The Lion Man of Dharamsala

Leaflet: “Lion Man live show. Tibetan dancer and Himalayan Celebrity. The story of his journey from Tibet. Snow lion traditional song and dance. Yongling Kindergarten School. 100rps. We appreciate your support for local artists”

When an eccentrically dressed young Tibetan who called himself ‘Lion Man’, handed my boyfriend and I a leaflet asking us to support local artists by attending a performance in a local primary school, we couldn’t refuse. Tracing his journey from Tibet to India across the Himalayas, this traditional song and dance containing an alleged ‘Himalayan celebrity’ had all the promise of being our most culturally rewarding experience yet.

On arrival at the school, perched perilously on the side of a hill, we took our seats next to about twelve other travellers. The five rows of crudely laid planks of wood for seats, in a classroom hand painted with animals, set the scene for what we assumed might be an endearing collaboration between the local school children (who were excitedly gathered at the front) and the self made ‘celebrity’ we had met earlier.

A brief introduction detailing his arduous journey into exile with his family a few years previously, was followed by profuse appreciation for supporting his work and his lifelong ambition to be a performer, and applause from the child-strong audience opened the show.

Dressed in a traditional Tibetan outfit, the first half of the performance involved renditions of a couple of his favourite Tibetan songs…but from the moment he swung his first limb to the music, it was almost impossible to stifle the laughter; a problem that to my surprise, only two other people in the audience seemed to have. Wracked with guilt for laughing at a twenty-five year old dancing as if he were only five, we sat face down to avoid any more bouts of giggling; after all, this performance was inspired by his tough road into exile and dedicated to his family. Not a laughing matter.

With minor stomach cramps and bleary eyes, we awaited the second half, hoping our ‘mad half hour’ was over. At this point all the children at the front were ushered out. Was this the point at which they made their debut?

Far from it. This next part began with a little audience participation. Having shed his traditional outfit to favour a burgundy velvet jacket and bright yellow star glasses, he swept into the audience and plucked out a very reluctant middle aged woman. What he did to her was fairly tame in comparison to what came later on. Pulling and pushing her around the room to music, she fell over to awkward laughter from the audience, who were both relieved at escaping embarrassment themselves and confused as to what was actually going on. After being pushed on the floor a few too many times, she ran back to her seat, just before the Lion Man stalked out his next victim…her husband! He was forced to the floor while the Lion Man lay on top, arms outstretched in a swimming motion. Then came a girl who was nearly strangled with her own scarf as the Lion Man tied their necks together, swinging her round in the air. This part genuinely looked painful as she gasped for air, wriggled free and ran back to her seat. It was the sudden realisation that no one in the audience was to escape such a trauma, that caused the number of spectators to rapidly diminish, as people literally ran out of the door. Curious as to what might follow, we remained seated.

A few minutes later it was my turn. I was lifted up by a hand that appeared between my legs as he forced his head into the neck of my t-shirt. He then proceeded to tangle my hair into a nest-like creation, giving me a black eye in the process. My boyfriend had his t-shirt pulled open and the Lion Man’s teeth sunk into his neck, before being lifted up and ran into all four of the classrooms concrete walls. The couple next to us were clawed in the backside, bitten and thrown around. This is when we made our escape.

The pair who had been sitting next to us bravely stayed the duration and we found out later that evening exactly what had become of the traditional dance. After we left, the Lion Man took off his sunglasses and his top, and began to dance to some ‘not so traditional’ trance music. He ran into walls with wooden benches pressed to his stomach, shoved his glasses up his nostrils, not to mention a few other details that probably aren’t all that appropriate, before bidding farewell to the stragglers left in the audience by biting them one final time.

After the show he went for dinner with the only two people left in the audience. When asked about his performance that night he claimed that he was oblivious to all that he did and that the in moment he does whatever pops into his head. In the past he has been assaulted for his fairly unorthodox practices, but he said it his mission is to give people something to laugh at, a bit of fun and in hindsight (with my guilt relieved), it was one of the most memorable and bizarre nights of my life, and most certainly one of the highlights of my trip. So if you ever find yourself in McLeod Ganj and don’t mind a bit of a physical encounter with a lion, find out about the show as it’s sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Claudia Baxter

2 Comments on this post.
  • chriz
    31 August 2012 at 10:00
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    When I saw the Lion Man the first time in Goa, Arambol going crazy on the beach. I thought he is one of this wasted acid freaks. But then I met him in Mc Leod Ganj again and saw his show. It is pure freedom what he is performing. Just beeing himself, dont mind what others think about. We can learn alot from this spirit. Tsering you are a legend! Hopefully one day you will get the chance to perform around the world and spread your vibe!

  • Stephanie Anjos
    27 April 2015 at 02:37
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    I saw him last night. Full house. I left speechless. Or girl got a bloody nose, one guy a finger in the butt, some people had their feet sucked and he banged a metal bowl on his head for ten painful minutes..

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