As we got closer to Rewalsar we noticed bus after bus filled with Tibetans, signaling the departure of the Dalai Lama. He had in fact just left earlier that morning. Although many had already departed,there were still throngs of people crowding the little streets.
It was not our beloved Rewalsar, normally so pristine and peaceful. For three days, an estimated 7 to 10,000 people had come here seeking the Dalai Lama’s darshan. He dedicated two new monasteries (bringing the total in the town to 5), and gave a several hour long initiation down by the lake attended by thousands of devotees sitting, or standing, wherever they could. Everyone was still high from being in the presence of His Holiness and even though we hadn’t seen him, we felt the spiritual charging.
The restaurant owner, who we befriended last year, happens to be a Hindu, but he was excited that His Holiness acknowledged him as he passed by in his car. It felt a bit like arriving at a party too late, but there’s nothing we could have done; we’d never have found a hotel room. Devotees slept in the streets, beside the lake, wherever they could find a space.
Leaving our bags with the restaurant owner, we went to search for a room. It always surprises us the number of local people who remember us when we return. They see so many tourists in the course of a year, why do they remember us? “It’s your faces,” the monk said, as he rented us a room in the same monastery as last year.
It took a couple of days for the town to return to its quiet sleepy self. They swept the streets, dismantled tents and only a handful of visitors, including us, remained. The restaurant shut down for a day while it was thoroughly cleaned and the staff took a well earned rest. It interested us that the local vendors were happy to see the extra business leave town – more concerned about quality of life than making profit. Three days was enough. Rushing around serving thousands of customers was not why they choose to live in Rewalsar.
Rewalsar has a particularly special feel for us because Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists live side by side in harmony. The town is sacred for all three groups. Additionally, we’re happy to see signs for ‘Ruhani Satsang, Beas’; with weekly meetings.
The two monasteries we watched during construction last year are now completed. They are huge edifices with lavish decoration – intricate Tonka painting centered around large Buddha statues. While visually impressive, we are bothered that these magnificent spectacles are financed by donations coming predominantly from the refugee community that can barely afford it. But in a way I guess it’s no different from any other organized religion.
We are also not surprised to learn that although the community lives in apparent harmony, that there were some ruffled feathers in the Hindu community over the gigantic size of the statue of the Guru Rimpoche, not the Buddha they expected. It’s the second largest Buddhist statute in India.
Beyond finding Rewalsar so appealing, we also wanted to come back here to see someone we met here a year ago. Frederic had emailed when he was going to be here and with great expectation we looked forward to seeing him again. But on our arrival, several people told us that he had fallen ill for more than two weeks and ended up going back to Franceearly. We were very disappointed. Gerard commented that he had been looking forward to seeing Frederic ever since we parted at Heathrow a year ago. (By coincidence we had been on the same plane out of Delhi).
I’ve noticed that while we’re traveling it’s easier to let the unexpected come into the day than when I am at home. It doesn’t mean that the same thing couldn’t happen at any time under any circumstance, but in my daily routine, there’s little space for this. After breakfast at one of our favorite restaurants where a sweet husband and wife team make our stuffed piranhas and chai right in front of us, we watch a Tibetan woman opening her store across the street and go over to inspect the handicrafts. I spend a long time looking at shawls while she and her cousin, a Buddhist nun, chat to us. They show us pictures of the village in Tibetthey left 22 years ago, walking on foot to Rewalsar. They make no heavy sales pitch but happily pull out shawl after shawl for my inspection.
After a while a Swedish man and a Buddhist monk, his spiritual guide, came into the store, and joined the conversation. They invited us to participate at a nearby monastery in a small ceremony to a certain manifestation of one of the ancient lamas. We were led into a small room that is normally locked and sat in front of a black demon like statue; the monk proceeded to chant while we sat in meditation. With no interruption to his chanting, he picked up a stack of prayer cards and periodically tapped us on the head and back. Then he pulled out a small camera and photographed the statue -and we did the same. Like most Buddhist monks he was a jolly old soul!
Life still has a lot of magic if we can just let it in.