Title Image


Meeting His Holiness and 24hrs in McLeod Ganj (“Little Lhasa”)

  |   Leadership

Dorje is a humble handicraft seller outside the Norbulingka Institute (Dharamshala), and he gave me a masterclass before my meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He said, “Take a 108 mala bead and get it blessed by His Holiness. Also, carry a white khata (Tibetan scarf) and drape it around His Holiness, to show your respect”. When I asked Dorje what he had asked His Holiness when he met him, he said, “I am a simple man, I was so nervous that words could not come out of my mouth when I was in front of him”.

From the Gyuto Karmapa monastery, you could hear the chirping of the birds with the patter of raindrops in the background, as young monks played on the courtyard. The monks, still undergoing their education, had smartphones in their hands and were running around taking photos — an image of tradition intersecting modernity. I spent 24 hours in McLeod Ganj, also called “Little Lhasa”, both as a pilgrim and as a tourist . I visited the Church of St John in the Wilderness, Shiva temple, Namgyal and Nechung monasteries, Naddi viewpoint and Dharamshala Cricket Ground (the highest international cricket stadium in the world at an altitude of 4,780 ft above sea level)!

The rain gods were so kind that every place I stopped for a visit, the rain stopped too, as if the rain gods were watching over me! As I walked on Mall Road, I would see stray dogs, all well-fed and healthy — the local people take care of every living being, as Buddhist teaching dictates. You would also run into monkeys, jumping around trees and the terrace of buildings, being naughty and playful. The place is minimalistic, with most hotels costing less than $25 a night, but it is the simplicity of the people that makes the place special. Even actor Richard Gere would stay in these humble places when he came to visit His Holiness.

People are relaxed and they love the slow pace of live. They feast on hot momos, poori and omelette. The streets are lined with shops selling statues of the Buddha and Tibetan handicrafts, and cafés selling snacks and desserts. The local people don’t read much, and I was not surprised to find the only bookstore “Tibet Book House” closed! You find many tourists and I learnt that many Israelis had made it one of their favorite destinations. You can even find Israeli food on the streets of Mall Road! People are very helpful, voluntarily becoming the traffic police when there is a jam. Even when they sell something they almost reluctantly ask for money. At one place, after I bought a t-shirt, I had forgotten to take the change of Rs 50 (around 50 cents). As I walked out, the female shopkeeper ran after me and returned my money. You could lose anything in McLeod Ganj and almost always get it back.

My day was packed because I had a wonderful driver, Rahul, who was very skilled in maneuvering the narrow roads in the hilly area between McLeod Ganj and Dharamshala. Rahul was determined to show me every possible tourist spot, while I was keener on catching up on some sleep. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me and as the day progressed, I started enjoying the drive, hopping from one place to another.

Shopping at Norbulingka was a unique experience. Norbulingka believes in the preservation and continuation of Tibetan art through self-sustaining means. Under the guidance of talented masters, around 300 Tibetan artists and craftspeople with ancestral knowledge work to renew Tibetan art. The items are expensive but absolutely worth it. One of the items of interest was the biography of His Holiness in Tibetan language beautifully leatherbound in five volumes. There is a long tradition in Tibetan culture of recording the life of the lamas. The scholars at Norbulingka intend this book to serve as not only a biography of the Dalai Lama, but also a comprehensive account of the modern history of Tibet. I wanted to buy them (not because I could read Tibetan, but as a memento), but I knew there was no way I could carry it back in my luggage.

The highlight of course was meeting His Holiness, the sole purpose for which I had made the long journey from California to Dharamshala (though I had packed in other appointments too, including a talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival). It was my fourth opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama and I was lucky to have finally made it, after three previous failed attempts: first because of a personal emergency, then because of COVID, and then because of His Holiness’s ill health. The fourth time, the stars aligned, though for a moment, when my flight from Frankfurt got cancelled, I wondered if I would ever take the blessings from His Holiness.

My meeting was scheduled for 8 a.m. on 5 February 2024 at Tsuglagkhang (official home of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso). I reached the gates of His Holiness’s residence an hour ahead, not realizing how severe the cold was. My legs were freezing, and I was carrying my passport, Aadhar card and books with me. A large crowd of Tibetan exiles had gathered for his darshan. After the security check (no mobiles were allowed), I waited for the arrival of His Holiness. The house is two-storied and extremely simple. I waited eagerly for around 15 minutes before I saw him arrive in a small golf cart from his house. As he waved to everyone who had assembled, everyone bowed in unison with reverence and utter devotion. His Holiness was helped by his staff to be seated.

I was one of the first ones to meet him. One of the team members spoke to me and said he had briefed His Holiness about me, and he would ensure that he blessed my son Vivaan. I also wanted to get my book “The Invisible Majority” signed for which His Holiness had written the foreword. When I met His Holiness, I got nervous and mumbled how grateful I was for the opportunity. I had wanted to ask him about suffering and compassion, but his aura took over. He spoke in Tibetan language before holding my hands and pulling my folded hands into his forehead. We both were holding each other for a few seconds, and I could feel his energy. I felt I was temporarily in a state of trance. I had forgotten whatever I wanted to ask him. He graciously signed my book. I had the bead mala clutched in my hands and got him to bless it. He smiled and raised his right hand to place it on my head, blessing me. I felt his godly presence. Time stood still and then his staff asked me to make way. They gave me a photograph of His Holiness and two sacred pills as a parting gift. It was all over in a few minutes, but the experience would last a lifetime.

His Holiness left an indelible impression on me — gentle, gracious, humble and full of wonder. He behaved with unfeigned kindness and lack of vanity. The Dalai Lama strengthened my faith in humanity. I now firmly believe that when all else fails, spiritual energy holds us together.

After the meeting, I took a stroll around the temple. Then I walked the Mall Street and sat in silence at a small cafe to feel the experience. I had omelette and hot jasmine tea and listened to the song “Tashi Deleh” (meaning good luck) being played in the background. The walls had the framed poster of His Holiness quote “A Precious Human Life”. I wished the world had internalized His Holiness’s message and we could all leave in peace!

Copy link
Powered by Social Snap