The sun rises over the mountain and another day of filmmaking in India begins. This is life at the monastery and university complex of the Drikung Buddhist order in the hills above Dehradun.
On the roof of the little house behind the temple, surrounded by red flowers, I do a little yoga, then read on the porch in the sun, waiting for Rigyal Rinpoche to come.
Rigyal is our liaison; he guides us around, sets up our interviews, and introduces us to top people. He is a good friend of Core of Culture, the dance preservation organization, which is our sponsor.
He is also a reincarnate lama, a liberated being who returns to earth lifetime after lifetime to help ease the suffering of the world. Rigyal is 28 and very handsome, dashing in fact. He rides a Royal Enfield motorcycle, listens to hip hop music, loves horror movies, works out at the gym, and carries an iPhone.
Each day we interview master dancers and teachers; interviews are held in the temples, beneath giant golden Buddhas.
Most of the people I interview answer in Ladakhi (Rigyal asks my questions); not knowing what they are saying, I drop my attachment to getting a good interview and simply sit, enjoying the cadence and rhythm of their speech, the movement of their hands, their smiles, and the shining light in their eyes.
One afternoon we interview two nuns. There are very few nuns who dance. They were very shy; we were told at first it was likely they would not consent to the interview, but when we returned the following day they agreed, thanks to Rigyal.
Everywhere we are treated like VIPs, taken straight to the abbots, directors and head teachers, given personal tours.
We have even received a letter of introduction from the leader of the Drikung order (who has much of the same prominence, minus the political role, as the Dalai Lama), which we will carry with us in Ladakh.
On the last afternoon of our shoot I sit on a cushion at the back of the temple during puja while fifty monks chant and play horns, drums and cymbals for 3 straight hours, drinking tea while Rigyal downloads photos on my laptop. It is so casual. Afterwards, tending to my camera and computer gear, the building empty save a few monks sweeping up, the evening sun streaming in through the doors, I feel deeply at ease.
Our final night we tour the Songsten Library, housing one of the world’s foremost collections of Tibetan, Central Asian, and Buddhist literature.
It is past dark and the library has closed, but the library’s director gives us a personal tour. The big stone building is beautiful, the interior elegant; we could be in New York or Paris. Surrounded by banks of some of the world’s rarest and most important Buddhist scripts and scrolls, it seems we have left hectic India far behind.