We spiraled up the himalayas once again, twirling our way up towards the home of the Dhalai Llama. We arrived just outside Dharmshala in the wee hours of the morning. You would think that after a couple of months in India we would be getting the hang of the customs, but we were thoroughly confused when Sonu pulled the car over on the side of the mountain and told us to take a nap. Appartently Dharmshala is one of the guarded towns that one cant enter or leave at certain times of day. Curled up in the stinky car we had come to know as our home on wheels, we all dozed until the morning became full and the city awoke.
At first glance Dharmsala was clearly tibetan territory. Prayer flags danced in the wind from roof tops, and the streets were some what clean. As soon as we arrived in the center of town there were hagglers trying to show us their guest houses, claiming to be the best in town.
For some reason Sonu was grumpy, and wasn't being much help. We checked out a couple that didn't impress us, and returned to the car to report back that we needed more time to find the right place. Sonu and his new found friend told us that they knew about the perfect place. The place was outside the inner city area, at the bottom of a big hill that would be quite dark and a bit scary to walk at night. This was not the solution for 2 gals looking to be safe, and right in the middle of the action. We kindly turned them down and went back on our own little journey.
It took a while but finally we found something that felt right for the right price. The place was right in the middle of town, with a restaurant attached and really sweet owners. It was certainly not the Ritz though! The shower was broken and only spat out cold water. The toilet was broken and wouldn't flush unless you poured water in it. But, it was home for now, and it had cable TV, a luxury in India, and seemingly clean sheets. We were so exhausted that after a quick breakfast at the restaurant, we went back to bed.
As we fell of to sleep Sarah complained that she wasn't feeling so well. This was the beginning of a horrible sickness that would prevent her from truely experiencing Dharmsala. I imagine her most in depth memory is of the tiny movie theatre that we went to that evening to go see Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. There was this gang of cool young tibetan's visiting with their family who owned our guest house. They were all boys, they were around our age, cool, cute, and very interested in two american gals. They befriended us quickly that afternoon bombarding us with many questions aabout american culture! We were all so curious about one another, and our differences in culture, yet similarities in age. At the movie that eve, Sarah and I giggled at the almost correct subtitles to an american movie in english. I guess they had subtitles in english so that both indian's and tibetan's alike could understand what was going on just in case they couldn't decipher the american accents of the actors. It was so strange to watch an american movie, while in Dharmsala a tibetan village, in India. The wierdest thing about it was the english subtitles, (aren't subtitles supposed to be in a different language than the actors speak?), and the most funny was the incorrect translations!
That movie was the last the world saw of Sarah as she melted into what we affectionately called her death bed. The next morning when I went down to order us some breakfast, one of the boys named Tashi quickly approached me and invited me to join them for a hike up to a beautiful waterfall. Sarah mumbled something about sleeping for a few years and rolled over as I slipped on a skirt, and scooted out the door.
As the boys and I walked through the streets of the town, Tashi told me little bits of information about each shop, temple, and local tradition we crossed paths with. He was a shining, smiley, sweet, devoted tour guide. I had a subtle sense he had asserted himself to the other boys that he liked me, and they all treated me like his lady friend. Tashi was so bright and shiney like the day was that I didn't mind, and gladly walked arm in arm with him as he played host.
At the waterfall we skipped rocks, dunked our heads, and played with a local dog. Our fun was so innocent and pure. I asked them about Tibet, and thier families, and what they felt about the modern political situation. They were young rebels, modern second generation Tibetan's and yet they held some ancient peacefulness in their eyes. All afternoon we explored and hiked around the mountains. Eventually I began to worry about Sarah, and so we returned to nurse her back to health with some healthy traditional tibetan soup. Being a gentleman, Tashi insisted on bringing our lunch to our room. When I returned to the room Sarah was drifting in and out of conciousness, dreamy, and drained. She was so pale and disconnected. I was really worried about her.
After lunch Sarah and I chilled out and watched cable tv for a while. Sarah fell asleep and my wanderlust began to set in again. Soon enough there was a knock at the door. I open it to see the lovely shining face of Tashi. He wanted to take me to to the temple to meditate. I gladly slipped on my shoes and we skipped off together and alone this time. When we got to the temple Tashi told me so many beautiful things about buddhism. He told me that om mani padmi hum is what is written on all tibetan flags. When the wind blows millions of prayers for healing for all beings are sent out to all corners of earth and beyond. Wow, that is so beautiful and compassionate, and unselfish. He told me that is also what is written all over the prayer wheels. We twirled wheels smiling at one another and silently circling the outter rim of the beautiful temple. I told him that I really wanted to meditate and he was warmed by this and kindly took his leave to find his own space to find peace in.
Again the melting into pure nothingness so quickly, at a buddhist temple. Something at buddhist temples just turns my brain to mush and lifts me from it, placing me deep in my core of truth and inner silence. I don't have a clue how long I sat but when I awoke I found Tashi's kind eyes appreciating me from afar. I went to meet him, and silently we walked arm in arm into the core of the temple. The gold decadence of buddha, and the elegant display overwhelmed me. We sat here for a while together just drinking it in. Off again we went to explore more. We found our way to a little room with a darker depiction on the wall, mingled with intense mandala's. Tashi told me that this was their protective god, and pointed out how the face of the god was covered. He told me that they are not supposed to see the face of this god, for it has such great power. We turned a huge ornate wheel with spokes coming out as handles in all directions around the circle. We smiled at one another while sending protection out into the universe.
Eventually we headed back to the guesthouse because I had to check on Sarah and he had to do some work. As we walked he told me that he really wanted to hang out with me that night. I said sure, why not! He told me that they lock the gates at 9 but that he knew how we could sneek out. It felt so silly to have to sneak out to go have a beer with a friend, especially when I was 27 years old. But, different country, different rules. Anyhow, it added to the fun and adventure of the whole moment. He said he wanted to take me out for a beer at the local bar. I think a gal should get a beer in every bar in every strange little town in the world she stumbles upon. And so, the plot thickens.
That evening we snuck out and ran down the streets to get out of view from getting caught. I felt young, and naughty, and excited about life and the moment. In a dim lit corner of the bar we drank beer and talked more. It amazed me how comfortable I felt with Tashi, and how flowing our conversations were. We talked and drank until we were dizzy.
Stiffling giggles we snuck back into the guest house way too late, and snuck into my room. Quietly we layed down together, fitting our tired, warm, clothed bodies like an innocent puzzle, and fell asleep snuggling like best friends. I admit that at some point during the night Tashi did kiss me, and it was a delightful kiss. In my haze I welcomed his kiss hoping that this wouldn't change things between us. You would think I had learned my lesson with Sonu, but somehow this was different. I also admit that Tashi wanted more than just kisses from me. He tried his darn hardest to get me to open the door for us to melt into one another. As sweet as he was, and as much as I liked him, I didn't feel the flood of love that would have made me open to such things. What I felt for him was definately not on the friend side of the line, but it wasn't too far from that line. It was just over the border, and it was sweet and good but not intoxicating! So, I kissed him but drew the line there and eventually we dozed off to dreamland once again.
I awoke wrapped and tangled in my new friends arms and thought of what a wonderful evening we had shared. I gently tried to wake him and after much effort he woke confused and startled. Realizing that it was morning, and he needed to get to work with his family he shuffled and snuck out the door promising to see me later. India is not like America. Young people do all the things that young Americans do, going out to bars, drinking, and sometimes spending the night at a friends. But, it's not out in the open here. There is this need for sneaking around. I felt like a teenage girl once again, sneaking around about things that aren't really that bad. But never the less hiding the litlle adventure and trouble that I did cause from judging minds.