North Tour: Dharamsala: An antidote for hubbub

Monday, 7 March

DHARAMSALA: Hubbub is an unintentional, unavoidable side effect of manmade monuments.

I have never visited a famous structure anywhere in the world devoid of human hustle and bustle (at least during operating hours). As we saw at The Golden Temple yesterday, people will inevitably come if a place is worth visiting. Where people go, chaos follows. Only natural beauty can be exempt of the undertone of human noise, but as we noticed on the beaches of Goa, that’s no guarantee of silence. Great places always attract great masses of people, in turn transforming them into tourist traps. And tourist traps are not tranquil places.

At least, that’s what I thought before visiting the Dalai Lama’s house today.

Amidst steep green hills and towering snow-capped mountains, we saw our share of foreigners in Dharamsala. There may have been more tourists from outside India than in, and they appeared to have come a long way. Westerners in NFL jackets walked amidst Buddhist monks in maroon and yellow robes. This was a place for tourists.

But it wasn’t really a tourist place. It didn’t have the feel of one, anyhow.

Hubbub was utterly absent. The quietness was striking. Maybe it had something to do with the surrounding air, brought in chilly gusts with a far lower concentration of car exhaust than in most parts of India. The omnipresent pine trees visible for miles in every direction cleaned the air effectively, and the thin winding roads nearby weren’t SUV friendly anyway. The silence wasn’t quite pindrop, but it was close.

Quietness is another of those things that’s hard to come by in India, so it’s even more rewarding when it comes. Walking through Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama’s modest abode, there was no need to speak. Sometimes beauty requires no spoken words.

As we were about to leave, I spotted a man wearing a Chicago White Sox baseball cap.

Chicago’s two baseball teams – the Cubs and White Sox – are bitter enemies. Tension between the teams is always high. Banter between fans of opposing allegiances has the propensity to escalate. At each of the team’s six matchups every year, fights inevitably break out in the stands. It’s not a friendly rivalry.

I pulled my Cubs hat out of my backpack and put it on.

I looked at him.

Seconds later, the man looked at me.

Something came alive in his eyes as he saw the hat I was wearing. He was in the midst of a conversation as he saw me, but it seemed to lull for just a moment. It had just taken a split-second for a connection to be made between us. No matter that we were over 8,000 miles from Chicago. He knew the meaning, the history, and the symbolism behind our headgear, and so did I.

He looked away and continued conversing with his friend.

There was no need to disturb the peace.



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