Tag Archives: Dalai Lama

23 Lhamo Festival, His Holiness, and His other Holiness


Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts

Tibetan Opera - Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts


Today’s the start of the Lhamo festival at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) http://www.tibetanarts.org. There was a security check before entering the compound. A longish line of people built up as bags were searched, and persons were padded down. Both His Holinesses, the Dalai Lama and the Karmapa were there to grace the occasion. The Dalai Lama we couldn’t see, as he was said to be in a glassed-in upper room. I was disappointed that I could see him. I had attended a couple of his teachings in California some time back, and was hoping to catch a glimpse of him.

The Karmapa, in his 17th incarnation was seated on a balcony with one companion monk. He looked as he always looked in photos, his chin tilting down and his long eyes looking up, squinting a little, looking quite solemn. He was a fairly recent arrival from Tibet. As the head of one of the oldest school of Tibetan buddhism, he was a key spiritual leader. The world learnt of him only when he escaped from Tibet and crossed the Himalayas into exile. He was 14. Other than that I knew little of him. On the other side, a couple of little tulkus (incarnate lamas), maybe 3-or-so years old, with their senior companions. These were incredibly quiet and serene little kids. 

The stage was at ground level in the middle of the courtyard. The largely Tibetan crowd sat chatting on the ground around the performance in their best festive wear. People had their picnic lunches out. The thermos flasks and plates they used reminded me of childhood. People were happy, chatty.  Monastics and lay people sat side by side. The Opera was called Di-Mey-Kun-Dhen I was told. “It’s a long story” I was also told. Unfortunately all my untrained eyes and ears caught was a lot of clanging and colourful costumes. 


Tibetan gent at the lhamo festival

Tibetan gent at the lhamo festival

I wondered around with my camera trying to get some nice shots. The costumes were quite beautiful. Here and there I catch the pensive eyes and deeply lined faces of the aged. Here and there the bright eyes and vibrant glow of the children. The gayly dressed crowd offered lots of candid shots. Many Tibetans wore their traditional dress. Many serious photographers with their serious photographer’s vests were there with their serious lenses. As I stepped backwards to catch a long shot, I became aware of a kind of magnetic force coming from above my head. It was powerful and gentle at the same time. I looked up. There was the Karmapa leaning forward. I felt a kind of lifting and lightness. I was intrigued and decided to investigate the bookshops for his story. I had seen a number of music CDs with his image on them. (https://www.kagyuoffice.org/karmapa.html)



Still feeling warm and fuzzy, I wondered outside. There was a bustling makeshift market serving a variety of fried bread, noodles and momos. After slurping down a bowl of mediocre soup noodles, I checked out the souvenir stall. Since it was going to be more of  ‘a long story’ that I didn’t get, I decided to leave. On the walk down to McLeod Ganj, the wailing of sirens made me jump backwards. First came 2 sedans filled with Indian uniformed men, then came a station wagon with the Dalai Lama in the front seat. I bowed with joined palms as is customary. He smiled a bright smile and waved a blessing. The next thing I know there was a smile in my heart, tears in my eyes, and a bounce in my step.

20 Reflecting on McLeod Ganj

I had a reasonably good night in my 60rs room, but after breakfast was inclined to look for something a little less rustic. Hard travelling had taken its toll on me, and I was ready for a little creature comfort. I’d rather liked a room with an attached bathroom with a hot water shower. It gets chilly at this altitude. After walking around town and Bagsu and Draramkot, the Green Hotel still looked like a good bet at 250 rs for all that I want, plus a nice view. It ain’t the Taj, but it’ll do for me.

Being here isn’t like being in the rest of the India that I saw. There were few beggars and few touts. There seems to be lots to entice the New Age types – classes of all descriptions, alternative therapies, music, spirituality, nature… There are many beautiful people with clear eyes and bright smiles. There are Bob-Marley-dreadlock-dope-smoking types, mantra-chanting-prayer-wheel-whirling-mala-clicking types, Kishmiris, Tibetans Nepalis, Punjabis, and other Himalayan peoples, new age buddhists, old school hippies, add to that the diverse international and Indian tourists… The whole world does seem to meet here.

And who are the foreigners? Some look like first world rejects – healers, spiritual seekers, yogis, musicians and their hangers-on, those running from themselves and those who are looking for themselves. Young rebels with their belly button rings and dreadlocks denouncing the materialistic world. Here almost everyone is making a statement about who they are or aren’t, usually by some sort of head gear and hairstyle. A lot of the foreign men wear bandanas or scarfs, or are shaved bald, or have topknots or long braids. But alas they are no match for the men of the exotic east. 

An abundance of young foreign women seemed infatuated with the exotic east. The exotic east seem only too happy to oblige. Bare bellied nubile blonds lounge with arms around ear-ringed Tibetan youths with shining, long black hair. They look into those long, sensual eyes set on high cheek bones and hear  sad stories of heroic sojourns across the mountains into freedom. I can see how girls fall hard and fast.  If truth be told, most of those young men were born outside of Tibetan and made no such journey. Disenchanted and unrooted, they seem to be looking for validation and their reason to be. Living in exile must leave a deep scar unable to heal. What does a young man in his prime, with no job, little prospects, awaiting for a first world country to approve his refugee status do with all that restlessness, longing and angst?

Here, unlike in south east Asia, I did not see local young women  flirting with foreign men; no sign of the sarong party girl anywhere. Except for vendors and nuns, women seem kind of rare.  The most gregarious of women seem to be the middle age matrons who man the stalls in the streets. 

Kishmiris come to sell handcrafts, since tourists are not going to Kashmir, Kashmir has come to the tourists. So here buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, new agers, bohemians, monastics, materialists all exist in mutual dependence and relative prosperity. All this is, because His Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides in McLeod Ganj, and is this part of the Himalayas’ biggest draw.

McLeod Ganj probably has more Tibetan culture per square inch than in Tibet itself. The Dalai Lama predicted that Tibetan culture will only exist outside of Tibetan in the decades to come. The Chinese are taking over Lhasa it seems. Tibetans have become the under-class in their own country.