Thursday, April 27, 2006

Arrived!! -- No moss growing between these toes . . .

Hello. This is the first "blog post" from current trip to India. Posts from last year's travels can be found in the April and May 2005 archives and there are also many "picked-up" articles of interest posted in the archives as well, all accessible from the menu to the left. Thanks -- Mark.

Dharamsala, India -- It's Thursday mid-afternoon (April 27) here, which is exactly nine and-a-half hours ahead of (i.e., later than) 5am Florida.

I've been here for about an hour, following a trip that began about 70 hours ago with a drive to Orlando airport early Monday morning.

Fly to NYC, layover, fly 14+ hours to Delhi (watched two sunsets from the plane window, one over NYC and the other over Kabul). Get to Delhi and layover in the thick brown choking capital city, overnight train to a Himalyan hill station called Pathankot, switch to a rickety old bus for a totally brain/bone/body-jarring five hour ride over, around and through the Kangra Valley, straining up very steep narrow dusty roads, lots of switchbacks, ruts and rocks.
(Many of the roads up here are dirt and they wash out each year in the summer monsoon rains . . . is too much to keep up with, so the roads getting steeper and bumpier has become a seasonal occurrence.)

So yeah, it's been a lot of rough travel, but here's the thing -- you get up here in the Himalaya and there's something in the air unlike anywhere else, almost like the air is ultra-oxygenated. You don't walk, you kind of hop/skip. The skies are no longer grey/brown, they are bright blue, with vivid sunlight. The refreshingly cool brezes carry the aroma of the pine and cedar forests. And looking to the north and east, there's a closeup gigantic wall reaching into the sky, sheer Himalyan mountains covered in white snow from their peaks about halfway down. Sheer delight.

After crazy/hectic Delhi, the quiet here is of lullaby character. With the Dalai Lama away, its (extra) very peaceful and uncrowded. Incredibly "soft" after Delhi.

The rest of today I'll rest and acclimate (am not sure what altitude we're at but it takes a little getting used to, especially since the town is built along a ridgetop and much walking is either up or down hill), And I'll begin preparing for the days ahead, during which I intend to "dive in" to the culture and practice of Tibetan Buddhism as observer, writer/reporter, student and participant.

(Following the Chinese invasion and subsequent occupation of Tibet in 1949, Dharamsala is the town that was "given" as a settlement to the Dalai Lama and his escaped/exiled Tibetan people by Indian Prime Minister Nehru in 1959. China and India weren't very friendly back in those days . . . today the pro-Tibetan energy flowing from Dharamsala remains a huge fly in the Communist Chinese ointment).

"Dhasa" as it's called here is now home to the Tibetan government in exile, the Tibetan medicine and astrological institute, a massive Tibetan archive/library and many other cultural centers as well as the Dalai Lama and approximately 15,000 Tibetan refugees, with more arriving on a regular basis.

So I've checked into my lodgings, a small guesthouse in McLeodGanj (upper Dharanmsala) that is owned by the Dalai Lama's personal secretary (here, as in Tibetan Buddhist circles everywhere, the Dalai Lama is called "His Holiness" -- in future writings I'll refer to him as HHDL). On my way to get a momo (Tibetan dumpling) lunch -- best deal in town, five of 'em w/hot chili sauce for 10 rupees (a quarter) -- I detoured into one of the many internet "cafes" to check in and write this (The typical Dhasa internet cafe is just a storefront and a row of computers, Starbucks et al hasn't gotten up here yet.)

One not-here-last-year thing I noticed was a large sign on the road leading up to the ridgetop, welcoming travellers to "the Little Lhasa of India" . . . it looks like the local PR folks have been working. (Lhasa was the center of the Tibetan governent and Buddhist religion in Tibet, and is now, many years after the occupation, in the process of becoming a major real-life Chinese theme park -- kind of like a government-controlled Jurassic Park with real Tibetans instead of dinosaurs.)

All jokes and sarcasm aside, it feels good to be here.

This place is important: if Tibetan Buddhism -- one of the world's richest and wisest spiritual paths -- is going to survive in the years ahead, the depth and degree to which it does will be a direct result of what happens here in Dharamsala, and the future is taking shape today. (More about this in writings to come.)


Also want to mention that a back-home local Orlando Sentinel columinist, Lauren Ritchie, wrote a column in today's(?) paper about this trip . . . she was on my "friends" email list and responded to email i sent out last week, you can read her column online at,0,3969136.column
Lauren is very widely read and respected, it's really heartening to have her take the interest she has in these travels and spread the word among the readers in Lake County (FL) . . . I am touched and most appreciative.

I also learned that Lauren scraped my headshot photo from the Times of Tibet website and published it in the paper with the column. Well, I was appreciative . . .

-- More soon. Thank you. Mark