Carl here, I usually don't post much on the blog, Jerry and I do our video blog together, but Jerry brings his strong learned opinions and facts to the written version here on this page. I have posted rarely.
I usually post lighter stuff, so I've put together a short story, I thought Jerry's readers might enjoy.
Since His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is state side and meeting with my good friend Barry, I thought it might be fun to write a little about my experience meeting the King of Dharamsala Valley.
So, I was invited to India to interview/audience His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama for a documentary I produced on the politics of Tibet. I had been to China and had interviewed nearly 100 Chinese government officials on the subject, including the then head of the Tibetan Autonomous Region as China calls it today.
This story took place while I was in India, getting His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the The Tibetan Government in Exiles view on the subject.
As while in China, in India we would interviewed nearly every authority involved in every aspect of Tibetan life in exile and culture thru the Tibetan govenment in exile. In a months time we had interviewed nearly 80 officials including the Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Samdhong Rinpoche and His Holiness himself. I even interviewed the Oracle. We would do three interviews a day, for 24 days. Time flew by, it was really grueling but I nor my crew felt it at all. I was just great to immerse ourselves.
We were working a one month long stoke of adventure.
This story isn't about the Documentary or the making of the Documentary. This is story about something that took place ad hoc, extra, something unexpected.
We stayed in a hotel near the home of His Holiness in McLeodganj . Located in the most populated province of India, known as Himachal Pradesh, McLeodganj sits above the Dharamsala Valley, at around five thousand feet. You can enjoy some of the most beautiful views of India from there. I would go onto the roof of our hotel and shoot sunrises every morning. The sun would rise from behind the mountain tops, sun beams would shoot upward. McLeodganj is located in the foothills of the Himalayas, with the great mountains rising up towards the Northeast, and beautiful sun washed Kanga valley and plains of India to the South.
Enough about the scenery! All of India is beautiful.
Our daily schedule was intense, we would be on the road every day by 8a.m. with interviews scheduled all day till 5.
After work we would land back at the hotel and figure out what to do for dinner, then afterwards go exploring around the hilltop town. There is a big tourist industry built around His Holiness living in McLeodganj , but most of the business's that feed off of his presence and his home are run by Kashmiris. They sell a lot of Tibetan things, mostly knock offs, there are a few Tibetan businesses but not like you'd think.
After dinner one night we happened upon a large tourist gift shop, run by Tibetans, it was pretty amazing, the things they had forsale, from silks to furniture, were simply beautiful.
We were just five guys wandering around, not big shoppers, on break looking more for a cold beer more than a stylish mala. But as a traveler you will look behind any door, so we are in this wonderful gift shop. Browsing. I hear some one say to me in clear European Danish English, "How do you like India"? I look and there is a mature women with dark black dyed hair, smiling at me, I smile back and say, I love it. She then responded, "it is a free country, completely free". I said "yes it is the kind of freedom that you'll never find anywhere else". We continued to chat, she was a Danish researcher, doing some work with one of the monasteries. I said so long. Her name was Halina.
The crew and I had dinner and a few drinks exhausted we would as with most nights be back at the hotel and be in bed by 11.
The next day we are scheduled to go to the Gangchen Kyishong, The offices of the Tibetan government-in-exile and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives are located here. We'd be spending the day there doing three interviews, one with the Pime Minster Venerable Samdong Rinpoche, another with the now retired director of the Tibetan Works and Arhives Most Venerable Achok Rinpoce and finally the Nechung Oracle, Venerable. Thubten Ngodrup. These are some of the highest of high ranking tibetan religious figures in the world. All in the same day!
While at Gangchen Kyishong, between interviews, we had lunch just off the library, we ran into Halina my Danish friend again. We spoke briefly and parted. She claimed to be doing research for documentary also.
So the interviews went beyond well, I can tell you something about Tibetan Buddhism, how it strenghtens the mind, how it works, how the oracle or medium of Tibet functions, but thats not what this story is about. This story is about a Hindu, the King of Dharamsala Valley.
Its Friday, thanks to some proficient planing by me, who was now being called Dr. Quest, by his production team, we had scheduled weekends off.
This Dr.Quest thing was a much better nickname than my crew I used in China, who seemed to want to call me Chairman Mao, they also like calling me hu su, meaning black beard. Camaraderie is a great thing when working and traveling, they guys on the both crews, I will always be indebted to.
So its the weekend and everyone it thinking about finding some real beer and adventure in a far away land. We were getting ready to go to dinner, now the food in India is really great, but getting 5 guys to agree on where to eat is always a problem.
So we are standing on the street in front of our hotel bickering about what restaurant to go to, it's a one lane street, and a car pulls up stops and the window rolls down, it's our Danish friend Halina again. She reaches out her hand with a card in it, and says "here is my number, if you guys want to have some fun, call me tomorrow and I'll be happy to show you a good time".
Guys are funny, some laughed, some lurched back, I said fine and took her phone number.
McLeodganj has about twenty thousand people living there year round, a small town by India's standard, the main town area is around 3 square miles made up of shops and restaurants, with mostly tourists milling about.
We spent the off day just hanging around, talking with the locals, some of the crew tried and succeeded in scoring some hashish from a local Kashmiri rug vendor, I visited the Namgyal monastery, they have a coffee shop there, hung out, met some tourist, talked to the locals, Did some souvenir shopping, just taking it easy, we had two more weeks ahead, including our final week, which I had set aside for exploring as a reward for the crew, no work, Just Delhi and tourist sites around Dehri Dunn.
So it's Saturday night in McLeodganj, I figured, if a door opens, it's always better to walk through it. So I decided to take Halina up on her offer. I called her from the hotel lobby phone, she said to come to the bottom of hill and she'd be waiting for I and my filmcrew at the end of the driveway located near Mentze kahn, the Tibetan medical school, and then she said, I'm going to quote her, " Its the driveway of The King of Dharamsala Valleys home". Ok now I had never before met a king, but thought, gee this is getting interesting. Hailina went on to say that they would be attending a Himalayan festival in the valley and we would be guest of the King!
So I go back upstairs to tell the guys I had talked to Halina, and we were going to a Himalayan Festival with the King of dharmasala valley. "Get dressed, and tell our driver Tapa Ji, he'll get some overtime". The crew had mixed emotions about it, it was strange because all they and I new about Halina was her invite, "are you guys looking for a good time" and her exotic look, mature ,attractive and worldly. So they really had some apprehension. Not I!
So we piled into Tapa ji's Montero, and headed down the hill from Mcleodganj, sure enough as promised, Halina was standing at the end of the driveway. She climbed into the truck and told Tapa Ji to drive on. It's dusk and the road is now perfectly paved, one of the only roads we would travel on that was without potholes and dust. It was the Kings driveway to be sure.
May is the hottest month of the year in India, we were working in 110 degree temperatures everyday. So I'm thinking, at the very least, this King, if he is a really a King, will have not only cold beer, but ice too.
The driveway is a 2 mile road that winds through the jungle, there perched on a small mound is a 2 story home, made of poured concrete, surrounded by professional landscaping and landscape lighting. India does some interesting and beautiful things with lighting, when there is electrical service of course. We get out of the truck, and walk towards the home, we enter into this perfect outdoor piazza. Halina invites us to have a seat. This home is a walled home, including the piazza, with poured concrete benches, tables, and low lighting radiating from every corner. The Kings home, It's its a dark mysterious place, I'm thinking maybe my crews apprehension was correct, maybe we've explored far enough.
The driver Tapa Ji, didn't come in he stayed with the suv. Dorje our monk guide, did. So we are all sitting in this wonderfully strange place in the middle of the jungle, and then as if
in a scene from the movie Apocolypse now, out of the homes great doors comes a large man in traditional indian white attire, he strolls over to us, and Halina says, gentlemen allow me to introduce the King of Dharamsala Valley.
As leader of our group, I stand up and he reaches his had out to shake hands, ok, so maybe he is not so kingly, and says "welcome to my home, so you're the American film crew, thank you for coming" I look at him and say "thank you for having us". This is the first and only King I've ever met, I'm kind of beside myself, my crew is sitting there, with some kind of look between shock and fear on their faces, then in a Brandoesque tone the King says "Beer, whiskey, beer,whiskey", he said it twice, really fast and mumbly, I said "that would be fantastic' I hear Todd, our sound recordist, in the background say "It sure would".
So here we are sitting with the King of Dharamsala Valley in the middle of the jungle making small talk, I find out, in a very a matter of fact way, that his wife is the head of India's National Health Administration, equal to our surgeon general, and Halina, who has been in India for 30 years, is his mistress. The king in a very Kingly way stated these facts as non pulsed as anyone about anything, from one man to another. Having a mistress is a manly kingly kind of thingly. The King, and the trick to being King is to be focused, manly, and at all times non pulsed.
After having a few drinks at the kings home, it would be time to part for the Himalayan festival in the valley, we would be guests of the king, and his mistress.
We piled into the suv, and Halina got in the truck with us, the king had his own driver, and a white car, know as an ambassador. We would drive deeper into the jungle, thru winding roads, in India, every evening in the jungle, a fregrent flower opens, it's called night queen. It has a very sweet smell. This heavy sweet oder is wafting through our car, so strong was the smell, I asked Halina what it was.
After about fifteen minutes, driving on very dark roads in the forest, we pull up to what is a decent size hotel, the interior light is radiating from the rooms on all floors, the lobby lighing is glowing into the dark jungle, our head lights cut deep into the darkness, the building is some sort of resort. Tapa Ji parks the truck, Halina says wait in the car. It was the Club Mahindra Kangra Valley Resort.
I'm watching her as she goes to the Kings car, he gets out, they turn and walk rapidly into the hotel. The resort has some kind of event going on, its buzzing with people, all well dressed, the King and Halina disappear inside.
From the passengers seat in the Montero, I'm looking at the building, and I see through the hotels second floor windows the King entering into this large room, the people in the room are part of the event taking place there. Then in less than a minute from the Kings entrance, people start to flood out of the place, hurriedly, piling into their cars, all these white government cars.
One by one they leave the parking lot, the lead car with a blue police light flashing on the dash. Tapa Ji cuts into the motorcade at about the halfway point, following the cars.
We travel another seven or so miles at high speed, through the jungle, and arrive at an outdoor stadium, there are people everywhere, we are still moving very fast, too fast for conditions, we arrive at the gate to this outdoor stadium, parking is to the right, I'm thinking we are not going to find a parkng space.
Instead of going into the lot, there is an arched entrance going into the stadium, with a red carpet on the ground going through it, people walking into the stadium. We and the Kings motorcade turn left onto the red carpet, people are literally diving out of the way of the cars, we drive into the stadium, there is seating on the field in front of the stage, not just any seating, but theater seating for vips, our cars all pull up and we get out, Sitting in the front row is The king, a guy who is head of the Dharamsala arts program, next to him is Halina, and me. The monk Dorje is next to me, and then the crew. All the people look at the King as he arrives.
We are as advertised at the Dharamsala Valley Himalayan festival.
There were about 30 thousand people in attendance, all brown people, we are the only caucasians except for Halina. Around the primeter of the field are booths set up with games and food, it's not different than a festival or county fair in America, it's a public get together, with families, teenagers, police on guard, music, dancing, all very nice. And lots of home style Indian cooking.
About half way through the program, Halina hands me a glass of whiskey, public consumtion of alcohol is frowned upon in India, I take the glass, and I hear Dorje whisper in a low voice "Don't drink it", hmm interesting I think. I smell it, and take a sip, its whiskey. I hand the glass to Todd, without hesitation, he drinks it all.
It's about an hour into the show and I decide I want some video, I have only my 3 chip handy cam, portable, so I get up and walk around the stadium, it was wonderful to mix it up with the locals, no english spoken by the folk, particularly at this folk festival, but you don't need language to communicate joy, everyone was happy, loving joyous community. Great food, that would surely kill me if I ate it. We joked as Dorje and Tapa Ji, our guide and driver would warn us constantly about eating things, by saying "No that will kill you".
I returned back at my seat, and Halina says to me, the king and his friends are going back stage to have drinks , you should join them.
Ok, now this is when, I'll say, it's like the bottom of the ninth, the bases are loaded, we have turned what would have been a non eventful evening into a very nice comeback, this was an experience up to this point to say the least. I hate sports analogies btw. I know or at least I'm sure I can top this evening off with just one more swing of the bat. I look at dorje, and he is shaking his head no, a look at my crew, and say, and this is one of the worst moments, in my life, I say, "so do you guys mind'? I look at them, one of them, now don't get me wrong I'm taking all the blame here, I don't know what crew member it was, but they said, "no we should be going".
I looked Halina, I looked at the King, and I said thank you for having us, we should be leaving.
I've had many go along get along fails in my life, but this moment, for me was the most painful mistake.
Will I ever know what lay ahead that evening by joining the King backstage for drinks? No, not ever. Really sad.
He was the unoffical King, recognized as the descendant to the oldest line of kings in india, Kings are still there, they still have local influence and wealth. When I asked dorje about this "King" status, he said that in his provence of Lahdak they have a queen, and this "royalty" can be traced back thousands of years.
i may assume that this would be his prince son. http://kutlehar.tripod.com/id13.html
Either or, I missed the chance. regrets I have few, but to go drink with the King of Dharamsala valley, that is one I might take to my grave. Unless . . . .
The moral of this story, be bold, every step takes courage and never not trust your instincts..
Thanks for reading.
If you like this story you can also read fun stuff on my Facebook page aat http://www.facebook.com/pages/Carl-Cimini/199725261562