Experiencing the Dalai Lama

December 2, 2008 | By Helen Tapping | News, Photography, Photojournalism

Today is the 48th anniversary of TCV, and the Dalai Lama is the guest of honor. All of the Bridges to Understanding mentors and staff were invited to attend as VIPs.

Over 5,000 people attended the event and the campus was packed. Luckily we arrived early and settled into our front row seats in plenty of time. The crowds of monks, nuns and students in traditional costumes and school uniforms got louder and louder as his car drove into the arena.

The Dalai Lama nimbly ascended the staircase right in front of us. I was very overwhelmed but my husband Chris amiably said “hello” to him. The Dalai Lama grinned and returned the greeting!

The cultural program consisted of a parade, marching bands, dancers and (the highlight for us) the middle school performing a calisthenics display of which they have been practicing for hours and hours over the past few weeks.

We looked for our 12 Bridges to Understanding students as they created amazing formations, including spelling out Tibet Will Never Die, Inner Peace and World Peace:

The morning finished with a politically charged speech by the Dalai Lama in Tibetan. However, as my Tibetan is a little rusty (or actually non-existent since I don’t speak Tibetan) , Choeppel, one of the teachers, gave us a rough translation.

After lunch of traditional food and Tibetan butter tea (salty and undrinkable in my very British opinion) we were lucky enough to spot another VIP up close – The Karmapa.

We meet back up with our kids who are extremely excited to think we spotted them in their performance and I am reminded once again of their absent parents.

We decided as a group to ditch the three hour (fairly obscure) performance of the Tibetan opera and headed out for our last afternoon with the kids. They don’t get outside of their school walls more than once a month or so, so this was considered a huge treat.

They decided they wanted to go to Bhagsu so we started the long trek. We spotted many black faced langurs along the way and at one point ended up running from a bull near the church cemetery.

Some students and mentors went up to the waterfall we visited yesterday. Lhakpa, the constant guide, took us to a local Hindu temple. We had seen a few Hindu temples in Delhi but nothing like this. It was completely bonkers, starting with an entry through a lion’s mouth. Then you had to crawl on your knees through dark tunnels before reaching a shrine. This was all gleefully described by Lhakpa as the “Disneyland of religion.”

While we waited for the others near the temple pool, we finally discovered what a monk really wears under his robes:

I made a comment on the walk back into town that the kids must be getting tired after their performance and now a long hike. Menhla Tsomo replied back quietly, “Yes, it’s a long way. But not as long as our walk from Tibet.” I didn’t know what to say.

The mood picked up again when we reached the restaurant. We let the kids know we were treating and they ordered enough food for a small army! The evening was made even more special with the kids started making speeches to all of us, thanking us for the experience. Always fighting for the spotlight, Tenzin Seldon and Lekphel kept us entertained. At one point I thought Lekphel was going to thank the academy!

I looked around and the entire restaurant was watching us. I suddenly realized that the Bridges program had been a success and these kids had truly found their voices.

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