Home » Seeing the Dalai Lama — and almost dying in the process

Seeing the Dalai Lama — and almost dying in the process

The liquid pouring down my face was the sign that something was wrong.

It wasn’t my aching elbow, the rocks I’d landed on, or the people shouting from the road above. It was the liquid. Blood.

“Oh my god, are you OK?” someone yelled in the darkness. I rose in a daze and stumbled over the rocks, pushing through the bushes towards the voice. My vision went blurry as I blinked blood from my eyes. I put a hand to my face and fought back a rising panic. It was dripping wet.

I continued up the slope, struggling with the steepness. My back was burning, the skin turned to shreds. Finally, I was on the road again. Shapes appeared from the darkness. “What happened?” the familiar voice asked. A flashlight shone on me and a woman gasped.

The road in the daytime

It had happened in an instant. I was walking up the mountain road after registering for the Dalai Lama’s talk. It was night, and a truck had come speeding around the corner. Blinded by its headlights, I darted to the right to avoid it. But I stepped into thin air. I fell, crashing through a tree that was hugging the mountainside. The branches smashed me in the face, but they slowed my fall. I landed in a heap on the rocks five metres below.

“Wipe yourself”, the voice said, handing me a cloth. Two girls walked past with shocked looks on their faces. The flashlight shone on my camera which I noticed was caked in blood. I pressed the cloth against my head, and then this photo was taken (possibly the happiest I’ve ever appeared):

We flagged down a passing taxi, which took me to the hospital, a short drive down the mountain. However, because this was India, there was a traffic jam. By now I was feeling dizzy. So it was with real urgency that I stumbled into the tiny hospital, only to find its corridors empty. This is like a horror movie, I thought to myself. The nurse that I eventually bumped into obviously felt the same way. She screamed, Tibetan cries filling the hall as she pointed at the trail of blood behind me.

If I was expecting sympathy, it wasn’t forthcoming. The nurse switched to English, and started yelling, “get out, no drunk people or fighting!” Feeling increasingly woozy, I recounted how I’d fallen off a cliff through my own stupidity. Suspicion still in her eyes, she pointed at a sink and told me to start cleaning.

This was the last thing I wanted to do. I put my head under the tap, gingerly wiping my scalp. The water was freezing and I recoiled, splashing blood and dirt on the floor. “You are getting it dirty!” the nurse screamed, grabbing a mop and bucket. “I’m not really in the mood for this,” I protested. She tutted and started mopping. Satisfied that the floor was clean, the nurse turned to the lesser priority — fixing me. “You do very bad job,” she complained.

I winced as she scrubbed my head, before reaching for some scissors. “No fucking way,” I cried. Knocking my hand aside, she amputated some hair. “The cut is about 1 cm deep. You only need three stitches.” “OK,” I said. Smiling, she took the needle and suture then looked me in the eyes, “and there’s no anesthetic.”

The first stitch was painless as it entered my scalp. This surprised me, as there’s not much skin on your skull, but there’s many nerves. I gritted my teeth as the second went in, feeling my head literally tighten. The third should’ve been easiest of all. It wasn’t. Nausea overtook me and all I could do was throw up. 

Finally, I got some sympathy from the nurse, who gave me an orange juice. Then it was selfie time with the stupid foreigner. “Sorry that there’s no antibiotics here”, she told me as we walked to the exit. Then I left the hospital “looking like a Jew” (her words). The total bill was 100 rupees, around £1.

I hitchhiked back up the mountain. The car rounded a bend, where countless monks were eating a late dinner. Behind them was the gates to the Dalai Lama’s temple. Provided I didn’t fall off anymore cliffs, this is where I’d be going tomorrow.

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