Bir: Boom Town

Here are the photos of local Indian houses, and even a laundry with actual washing machines (unheard of in this neck of the woods), that I had intended to post yesterday, but which Rinpoche’s hat and the weather deflected from its original publishing date and has now become today’s offering.

The last picture in the series is of a kind of stile that’s been built into a new wall. It must look ordinary to many of you, but honestly, it’s something I never imaged I’d ever see here. Usually clambering over impossible, dirty and even dangerous objects is par for the course up here in the mountains. But the locals are becoming more and more savvy as they accumulate wealth and experience, so stiles and such like are now on their radars. I have mixed feeling about it all. At the same time, though, this stile is rather lovely… as stiles go.



Rinpoche wore a very distinctive hat last night, which I immediately canned to add to the huge collection of hat portraits I now have of him. Two of the best are today’s offering for my fellow obsessive-compulsive Khyentse addicts. I had lined up a wonderful array of colourful local Indian houses to show you, but it’s a miserable grey and rainy morning her, which makes the sunny photos on my computer screen seem somehow inappropriate. I doubt you’ll lose any sleep over having that particular post delayed, though, given the subject of the substitute…


Things are changing fast around here. I’ve noticed more this visit than any other. For example, a bridge has been built over a small river that we used to have to cross by jumping from stone to stone. I took a photo in 2007 of the un-bridged river and another last week and it’s really difficult to believe it’s the same place.

The Himachalis are becoming more prosperous by the minute. Houses are being built, more animals acquired, more poxy cars, of course, and inevitably more people. The changes are unstoppable, so there’s no point regretting them. But I’d miss the rice steppes if they were to disappear. They’re not being threatened quite yet—at least I don’t think they are. But we’re already eating imported Chinese rice, even though we live surrounded by rice fields, so who can tell what’s going to happen.

(I’ve also added a another picture from OT Rinpoche’s party, for those who care nothing for bridges…)

Our Indian Neighbours

If you climb the steps in the new wall behind Khyentse Labrang, and turn left, you suddenly find yourself in northern India (as opposed to the Tibetan refugee colony, which in some ways is a different country altogether). Some of Rinpoche’s neighbours still live in traditional mud huts, but even those who have built themselves concrete boxes continue to surround themselves with children and birds and animals.

Whereever there is a cow, there are also neatly flatten cow pats drying in the sun that are destined to be burnt to warm the now very chillly nights. The brilliantined cocks rarely crow at day break, but after lunch they can’t seem to help themselves! Perhaps Indians cocks suffer sunstroke?

Yesterday I walked that way an hour or so before dusk (or what passes for dusk in this part of the world) and as the light was being extremely generous, managed to bag a few goodies.

Munish’s Chat Corner

Here’s a photo Penelope conceived and took of me and Tara standing by a fast food stand on the main drag of Bir colony. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that weren’t actually ‘chatting.’ The dead give-away is that our lips aren’t moving. And Tara doesn’t wave her hands around like that unless she’s intoxicated (!)  But I love this photo! Thank you Penelope.

OT Rinpoche’s 61st Birthday Party

Before I start writing about the party itself, I must first apologise for the quality of the photos. I don’t know what got into me. It wasn’t as if I drank anything (not even water), but try as I might, it seems I was incapable of dealing with my camera’s settings. Why then am I posting so many? The thing is I promised Philip and Andreas that I would, so I’m afraid we’ll all have to make do with what I’ve got.

OT Rinpoche is a very generous party host. Delicious food and drinks never ceased flowing, which was just as well because the the entire Bir Tibetan colony had been invited, and quite a number of westerners gatecrashed. Nevertheless, all were made welcome and well-fed and watered.

The flies in the ointment on these occasions are always the guests. Everyone attending these kinds of do is usually so fixated on the guests of honour—the Rinpoches—that noone ever really gets down to any serious partying. People stand in queues, eat, and hunt for chairs, all of which keeps them busy as they wait for ‘something’ to happen. In the process, they forget all about enjoying themselves. By the way, the ‘something to happen’ of choice is usually that one or other of the Rinpoche’s raises a hand, or speaks a word or two, smiles, or, best of all, laughs out loud. So the focus of the evening tends to be a little one-sided.

How can I describe the entertainment? Difficult. Very difficult. Of course, OT Rinpoche had nothing whatsoever to do with the spontaneous floor show that we were treated to, but he seemed to engage a little with one or two of the earlier acts. A girl from New Zealand, for example, performed an arresting Maori dance right at the beginning, but after that things degenerated at a rate of knots. Songs were offered, but I feel uncomfortable even considering afixing the verb ‘sing’ to many of the ‘happenings’. Ditto ‘dance’ and ‘perform.’ A number of contributors certainly appeared to be attempting some version of those activities, yet the results were… well, indescribable.

At these affairs, it’s always hard to know whether the Rinpoches really enjoyed themselves or not. Last night they sat in white plastic garden chairs and maintained a fairly formal front: Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche sat between Dilgo Khyentse’s Yangsi on his left and Dudjom Yangsi on his right, then a little off to his right, OT Rinpoche sat with Thartse Khen Rinpoche. Dzongsar Khyentse often beamed broadly, but for no apparent reason.

Generally, though, there was a great deal of laughter and conviviality throughout the evening, so thank you, OT Rinpoche, for your abundant hospitality. May you enjoy many, many more birthdays.


Khyentse Rinpoche has tremendous devotion for Saraswasti and keeps images of her all over the place. The statue below is the one that stands in the pagoda in his garden in Bir, and I love her.

Yesterday afternoon I found another image of Saraswasti as I walked through Bir, one that I’ve never seen before. Truth to tell, it was a grey and uninspiring day, until I happened upon the local school. Since I was last here, they’ve had an image of Saraswasti painted on their wall, which is extremely appropriate given she’s the goddess of knowledge and the arts.

Lessons are usually conducted outside, so the teacher, a middle-aged man with glasses and a very kindly face, sat on one of those ghastly white plastic garden chairs that you find all over the world, surrounded by a dozen or so children, most standing, some sitting, and all of them happily listening to whatever it was he was saying.

Rather rudely, I thought in retrospect, I poked my camera through the bars of the gate to grab a quick shot of Saraswasti. Of course, all the children saw me and, with the permission of their patient teacher, immediately rearranged themselves into a neat line so that they too could have their photo taken. It hadn’t been my intention to immortalize them, but honestly, who could resist?