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August 16, 2002
The long bus ride to the Dalai Lama
On my second night in India I did the old lose-a-lot-of-weight-quickly trick. I ate something in a local restaurant. Within five hours I had lost nearly a quarter of my body weight. I had, almost instantly, become slim and sexy. I was also too weak to stand, but the world is a rich source of compromise.
My hotel wasn't ideal for convalescing. It was one of those places where cars can drive right in, and rev their engines for the rest of the year. After a truly dreadful night of noise and fumes and illness, I gingerly packed up my stuff and set off for somewhere quieter. I walked to a much nicer hotel I'd seen the day before, but couldn't find anyone there who wanted to help me. This was the only place in India where I went to spend money, and couldn't.
Frustrated, I left and noticed a rickshaw driver outside. I looked at my watch, and realised that there might still be time to catch the bus to Dharamsala, the mountain village where the Dalai Lama lives. I quickly negotiated a price, and was whisked to the bus station in record time. By the time we'd arrived, my driver had lost nearly a quarter of his body weight. I'd never seen anyone put so much effort into pedalling, or, for that matter, anything. I sat in the back of the rickshaw and watched him in awe. By the time we arrived at the bus station he was completely covered in sweat, and I was completely covered in embarrassment. I apologised for being from the sedentary West, gave him a handsome tip, and felt guilty for the next few years.
Then, slowly, gingerly, I waddled ten paces to the ticket office. With the last of my strength, I waddled another twenty paces to the bus, leaned vaguely in the direction of a seat, and collapsed. I did this as gracefully as I could, but it wasn't very graceful.
I sat on the bus for the next seven hours, neither eating nor drinking, and being only vaguely aware of the passing scenery. I was still very weak, but it felt surprisingly satisfying to be doing something useful while I was ill. At some stage, after darkness fell, I eventually arrived in Dharamsala. I took the first room I found, because it had a bed. I was asleep within minutes, and I slept for a long time.
World's greatest living garden gnome
The key attraction of Dharamsala is the chance to meet the Dalai Lama. Private audiences are difficult to organise, but his palace is open to visitors most Saturday mornings, and you can go there and shake his hand.
It was a great thing to do. I queued up with several hundred Westerners, and several hundred Tibetans, and we all got a moment or two with him. Before he appeared we'd formed an orderly queue on the drive leading to the front steps of his palace. It seemed obvious that he would arrive through the front door, so most eyes were looking that way. I'd struck up a conversation with the people around me, and we came to the conclusion that he would probably make his entrance in majestic style.
But when he actually appeared, his humility was immediately obvious. He seemed genuinely surprised at the vast turnout, and delighted to have so many people to greet. He seemed the essence of light and warmth, and his presence tangibly altered the mood and energy of the crowd.
And he didn't come swishing through the doors of his palace. Instead, he arrived from an unexpected direction, suddenly materialising out of the garden. The Dalai Lama looked a little like a garden gnome, infinitely amused by the world and his place in it. I was very glad to be able to see that up close, and to have the opportunity to pay my respects. I found his warmth and good humour infectious, and I walked away smiling.Posted by Sean Hegarty at 10:50 PM in the Dog Biscuit category | Comments (0)
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