After my study abroad group had the wonderful privilege to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I found myself walking side by side with James Wagner, the President of Emory. James Wagner told me, along with others, how proud he was of those who asked the Dalai Lama questions and how proud in general he was of all 16 of us in the study abroad program. I couldn’t help but tell him, “Well, I’m proud of you as our President for all you have done.” It’s true. Within a mere couple days I have experienced Dr. Wagner’s humility, wisdom and sincere passion for Emory students’ growth.
Dr. Wagner’s genuine character shined through in moments like last night while we were all eating dinner at Hotel Surya. He came up to our table and talked to us about how important it was to have this drive towards knowledge, which he saw in us, a drive that is manifestly not for power/money but just for the sake of learning. He made us feel so important and worthy of something great in our lives, beyond just our experience here in India. To leave people feeling empowered and uplifted within only a few moments is the mysterious ability a real leader possesses. In all, I appreciate Dr. Wagner and Mrs. Debbie Wagner for coming across the world to show their support and solidarity for our wonderful study abroad program. It felt pretty cool to think that I met Emory’s President not in Atlanta, which I could have these past two and a half years, but rather I met him in India!
The 12th year anniversary of the Emory Tibetan Studies Program commenced two days ago. Making a long story short, I really appreciate so many Emory staff coming to show support for us and I appreciate the relationship Emory has with the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. None of my wonderful experiences here in India would be possible without either of them!
As having a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, being able to ask him questions and having various items of mine blessed by him wasn’t enough I had the honor to have him hold my hand as we stood to take a picture.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama took the time out of his busy schedule traveling the world and giving lectures to speak with the 16 of us. Several people in my group got to ask him various questions like his opinion on the recent self-immolations or how he is able to wake up everyday and be happy in light of his people’s constant struggle and suffering.
What was even more interesting than what he was saying was how he was saying it. Throughout our time with him he kept a smile and made eye contact with each of us at various points. I really loved it when he said he was a cry baby…that he cries so easily if he sees or hears about another’s suffering or struggles.
At the end of our audience it was time to take a group picture with him. I immediately made my way up to the front to be next to him. I was astounded when he took my hand and held it firmly. Afterwards, when people asked how it felt to hold the Dalai Lama’s hand I replied that it was cold and squishy. It was the first thing that came to my mind but it was just the plain truth. It felt so natural holding his hand and smiling along with him.
When I first heard about this study abroad program I was captivated by the idea of having a personal audience with His Holiness, this powerful yet humble leader. Now that I’ve not only met him but held his hand the idea of of this encounter lived up to the reality of my experience. It will surely be the highlight of my study abroad program.
So far I am really enjoying my homestay parents, Pema and Tashi. To me, they are Ama-la and Pa-la (Mom and Dad in Tibetan). Similar to many of the homestay families, their living quarters are cozy to say the least. The 3 of us will eat, sleep and hang out in one room that is no bigger than my bedroom at home. During the day our beds are couches and at night they become our beds.
There is a kitchen that couldn’t fit more than two people. Thankfully, we do have our own bathroom (as opposed to sharing with other families). I don’t mind the close quarters, at least not now I do. They are very laid back and easy going people. It helps to know that they have housed Emory students in the past so they’re quite used to this concept of sharing a room with someone else.
My Ama-la knows perfect English and my Pa-la is a quiet happy man who actually seems to be quite shy. They both worked in the Special Forces under the Indian Army for 12 years and are now retired. The Special Forces is a military regime that is stationed at the borders of China and India. Ama-la was born in India and my Pa-la came to India in 1969. They just arrived from Delhi after 3 months of selling winter clothes there. Ama-la does social work at multiple places including the old people’s home.
As for the location of my home I am very excited that it is right across from the main temple and from Kora. Kora, present in every Tibetan settlement, is a sacred walk that is always circumambulated in one direction. It is actually the Dalai Lama’s residence that we are circulating. My Ama-la, among other Tibetans, does Kora every morning and evening. It certainly never could be a boring walk: it is on the rim of a mountain with a gorgeous view of the mountains, foothills and the valley. There are many prayer flags along the way with the prayers “om mane padme hoom” written in a variety of colors on pieces of stones. There are also big and small prayer wheels along the way that people spin signifying the prayer being prayed over them as they spin it.
McLeod Ganj: Even though we have made the drive closer to the mountains several times now, it is such a different feel driving up there knowing this will be my home for the next couple of months or so. The snowy mountains won’t be such a distant friend anymore. I am right there next to them! I am most excited to explore what they have to offer: villages, waterfalls, and perhaps some awesome wildlife.
Our first “major” hike was to Triund (pictured here). The first hour or so was nothing brutal but as we went up in elevation the mountain began to get snowy and quite icy. I was genuinely terrified as we were about to reach the top because the mountain was so steep and the snow was so slippery. One fatal move & we would slide all the way to the bottom. In the end, I survived the total 6 hour hike there and back. My reward for reaching the top was Maggie’s (equivalent to Ramen) and an omelet. I look forward to once the snow begins to melt and hikes up here and beyond won’t be quite treacherous.
It is hard to believe that I’ve already been at Sarah College for 5 weeks and it’s time to move on! I am extremely fortunate to have had such a wonderful roommate. Even though 6:30 am is not my ideal time to wake up, I’ll miss going to morning prayers with Dekyi and then going off to meditation. I’ll miss having lunch with her and her friends and our little ritual of taking turns washing each other’s dishes. I’m going to miss talking and laughing with Dekyi.
Overall, I am going to miss her sweet, sincere and caring nature. I knew she was truly caring when I told her last Friday that I wanted to wash my clothes the next day. That next day I ended up working on a paper I had to finish up for class. When I came back to the room she had washed all of my clothes and hung them to be dried. I told her that was too nice of her and she shouldn’t have. In her cute English she said, “No, not too nice.” She told me she heard I was working on my paper and so she decided to wash my clothes. Using her free time (of which she has very little of) just for the sake of helping me was really inspiring. This is just a small example of how she went out of her way to make my time at Sarah wonderful.
I love how moments after I first arrived at Sarah College Dekyi took me on a walk. An hour before I had to leave I decided we must take a walk to the river together. I will always cherish those short moments at the river at the forefront of the snowy Himalayan mountains with the backdrop of the blue sky. Dekyi showed me how she could juggle the rocks and I showed her how I could skip rocks. It was really funny when we tried to switch each other’s “talents”. At one point we just sat by the river and examined all the colorful rocks. I would say the colors in Tibetan and she would follow with them in English.
I will miss living with my new friend but I plan on inviting her up to McLeod Ganj to visit me and my homestay family.
This story is so India: On my way back to Sarah College, coming from a restaurant in Guggle (sp?) I heard Indian music from a distance. That could only mean one thing: a wedding!! It was late, dark and the trek to find the wedding was unknown but I didn’t care…I wanted to go to the wedding. After much persuasion I got a few people to come with me to find out if this was indeed a wedding party going on. After about 15 minutes of walking through brush and through a small village of houses we came upon a huge dance party under a tent. The music we heard was in fact a live band.
After a few minutes of watching the vibrant dancing the 5 of us joined in. I quickly realized there was a women’s side of dancing and left the men’s side. All the Indian women tried to teach me how to do this awesome dance using lots of hips and swinging of the arms. It was a classy Indian dance with some sexy flare to it. The live band sure knew how to keep their dancers’ on their toes. One song the singer would all of a sudden stop singing and everyone would just freeze on the spot. This happened several times and brought along tons of laughter from the crowd.
After leaving the tent for some fresh air I came upon a crowd of women and some men drying their hands and feet on a fire. They all had beautiful henna designs all over themselves. When I came upon a woman who knew English I asked her what this event was for. She pointed to a woman by the fire who had the most henna on her and she said tomorrow she will be getting married. I asked if I could have some henna and she quickly began to do some pretty design on my hand.
I enjoyed dancing with these very welcoming people and talking to this sweet girl who was so eager to make me a part of the wedding celebration. Maybe next time I will make it to an actual wedding rather than just a pre-wedding celebration. Either way, this American status is pretty sweet regarding fun festivities happening around India. It seems like wherever we find ourselves the Indian locals are more than willing to show us a good time.
So as I said before, the Golden Temple offers FREE meals to all of its visitors. When I first heard this I was thinking, “Cool, but I rather go to a restaurant that isn’t catering to hundreds of people a day.” The whole idea of eating at the temple did not appeal to me whatsoever because of the fear of getting sick or the food being just awful. Even though I was against the idea of eating this free meal I went along with my group and got a plate from a huge “rack” of plates and reluctantly made my way into a ginormous room filled with people sitting in rows waiting to be served. The barefoot Sikh volunteers made their way around the room with buckets of food and just slathered our plates with bread, curd, and a couple Indian dishes. Ignoring my wariness and taking my first bite I had no more reservations about the food. It was amazingly delicious! It was so abundant with Indian spices and there was even desert. The second to last picture I posted is the awesome assembly line system they had for receiving the dirty dishes to be washed. I love how the men washed dishes on one side and the women washed dishes on the other.
Since I was overwhelmingly pleased by the gracious Sikhs and particularly pleased after this delicious free meal I donated some rupees to the temple and I decided to also donate some space on my blog to just show you a little bit about this unique aspect of all Sikh temples, not just the holiest one in India.
Sikhs are my newest favorite religious group! The weekend of February 12th 11 of us, including 2 of our Tibetan roommates, drove 6 hours from Dharamsala to Amritsar to visit the Golden Temple and the Pakistan/India border show. The Golden Temple for the Sikhs can accurately be compared to Mecca as the place of pilgrimage for Muslims because it is the holiest Sikh site. The location itself is a Sikh gurdwara, a Gateway to the Guru,that was established in 1604. The present-day gold plated temple adorned with marble and Sikh scriptures was built in 1764. Along with doing prayers and meditation, it is a place where Sikhs can bathe in the holy water surrounding the temple.
The splendor and beauty of this temple makes it understandable why my friend said the Golden Temple is definitely comparable to the Taj Mahal. In fact, we found out that the Golden Temple is the number one visited place in India! As if the beauty of this Sikh temple was not enough, they have made it available for anyone and everyone to eat there and stay the night (up to 3 nights) there as well. This is possible with the hundreds of Sikh volunteers that cook, clean, and maintain the entire temple.
Our group arrived late Saturday evening so there weren’t any more beds or rooms available so the only option in the temple was to sleep on the floor. Rather than doing that we opted to find a hotel that was no more than 5 dollars for a room.
Although I was exhausted from waking up at 5:30 am Saturday morning for the 6 hour drive to the Golden Temple I still wanted to go explore the town at night. It was only around 10 pm but for India that is about the equivalent to 1 am. However, since the Golden Temple is open 24/7 it was actually livelier than I expected it to be.
As my friend Palden and I were walking through the streets we came upon what looked like a celebration of some sort. The crowd, ages ranging from children to grandparents, had some sort of decorated rain stick, drums, and everyone was singing and dancing. They noticed me curiously watching them and invited me to come over and join them in this procession throughout the streets. Of course they were intrigued to have an American with them but I was that much more excited to be a part of what I found out to be a pre-wedding celebration for this Sikh couple. I danced with them for a good ten minutes as we paraded through the streets. At one point they even gave me one of their maraca-like instruments to shake along with the drums and singing. Sikhs sure know how to have a good time!
Throughout it all I was basically force-fed oranges: quite literally the father of the bride put orange slices up to me and my friend Palden’s mouth. We ended up with about 10 orange slices hidden in our hand. Before I left they took a picture with me. Sadly I did not have my camera so I have no recording of this quite memorable event. Nonetheless, I am happy Palden and I decided to adventure out in Amritsar’s town and get a feel of the colorful Sikh culture.
This is my in the background trying to go up to get a better view of the Pakistani border.