What time does the overnight bus get into Dharamsala? I ask the owner of our guesthouse over a fuzzy phone line. “6 am but sometimes 7 or 8 am also. You see this is India Madam, so it depends.” So it depends indeed. I smile and abandon our arrival time to the stars. I haven’t worn a watch in years, haven’t been carrying a cell phone for most of this trip, haven’t bothered to change the clocks on our laptops over from PST, and there are no time pieces in any of the rooms we’ve stayed in this far. Not to need to know what time it is, I am beginning to realize, is a bit of a luxury.
We arrive at Dharamsala close to nine and the morning air is bright and cool. Delicious stuffed paranthas on one of the city’s many rooftop restaurants. Snow glitters on the mountain peaks and on the streets silver jewelry, silk thankas, brass statues of the Buddha. An inescapable colorful blend of religion and commerce. We stop at a bookcart, and pick out a book. The vendor smiles and says a short prayer over our small payment. Turns an insignificant transaction into a gesture that touches us.
We are staying at the Norling Guesthouse – run by the Norbulinka Institute, an organization chaired by the Dalai Lama himself, dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture. The place has been built, we learn according to the bodily proportions of Boddhisattva Avalokiteswara. We are not sure exactly what this means, but the end result is stunning. A beautiful tree shaded garden café, goldfish ponds, the soothing sound of water running over rocks, pillared verandahs and stone courtyards, a row of gleaming prayer bells, a beautiful temple at the farthest end with flickering lamps and over 1000 depictions of the Buddha exquisitely rendered. Green, red, blue, orange – sunlight hits the colors on the thankas, and on the painted walls and the whole place quivers vividly to life.
So much surrounds us here that is a reflection of beauty, joy, wisdom and aspiration. Such a beautiful place to sit still in, and to begin to write.