Location: Dharamsala

Today was a day of celebration. Much to our dismay (or at least my dismay), we started our day an hour earlier than usual to get to the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration on time. Today the Dalai Lama turned 80 and even though he’s currently in America, the whole day was filled with celebrations in his honor. At 8:30 we meet with our learning partners and walked down to Tsuklakhang, the Dalai Lama’s temple, and attempted to get seats in the already filled pavilion. We had to wait for a while for the festivities to start. However, we passed the time by talking to our learning partners about the holiday and various aspects of Buddhism. A lot of us also got introduced to our learning partner’s friends which was a lot of fun. We then enjoyed the ceremony which included many performances from TCV, the local school, speeches commemorating the Dalai Lama and traditional Tibetan dance. It was an amazing celebration, and I feel so lucky that we were able to experience it. The celebration also stood as somewhat of a testament to Tibetan culture; in the face of Chinese oppression they are still celebrating their culture and leader and try to keep the Tibetan traditions alive.   After the celebration, we all meet for a delicious Indian lunch-all the Tibetan restaurants were closed today in honor of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. After lunch, came our much-anticipated scavenger hunt. We randomly drew teams- Allie and I on one team, Bryn and Julia on another, and John, Uttam, and Maddie on the third team. We were given a (very long) list of things to do in Dharamsala that ranged from taking a picture with two cows to singing and dancing to a Hindi song with a local. Suffice to say, Allie and I did not do well at the scavenger hunt. We were hopelessly looking for information, and most of the people we stopped to talk to did not speak English. It was all very frustrating but also extremely fun. We walked back to Common Ground just making our 4 pm deadline (which was impressive for the girls who are always late) hoping that the other groups struggled as much as we did. It turns out they didn’t as both groups got almost all the answers and had time to stop for coffee. Allie and I lost very badly with Uttam, John, and Maddie emerging victorious. We did get to ride in a rickshaw for the first time though, so it was somewhat of a consolation prize.    We had a bit of time after the scavenger hunt, so Maddie led a forum about the importance of volunteering at home vs. abroad. It was a really interesting topic, and everyone had varying opinions. Luckily, we all agreed that the most important part of volunteering was making a difference no matter where in the world you are. We then trekked to the Tibetan Performing Arts center to attend a concert put on by students for a Free Tibet in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s birthday. The concert was a lot of fun, and we all enjoyed the traditional Tibetan performances. We then had a delicious dinner of Chinese food and sleepily walked down the 300 steps to get some rest for our second week of service.