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Day 36: Dharamsala and McLeodganj

McLeodganj, India 
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Tibet in India. Hanging prayer flags out near the Namgyal Monastery at McLeodganj. Flags should be hung in exposed places so the wind can blow the prayers up to the gods.
Michael Palin - HimalayaIn the crush, I lose sight of the crew and find myself at the bottom of a wide flight of stairs, with everything apparently going on above me. Then, out of the melee, the Dalai Lama appears, descending the stairs on the arms of two assistants. I step back out of the way but my retreat is blocked by a crash barrier, so I just bow my head and try to look invisible.

As he comes down off the steps I notice that the set gaze with which he intoned the prayers earlier has gone and he's looking around him with an animated smile, seemingly delighted to make eye contact. A few feet away from me he stops, looks over in my direction and waves. I cast a quick look behind me, but there's no-one there. I look back and he's waving again, almost as if he'd seen an old friend. I take one last quick look round then walk forward and shake his hand. I seem to have done the right thing, as he beams at me and, behind heavy dark spectacle frames, his eyes sparkle.

I mutter something about looking forward to talking to him later in the week. He nods, squeezes my hand and looks at me again in that pleased-to-see-you sort of way before moving on. The crowd, temporarily halted, passes by after him and I reassume my role as man at the crash barrier.

'He probably did recognize you,' says someone as we eat breakfast on the terrace of a pretty guesthouse overlooking the monastery. 'He loves showbiz folk.'

This barbed compliment comes with little evidence other than his wearily over-quoted association with Richard Gere, who has stayed at this guesthouse and whose name appears, interestingly, among a list of sponsors of the Sulabh Public Toilets, Baths and Sanitary Complex by the temple car park. Among the other dozen or so donors listed I couldn't help noticing the name of Mae Loo.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 36: Dharamsala and McLeodganj
  • Country/sea: India
  • Place: McLeodganj
  • Book page no: 81

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