Tenzin, who belongs to the third generation of a Tibetan family was born and raised in India and has only visited his home town through a number of his grandparent's stories told to him over the years, but ask him anything about a land he wishes to go back to and he has all the answers. This was evident when he gave me a tour of his homeland via a map of Tibet, a land that he hopes to see at least once in his life.
Meeting my Guide for the day
It was around 3:00pm when I got a call from Tenzin telling me to get off at the Indian oil petrol pump right opposite MT. In the next five minutes, while approaching the petrol pump I saw a man dressed not older than 27 or 28, dressed in all white standing and reading a news paper. I got off from the auto and confirmed, "Tenzin?" to which he shook his hand and asked "Nikki" and I knew I was with the right guy and the right place. I don't know what he thought of me but his next question sort of confused me, "you can cross the road, na?" We crossed the road just fine to reach the small entrance that takes you to a world that looks as if it does not even exist from the guarding walls.
"I have seen this place so many times sitting inside the Volvo while going to Dharamshala" I tell Tenzin, he smiles in return. The entrance of MT is a small temple shaped door coloured in red, green and blue. A normal passerby cannot even being to imagine the vastness of this place and the world that exists inside. Nevertheless here I was and Tenzin's first question for me was, "So where would you like to start from?" Surprisingly, I didn't know what and where did I even want to begin because the moment I entered there were just so many things already cropping up in my mind.
Kangyur, Tengyur and Lobsang
My first stop was a book store run by Lobsang Tharchen for the last 30-35 years. What caught my attention were the red rectangular books at this book shop. Tenzin, an absolute gentleman explained the purpose of my visit to almost everyone in the shop. "Ask me whatever you want but let me tell you that won't be of much help" and this was said in fractured Hindi and a huge smile but good enough for me to understand.
Lobsang, like Tenzin was also born and raised in India and has never seen his motherland Tibet. I ask him about the various books that were kept in a specific order and some were numbered too. "These are all Domang, as we call them in Tibetan language. The big one that you see is Kangyur and the other ones are called Tengyur but beyond that I won't be able to help, you need to speak to a lama to get more information" he said. Besides the Kangyur and the Tengyur there were many other books stacked up and numbered that Lobsang explained that these were books which had specific prayers in them taken from either the Kangyur or the Tengyur. Lobsang picked up a book from the stack and started to explain how the various prayers have been picked up from the main religious books to pray for a particular reason or an ailment. While all this happened I noticed Tenzin buying a book and before we even left the shop, he said "this is for you". And when I looked at the table Tenzin had presented me with book that would help me learn Tibetan language, a very welcoming gesture.
An Art Galore
As we explored further into the narrow yet extremely colourful lanes of MT. Small shops, workshops really, covered the lanes one after the other making Silver items. I stopped at one such shop run by Subhash. He learnt this art at a young age and has been running this shop for around 3 to 4 years. Originally a Nepali, Subash along with his business partner Raj both learnt the art of carving silver into beautiful pieces of craft back in Nepal. They were making Ting and Chukun while I was there. Rajesh proudly showed and told me that ting is used to keeping water during puja and Chukun is used by the Tibetans as a diya holder. "It is mostly bought by the Tibetans living here" Rajesh told me.
Tenzin gave me a running commentary about small things that I otherwise would have totally ignored, like the carom board competition going on my left. "This is a regular feature every day" he said. "People here are very friendly and accommodating, if you want you can just sit next to them watching and before you know it, you'll probably be playing as one of the tem members" he added more. But I sort of turned down the offer but watched all the excitement from a distance, careful not to disturb the players.
Shopping at MT
As I walked out, my attention was caught by a small shop (only from outside) whose walls were covered with colourful Thankgas and one wall dedicated to H.H. Dalai Lama. Gylasten was taking his afternoon nap when we entered and of course he was happy to see Tenzin as I could make out that they definitely knew each other. Gyalsten, has been running this shop for the last three year. He however, does not know much about the history or the technique of the Thankga paintings. Communication can be a bit of a concern at MT, and I was thankful that Tenzin was there to willingly help translate for me and for Gyalsten. "He does not paint the Thankgas, he only buys them from lamas from various monasteries and gives them a finishing look" translates Tenzin. "The silk that we use come from Hong Kong and Varanasi" Glaysten manages to say in his broken English. I asked him how much can a Thankga cost, to which he looks at Tenzin, as he starts to rattle in his mother tongue only to say that it can be anything between Rs.6, 000 to Rs 100,000 and more, but it all depends on the kind of work done on the Thankga.
Apart from the Thankgas, I really fancied the book covers made out of pure silk in all sizes and colours to keep religious books. I actually bought a couple of them, to give my books a Tibetan feel, well at least from the outside.
I had heard somewhere that Tibetan medicine has some secrets of its own. To find the answers to the many questions that I had, I was now sitting in the waiting lobby of the Man-Tsee-Khang MT, Branch. The Men-Tsee-Khang is a charitable, cultural and educational institution of H.H. the Dalai Lama. Here I met, Dr. Tenzin Zompa, a young doctor who had recently finished her medical degree and has ever since been with this institution, helping the research department. Dr. Tenzin told me that like ayurveda in India, Tibetan medicine, too, relies upon the three doshas in the body, namely, the vata, kapha and pita (lung-tipa-pheken respectively in Tibetan) and when there is imbalance in any of these doshas, disease is the answer. In Tibetan medicine we are taught that the main cause of disease is Ignorance which is built because of attachment (vata), hatred (pitha) and obscuring (kapha).
But to cure these ailments, Tibetan medicine follows a crucial combination of 98 per cent herbs and two per cent mineral based medicines. Detoxified mercury is also used in various Tibetan medicines.
It was 4:00 pm by the time we left the Tibetan clinic and I was famished by now. I had heard from one of my friends back in college that the food at MT is simply to die for, well now was the time to test it.
Tenzin took me to Tee Dee restaurant which is apparently one of the most old and popular one in MT. A fact proved by the number of occupied tables in the restaurant. Since I knew nothing about Tibetan food, I gladly let Tenzin order. In about 15 minutes I was served with Tingmo ( round Tibetan bread made of flour) along with a non-vegetarian stew which tasted as delicious as its aroma with a fruit beer.
Tibetan food for years only meant, Momos and Thukpa, I for once was happy to try something different. "You should try the butter tea, it's absolutely delicious" he said while bit