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If seeking enlightenment, be on time for the Dalai Lama
MCLEOD GANJ, India |
MCLEOD GANJ, India (Reuters) - Balanced precariously on a platform connecting the carriages of a train chugging deep into the Himalayas, the Indian businessman made a comment no woman wants to hear.
"You may need to reduce your weight," he whispered after striking up a conversation by guessing our ages as we smoked. In my case he guessed I was 10 years older than I am.
The overnight train ride north from Delhi, sitting next to stinking toilets, was meant to be a journey to self-discovery.
It ended in at least one in my party vowing never to set foot in India again, another convinced he is a guru, a mental note to go on a diet and a realisation that you cannot escape bureaucracy, whether or not you are a manifestation of Buddha.
My group of Turkish and Greek Cypriots decided they wanted to "do" India in October armed with a guide book and a rucksack.
One travelling companion, a fellow journalist, managed to arrange a teaching session with the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan people.
But India, as we quickly realised, is big and unpredictable. Going without a place to stay or pre-booked train tickets is a bad idea.
With several hours delay we reached McLeod Ganj, a settlement of about 20,000 mainly Tibetan refugees that runs along a jagged ridge of the Himalayas in northern India.
Overlooking a thick carpet of pine and oak trees to the lush Kangra valley and in the shadow of towering mountains shrouded by white cloud, this hill station has been the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile since 1960.
We were geared up for a mind-altering experience with the Dalai Lama, but officials gave us only partial access to the teachings because we were late for the opening session.
Thousands of devotees converge on McLeod Ganj, part of the township of Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama gives a limited number of free public lectures each year.
Those of us who did manage to file into the Main Temple were disappointed. We got as far as a leafy courtyard opposite a modest gated building, the Dalai Lama's residence.
An elderly bespectacled man with yellow and scarlet robes shuffled by, surrounded by minders. The Dalai Lama smiled at us before moving upstairs where he gave his lecture.
Too bad none of us spoke Tibetan. The radio frequency for English translation did not work.
So we sat there for an hour watching the Dalai Lama speak, sipping milky tea, smiling and laughing without understanding a word he was saying to an otherwise enraptured audience.
Followers would say just absorbing the vibes from the Dalai Lama would push them along the path of enlightenment. But while I gazed at the spiritual leader who won the Nobel peace prize all I could think of was the radio that did not work.
My companion surmised it was the universe's way of teaching us patience, but she too was starting to flag.
After seven hours on an aircraft, 15 hours on a train and five hours in a vehicle with a mind of its own on hairpin bends, our encounter was not the mind-altering experience we had hoped.
But in retrospect the journey was enriching.
It started with an insult and ended with another.
"You have very good karma, but you are always thinking about helping others," a psychic in a Delhi market told a companion, who still vows never to return.
He dismissed me as a "lazy moon face" but predicted "you will be back in 2009."
With a hotel booking and a train ticket this time.
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