Doing business in McCleod Ganj – Mandalas

I was in McLeod Ganj, up the mountain from Dharamsala in northern India, shopping for souvenirs with some of my fellow volunteers. A huge thunderstorm had just passed through the mountainous area, felling a large tree and taking down a major power line. No electricity… anywhere. I quickly spent the cash I'd brought, disappointed that because of the outage I could not use my credit card. To pass the time, I decided to revisit the Buddhist temple, spiritual home for Tibetan refugees and residence of the Dalai Lama. The large Tibetan memorial beckoned and I tried to imagine what it would be like to be forced out of my home and country. After reflecting a bit and offering a prayer for the Tibetan community, I headed back up the mountain path along the shops to meet my companions for dinner.

One shopkeeper called out to me in a friendly voice as I walked past. "Please come in, we have many beautiful things in here!" I smiled, telling him that I had no cash with me, I only had a credit card, and kept walking. About ten yards past, something shifted inside me, and I walked back to the shop, where hand-painted Tibetan mandalas were sold. The shopkeeper had a big welcoming smile on his face, and as I reminded him I only had a credit card, no cash, he replied "no problem!"

We spent time looking at various mandalas, chatting like friends along the way, until I decided on the two I wanted. As we continued to talk, he carefully rolled each mandala, slipping them into pieces of PVC tubing to protect them, and taping the ends of the tubes. He then drew the center image from each mandala on the respective tube so I would know which was which. 

One of the greatest gifts I experience in life is connecting with people from different cultures throughout the world. I have found such warmth and hospitality wherever I travel, and this was no exception. In fact, I was having such a lovely time, I asked to capture the moment with a photo, and he readily agreed and posed with the wrapped mandalas.

Then came the bargaining, otherwise known as haggling (I prefer the term bargaining much more). As the buyer, I knew what I was willing to pay. The shopkeeper knew what he was willing to accept. So he started high and I responded with a counter offer that was much lower. He came down, I came up, he came down, I came up, and we agreed. He commented with a smile "you are very good at this" as he handed me the tubes.

Only then did he broach the manner of payment. I had assumed by his earlier response that he had a manual way of processing my credit card but that was not the case. While I stood perplexed, he said "no problem, when you get cash, you bring it to me. Tomorrow, the next day, whenever you want." I was floored by his trust, and immediately and deeply humbled by the circumstances when he told me that because of the electrical outage, business had been very slow, and that this was the first purchase of the day. He added that right before he called out to me, he had asked in prayer that someone would come into the shop. And he felt very blessed that I had come in. I told him that he had made my day, that I was so glad to have met him and that I would be able to borrow money from my friends and come back to pay him soon.

As I left with my purchase, I took a picture of him outside the shop so I wouldn't have trouble finding it later. Trusting that it would be so, as soon as I reached the central market area I saw two friends who were able to lend me money. I returned down the mountainside to the smiling shopkeeper, paid for the mandalas, and thanked him again for his trust, wishing him success as I left. I headed back up the mountainside for dinner with a smile on my face, lightness in my heart and fullness in my spirit.

I was the one who was truly blessed.