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Any prospectors will have to contend with the trip to Dharamsala, which is winding, long and wearying.
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There are no flights in, no airport. After landing in Delhi at 10 P.
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Through my window, smeared with the coconut hair oil of previous passengers, I could make out many holes in the ground, although they seemed like the product of disrepair, rather than any stampede. A few cradled nesting sacred cows. Eight hours later, after crossing the Punjab, we reached our terminus, Jalandhar.
It was another three hours before we arrived at the foothills of the Himalayas, and Dharamsala.
TIBET was known as the ''country of medicine,'' Terry Clifford notes in her book ''Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry'' Weiser , and it doesn't take long in Dharamsala to realize that the exiles have reconstructed as much of the old country as possible. Once your eyes have adjusted to the astonishing color and sights -- monkeys perched on low-slung roofs, maroon-and-orange robed monks dodging rickshaws -- you notice the signs everywhere for medical practices: Delek Western-style hospital, Dr.
Sant Marwah Clinic. They're scattered up and down the hilly roads that lead to Men-Tsee-Khan, the sprawling white Tibetan Medical and Astrological complex that was founded in by the Dalai Lama. From our lodgings at the placid Kashmir Cottage, run by the Dalai Lama's younger brother, we could see the white prayer flags that fluttered from the roof.
The pungent smell of herbs drying, combined with the altitude, made me light-headed on our first morning's tour, through the room where our astrologers filled orders for star charts, through the clinic where nuns and students lined up beside a condom dispenser for free consultations, in the plain, sea-green ward where six men lay on cots. One's eyes were yellow with hepatitis. Another, a boy who had recently escaped from Tibet, was shaking with abdominal pain.
The tour ended in Mr. Dorjee's office. On the computer behind him, three ovals with the Dalai Lama's face swirled on the screen saver. We talked about how knockoff artists were peddling bootleg ''precious pills,'' the highly valued Tibetan mixtures of as many as herbs and minerals, including gold.
To try and thwart them, Men-Tsee Khan had begun stamping all containers with holograms of the myroban plant, Mr.
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Dorjee said. He pulled out a notebook fat with requests from drug and vitamin companies. So far, one pharmaceutical firm, Padma A. Otherwise, ''We say, 'Send us proposal,' '' he said. On the way out, we met with Tenzin Choedrak, the Dalai Lama's current personal physician. Choedrak, 73, was stooped and looked frail. He had a cauliflower nose, bunched and flat. For 22 years, he had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese.
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After he escaped, he lectured about how he had survived psychologically. We spoke briefly, then made plans to meet the next morning for a medical consultation. We arrived at 9. Outside, children shrieked in the courtyard.
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Inside, the air smelled like cloves. From his daybed, Dr.
Choedrak motioned me to sit, clasped my wrist. His voice was shaky, but the pressure of his fingers on my wrist was surprisingly firm. No sweet, no sour, no meat, the interpreter informed me, before handing over packets of herbs, including one that contained six silk-wrapped precious pills. Your hemoglobin is low. At Sloan Kettering, they'd just recently detected mild anemia.
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In context, the experience was impressive. But later I found myself reflecting on whether Tibetan medicine could be transported out of context, to the United States. One night we had dinner with Jempa Kalsan, the center's senior astrologer. But the differences between East and West became most apparent to me one afternoon during a conversation with Nawang Dorjee, a Fulbright scholar, director of education at the Tibetan Children's Village in Dharamsala, and an old friend of my travel mate's from her Tibetan Refugee Project days.
Dorjee up on her life, ''I went to a Tibetan doctor. Dorjee, who is not related to Tseten Dorjee, said, smiling. Start praying.