Saturday, May 23, 2015


I want to share three memorable stories from mine and Jay's trip to Dharamshala (technically we were in McCleodganj, which is upper Dharmshala where Dalai Lama's monastery is).

Lion Man Show

On the first day we were in town Jay spotted a flier for a "live tibetan culture show." It sounded worthwhile, and it was Rs.200, which is quite expensive, so we were intrigued. The show was held at a school in town. It turned out to be a one-man show called the Lion Man Show. It was performed by a Tibetan refugee who said his show was about Tibetan culture. It was his expression of Tibet and his way of sharing Tibet's message with the world, through song, music, and dance. It ended up being the best and worst thing I've ever seen.

Lion Man was not a particularly talented performer. He singing was terrible and he couldn't really play the guitar-like instrument he aimlessly plucked in one of his opening numbers. Ten minutes into the show we were questioning whether this was a scam or joke, and trying to figure out how we could get our money back. Then Lion started bringing up people from the audience (particularly the biggest and heaviest folks) and picking them up in feats of strength. He would get them into contortions, pick them up, spin around, run into the audience, and nearly crash before letting them down. At one point he had two people on his back, reached back and pulled off one shoe and sock of each, and started tickling their feet. A few people very nearly face planted. The crowd was partially laughing, partially in shock. None of us were really prepared for what was happening, and weren't sure what to make of it.

In the second part of his act, Lion did dances related to "freedom" of Tibet. One "dance" was him going into the crowd and getting face to face, sometimes lip to lip with every member of the audience as music played. It was funny and intense. Some ladies got up and left the room before they got to their face. I was ready and waiting.

Later Lion did some crazy dances spinning around repeatedly for 15-20 mins, covering his head and spinning, stripping down to his speedo, slamming his body into the hard concrete, kicking off his shoes out the window, jumping out of the window and jumping back in with his lost boot. He also would fart. It seemed like it was a part of the dance. He would repeatedly fart in different poses. In one "dance" he took a singing bowl and beat it repeatedly, putting it on his head and on his body and beating it hard until the knob went flying off. All while inserting farts here and there. For his finale, he unraveled a full roll of toilet paper and wrapped himself in it. Then he lit the paper on fire under a candle, and ate pieces of it. Then he lit parts of his body on fire. You can guess the body parts.

Lion said his performance was about Tibetan culture, but this seemed like nothing to do with Tibet. On the other hand, there were what seemed like a few people in the audience from Tibet, and they were totally into it. I couldn't make out if this was a joke or there was a deeper message to Lion's madness. After the show a couple from Oakland said they believed Lion was doing art and there was meaning behind the shenanigans. Deep message or not, I will not forget Lion for a long time.


We did a photo walk hosted by a young photo journalist Abhinav who had been living in McCleodganj for the last year. There were about seven of us who joined, some of whom like Abhinav were young transplants from metros to live in the natural beauty of the mountains. It was a lovely hike into the woods and down to a river. At the river we stopped and had Maggi. On the way back, I asked for a couple garbage bags from a snack shack owner and started picking up wrappers. All of us got into it. It changed the whole dynamic of the hike. Suddenly we started talking about pollution and waste and other global problems. It brought us closer together. Abhinav said he may make "waste warriors" a regular part of the walks. Everyone became hyper conscious of the trail and trying to pick up every last piece of trash. There was a lot, we filled up several large sacks. It felt a bit obsessive by the end, it is impossible to clean up the whole forest and yet you don't want to leave any small wrapper behind. It does take you out of the enjoyment of nature, but on the other hand you feel like you are a contributor to the place.

It was an example of how a small act can have a dramatic ripple and change the dynamic of a group, for better or worse.

Gift at Four Seasons

There are tons of great places to eat in Mcleodganj. The one restaurant we went to twice was a small family Tibetan restaurant called Four Seasons Cafe. The second time we got to chat with the very sweet lady manager. We discussed vegetarianism, since it's a passionate subject for Jay. We noticed that the restaurant had posted a notice that they will serve and consume vegetarian food only every Wednesday for the year of 2015, in honor of the Dalai Lama and his spirit of kindness. We told her we loved her food, Jay especially loved a Tibetan noodle and gravy dish that he said was the best thing in town. At some point I really wanted to offer her a gift to thank her for her hospitality. But I wasn't really carrying anything appropriate. I reached deep into my bag and pulled out a keychain we had gotten as a gift in Amritsar. It was from a server at Brothers' Dhabha, which happened to be our favorite restaurant in Amritsar during our visit there. I really wasn't thinking of it at the time, but it ended up being an appropriate gift, as I told her that it was from one favorite restaurant to another. She gladly accepted, and even appreciated the idea of a restaurant handing out branded keychains. Maybe she would do the same!

The desire to give was unplanned, but the intention was pure. What was given wasn't appropriate in the moment, but it ended up working out well. A lot of the time it doesn't, but I know folks who have spontaneous meaningful gifting down to an art. Radical generosity, like anything else, can only improve with practice.

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