By Leona Thomas
The first time I went to Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj) in India, I knew only that the Dalai Lama lived there. In my opinion there is no room for adventure if you know everything in advance. I like to be surprised. So I didn't bother to look anything up on the internet. Instead I asked my friend.
I was staying with Amar who lives in the old Tibetan Camp in Majnu Ka Tilla and does most of his business with Tibetans. He told me that buses travelled between Majnu Ka Tilla and Dharamsala every evening and he had some important advice for me.
He said, "Leona, just remember two things. Don't talk to any strangers. And don't listen to any stories the Tibetans tell you." I pointed out that I knew nobody there and would have to talk to strangers. I added that I had already heard all the stories in Nepal. Nobody was going to get anything past me. They turned out to be famous last words...
He recommended a hotel he stays in every everytime he goes to Dharamsala. When I asked if I should book my room before traveling he said not to bother because they always have plenty of space.
The bus ride through Delhi and out into the Indian countryside was quite magical. Exotic buildings were lit up in spectacular countryside. It had a lovely romantic quality. But I was travelling alone. In the early hours of the morning the road began to twist and turn but I didn't give it too much thought. We were deep in the countryside and unable to see anything.
Finally we arrived at the end of the road. A few lights showed a concrete bus station. I began walking. The whole town was in darkness. Two guys asked where I was going and took me there.
Then the fun began.
Amar's hotel was full!
They said to try the place next door but that was full too! I told the hotel staff that I would wait until it got light enough outside to see where I was going and then I would leave. They agreed and brought me some hot water to drink.
About an hour later the staff advised me that they did have a customer checking out at 12 noon if I would like to wait for the room. I agreed.
A hot cup of salty Tibetan tea arrived.
Once I had finished drinking that, they invited me to take rest in a tiny basic room that they were decorating... I settled down for a nap. It was not comfortable but I had not slept well on the bus so I fell into a deep sleep. The staff tried on 3 different occasions to wake me up by banging hard on that door. Finally I heard them.
My room was ready.
When I arrived in my new room the curtains were all closed but I noticed there was a door ahead. I stepped out onto a balcony and got the shock of my life!
In all the conversations I had ever had about Dharamsala, not one person had ever mentioned the landscape! I am used to seeing Tibetan prayer flags waving in the breeze and the buildings were a similar style to the ones in Kathmandu, Nepal. They were nestled in the midst of a lush verdant hillside. Everything was peaceful and definitely Tibetan.
And towering over everything was a majestic snow-capped mountain! The beauty of the scene held me transfixed.
I had been in Dharamsala about one week when I decided it was time to visit the Dalai Lama's temple. As I left my room I heard a Spirit voice tell me someone was waiting to meet me.
The road leading down to the Dalai Lama's temple would probably be interesting to most tourists as there were shops on one side and market stands on the other. Everywhere I looked people were selling Tibetan artefacts. They were trying to persuade me to buy but I knew I could get this stuff for a fraction of the price back in Kathmandu and I wouldn't have to carry it on a plane!
But one shop caught my attention. It had some nice fabrics in the window. I heard a voice from behind me and a few minutes later I was seated inside the shop, facing a young Indian man. We began to talk.
The first thing he told me was that apparently he had designed all the jewellry in the shop and at least half of the fabrics too. Everything was very beautiful and he was too! But I doubted that he was speaking the truth. I smiled sweetly and nodded a bit. I thought, 'I don't believe you.'
He carried on speaking. Apparently, I could act as an agent for the shop and sell things on their behalf. It would be a great business opportunity for me... I let the words wash over me. I had no interest in this either.
But then he said something that had me on the edge of my seat and wide-eyed in wonder!
He proudly announced, "I am like a pirate! I travel everywhere!"
My inner child not only sat up straight but almost jumped out of the chair with pure joy! I heard her voice inside my head, "WOW! A pirate! I never met a pirate before!" And if I had a mirror before me I swear I would have seen my eyes were huge like giant saucers! I could feel her joyful excitement and sparkling magic dancing inside of me. My inner child was definitely interested in this conversation! And she wanted more!
The young Indian spoke again, "Yes, I am like a pirate. A green pirate!"
Now my inner child was even more excited!
I heard her again inside my head, "WOW! A green pirate!" My eyes sparkled and I was on the edge of my chair! After a few minutes' silence, my inner child quietly asked me, "What's a green pirate?" 'That's a good question,' I thought.
"What's a green pirate?" I asked my young Indian friend.
The young man looked stunned and a bit confused. I could almost see his brain ticking over. Then a look of understanding spread over his face.
He replied, "No! Not a green pirate - a green PARROT!"
In 2011, in a small handicrafts shop at Dharamsala (McLeod Ganj), I discovered that I was not as immune to fantastical stories as I had imagined. Maybe if he had been a Tibetan I would have been wiser. But in the end it was a young Indian man from Kashmir who told me the most improbable story I have ever heard in my life.
And I fell for it hook, line and sinker!
Dharamsala! Part Two
The adventure continues...