So, everything must come to an end – at least that’s what they say.. The people who say that..
This whole trip to India was kind of an experiment – I wasn’t completely sure why I was going, I just felt that I should go and so tried to keep an open mind and let myself be guided by some inner compass. I think that turned out pretty well.
It seems the trip can be divided into two very different sections; the India part for the first four weeks and then mini-Tibet for the last three weeks. Very different experiences indeed. India was fun and chaos and as much as I enjoyed that adventure, mini-Tibet was where I lost my heart. Before even leaving Denmark, I had a feeling that I needed to go to the mountains – where everything else was up for debate, going to the mountains was the only thing certain. I never expected it to have such a profound effect though – and it really did. There’s the places you like for various reasons, you either live there or could imagine yourself living there – they live up to your general standards plus a little extra. And then there’s the places which resonates on a much deeper level, where your soul feel at peace and at home. That’s how I felt there at the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by Buddhist monks and immersed in Tibetan culture. At peace and at home.
The first couple of days in Mcleodganj I stayed at a very nice hotel with great reviews, beautifully decorated rooms and a nice family running the place. And yet, it just didn’t feel right. I had noticed a house close to the temple that seemed to speak to me but which also looked very closed off – definitely not your regular tourist place. But of course I had to explore why I was drawn to it and so I rang the bell and met the most wonderful Tibetan family and their hysterical little dog – and the next day I moved into my new home. The room was small (but functional), the bed was a single (but not too hard), the shower was a bucket with a cup (but nice and warm) – and it just felt right. I loved my little and very simple room – my Tibetan cell :)
Walking around the town and the surrounding areas, exploring waterfalls and amazing mountain nature, eating delicious food, meeting people and making friends – those three weeks didn’t feel like some vacation trip, they felt like life.
A few days before I had to leave, I went to the temple like many times before – but this day there was extra security and I had to leave phone and camera outside. Inside there was decorated with flowers and flags and a sort of audience area had been set up. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to go stand there (I’m just not an audience kind of person) and so I went upstairs and sat with the monks and nuns who was filling up the place for what would obviously be a full day of chanting. By then I was pretty certain that the Dalai Lama would be there and I was excited to finally see him. In the meantime, I enjoyed the chanting as much as ever. Then, maybe an hour later, people downstairs started to move around and the photographers got into position. We all looked down and across the courtyard towards His Holiness’ house where a group of lamas and security people and other important people were making their way towards the temple. First I saw his feet, then his whole legs and then the entire body of this very sweet old man, walking and smiling and just looking lovely. It was a moving moment and maybe even more so because I was sharing it with a group of nuns who were just as excited as I was. He made his way across the courtyard and up the stairs to where we were all sitting and after a short round, he went into the temple – and shortly after the chanting started again and it went on for the next two hours. Then he spoke – and laughed – for about half an hour and then more chanting. Obviously, I didn’t understand what he was saying but nevertheless, experiencing him in person was special.
The final days there I made sure to soak up as much wonderfulness as possible while also taking care of the last practical things like sending the last package, meeting with friends and buying presents. I tried to keep the balance between feeling sad for having to leave and grateful for having been there.
The initial plan had been to leave a few days early and then celebrate Holi, a Hindu festival with Delhi friends before leaving India. But I really had no desire to be in Delhi again and the Dalai Lama would be giving a teaching on the morning on the 8th that I was sad to miss out on. And suddenly I realized that I had been limiting myself, thinking that I needed to do the responsible thing and take a bus to be in Delhi early enough to avoid stress – when I could just as easily attend the morning teaching and then take a taxi straight to the airport. Okay, it would be a 10 hour drive and also cost just a tiny bit more than the bus but I really don’t believe in limiting myself beyond absolute necessity – and I’m not convinced that ‘absolute necessity’ was applicable in this case.
On the morning of the 8th I woke up very early and decided to just get up and head to the temple. On the square in front of the entrance I had a glass of chai, then bought a chapati and went inside. This day there was a ton of people, a ton of security and in many ways it was no longer my temple but was now a place for all the tourists who had been filling into town the past couple of days in order to see the lama.
A little after 8am, His Holiness appeared and took his seat in the front and for the first 20 minutes there was different rituals taking place and chanting. I was sitting with a group of elder Tibetan people in front of me and monks and nuns on all other sides of me. The elders had brought little dried flowers that you use for a symbolic offering to the teacher, the lama, and was making sure that everybody around them also had one, me included, and a monk sitting next to me explained all the formalities. For more than three hours the lama was teaching, cracking little jokes a few times and being really cool. I actually ended up having to leave before he was done because I had a taxi to catch but it turned out that he stopped shortly after. The entire teaching is available online;
I managed to zip my backpack – quite an accomplishment since I had bought around 15 pairs of pants, several shirts, a ton of yakwool hats and gloves and shawls and other presents. Three times throughout my trip, I sent home packages of stuff to be able to fit everything and still it was a challenge and I had to wear three shawls on my way home because there was no way I could fit more in the bag.
Me and my driver left Mcleodganj around 2pm – he was very colorful because of the Holi but luckily completely sober. I have never had any problems with motion sickness but going down the mountain with all the sharp turns, holes in the road mixed with the Indian driving made me so sick. It was awful and I don’t know how people who get motion sickness ever go anywhere. I didn’t really have much choice and just closed my eyes and tried to embrace the motion. And so for the next almost three hours, I was in the backseat in a kind of fetal position, clutching the seatbelt and with my eyes closed – focusing on breathing, not throwing up and really regretting starting our road trip by eating a sandwich. The poor driver seemed a little worried and once he realized how crappy I felt, he tried to avoid the holes and drive softer. Once we got down to flatter grounds, I got better and we stopped for chai – both of us relieved that I was going to survive. Back in the car we put on music, Hindi pop, and now it was a real roadtrip. Driving towards Delhi I was reminded of how the real India looks and I both reconnected with the warm feelings I have for the country as well as was relieved that I was experiencing it from the peacefulness of a car and not having to actually deal with it :)
Driving is really meditating for me and a time for trance like reflexion (I really hope it’s a different experience for the person who is actually driving) and as we moved through the landscape, I relived the entire trip. It seemed like the perfect way of wrapping up my Indian adventure.
After a few hours more we started seeing a lot of Sikhs all going in the same direction, dressed up and riding sometimes three and four on the same motorbike and in caravans in big trucks. Apparently there was a very important Sikh festival and as we got closer to the city where it was, the traffic got more and more congested. Reaching the town where it was, it took us more than an hour to pass through and if we hadn’t been pressed for time, I would have wanted to stop for a while.
The festival plus a couple of accidents (other people’s) put us behind schedule and so the last 4 hours the driver just stepped on the gas and raced towards Delhi – I was struggling to stay awake but failed. At 1am we pulled up in front of the airport – the drive had ended up taken 11 hours and my body was not happy and my head was blurry. We said goodbye, I went in and through security, spend my last rupees on some snacks and found my gate just in time for boarding – perfect timing.
Sitting down in my seat, I noticed a foul smell. Seriously bad. I was a little surprised and very embarrassed to stink like that but thought that maybe it was understandable after spending all day in a hot car. And then I saw them. The source of stinkyness. And they didn’t belong to me but to the man sitting behind me. And they weren’t wearing socks. And they were gross. I was appalled and very irritated to find them right there, within my smelling reach, on an eight-hour flight. But honestly, I couldn’t bear bitching about it – I mean, what could he do. But I could bear to take a picture and then I used the flight blanket to cover the gap between my seat and the wall and that way blocking the flow of the stinkyness.
I slept most of the way to Frankfurt, spend two very boring hours in transit and then a short flight to Copenhagen where I was picked up at the airport.
I never like returning home and more and more I realize that maybe I should start taking that seriously.. And change reality..
India has been amazing. I have so much newfound inspiration and gained valuable insights. This journey has been so much more that I could ever have imagined it would be – and I’m not even done digesting it all.
In the middle of my coming-home-blues, I feel incredibly grateful for the advice of good friends, for the support of my family and for allowing myself to follow the signs and going on adventure.