March 10 which was Tibetan Uprising Day. It's so cold I am typing with gloves on. Not so many typos as I expected, aactual;l;y
WHOOPS - actually.

My gloves are borrowed, teal-coloured acrylic-yarn gloves, from my friend Victoria. Victoria is a five-foot seven spark plug of a former schoolteacher. She used to teach on the Hupa Indian reservation in California, and in the tough neighborhoods of Oakland (SF). When she retired, she "decided to devote the rest of my life to helping Tibet and Tibetans win freedom and autonomy."

The Daily Lama
Today HH the Dalai Lama gave the Avalokiteshvara initiation. The weather could hardly have been worse; but an amazing number of people (probably 1000) turned up anyway in woolly hats, boots, raincoats, umbrellas, sweaters and shawls. The giant yellow canopy over the temple courtyard gets heavy with rain, and every so often, a great gust of wind ripples it and literal gallons of cold rainwater come crashing down, through the canopy seams, onto the people's heads. Never the same place twice, so you really don't know where to stand. People got to using their umbrellas even while under the canopy.

I noticed that as he came in today, HH had a very small entourage (normally he is proceeded by monks carrying incense and so on), and carried his own maroon umbrella. A lucky few Tibetans seated by the railing, holding the white "khata" scarves, got a brief handshake, as he paused to greet them.

As he approaches the brocade-covered, carved wooden throne, everyone stands up to prostrate three times before him. But he also prostrates three times - to the throne itself and to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. He lifts his robes like a skirt and carefully climbs up the four steps to to the seat. I noticed that every day, as he sits down and arranges his robes and cushion around him, an attendant monk hands him a single Handi-Wipe. He wipes his hands, then tucks it inside his robe.

When he does initiations, HHDL sits upstairs in the temple with his Namgyal monks. So, we downstairs only see him on a video screen at these times. I kept hoping he would put on the pointy yellow hat, which looks extra cool. He has even joked about it in the past ("Now I am going to put on the yellow hat. I say this because photographers like to take my photo in this hat. I notice this. Tee he he hehe").

HH's teachings can be roughly divided into a few segments, which he rotates. First, there are the opening prayers. Sometimes, he makes comments on what's happening - like, "Some of the Chinese delegation are leaving tomorrow afternoon. Therefore, I will give the initiation tomorrow morning instead of waiting till Wednesday." Or a rare bit of scolding - "I see that many of you do not have the printed text. Perhaps you have such great powers of memory that you do not need to see the words themselves. " (nervous laughter from crowd) "So, maybe you can look on with some friend sitting nearby who does have the text."

Then, he reads directly from the original text itself. Next, he gives commentary and elaboration.

Often, he adds to this personal stories, which are my favourite part. I love the one about the parrot he hit with a stick when he was a boy (this is also in his autobiography). It was a friend's parrot that showed great affection to the friend, but paid no attention to the boy Lama. Young HH was kind of lonely for friendship and got angry that the bird didn't love him too. So he attacked the poor bird. Of course, this terrified the creature and certainly didn't make it love him. From this he learned the limits of using force. (You can just see it - "I'm the Dalai Lama, dammit, you have to love me!!!" Whack!)

In an initiation, first we take the Bodhisattva or Upasaka (layperson's) vow not to lie, steal, kill, commit sexual misconduct or take intoxicants. If you feel you can't keep all five of the vows, HH always says "just take the ones you feel you can keep, to the best of your ability."

Then he goes into the elaborate visualizations of Avalokiteshvara, the deity of universal compassion. The tradition is that HH is actually a living incarnation of this deity. The visualizations help you to picture yourself as the deity, "with one face, and four arms" emitting universal love and compassion to all "sentient beings."

Then there are his jokes. One day he warned the Tibetans about getting too fat, "because it will be a burden on your health. In the west, there is a saying - 'eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunchtime, and take supper like a pauper.' But in Tibet we say - 'In the morning you should eat a great deal, because you have the whole day ahead of you. Then, the afternoon is also a good time to eat. And at night, you should eat a good dinner, so you will sleep well!' " All the Tibetans laughed in recognition of their habits.

HHDL also manages to get in all kinds of social commentary. During the past 7 days we have heard about vegetarianism, animal rights, women's equality, the equality of all religions, nutrition, non-violence, medical testing on guinea pigs, the importance of charity, Mother Theresa, AIDS awareness, religious freedom within Tibet, and of course the environment.

I try to scribble down as much as possible, but today, my hands were freezing - as they are now, even with gloves on.

Also, I have a ton of photos to share, but have to leave the laptop way up in Bhagsu at the room (security dictates 'no electronics inside the teachings site') and it's just too far to go back up and get it.

On Saturday, HH had a special audience with the mainland Chinese - about 50 of them. He spent an hour with them, according to my Chinese friend, answering their questions about Buddhism. No political topics were discussed.

I wondered, considering the prohibitions on his photo within China, whether they got the world's most desired photo-op - a picture with the Dalai Lama. She said, "Yes, they were so kind - they took a group photo, then gave it to each of us on a computer disk." A good way to get past Chinese customs (they might see a photo, but just don't have time to search every disk)!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Rakhi mountain high

The air up here
McLeod Ganj (Dharmsala), India

Wow - have I really been here since Thursday? I have been trying to blog since Friday, but there's a power cut here nearly every evening for several hours - conveniently just at the Blogging Hour.

This time all the Himachal Pradesh Tourism buses from Delhi were full, so I had to take the government bus from Kashimiri Gate. Kashmiri Gate is a really nasty station, with that particular layer of grimness and grim only Indian public places seem to have. But, the government bus is better for one reason - it arrives in McLeod later in the day (after 8am).

What's so great about that? The views! I had always arrived at McLeod in the dark. Nothing prepared me for the breathtaking view up the Kangra Valley - with the snowpeaked Himalayas soaring wayyy overhead and the cold grey river rushing through the canyon wayyyyy below. I was hanging my head out the window, like an excited dog out for a car ride. The fellow passengers weren't so excited and wanted me to shut the window. To heck with them, how often do you get such a magnificent view just after sunrise?!

By arriving on the 1st, I did manage to miss the major flash-flooding rain and hail storm on the 27th. Whew. Now, the weather and views of the Dhauladhar range are stunning. When bits of cloud dust the mountain peaks, it means it's snowing. But it never snows in McLeod. We get all the beauty of seeing the not-so-distant snow peaks without the inconvenience of having to walk in it.

I didn't realize how much the pollution of Indian cities (and Kathmandu) had been affecting me, till I got out of it. The clear mountain air is a bolt from the blue.

Year of the Fire Pig
I just came from a candlelight march around the Khyilkhor (circumambulation path surrounding the Dalai Lama's house). There must have been 1000 people there, of all ages - everyone from withered grandmothers with long grey braids to red-robed monks, rock'n' roll Tibetan teens in jeans, and foreign visitors. It was the first time for me to hear the Tibetan national anthem and I started crying - these people are up against such odds.

The protest/march/vigil was in response to the events in the Tibetan capitol in the last couple weeks. The new Tibetan year is off to a bloody start in Lhasa; after an altercation instigated by police at the most sacred temple, 14 Tibetans have "been disappeared."

Photo opportunity
Tomorrow promises to be a really big day; it's my one day for camera clearance at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's teachings. The place is so crowded, all media personnel (except official Tibetan Govt. employees) are issued a camera pass for only one day each, to eliminate the mosh-pit frenzy such as I experienced at Mahabodhi Society last month (remember the Buddha relic installation?).

"HH" is in fine form, though. I try to take notes, but the amount of material he covers in a day is astounding. He essentially uses the traditional Buddhist text (in this case, Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life) as a framework for his own commentary. Yesterday, he referred to a traditional verse that claimed it was better to be born in a male human body. "In those days, it was considered better to be male, because they were considered the most dominant," he said. "But nowadays, we don't see so much of this type of prejudice." In other words, when you come across this type of stuff in the scriptures, you can officially ignore it.

As if all this wasn't enough, I have been invited to witness a "reading" of the Nechung Oracle tomorrow morning at 6am. Geshe Dorje, the second in-charge at Nechung Monastery, says I can take photos of the oracle, only after he comes out of the trance. In through the out-trance, or out through the in-trance. It will be a real challenge to keep my battery charged tomorrow.