How I Spent Xmas in Dharamsala

The day is focused on showing up at Kashmir Cottage, 6 pm, for a dinner w/ Norman and two others. I’m looking forward to the food, to the visit, to the possibilities that come when you meet someone the first time.

To get there, I walk the 4.5 km. to McLG from Naddi. The trail was discovered a couple days before on the first walk after the snow. Prayer-flags caught my eye above Dal Lake. It was a hard scramble up the hillside on goat trails, but eventually I caught the main route and wow, is was such a pleasure! No rocks for long stretches, just a well-maintained route that must have been the main trading road for centuries. At one high point, I look down on the Tibetan Children’s Village and wonder if I can find a way to be useful to some worthy cause while I’m in McLG.


At mid-route, I go up the hill to a sun-dappled spot to sit and breathe before entering the noise and hubbub of McLG.


Beautiful trail through deodar cedars,
warm four p.m. sun filters through,
no cell-phone, GPS, or map,
I follow the compass of my senses.

Lemur monkey in a tree w/ tattered prayer flags
Mountaineering Centre for Dharamsala has a quality sign w/ a mountain goat that makes me think of my Portland-mountain-climbing comrade, Howard. Uh, not the goat exactly but the institution that H. would resonate with, given his impressive back-country skills.


A brilliantly lit encounter on the trail happens with a monkey headed to some important rendezvous. He reads my mind that I’d love a photo and so pauses, highly statuesque, from about 30 feet away. We pass each other with only a meter between, just a couple primates en route.



Soon after, I’m descending too quickly into holiday traffic (yes, Christmas is a vacation in India) and people clogging the central square of McLG. I hustle though, get what I need, and continue on Temple Road. A new cafe provides a welcome rest, tasty coffee not from a plastic package, and I confess to an order of carrot cake as a special treat for having walked this far. It is so good, I take some to Norman, and head down the wicked back trail to Kashmir Cottage & upper Dharamsala. Once again, thankfully, there are no bandits in the bushes.


More on this central temple later…


At the last view of the valley horizon–a murky sea of grey haze–the sun appears as a gigantic red disk on the horizon. I make it to Norman’s when I said I would…and feel amazingly good after all that distance.

Three other people are present: a sensitive-looking woman in wire-rimmed spectacles, a female Tibetan official I saw on the flight from Delhi, and a fast-talking man who has pioneered medical cannabis in Denver, written software for an organization that sells adult sex toys, and started a homestead on 80 acres in the Amazon rainforest, where he also was part of ayuscyua tourism with a “powerful shaman” (who, he admits after a bit of wine, was actually a psychopath).

Dinner is a grand affair, courtesy of Dolma, a middle aged Ladakhi woman I hope to talk to at some length the next time I stay at Kashmir Cottage at the end of my Dharamsala stay.

The person who intrigues me the most is the official from the Tibetan Government in Exile. For security reasons, I won’t mention a name but can say that part of this person’s work is to explain to the world Tibetan culture, priorities, plans, and petitions—but also to comment on political issues, including Chinese provocations and human rights abuses, and of course the self-immolations.

My notebook has this flow of notations:

• siddham script / calligraphy in Tendai & Shingon fascinates (the term is bonji in Japanese)
• see Thurman’s book and website, Why the Dalai Lama Matters
as possible model for Exp. Budd.
• thinking about outreach to Chinese students–ask them about
Tiananmen Square as a starting point to deconstruct the
government’s narrative about most topics
• approach Tibet via human rights (and consumer products?)
• What are basic and generally accepted outreach strategies?
• Book by Eric Schmidt, The New Digital Age
• Marshall Sahlins article & critique on Confucian Institutes
• How to make a Facebook feed?
• / Buddhism > I.M.A.
• a “meme” is a sound byte on the internet
• Dr. Larry Brilliant on Wavy Gravy bus to India; Tibet?
• Mickey Lemly > documentary filmmaker
• Always a struggle to “control the narrative” on self-immolations
• Karmapa has made a public statement; HHDL is in tough spot and tries to stay neutral so Chinese can’t capitalize on “extremism”
• HHDL personality is v. strong & direct in Tibetan; doesn’t come
across in English
• Ai Weiwei did cover page for Woeser website article on
• Find out about California high school world history curriculum; is Tibet mentioned at all?
• outcome vs. output > long debates over meaning
• stories of hacking all over McLG, discovered by
renowned security expert and former hacker who visited
McLG and gave a talk
• Can Tibet’s future change if a certain skill set in handling social media reaches Chinese masses via
non-official venues (as in hacking)?

The evening ends too soon when a taxi comes 30 min. early. Three of us get in and I’m the one who ends up in the most exotic place: the high Naddi ridge with the mountains just emerging from clouds.


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