By Ethan Colbert
The morning of December 28, started out just like any other ordinary day for James Saucier.
Tired from his flight into New Dehli, India, the night before, the 38-year-old Bowling Green resident woke up, showered and dressed for breakfast. As he awaited the arrival of a ham and goat cheese omelet, his mind raced as he prepared a list of places that he was hoped to see on his first official day of vacation in New Delhi, India.
He knew he wanted to see the Taj Mahal, the last of the world’s seven wonders that Saucier has visited.
Beyond that Saucier said he was just content to explore the city, which is home to more than 21 million people, according to last census.
“I wanted to go to India to complete my tour of the seven wonders of the world, but also because I wanted to have that cultural experience,” Saucier said in an interview last week. “I didn’t want a typical vacation. I wanted to have a vacation where it would feel like an adventure.”
Shortly after his omelet arrived, Saucier said a member of the staff at the Marriot Hotel announced that they needed to conduct a security sweep through the breakfast lounge before a distinguished guest arrived.
Saucier said he had no objections to the security sweep and continued to strategize his day of sightseeing.
It was only when the hotel staff informed him that the distinguished guest was none other than Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, that Saucier’s thoughts of sightseeing were forgotten.
“One minute I was having an omelet and then the next minute I learn that I am going to be sitting face-to-face with the Dalai Lama,” Saucier said. Gyatso, 82, was named as the successor to the 13th Dalai Lama in 1940. He would not officially take up the position until November 17, 1950. In 1959, the Dalai Lama and others fled from Tibet into India, which has granted him political asylum. As an expatriate, Gyatso has led the Tibetan resistance movement, which consists primarily of non-violent protests.
All of this information flooded into Saucier’s consciousness as he watched as the sliding doors of the elevator opened and out walked Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. For the people of the Buddhist faith and for the people of Tibet, the Dalai Lama is seen as the spiritual leader of the Buddhist faith and the leader of a unified, independent Tibet nation. Currently, the Chinese government occupies portions of Tibet.
According to Saucier, the Buddhist leader visited with several other diners before joining Saucier for breakfast.
“When he sat down, our conversation began much like it would with someone who you meet on an airplane,” Saucier said. “He kind of led the conversation, because I couldn’t really believe it was actually him. I had seen him on the news so many times and I have heard so many of his speeches, that my mind just couldn’t actually believe that I was seeing him in person.”
The local resident said the Dalai Lama sought to get to know Saucier.
“He asked me all sorts of questions about where I was from, about what I did for a living, why was I in India, and where I was going,” Saucier said. “Then he told me a little bit about himself and how his initiatives and his global outreach for human rights. He told me he was on his way to New York City to speak at the United Nations’ General Assembly.”
By the end of the conversation, Saucier said he found the Dalai Lama to be both genuine and down-to-earth. He also felt the conversation had evolved from the type of conversation you have with a stranger on an airplane to the kind of conversation you have with a longtime friend at MeMe’s or another local restaurant.
“I just saw him that day as a normal person, because that is how our conversation was — incredibly normal,” Saucier said. While Saucier’s and Gyatso’s paths did not cross again during Saucier’s 18-day stay in India, the local resident said it ranks as one of the top five experiences that he would never forget.
“Once, when I was in Rome, I got very close to the Pope,” Saucier said. “I have meet quite a few political figures, including two U.S. Presidents. It ranks right up there with meeting a U.S. President.”
Saucier said the experience of meeting Gyatso also fuels his passion for traveling.
“I’m always up for an adventure,” Saucier said.