We spent two and half weeks volunteering for a locally owned and operated travel agency called Tendrel Travel. Located in Dal Lake, a small village above Dharamsala and nestled among the foothills of the Himalayas, Tendrel Travel specializes in spiritual trips with a focus on personal growth and immersion into local cultures. Offering tours led by local community leaders and respected figures (including monks, hermits, doctors of traditional medicine, Tibetan Buddhist scholars and shamans) rather than more conventional tour guides, they provide opportunities and perspectives that might otherwise be difficult for a traveler to encounter. Tendrel is characterized by the humanness of their organization and the sincerity and quality of the relationships they cultivate with their guests, employees and the communities in which they participate. Our work at Tendrel consisted primarily of translating the French portion of their website content into English (with the help of Google translate, since neither of us are proficient in French) as well as directing and filming a short teaser to introduce their new website.
During our time in the neighborhood, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, provided a three-day teaching at his temple in McLeod, just down the mountain from Dal Lake. The teaching was offered free of cost and thousands of people attended, including us. He taught in Tibetan and there were several interpreters offering live translations which were then broadcast over FM radio for attendees of different languages. Though we enjoyed the opportunity to be in the presence of the smiley old man in golden robes, the practical applications of his teachings eluded us. We intend to learn more about his philosophies. While in McLeod we each took advantage of the opportunity to receive free healthcare with a visit to a doctor of Tibetan medicine. More significantly, we located the best espresso we’ve tasted since leaving Portland almost two years ago. Woot!And like everywhere we go, it’s less about where we are and more about who we are with that makes a place dear to us. We loved spending time with the Tendrel Travel family. Since half of the family hails from France they know a thing or two about crêpes. We got together one evening for a crêpe party just to celebrate our togetherness. There was savory. There was sweet. There was wine. Later in the evening we walked to the Tibetan Children’s Village, a Tibetan school located in Dal Lake, where the teachers of the school put on a performance. We entered the auditorium to a deafening roar. It sounded exactly like thousands of young women screaming for The Beatles. We could hardly believe our eyes to see thousands of young kids, screaming at the top of their lungs in sheer excitement. Their teachers, some cross-dressed, others looking dapper in suits or traditional dress, rocked the house with the “Gangnam Style” dance, comical choreography and parodies of the school’s daily yoga routine. The kids were apparently losing their minds seeing their teachers in such a different context and the entire scene was hilarious.With its sincere, un-Delhi-like inhabitants*, relaxed atmosphere, cool climate and beautiful natural surroundings we kind of fell in love with the area of Dharamsala. We loved witnessing the coexistence of Indian, Tibetan and Western cultures, mingling peacefully without seeming to dilute one another. We also loved the opportunity to ride around on our hosts’ motorcycle. David got really good at avoiding the abundant potholes and cows, and we enjoyed the challenge of piling ourselves and our fully loaded backpacks onto the bike to determine the bike’s exact capacity. The only reason we left Dal Lake after a too-brief few weeks was for something even awesomer: the arrival of our friend Gonzaga from Spain. He was coming to meet us in Mumbai! We took a very luxurious bus complete with fully reclining seats, abundant leg room, a gentle driver and a Bollywood film down the mountain. On the way our bus collected Simon, who keeps popping up along our path through India, and his girlfriend and the four of us arrived in Delhi the next morning, ready to brave the awfulest city together. The easiest way to avoid a city you dislike when you have 12 hours to kill before your flight to Mumbai? Loiter at the airport. And so we did.*Dear Vaibhav, we adore you and from our current perspective you are the most un-Delhi-like Delhiite we know. Please introduce us to all your friends so that we may correct our unfortunate opinion of your hometown.