Browsing Tag


Asia, Destinations

The Dalai Lama and a Palm Reader all in the same day

November 20, 2012 • By

Today, we explored Dharamshala, the residence and headquarters of the Dalai Lama. It’s located in a village called McLeodGanj about 10 minutes (9 kilometers) up a winding mountainside deeper into the heart of the Himalayas to visit Upper Dharamshala and the Dalai Lama’s Monastery.

After some confusion about security and handing over our phones, cameras and wallets to our guide, Jill and I walked into what looked like an open-air musical theater to find 1,000 people sitting crossed legged with radios and earphones listening to a blaring Tibetan voice. The Dalai Lama himself addressed the group of followers in a morning session. To say that we were surprised is one thing; to say we were in disbelief is quite another. We had to ask some astute Americans if it was really the Dalai Lama speaking. He spoke in Tibetan so we could not understand but we later learned he was addressing a Mongolian delegation. We walked the perimeter of the Monastery to get a better view and monks of all ages were lined up in rows 10 feet deep. When I spoke to the other American participant, I said, ” I cannot believe I am visiting when the Dalai Lama is here.” She declared, “It’s not a coincidence it’s fate.” I appreciate fate!

In 1949, China invaded Tibet and more than 1 million Tibetans perished as a result of the inhumane actions of the Communist Chinese government. There were another 100,000 Tibetans who fled through the snow covered Himalayas to find refuge in India. Dharamshala, a Tibetan settlement, started in 1959 when the Prime Minister of India allowed the Dalai Lama and his followers to settle there. Why Dharamshala? It’s far enough away from the Chinese border to avert the Chinese from invading to capture the Dalai Lama and it’s an area similar to the landscape of Tibet – lush vegetation and mountain setting. There are six million Tibetans living throughout the world but many residing in Tibet are suffering under Chinese rule. They are tortured, starved and denied the right to practice Buddhism or even live freely. Approximately 10,000 refugees live in the Dharamshala area today.

Introduced in the 7th Century on the Indian subcontinent, Buddhism is based on teachings of the Buddha. It’s essentially the study of knowledge and wisdom and is an offshoot of Hinduism. The Dalai Lama is the 14th spiritual head of Buddhism and it is said that the next Dalai Lama has already been chosen or he/she has come to light but it’s being kept hidden to avoid attention from the Chinese Government. Our guide hinted that many think it could be a woman. In earlier times, the first-born son proudly devoted himself to Buddhism but that has changed and it depends on the family. A child can start to study Buddhism as young as age four or six and both girls and boys are studying the practice.

Jill and I decided to return for the Dalai Lama’s “teachings” address later in the afternoon. His presence absolutely fascinated us and inspired us to delve deeper but first we went shopping. It was a very spiritual trip after all. We managed to buy a total of seven scarves and a few trinkets of jewelry. Jill did her best to bargain but in the end, I am confident the storeowner won and our guide made a hefty commission. I later felt a tinge of guilt when I asked about salaries and realized we spent our guide’s annual salary in one hour.

The Dalai Lama’s teaching for the day was called, The Essence of Refined Gold. He carefully explained the path to enlightenment offering advice on meditation, the mind, reason and logic and the variables of an afterlife. By this time, we had purchased the radios and listened intently to the English translation. The floor was cold, the Monastery packed with followers yet the one-hour and a half teaching was a profound experience. While I wasn’t quite able to quiet my mind from wandering, I sincerely appreciated the intelligence and the meaning behind his words. To see the Dalai Lama in the flesh 35 feet from where we stood was mind-boggling.

There were followers from all over the world on the streets of Dharamshala and in the Monastery to get a glimpse and hear the words of the Dalai Lama. People speaking a multitude of languages crowded in shops and stood on stairs. Monks from Bangladesh (dressed in yellow and orange) and the Indian/Tibetan monks (dressed in red and gold) attended the teachings and wandered the alleyways of Dharamshala (and I tried very hard to snap photos of as many of them as possible).

It goes without saying that Jill and I were emotionally drained by the experience which prompted us to go shopping AGAIN but this time to a store where the proceeds benefitted the Tibetan children except for the store where Jill bought another scarf. It’s cold here.

We were clearly pushing our luck with good fortune but we ended our sightseeing with an impulsive trip to a Palm Reader. While I will preserve Jill’s privacy, I am of course completely going to spill the beans on my reading. The “Reader” indicated that I am jealous, egotistical, a loner and in poor health (heart and digestive problems). My lines are not clearly defined and therefore hard to read. The reader had to use my birthdate and time of birth as a backup since he could not get much information off my hands. He said I am not focused and that I need to consult many people before I make a decision (shocker). I am quickly irritated and I anger easily (no really). The good news is that I have a lot of enthusiasm and that something good is going to come of my life at age 39 or 40. The better news is that in three weeks I will actually be 39. Oh and for yet a bigger surprise like the biggest ever I am very emotional.

Off to Amritsar on the Pakistani border to witness the changing of the guard tomorrow and while every child should listen to their mother mine wants me to be very mindful where I walk because I may get crazy and start hiking into the Pakistani mountains and be captured by the rebels. I think that is a grand idea then I could make an appearance on the View in two months after Bill Clinton (and who knows maybe even Hillary) rescue me.

(More pictures tmrw)

Asia, Destinations

Musical Melodies

November 19, 2012 • By

We left Delhi for Dharamshala on Monday flying to Jammu, which is a city very close to the Kashmir and Pakistani border. Jammu was a scene right from the moment we disembarked. The porter demanded 200 rupees, the driver was nowhere to be found and when we finally started moving, we drove through cows sitting on piles of garbage, dilapidated store fronts and cars, trucks and people everywhere. To avoid any further attention, I covered my hair and put on sunglasses and no I was not going for the Marilyn Monroe look but rather the demure conservative leave me alone appearance. For about two hours, I didn’t know if we were driving through a time warp or just a bad dream. What type of crazy person visits India?

We passed through “town” after town and most of them consisted of a fruit and vegetable stand, a cement store; tire shop and a motorcycle/auto repair shop. If you saw the roads, you would understand these folks must be smart businessmen. Tires are a booming business.

Dehli to Dharamshala

The soothing sounds of the horns beep beep followed by B-E-E-P made me appreciate my mother and her snoring. In the latter case, my hearing would no longer be impaired and I would not be in an insane asylum chirping honk honk…honk honk honk. I wondered if the cars, trucks and motorcycles buzzing by were trying to play a musical melody instead of drive me insane. While we are on the topic of the roads, there was the occasional request for drivers to “obey traffic rules” and I gathered that meant playing a game of asteroids as our driver was pretty steady down the middle of the road and while Jill read her book in the backseat, I found myself dodging cars, cows, motorbikes and potholes with my shoulders in the front seat.

Our driver also made a few stops along the 5-hour route to Dharmshala:

  1. to smoke
  2. we guessed something about his phone but he was given a wad of money
  3. for the pharmacy and another wad of money (I later looked through his bag and found he did indeed buy antibiotics)

After the third time he got out of the car, Jill says, “he must be some kind of runner.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I was sort of wishing we were running from him. We did get pulled over for the third time in three days so being the optimist that I am, I am going to believe that the drivers in India just need lots of cash to pay off the cops.

It was actually quite an adventure and I saw more of the countryside than I would have seen at any other point. I also want to point out a few other things I noticed. The men are out and about in the shops and on the streets but the women are rarely seen. The women all over India dress in traditional sarees and tunics while the men are in modern dress. The other interesting fact is men are all very safety conscious wearing helmets on their motorbikes but NOT one woman is wearing a helmet. Why? Women are prohibited from covering their heads. Go figure that one.

On our last stop before reaching Dharmshala, I used the bathroom (for those who know me this is an hourly occurrence) but as you can imagine the facilities are rather grim and it’s a ceramic hole in the ground. Well midstream my sunglasses fell into the “toilet” and I had to make the decision to love them or leave them. Since I realized I am in the middle of nowhere, I reached to the ground and dug them out and I am still washing my hands five hours later. A girl has to do what a girl has to do.

At Grace Cottage

At Grace Cottage

Before my mother has a stroke, I would like to report Jill and I arrived safely to our accommodations. The Grace Cottage is a 200-year old guesthouse high in the Himalayas (Hymn-all-ya-s) where the Dali Lama is a refugee and 10,000 Buddhist monks reside. There are still horns and still garbage but it’s as if we are parallel with the horizon. The monkeys are swinging from the treetops and electrical wires and the sacred cows are doing what they do best – grazing. The mountaintops soar beyond the clouds and the air is crisp, cool and clean. There is a distinct mix of Tibetan and Indian cultures manifested in the faces of the people and the languages on the street.

Yesterday, we learned about spirituality and recognizing the presence of one’s body beyond the physical being (born out of Hinduism). Tomorrow, we will learn to appreciate peace and nature and Buddhism. I learned more about India on my car ride than I have ever learned in a book.

Good night. My friends the mosquitoes are still alive at 20,000 feet so I must return to my room.

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