It's getting really cold in McLeod Ganj these days yet we can't get ourselves to leave.
We'll have been here for a month on Thursday, about as long as we spent in the rest of India all together. This area's much different than the India we experienced though. I catch myself calling it Tibet often. The Indians here might as well be the foreigners while the Tibetan refugees dominate with their culture and smiling faces.
People here are so endearing. So nice to have conversations with. The days have gone by quickly and we've done a satisfying lot of nothing. We've rented movies, both mindless American and interesting documentaries. We've walked around for hours looking in stores and buying nothing. And sometimes buying yet another Tibetan handicraft.
Everything's so cheap that its hard to justify not buying things. We've learned a lot about how to buy things in India though. There are tons of stores selling the exact same thing, but one place can be a nightmare experience and another you never want to leave. And somehow you end up back in the nightmare store poking around and falling in the same trap. They're like black holes. Stores just choose the right location in the wall and the stars align and next thing you know some Indian guy is hounding you tirelessly trying to get you to buy two of the item you want zero of. "My friend, my friend, I give you good price my friend," etc etc etc. The Tibetans don't ever do that. They just smile. And you leave, free to get sucked into another black hole.
After weeks of talking about shooting pictures, interviewing heads of organizations, changing our minds and deciding to leave for Varanassi, we finally ended up somewhere. Directly across the street from the steps that lead down to our hotel there's a Buddhist nunnery. From the beginning we wanted to spend time there, knowing photos of monks/nuns would be the most visual subjects the area has to offer. For some reason we didn't listen to our instinct, though, and searched around for something more "intense." But there's not that much intensity here. Or so we now think. Maybe we're wrong. In any case, the nunnery is cool. A holiday commemorating a famous guru of some sort took place last week. People around town lit candles and placed them on window sills, which creates nice photo opportunities. We headed to the nunnery and did as Westerners with cameras in a nunnery do. Stuck our heads in doors, around corners, made hand gestures, spoke unnecessarilly loud to try and communicate.
The next few days were spent at the nunnery. Really interesting experience. Since we haven't learned much about the monks its hard to tell them apart from nuns. Other than size and voice pitch I mean. But the way they live seems amazing from my point of view. It's so simple, humble, and based on self-improvement. They study most of the day, chant, meditate and have very little time left for vanity. Nor do they care to have time for vanity. The younger nuns are around more present, making noise, studying, washing clothes, etc, while the older nuns stay to themselves more. They're harder to approach, especially for me as a male. At this point Celia's probably going to keep going back and try to get to the "next level" with them. I'd have a harder time gaining access to private situations. Think I'll start shooting at the refugee reception center for a bit and see how that goes.
The question now is whether we should stay an extra 11 days for the Dalai Lama to come home. He'll be holding large teaching sessions at his temple starting the 22nd. After learning so much (yet so little) about this culture and His Holiness, it would be incredible to see and hear him. That would mean an even longer time in the area, a longer extension of our trip in India (till February, March??), and more chances of freezing our butts off in the Himalayan foothills. Kinda cool though, being able to say I froze my butt off in the Himalayan foothills while attending the Dalai Lama's lecture on abstract Buddhist concepts, eh? Not that I'll understand most of it...But even seeing the guy in movies and pictures is inspiring. I'm not one to believe in people's multicolored auras and hocus pocus whatnot, but the Dalai Lama really emanates something special. Makes you want to be a good person and smile. Makes you want to take what you know and apply it in a positive way. So I'm sure anything he'd have to say at the lectures would be a step in a good direction. (Don't worry mom and dad, I'm not becoming a monk. In fact, there are these cool books called the Jew in the Lotus and Stalking Elijah about a Jewish guy who got closer to his own religion through learning from Tibetan Buddhists. I read some of the latter book a long time ago and am trying to get a hold of them here. Pretty cool how the energy here can do that.)