My first week in India brought me to the heart of Tibetan culture. Not quite how I imagined India but one can only stand so much of the oven they call the “Punjab” before running for the Himalayas. We stayed in Upper Dharamsala, or McLeod Ganj (the exiled seat of the Tibetan government) for 10 days – 10 days of eating momos (Tibetan dumplings), attempting head stands in yoga classes, and walking the prayer flag smattered hillsides with monks, mountain dogs and Tibetan ‘lost boys’ alike.
But of course my favorite experience here involved peeing into a bottle, stashing in my purse for the day and throwing elbows with some Indian ladies; luckily mine were bonier and well-placed. In other words, I went to go see a traditional Tibetan doctor. This doctor, was not just any doctor though! No, he is known as the best traditional Tibetan doctor and people from Nepal, Kazakhstan, and all over India travel weeks to see him; for three minutes. That is how long he spends with you but remarkably this is all he needs. With years of practice and thousands of bottles of pee passing hands, this and a pulse test equals a spot on diagnosis. When you do first hand over your pee bottle – which by the way is not just any pee. It specifically needs to be the first of THAT morning and mid-stream – Dr. Choephel Kalsang takes it outside and holds it, in all it’s lightly yellowed glory, up to the bright afternoon sunlight. Clarity and colour inspected, he then removes the cap and takes a deep suck of air from the belly of the bottle. Sniff test concluded, he drains it down the sink and watches it for movement and flow. Then he returns, with pleasantly direct eye contact, to take your pulse carefully with his forefinger. Following this I was gifted with a smile and “Digestive problems?”. “Yes…” I said. But who doesn’t have some digestive digression in India? What I used to term “China Belly” is now referred to as “Dehli Belly”. “Your stomach is sensitive and weak. You need to build up the good bacteria so you’re better able to fight the bad. You also need to avoid stress and tension in your life and breath deeply”. “Yes!” I said with more enthusiasm. My stomach is a shy thing that runs and hides when confronted with any loud and robust roommates. I was then given diet suggestions and 10 days worth of small, brown, round herbal pills to be chewed with each meal. They look like little balls of dung, rabbit perhaps, and taste no better. Chewing the large ones has turned into quite the embarrassing ordeal complete with twin performances of gagging and dry heaving. Neil rolls his eyes and calls me ridiculous (which is very reasonable) and my sensitive stomach twists and squirms in turn. Effective? Helpful? I’m currently undecided.
The 4 hour wait it took to see Dr. Choephel Kalsang however was in turn effective and helpful. I met a cancer patient from Boston, a rare herb seeker from L.A, a Colombian woman with kidney stones, a bloated lady from the UK and a quiet and beautiful German whose story he didn’t share. I was given a relaxing reflexology massage by a practicing student and fresh chai from a woman I didn’t know. I learned some things from these people as well.
How to crotchet simple stitches.
That Marijuana is the worst drug in a Tibetan doctors eyes. It stays in your system for months and dulls your aura to a grey shield. Heroin, cocaine and crystal meth are preferable options.
How to argue in Hindi – least bossy ladies try to cut in line again.
What rare Indian herbs are coasting a fortune in the US.
How to share 1 slice of cake between 7 people.
That foods are often shaped to model the organs they help (think walnuts-brain and kidney beans-kidneys).
That talking about the quantity and colour of pee can somehow be normal conversation.
And finally, a large quantity of appreciation for my health and well being.