I exited the guesthouse and started strolling down the street, clueless as to what my day would bear. It’s the usual state of things before you stumble upon something, and that’s how it was for me the day I stumbled upon the Dalai Lama.
Dharamsala, in the north of India, is not only the home of the Dalai Lama, but also shelters a huge Tibetan community, people who followed their leader here through the dangerous mountains. Still, it didn’t cross my mind that I would actually see the one that people call “His Holiness”. After all, I’ve been to London, even as far as Buckingham Palace, many times, and never glimpsed the Queen.
This morning, as I was walking down to the Tibet Museum, the road became blocked, full of people, with a few cars and bikes trying to squeeze through without running anyone over. In the middle of the crowd, an old Tibetan man with a rainbow colored hat was looking around expectantly, smiling to everyone. I smiled back automatically and asked what was going on. His eyes became round with awe and his expression serious.
“The Dalai Lama is coming” he said, his voice full of respect.
He led me down the road to find a better view point and I waited one hour in the mud, backpack and all, near a huge banner spelling out “Welcome Home, Your Holiness”. The old man was intent on me getting a good look at the Dalai Lama and kept pushing me forward.
After much waiting and watching the people around me burn incense, pray and wash the road off (because of the toilet exit right there, of course), suddenly everyone fell silent. They got out their Khata and the woman next to me handed me one end of the white scarf, sharing naturally. I folded the cloth between my fingers, joined my hands in prayer and bowed slightly.
I sneaked a look around from behind the curtain of my hair. The love and trust reflected on the face of those people was humbling.
They had crossed a mountain range, walked in the snow for days under the threat of Chinese fire. They had left everything behind, house, possessions, country and family. They had fled invaded Tibet and bargained their lives to come here.
And all of that just because this one man told them to.
When the Dalai Lama finally drove by in his car, I did get a really good look at him. He was smiling under his glasses and waving at the crowd.
“Welcome Home, Your Holiness”, the sign above the road said. But, watching the Tibetan refugees around me, I felt like it was the other way around.
Like it was the Dalai Lama’s arrival that made his people, finally, feel at home.