Made it! I’m in my room at the Hare Krishna Guesthouse in Delhi. It stinks like paint thinner and some kind of toxic glue but the man at the front desk remembered me from three years ago and so I don’t really care. I love it! I’m here!
Delhi is the same as I remember it, too. The airport may be brand new, a sparkling jewel for the eyes of the world to behold, but the city is just as dirty, sad, strange and beautiful as it ever was. Speeding through the orange dusk light, the thick and pungent haze that is the atmosphere gone wrong, I saw an older woman standing on the median, elegant in flowing silk sari. A blue light shone in her hand and she brought it to her ear to answer her smart phone. Just moments before a man on the side of the road hobbled along on a homemade crutch. The old and the new, international finance and inconceivable poverty and despair live seamlessly together here…
Overheard a British guy talking to a Tibetan at the airport terminal as I was waiting for the flight to Patna. They were talking about how they were getting to Bodhgaya so my ears perked up. After the flight I caught up to the Brit and asked him about his plans.
“I just met this Tibetan fellow but it looks like we’re going to share a ride there. You’re welcome to come along,” he said.
We all met at the baggage claim. Tenzin was the Tibetans name. We went outside around 4:30 to meet his friends who were meeting him. His “friends” were a monk and a Geshe (high-ranking Tibetan teacher) from Dharamsala. Turns out Tenzin is a recognized reincarnation of a famous teacher. He has his own monastery in Nepal but for now is living as a layperson in Canada. He said it has been an invaluable education for him.
He and Geshe-la got a cab for me and George (my new British friend) and we all head off as a caravan. This was really, really fortunate because I had no idea how I was going to get to Bodhgaya or if it was even safe to travel that late in the evening (it’s a four-hour drive). The locals say it’s not safe as the highway has a history of banditry (yes, as in BANDITS!).
Got into Bodhgaya around 9:30. Total chaos as everyone begins to arrive for Kalachakra. Tibetans everywhere, lights, horns, rickshaws, dust, people pressed all around. Caught a rickshaw to the tent city at Magadh University and only got taken for 100 rupees. Not bad for my first rickshaw ride…
There are an estimated 200,000 people here for the 32nd Kalachakra by H.H. the 14th Dalai Lama. It feels like they are right about that. The tent city is enormous, sectioned off into camps of different size tents, from huge dormitories to house whole monasteries to the smaller ones I’m in that fit 4-6 people comfortably. My “town” is filled with mostly smaller Tibetan and Himalayan families as well as a few European and American pilgrims sprinkled throughout. People chatter all around in other languages: Hindi, Tibetan, Bhutanese, German, French and English. Smells of cooking fill the air. The open sewers dug as trenches aren’t stinking yet (they seem to have a good system of pumping them out though).
Everyone is friendly but we all remind one another in passing to be careful. This is Bihar, one of the poorest regions in India, and sometimes poverty and lack of education lead to crime. “Never leave your passport in your tent,” one Tibetan woman (here from her home in Utah) told me at lunch yesterday. But for the most part the feeling is that we are all safe and looking out for each other.
That’s not to say that we are living in a land of rainbows. Saw lots of disturbing and heartbreaking scenes yesterday. So many people and animals suffering. Children in dirty rags begging, feral dogs covered in mange and scars, cows rooting through rotting trash, water buffaloes tied to tethers so short they couldn’t turn around. Yesterday at Mahabodhi Temple (the site where the Buddha attained enlightenment) dozens and dozens of beggars sticking their arms through the fence. “Please, please,” is all they said…
Decided to go for a walk with my friend, Nyima, this morning. Just rambled slowly down a shortcut towards the temple.
“Hey friend! Where are you from?” a young Indian man called out from his roadside shop.
“Colorado,” I said.
He came up and followed along with us for a while. He was sporting a pass the Kalachkra teachings and was very happy the Dalai Lama was coming to Bihar. Very good for the economy, very good for the people he said.
“He just landed in Gaya you know,” he said then, “Have a great day, friend!”
We came out of the shortcut onto the main road and sure enough there was a mass of monks and nuns and tourists lining the side of it. Some were holding kata scarves and everyone was looking very excited. Nyima and I joined them. Was this actually happening? I wondered.
About fifteen minutes later sirens blared just up ahead the narrow highway. A police car led the way. Then there he was in the very next car, not four feet away, smiling his gleeful smile, waving at his people, almost more overjoyed to see us than we were to see him.
And that was it. Off he sped to get ready for the ritual that begins tomorrow. But it was so more than a passing glimpse of this great human being, one that we all love so much. I was crying. The nun next to me was crying. A big monk next to her was crying, too. They were tears of joy, tears of humility, tears of gratitude. How could we be so fortunate? We were all thinking. How blessed we are and how very, very lucky…