Almost October, McCleod Ganj
A local holiday. People are blocking the streets, the restaurants are full and a fun- fair is built up near the bus station. Lots of orange, deep-fried sweets are sold by sweaty vendors. A hand-turned spinning wheel for children, moved around by a strong, skinny man. Two old “pirate ships” rocking from one side to the other, full with laughing Indian teenagers. All guys stand up inside their ship as it moves higher and higher. An old engine makes a squeaking noise. Ten rupees for a ticket.
I will be there. The Dalai Lama will give me a wise smile. Or maybe not.
I am happy to be part of the event, to sense the energy and to experience the atmosphere.
One day before the lecture. I walk into the temple where it will all be happening tomorrow. Already, it is very busy. Many people are ‘reserving’ their seats by putting a pillow or a piece of cloth at a given location inside the temple. Some spots are reserved for groups of people from the same nationality. The system is unclear to me. I walk around and decide to put my scarf somewhere at the back of the temple, still unsure if I will be in the right section. I ensure my ‘reservation’ by leaving my name on a piece of paper and leave the temple.
One empty spot. In the middle of a sea of Tibetan monks. I feel a little bit out of place. Shy and uneasy I decide to leave it there and collect it later. A hero is willing to grab it for me and to overcome the curious looks of our Tibetan audience. I am endlessly grateful.
I decide to walk downstairs, where there is more seating space available. Too late for the garden. I am not allowed to cross the square and an official tells me where to sit.
I sit down and observe the many people around me. Some have old, worn faces. Others are young and pretty. Children are walking around. I watch the Indian families dressed in their finest outfits. Look at the internationals of all ages, backpackers, spiritual travelers, families. All sitting on the ground, waiting for the same man to arrive.
Then it gets quiet. Some officials walk in. A lot of orange. My first glimpse of the Dalai Lama. He makes me smile as he looks so friendly and approachable.
After a small round of waving he walks upstairs, inside the small temple in which he will be speaking and the lecture begins. I am fighting with the radio to find the right channel for English translations as his lecture is in Tibetan. I follow him on a TV screen.
His speech gets technical, handling around many aspects of Buddhism. I get distracted by an impressive, large man sitting near to me. He is very tall and possibly has the biggest feet I have ever seen. Has long black hair bonded together in a small braid. I wonder where he is from. Tibet? Mongolia? His impressive posture and facial structure make him interesting to look at. Remarkable, imposing like a bear, but with one of the most kind faces I have ever seen. Shortly our eyes cross and he offers me some more butter tea.
Two hours later. The end of the first session. The Dalai Lama slowly comes down the stairs and a big, white car drives up to the square to pick him up. I give him a secret wink just before he leaves the temple.