They said he wasn’t in town.
Our destination was a hotel in Mcleod-Ganj, a suburb of Dharamshala, further up the mountain. Mcleod-Ganj has been the home of the Dalai Lama since 1959 and is headquarters to the Government of Tibet in exile. It is possible to get a meeting with the Dalai Lama provided you make the arrangement several months in advance. I don’t believe anyone in our group attempted; besides, he was not expected to be at his home. Apparently the Dalai Lama had business abroad.
The growth in the Tibetan population from an influx of refugees and the establishment of several Buddhist monasteries has created a town dominated by Tibetan arts and culture. Mcleod-Ganj has become almost a pilgrimage for the believers and his presence has increased the tourist industry. The many Tibetan craft shops are certainly trying to cash in on the increase of Westerners to the city.
Before getting to Dharamshala, our group stopped at a village where a special program is set up to preserve the crafts of Tibet. You can watch as artists paint, weave, screen print, and punch metal to create traditional Tibetan pieces. There is a temple at the end of the beautiful gardens, and of course, a shop to purchase many unique works. Further up the road, we visited a nunnery for female monks and were permitted to enter the temple.
And there he was, a life-size photo replica, from the waste up of the Dalai Lama, situated at the front. The picture cut-out was of high quality and appeared very real. The group was mesmerized and thought the presence a little creepy. A few pictures and we headed to our vehicle to make the last, long climb to Mcleod-Ganj.
When we arrived at the hotel, there he was in lobby again, a picture hanging high above anything else. Indeed, you will find a photo of the Dalai Lama in many of the establishments. He was in the restaurant for our supper; in a number of shops in town; at one store, we received a 4 X 5 black and white glossy picture of him in a relaxed pose, smiling, just for making a purchase. He seems to be everywhere in this town, just not in the flesh.
This morning the group planned a walk around the temple through the prayer park. It is a short distance around the bend, downhill from the hotel. As we were just about to head up to the entrance of the path, an officious gentleman, with excellent English, asked us to wait by the side, the Dalai Lama was going to be driving by soon.
Really? The man himself? Coming down this road?
Off to side, cameras in hand, our mini paparazzi waited. A hard topped jeep could be seen with lights flashing. Is that him? No. The vehicle moved past. Hmmph.
Then a series of black cars appeared at the top of hill. One of them must have the Dalai Lama in the passenger seat. (He doesn’t drive himself? Does he?) Cameras ready and as the caravan approaches, I am pointing my DSLR directly at the advancing parade, looking through the scope, dial set on athletic exposure, and then snapping madly….click,click,click,click,click,click,click,click.
And then he was gone.
Or at least I think it was him. I could not actually see through my lens, I was so obsessed with pointing it in the right direction and clicking away hoping one would capture him. Others in the group who seemed to be a little closer confirmed yes, that was an official sighting of the Dali Lama. The trip is now complete.
Where was he going? Will we able to see him again?
Well, his pictorial presence continued to dominate the rest of our day; at the temple, behind glass; at the meditation centre, a huge face right next to the speaker; at the restaurant, watching us eat our dinner. And he occupied our minds as we continued to talk about our unbelievable luck. I checked my camera later to see if my efforts were fruitless. I found one possible. If I keep focusing, pump it up on the computer, sharpen the image, a decent portrait might emerge.
We have one more day here. I will keep searching for another opportunity at a sighting of the Dalai Lama.