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Global Music, Connecting Cultures Stories from the Rajasthani Road... from world music ensemble LIBANA

Monks, Momo's, and a Million Tears for Tibet

USA | Thursday, 24 February 2011 | Views [6699] | Comments [1]

A Tibetan woman in Dharamsala

A Tibetan woman in Dharamsala

We are back in Delhi, where we are spending our last day in India repacking and shopping for that one more beautiful scarf or piece of sari silk....Our suitcases are already bursting at the seams. Retail therapy has been abundant, enjoyable and always a fascinating experience. And to say that it is inexpensive would be the understatement of the century. Tonight we are all going to hear Sufi chanting and then eat at Kareem's--a wellknown Delhi restaurant before our 0:dark:thirty departure for the Delhi airport in the morning.

We left Dharamsala yesterday, flying back to Delhi on a rather turbulent propeller plane ride. I couldn't stop crying most of the day yesterday, from the time we bid farewell to our guide and new friend Kunsang at our beautiful Tibetan guest house, all the way down the long, steep, narrow winding mountain road, through the small crowded vibrant towns (filled with the amazing melange of crimson-robed and knit-capped monks, elderly wrinkled Tibetans, sari-clad Indian women construction workers carrying piles of bricks on their heads, young white backpackers and Buddhist spiritual seekers, motorbikes, endless rows of sidewalk shop stalls selling everything from prayer beads to scarves to books to statues of the Buddha, sleeping dogs, and oblivious cows on the move), past the monkeys lining the edge of the mountain curves--all against the backdrop of the mystical snowcapped Himalayan foothills. What must it be like to gaze into the tallest Himalayas? The Tibetans knew on a daily basis, when they could live in Tibet.

The tears just wouldn't stop and they are starting again as I write this.

Dharamsala was the third culminating leg of the last 10 days traveling through Rajasthan, Gujarat, and then Himachal Pradesh. There is so much to write about each and every day, and as I have said before--we will be blogging for weeks after our return as we attempt to integrate our experiences here. 

For reasons always unknown to me, I have had a profound connection to Tibet over the years. To have had the opportunity to come to Dharamsala, and to know that being in and with this Tibetan community-in-exile is as close as I am likely to get to Tibet, has filled my soul to the brim. It has also made the struggle of the Tibetan people painfully real and palpable. 

When emailing our guide before we left the States, I had asked that he help us have as deep an experience of his culture as we could in the three days we had there. We had hoped to meet with elderly Tibetan women, or some of the artists at the Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts in order to learn some Tibetan songs that we could bring to our audiences. Sadly, all the TIPA artists were in Orissa on tour (therefore unavailable) and the community respectfully protects its elders by not allowing outsiders access to the elder homes. So, those hopes did not materialize. But another whole journey was presented to us, lead by our soulful, passionate, humorous, sparkling-eyed 25 year old guide Kunsang.

From our first night there, he accompanied us everywhere, answering all our gizillion questions and presenting us with opportunities that deepened our heart and mind understanding of what the Tibetans have been through and continue to go through since the Chinese occupied Tibet and the Dalai Lama escaped to Dharamsala. To BE immersed in a community that is in exile--unable to go home to the land that is their ancestral and spiritual right--and to hear more stories of harrowing escape, loss, and oppression was, simply put, heartbreaking.

We spent a profound evening with a friend of Kunsang's--a man named Lobsang who is an ex-political prisoner. After spending five years imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for having spent a tension-releasing five minutes one day (with three other teenage friends in the streets of Tibet letting off some steam by shouting Free Tibet and a couple other political chants), he was then harassed and kept under such close scrutiny after his release that he finally risked his life and escaped to Dharamsala where--after a thirteen year saga-- he was welcomed, comforted and guided by a private audience with the Dalai Lama. He now works tirelessly with an office full of colleagues on the behalf of the hundreds and hundreds of other Tibetan political prisoners still in Chinese prisons. He continues to suffer severe health issues involving organ damage as a result of the beatings he endured at the hands of the Chinese prison guards. Women and men alike have been imprisoned, and he said that as rough a treatment as he and his fellow male prisoners received, that women had to endure even worse. We all knew what he meant with nothing more needing to be said.

As a true Tibetan Buddhist, he said that the hardest thing for him while he was imprisoned was practicing compassion for his Chinese captors.... but he did.

On another night, we met another friend of his that now heads the Indian branch of the international organization Students for a Free Tibet (several of us were already on their email list). We got to hear more about what the situation is like in Tibet currently, some key moments of the past decade, and their thoughts about the future of Tibetans and Tibet. Both Kunsang and his friend hold on to hope and believe that one day, Tibet will once again belong to Tibetans.

This was all certainly non-musical activity for us touring Libanites and family members!

But it was REAL. And heart-wrenching and eye-opening. Probably all of us knew a fair amount about the history of the Chinese occupation, the approach of the Dalai Lama, and the struggle to regain Tibet's independence. But to hear such personal stories of pain and loss, interspersed with walks through the streets meeting the peaceful and smiling eyes of Tibetans we would pass, interspersed with eating our daily batch of momo's (delectable Tibetan dumplings),interspersed with hearing beautiful pentatonic melodies wafting through the air being sung by people as they went about their daily business, interspersed with gazing at those spiritual mountains, interspersed with visiting monasteries and turning prayer wheels on the streets....I have, I could, and I probably will, cry a million tears for Tibet.

We performed here at the Tibetan Children's Village--a large boarding school complex of buildings way up yet another twisty narrow mountain road. Kunsang himself went here and had arranged a concert for the students who were still there (the school was at the end of their two month winter break and not in session, but there were about 75 students that spent their winter break at the school not having anywhere else to go in India). So, after a long wait for a key to get inside the building (Endre and Lexi had a rousing game of soccer with a bunch of kids on a playground while we waited) we sang and danced for these open-eyed and excited young Tibetans inside a cold and somewhat dark meeting hall on a stage that had a beautiful painting of Lhasa as a backdrop.

Our auspicious audience with His High Holiness the Karmapa on Monday is deserving of its own blog entry. A truly amazing experience that will remain with us all forever--as will every other moment of our time here.

And so we prepare to come home. We can. So many around the world cannot. Including this community of Tibetans in Northern India--and all other Tibetans, not only in other parts of India but all around the world, including Boston.

With gratitude,

Sue (PS. Even though we are leaving India, please keep checking this blog. We WILL all continue to write, and once we are home and figure out the technology, will be posting gizillions of photos and hopefully video footage as well.)




We have loved reading all of your blogs so so much. We're still crying (literally) with joy that you all have had these unbelievable, incredible experiences. Our hearts are full for you all.

  marianne & don Mar 5, 2011 7:42 AM

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