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Crowded City, Peaceful Mind

It’s hard to be mad in the one of the most holy and spiritual places on earth.

The Indian Himalaya crane down at you as you wind up the roads to Dharamsala. When the summer heat becomes too unbearable, Indians head north for the cooler weather, high up in the mountains. This makes for a very crowded summer vacation spot. When it’s at its most packed – during the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday Celebration – you’ll come across all types of people on the street: Tibetan monks in their crimson robes, Indian families on vacation, and tourists, who range from the hippie trekkers to the enlightenment seekers.

“Three years ago, this street was empty, and very quiet.”

But the thing about Dharamsala, is that during tourist season, the postcard tranquility of the city is gone, and the tourist influx causes more vehicles to crowd the already narrow streets like a clogged artery.

As I navigated the streets (which were more like alleyways) with my friend, Okechukwu, he told me how the city has changed since he’s last seen it.

“Three years ago, this street was empty, and very quiet.” Now, the road resembled a river of people – not enough space for a car to pass through.

And if you look at the postcards and calendars of Dharamsala, they seem to frame the city as some Tibeto-Indian escapist haven: empty and free of the bustle of the city, snowy and secluded, and the only signs of litter were the excess of prayer flags tangled in trees.

“I miss how it used to be quiet. That’s why I come walk the loop every morning.”

Okechukwu is talking about the trail that circles the Tsuglagkhang Complex, the home of the Dalai Lama, who was in town a few days ago. Just a few minutes outside of the town square, the loop takes you to a cliffside, through trees (with monkeys that swing around), complete with views of the temple. It’s a peaceful escape from the everyday noise.

Later that day, as I was walking down one of the streets and navigating my way through the throngs of people, a white taxi – that somehow made its way through the crowds – zooms from behind me and its side mirror clips my forearm – thwak!

Instinctively, I yell at the driver as he drives off: “HEY, WATCH IT!! What the hell?!”

Everyone around me sees this and glares at me, as if my reaction wasn’t normal. They were probably right. I felt shameful for cursing the taxi driver as a Tibetan monk looked at me with disappointment. I darted into the nearest bookstore to retain my anonymity.

Until recently, I never really knew why I felt so shameful.

Walking in Brooklyn with my older brother, I asked him: “Why are New Yorkers such assholes?” I was talking about how they’re known for their tough skin, and attitude towards people.

He replied: “It’s because there’s always so many people around. You walk out of your apartment and immediately, 20 people are in your face, passing you on the sidewalk.”

It’s easy to get frustrated with so many people around. When a sweaty, crowded subway is the first thing you encounter on your way home from work, the bumping, the driving, the honking, the madness of NYC transportation – al chisels away at your patience, your “political correctness.”

I think back to Dharmsala and its crowded streets. The locals there are most likely used to the masses. They probably don’t get as frustrated with them. It speaks to their way of life, and how they deal with not only a growing Tibetan refugee community, but a growing tourist culture as well. They deal with people. They’re like proto-New Yorkers.

It’s hard to be mad in a place like Dharamsala. How could you, in the home of the Dalai Lama?

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