Sunday, April 8, 2018

Dharamsala - A Delightful Place

Dharamshala is the Head Quarters of the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan Government in Exile) ever since the 1960s when the Chinese occupied Tibet. It is also the place where the 14th Dalai Lama resides. It is also naturally the place where the famous Tibetan medicine is head quartered. Dr. Yeshi Dondhen, now 91, comes from a family of Tibetan medicine practitioners and apparently became a doctor at the age of 20 (he was born in 1927). He was the personal physician of the Dalai Lama and is considered an expert in curing cancer. There are several stories on the net, several I have heard personally and a long and accomplished history. My doctor friend, a senior nephrologist, who had cancer that spread to the bone marrow, also acknowledges and believes the Tibetan medicine helped. So when my friend wanted to consult the doctor, we decided to go. A night spent at the Delhi airport and an early morning flight were fine - except that the small aircraft developed some snags and returned to Delhi. Luckily we were loaded into another small aircraft and we took off. Akanksha, a young girl who hails from Palampur near Dhamashala, and who works in the army as a nurse in Assam was seated next to me and she gave me a whole load of what to see in Dharamshala (paragliding!). She was going home for a month long vacation and was excited to be going home.

It's a beautiful place nestling amidst huge mountain ranges, and the ones behind the first row of mountains were snow clad and incredibly huge. The roads are narrow as expected. We checked into a home stay in Sidhpur - Jassmish Cottages, a popular place on Airbnb, owned by a retired technocrat Jassi and his wife Gurpreet. The place was very cosy and they were very warm and helpful.
Home stay - Jasmish cottages, lovely location
My friend from engineering days, Suresh Chandra Chibb, a gold medalist and naturally someone on the other end of the spectrum from where I belonged settled down in Dharamshala too. When I called him he told me that his car would pick me up - and he did all he could to make our life comfortable there. We were to meet him on Day 2, after finishing our main work. I cannot say how much his offer made our life easier. His man Manjit took us around the place and offered us his points of view on many things.
On day one we caught up on our sleep and walked around the place where we stayed. There were a couple of monasteries close by but we didn't have the time to visit them. We however tried some Tibetan food in a restaurant called 'Taste of Tibet' and ate some momos and some other stuff. A soup with noodles, egg, chicken, lamb, pork, mushrooms etc. The weather was not as cold as I expected - didn't need a jacket. 

View of the mountains - breathtaking
Next day we set off to Dr. Dhondhen's clinic for our 9 am appointment. I called young Tenzin Dhandhup, a twenty something medical student studying first year Tibetan medicine. I know Tenzin through Gowri and Raju, who finance the studies of seven of eight Tibetan kids (Tenzin is one of them).  He is a shy, sweet, helpful and intelligent boy who took half the day off from his medical school to help us around. Tenzin told us he belonged to a nomadic family and had no formal education until he was 15. He lived in Tibet with his father and mother - rode horses, tended sheep and yak until his parents felt that he was better off living a free life in India. So in 2007 (must have been 15 then or less) he set off along with some other people from his village and they trekked for 55 days before they reached India. 'For the first seven days we had to travel only at night because we were in Tibet and we could not afford to get caught. We ran out of food after 12 days and thereafter ate fruits and nuts. It took us 55 days to reach Dharamsala.' There is no way he can reach out to his parents or visit them, nor can they visit him. He showed pictures of his parents - Amma and Pappa - he calls them; and some other pictures of his life in Tibet which he may never see again. But he is a good student - he cleared many exams to get admission into the course. Everyone took to him easily and we invited him to stay with us in Hyderabad. Tenzin, please come anytime!
Snowclad mountains behind - huge and silent
The Tibetan Herbal Clinic (Tibetan Herbal Clinic, Ashoks Niwas, McLeodganj, Dharamsala, Distt. Kangra, Himachal Pradesh - 176219 Ph. 1892 221461) of Dr. Yeshi Dondhen is a very small affair. One has to take reports and a urine sample of the first urine of the day - something which our home stay hosts told us and helped with by getting the containers from the market. The time taken for diagnosis and prescription is pretty short. Dr. Dhondhen comes to a sink where he examines the urine and then heads back to the room and then does a pulse examination - he zeroed down to the liver in a second and prescribed medicines for two months with some food and drink restrictions. He was in good humour, looked as wise as the hills and undoubtedly sharp. He speaks broken Hindi and is assisted by two young doctors and a nurse. They say, follow instructions well and things happen.

Interestingly we met a person in the clinic who knew a common friend in Hyderabad and we actually spoke to him over the phone right there. Small world! We had a cup of coffee, ate some Tibetan lunch that Tenszin ordered for us (delicious stuff), dropped him off at the hostel so he can attend the afternoon sessions, gave him a packet of Karachi biscuits and bid him good bye with a standing invitation to come over and stay. The young kid smiled shyly and went. We also met Karma Rinchen, another friend of Raju's and thanked him for his help.
Free Tibet - Students for a free Tibet
We then headed to the Tibetan temple which is where the Dalai Lama also lives and walked around the place. It was beautiful. There were no restrictions and no do-not-do-stuff so we walked about checking out stuff. A Kalachakra temple, monks in meditation, monks in some sort of a debate, wonderful to see. We sat listening to the group chanting of the monks and then headed off to the city. While we were relaxing after lunch Manjit (Suresh's driver) comes over and points to Ranjan and says 'He looks like Jimmy Shergill, the actor.' Ram told him - 'You should have seen him when he was twenty. He looked like Vinod Khanna.'
Ranjan, Tenzin, Ram and me chilling out in the afternoon sun post lunch
On the other end of the town lives Suresh, whom I met after 30 years. Like I said we did not have a chance to meet much during our college days and our interactions were quite polite and formal. The one thing I remembered was that he steered us through our final project because he was the only one who knew anything about Civil Engineering and he wrote out the whole project of 'Design of Folded Roof on Multi Storeyed RCC building' all by himself. We all helped by showing up at meetings and offering to bind the books and doing other such important activities. So it was wonderful to meet him in his house - located in a stunning place with a fabulous and unhindered view of the mountains on one side, a small stream next to his house and a hill on the other full of pine trees. Idyllic. We shared our stories and I gifted him a packet of Osmania biscuits which we posed for - Osmanians after all.
Tibetan monks in debate
We spent a wonderful couple of hours at his place listening to his stories and how he loves construction and how he built the house. I learned more about Civil Engineering from these couple of hours than I did in my four years at college. I gifted his younger daughter Arya a copy of 'The Men Within' and I gifted Suresh and his wife Vandana (who plied us with some much to eat that we could all skip dinner) a copy of 50 Not Out. We left, pledging to meet again soon. It was wonderful meeting him. He is such a warm and helpful person and I am very grateful for all he did for us.
Me and Suresh - Osmanians and project mates 
That day it rained and so it got pretty cold and the jackets came out. Mrs. Jassi helped me pick a couple of shawls which she said were great bargains. We went to a restaurant called Centre Point and enjoyed our dinner before heading back for a cold night and an early morning flight back to Delhi and onwards to Hyderabad. We parked my car at the airport and it cost us only 700 bucks - we checked in at 730 on Tuesday and checked out at 4 pm on Friday. Looked like a good deal considering we normally spend close to 800 bucks one way to the airport.

And a round of congratulations to all for making this trip possible - Gowri, Raju, Tenzin, Suresh, Karma, Sanjay Reddy and so many others. Job well done!

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