A Big Finish in McLeod Ganj

India 2013

Sunday, March 24, 2013:

Waking up this morning, my energy has returned, even though there are still a few lingering symptoms, the details of which I will spare you. Don't know if it's my daily intake of probiotics and grapefruit seed or just a strong constitution, but my bout with Delhi Belly seems to be largely over after a mere 24 hours.

It's been raining since last evening - a real downpour; thunder crashing and lightening ripping the air - only the 3rd rain on the entire 6-week trip - so thankfully, my Sunday to-do list is a sparse one. A final lesson with Chung Den at 1:00 and the big show tonight at 6. I have no concrete idea what this show will look like, so I want to have a couple of safe bets up my sleeve. Worse comes to worst, I can always sing something by myself. I'm sure one of the Kay party could join in a jam, and probably Karma on his jambe as well. Bob Marley pops into my head for some reason. "Get Up, stand up. Stand up for your rights…" Seems appropriate enough for the situation. Only thing is, I don't know the words, or the chords. Don't you just love the internet? Googling Mr. Marley, I also come across another tune I love but don't know. Redemption Song. Perfect! I download both songs, print out the words and take them back to the room and put Palden's beautiful bright blue guitar to work.

Printout of Redemption Song lyrics. I scribbled down the chords and the main guitar riff at the top. "Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery" and sing "these songs of freedom" seem a great fit with the Tibetan story.

My dranyen lesson is on Nick's outdoor patio as usual. The rain proves prohibitive, so Chung Den & I decide to call it a day after just 10 minutes. He will not take my payment, no matter how much I insist. How do you say mensch in Tibetan?

This leaves me the day to stay in my room, listen to the rain, play Bob Marley, ease back into the whole eating thing, and generally veg out. Perfect! And now it's time for the big show.


Andrew and Delia, Jonathan and Shayna, Chung Den, Karma and I all convene at the bar of the Hotel Mountview before the show. To everyone's surprise - and disappointment - Jon has opted to not bring his tenor. He's just not into it. No biggie. We're all pretty good at rolling with the punches, and appreciate that Jon is a man who will do what's necessary to be true to himself.

We have a pre-game huddle, wherein Andrew & I - both Coltrane fans - figure we can do a version of "My Favourite Things" at some point. We have all heard Chung Den play Shiveh Khang Seng, so Andrew offers to do a solo intro on his alto sax. Better make sure Chung Den's Dranyen is in tune. D minor? O.K. Andrew will play, then Chung Den will start up the groove with dranyen, and guitar will join in. Sounds like a plan... sort of. Thank goodness we come from a jazz background, where improv is the norm.

Irene, my friend from Holland, and Deliah chat with Karma before the show. My Australian teaching mate Susan shows up, too, with a friend and one of our students. I'm disappointed that more of the students don't come. They were all invited. My guitar student, Palden is a no-show, too.

Andrew & Chung Den: Are we in tune?

Delia, myself and Andrew look on as Chung Den starts the show on his own. (Thanks to Shayna for the pics.)

The old standard "Nature Boy" works nicely as an intro to "My Favourite Things." (Well, it might have been better had it been in the same key.)

Excellent shot here of my trusty Zoom recording the whole night.

Time for us to play with Chung Den. The verb "play" is apropos here. It does feel like kids playing some imaginary game…"Andrew, you do an intro and Chung Den will start singing and playing dranyen and then I'll come in on the guitar. It'll be so cool…" It's far from a polished show, but everybody's having a great time.

Next, everyone joins in with me, singing the two Bob Marley tunes. Karma closes the night. What a fantastic time.

Karma leads is a jembe jam singalong.


After the show, we decide to go for dinner.

Irene, Shayna, Jonathan, Delia, Andrew, Me, Susan, and student-whose-name-I-keep-forgetting. What I do remember, though, is that he is a musician and the story he told of having to leave his guitar behind in Tibet.

Andrew and Jonathan have been hearing about my journey since its inception six months ago. They heard about all my plans and hopes, doubts and fears. As we are leaving the restaurant, Andrew says the nicest thing - and I won't ever forget it: "Lou, you made it. You came to India and you NAILED it!"


Monday, March 25:

The stomach is 80% back to normal this morning. The rain has stopped and I am happy to have made the sweet memories I made last night. But today's Monday, and it's time to meet up with Jimmy and hand over the goods. (In case you didn't read the previous instalment, I'm referring to a urine sample for the elusive Dr. Yeshi Dhonden.) Jimmy had said to be there at 9:00 - if I know what's good for me - and I do, so I am. He says come back at 11:30 and the Dhon will see me. 11:30 just happens to be smack in the middle of my final conversation circle, and I have plans to say a last goodbye to some friends. I feel like hitting something. A wall? Jimmy? Plus I'm supposed to check out of my room by noon and there are tons of logistics involved in that because of luggage and instruments, and a dranyen lesson at 1:00.... Anyway, I skip the class, go back at 11:30 and Jimmy greets me with "You're VERY late." I nearly fall over. So I sit in the waiting room, fuming, and finally get in to see Dr. Dhonden at 12:40. Being "in his presence" is not remarkable. However, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't know a remarkable presence if it jumped up and bit me, in the state I'm in. He checks out my urine, hands me a piece of paper and I go get my pills and run up the Jogabara Road to my dranyen lesson. Arrggghh. India. Land of ups and downs.

Dr. Yeshi Dhonden has left the building.

Speaking of ups, my last lesson with Chung Den is a great farewell. He gives me a plastic binder for my folded up papers and tells me my notes "are like gold. Very valuable." I smile and thank him, fully intending to safeguard the precious sheets of music notation and Tibetan syllables. "You take these and show Canada how to play Tibet music," he says in his broken, yet easily decipherable English. "You charge $30 for a lesson and you send me $10." He looks at me through his glasses then breaks out in a big grin that precedes an even bigger laugh.

I need cases for my instruments and he shows me up through the back streets to a little house where a man sits at an old sewing machine. He tells him in Tibetan what I need. The man says he can make them tomorrow. Tells me how much. I say I have to be on a bus at 6:00. He reluctantly agrees to help me out. The price does not go up.

My dranyen and its hand made case.

The packing is done, my suitcases are waiting in the hotel's closet behind the front desk, and there is still time for a couple of last errands. The jeweller who made Sharon's necklace is also working on something for me. I had bought a beautiful translucent, red-orange carnillion stone from the father & son stone sellers, and he's making me a bracelet. I wanted neither the look nor expense of silver or of gold, so he came up with this brilliant idea of string knotted and woven (macraméd) and then coated with a wax for firmness. Today I pick up the finished product.

My hand woven bracelet with a carnillion stone is about the size of a wristwatch.

One item on my Dharamsala bucket list is to see the rug weavers at work at the Tibetan Handicraft Centre. THC is a co-op designed to give work to the refugees and to help preserve the amazing skill-set of this unique culture. The women creating the rugs and other handicrafts seem happy in their work, and the attached sales boutique has a wonderful community spirit vibe to it.

A walk through the loom room

The final product. Tibetan Handicraft Centre offers a full shipping service for their beautiful rugs.


The all-night bus to New Delhi isn't quite as horrible as it sounds. The seats recline so completely, they might as well be beds, or so I was told by the guy who sold me the ticket. For me, the worst thing is the lack of a bathroom on the bus. Considering that I've been sick "down there" and therefore need to be drinking lots of water… And most of my fellow travellers are in their 20's with Herculean bladders, I'm not expecting a lot of sympathy if I have to ask the driver to pull over.

Big bad bus to Delhi.

The moon is rising and the sun setting as the bus descends from my now beloved town.


Waiting at the end of that bus ride is my new sitar and the woman who arranged to have it made… a long story which I will go into next chapter.

Happy reading.

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