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Exploring Tibetan Culture

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While in Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj recently on a holiday to celebrate togetherness and life, this May, 2019 we kept one day to explore Tibetan culture.

Mcleodganj and it’s Tibetan Connection:

It was in March 1959, when Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet against the Communist Party of China. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamshala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960. Thus McLeod Ganj became his official residence and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. Over the years, the Tibetans and local population have intermixed and one can see a peaceful co-existence.

The most important Buddhist site in the town is the Dalai Lama’s temple.  Other Buddhist and Tibetan sites in McLeod Ganj include the Namgyal Monastery, the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts,Gompa Dip Tse-Chok Ling (a small monastery), the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Gangchen Kyishong (called Gangkyi for short by Tibetans and is the premises of the Tibetan government-in-exile), Mani Lhakhang Stupa, Nechung Monastery, and Norbulingka Institute, which is 8 kilometres away. The 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, lives near Dharamshala, in Gyuto monastery in Sidhbari.

Out of these, we shortlisted Dalai Lama temple, Norbulingka Institute and Gyuto Monastery to visit.

19th May, 2019 was the day of our Tibetan exploration in Dharamshala and Mcleodganj. Our first stop was the Dalai Lama Temple. It was at the end of the local market in Mcleodganj. There was a small parking for vehicles. Our cab driver parked his vehicle little away from the temple which gave us the opportunity to walk down and be part of the locals.

The monks in their maroon and yellow robes were all around in the temple and provides a mystic touch to the surroundings for the visitors like us. The place appears to be full of activities. Like all Buddhist monasteries around the world, this one is also full of intricate art work in bright colours with yellow or golden as main colour. The followers were going around their ritual of meditation. One of the main halls had sitting arrangement which appears like a class for monks. Since it was early morning , student monks were gathering together for class.

The temple has been opened for public and without any restrictions.Photography was allowed. Shoes are not allowed inside the main sanctum of the temple. The only request was to keep silence. But most of the tourists were not at all considerate, thus abusing the serene atmosphere of the temple. Responsible tourists are the need of the hour.

You can meditate, rotate prayer wheels, visit museum and library in the temple. Museums are my favourite. They tell us so much about history without being emotional. 🙂 This museum holds rare photographs of Dalai Lama, Tibetan culture, martyrs and others. This museum is found near the entry gate. There are also pictures of how Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet. A short video about the tibetan culture is played in the museum. ( Pls check timings.)

We spent around an hour here and enjoyed the serene and peaceful environment, rotated the prayer wheel while circumferencing the temple and captured some memories in our camera. We walked down to our cab, which was not parked in the temple’s parking. We got some time to walk down and be part of the locals.

Our next stop was Norbulingka Institute.

The Entry to Norbulingka Institute

Norbulingka is a community with a sustainable business model and a strong social mission to keep the Tibetan culture alive by training people for the future. All proceeds from their business sections go directly back into running the institute. In Norbulingka Institute workshops  and processes are held by providing apprenticeships in traditional Tibetan art forms and making Tibetan experience accessible and relevant to the contemporary lifestyle and young Tibetans.  Norbulingka focuses on design, meaning, and quality of their products. Every product has a story to tell through its materials, processes, and themes. These ventures take pressure off of the artists to produce in mass quantity, who can then focus on maintaining the authenticity of their artistic lineages. It also provides additional jobs with stable income and training in service and administration to many in the Tibetan community. All income generated by Norbulingka then goes back into the institute, through which they support social programs such as health and child care for the staff, as well as apprenticeships in traditional arts, and the patronage of various scholastic projects. They also have rooms to stay and can be booked on the website. One can register for the workshops on their official website. Wanna bring some authentic Tibetan culture back with you from Dharamshala, you can buy from the shop at the institute. For all these details, pls check their website – https://www.norbulingka.org/

This sign board about a “Doll’s Museum” in Norbulingka caught my eye. A doll’s museum here? The doll’s museum of New Delhi flashed before my eyes. It was a deja vu moment for my visit to doll Museum in Delhi decades ago, with my young children.

The Losel Doll Museum at Norbulingka.

This museum gives an insight into Tibetan past, their struggle, art and culture through dolls. I loved every minute, I spent there. What an innovative and interesting way to introduce the old culture to visitors! I thoroughly enjoyed walking through the Tibetan history .

After spending good time in the museum and monastery, we started for the Gyuto Tantric Institute. It was established for the preservation and promotion of the tradition of tantric teachings of the great teacher Tsongkhapa, the crown among the learned and accomplished masters of Tibet, who had been taught the teachings of the Buddha, through Nagarjuna and other learned Indian Buddhist scholars of Nalanda University, great Tibetan translators and accomplished masters.

The Gyuto Institute in Dharamshala has a very beautiful premises. A bright combination of red and yellow adorn the whole premises which stands out and is very eye catching. Below are some photos from outside and inside the monastery. 

The most common sight in the twin cities of Dharamshala and Mcleodganj is of Tibetan monks in their maroon and orange robs. Many tourists ask them to have a photograph with them and they happily oblige. Why do they ask- just wondering? May be it makes a better composition 😊. Most of the Tibetans in the city are monks. They are studying about their past, history and culture in these monasteries but what do they do for a living? My local guide shared that the monasteries are heavily funded with aids coming from European countries and US. He also shared that the most of the high ranking hotels are owned by these monks. One can see them using most of the latest and high end gadgets thus pointing to financial strength. They have made this place their home almost half a century ago and one can see the ease with which they have amalgamated with the locals. The hills are rich green and at peace with this synthesis. Amen !💐

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LIFESTYLE, Musings

I preferred White’s over Black – Racist?

I was born with black silky crowning glory and they remained so for almost three decades till I changed my “colours”. 🤣

It was sometimes in mid nineties, when the advertisements of hair colours on TV and in print media caught my attention.

I had a liking for brown shades then. To have brown tinge on my hair, I had used henna with coffee in pre hair colour era. But henna didn’t suit my hairs and application was also not very convenient.

This advertisement from Wella hair colours caught my attention. The hair colours of models were inviting. I look at it as an easy way of makeover, and I need to change my looks very often as I get bored with same looks very fast. 😋

After contemplating for some time, I opted for light brown colour out of three colours available in those days – black, dark brown and light brown. No, there was not even a single grey streaks or white hairs in my crowning glory. That was all for the love of browns. 👩 It satisfied my desire of experimentation too.🙆

I was staying in Faridabad, a sleepy neighbouring town of capital city, New Delhi. Anything new in the market takes few months to reach Faridabad , if we compare its availability in New Delhi. Going to Delhi in those days was a weekly exercise for us. I got my first hair colour pack of Wella from Lajpat Nagar Market in South Delhi.

Slowly more brands and more colours had arrived on the scene. I have tried all crazy colours like violet, red , burgundy and sometimes lighter shades of brown (read blondes) across all available brands.It was very interesting to experience the “feel good” which colouring the hair brings along. Unfortunately, I do not have photographs of those quirky hair colours. No smart phones then. 😦 But my young girl students went ga ga over my unconventional choices. This strength of youngster to accept new ideas (not necessarily about hair colour 😛) is the hope for bringing in change in the society.  Interacting with young children is the reason, I love being a teacher.

Many of my neighbours have asked me to stop hair colouring so regularly as it will damage my hair. They were the ones who actually admired my hairs and my guts to be experimental.😜 Anyway, I continued and tried whatever new colours were introduced.

This went on non stop for  3 decades and somewhat more, changing colours every month. Sometimes,I felt like a chameleon 🦎. 😁😁

Coloured hair streaks never appealed me, though they are in trend for a long time now.

With such a regularity in coloring hairs, I had no idea about the real colours of my hairs . Are there any grey strands now, I wondered? On 1st January,2019, I decided to stop colouring my hair to know what is the actual colour of my crowning glory. Less than 10% of my hairs have greyed, which is very normal in fifties. The texture and shine points to healthy and well kept crowning glory.

Conclusion from my 30 years of hair colouring -Hair colours are good for hairs. The only precautions which I took was that I never repeated the brands. I always opted for different brands. Oiling and conditioning was also not very regular.

And then I saw, “Accidental Prime Minister”. Akshay Khanna with his grey hair as Sanjay Baro is the sole factor for me to decide against colouring my hair from now on.

It comes under the purview  of aging gracefully, love yourself, self-love, be yourself…. blah blah. 😋

I have developed a bias against black hair in favour of white crowing glory.The grey hairs adds a mystic charm to personality.

A strong sense of racism has prevailed upon me and I have decided in favour of white. Is the “sickular” gang returning their awards for my racist thoughts? Just wondering.🙄😲🤔

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LIFESTYLE, Musings, Travel and tours

The 35 years…and Counting

This year on 20 May, 2019, I celebrated the foundation of that lifelong relationship called marriage. It happened on 20th May, 1984. It has been an eventful journey of love, fights, adjustments, empowerment and balancing. Like everybody else, I had no idea of what comes along with getting married. 🙂

Even after staying and sharing life together for 35 years , we have kept our individualities and independence. Both the boys are busy and hopefully happy with their lives and we are leading a relaxing retired life. I enjoy the slow paced life in hot Ahmedabad, the commercial capital of Gujarat. I have changed myself from being a fast paced active professional to being non-professional and doing things which I could not do earlier. This let me be at peace with myself. I enjoy watching the fast paced world from the gallery.

To celebrate the day of reckoning, 😜 we planned a vacation which is going to be different and will cater to our kind of vacation. Earlier due to time constraints, we used to handover every planning to travel agencies and follow the routines they had set. In these kinds of vacations, one has to visit some places which are not of interest but have to go with the flow. This time, we took charge and curated a vacation which caters to our interests of historical places, natural beauty and relaxation. We ignored the routine tourist spots like sunrise and sunset points, few religious places and city shopping centers. We planned for a vacation at Mcleodganj, which was on radar since last 2 decades.

A recently started flight by Spicejet from Ahmedabad to Dharamshala (Gaggal Airport) prompted us to finalize this location. The layover at Jaipur was longer while going but we took it in our stride as this is the best option available on the dates, we planned to travel.

We boarded the night flight on 17th May. The flight was delayed by almost 2 hours from Ahmedabad but we were not worried as our next connecting flight was in early hours of 18th. We reached Jaipur at midnight only to find that the airport is closed as there are no domestic night flights from Jaipur. The airport lounge was also non functional for last few months. This was not updated on website. We thought of spending the night at lounge while booking for this flight. It would have been very convenient. Anyway, it was not there at all. 😑

No restaurants or even tea – coffee outlets were open at that time. My idea of eating a pyaaz kachori or bedmi poori from LMB ( Laxmi Mithai Bhandar) were dashed. 😦 The only option available was a restaurant “Saptagiri”outside the airport, which remains open throughout the night. But being a transit passenger, if we get out of the airport, we will not be allowed to enter before 4 am, when the people for morning flights start pouring in. We contacted the Spicejet office and who also spoke to CISF security personnel to let us in as we are transit passengers. We passed through the exit gate of airport to check into that restaurant thinking about some tasty rajasthani local foods.

Our luggage was not booked for both the flights, as ours was the last flight of the day and next flight is on next day. As I have mentioned earlier that Jaipur airport is closed at night for domestic flights. This was the explanation given by Spicejet.

The restaurant was in basement and there was no lift . Going down with luggage was an exercise, we never wanted to carry. It was decided that one of us will stay with luggage and other will get down and bring whatever looks fine. RB went down and appeared with two huge samosas and tea. The samosas were very “healthy” 😁 and served as full meal. They were delicious and my favourite snack. दो दीवाने शहर में वाली फीलिंग आ गयी। 🙂

We entered the airport after showing our boarding passes for the morning flight and Ids to the CISF personnel on the gate, whom Spicejet official had spoken. There were few more passengers like us who were settled in the small sitting corner on the ground floor of the airport. We also joined the tribe. Many were sleeping while sitting. I also tried to sleep by extending my legs to the seats opposite to mine by pulling them closure, thus making a comfortable sitting.

The airport was closed for flights but there was fast paced activities all around. Large scale cleaning was going on, airlines offices were working and repairs and renovations were going on as Jaipur airport is being upgraded. Just in front of us, welding was going on. With so much action around, I was the only one who is not sleeping. 😒

The airport authorities should have put some recliners for transit passengers, who are forced to spend night sleeping on the chairs in the wake of no lounges available. Anyway, as they say, time never stands still for anyone, this night also passed by. Around 3.30 am, passengers for morning flights have started pouring in. We also freshen up and waited for the luggage screening to start. It started around 4 am. In another 30 minutes, we have done security checks for our next flight to Dharamshala, before the crowd swell. The flight was to take off 6.30 am. Before boarding, we had our coffee and muffins while waiting at gate IA, so that we can survive till we reach our homestay for breakfast. On time boarding and on time take off. ✌️ We landed at 9 am at Dharamshala.

We hired a taxi from prepaid taxi service booth to our destination. Since tourism is a big industry here, the drivers, cabbies and all other associated with tourism industry are well trained in soft skills. The driver who took us to Shatobari Greens, past Mcleodganj was a great conversationalist. Since I am afraid of speed on hills and I told him as we sat down , he drove us at very controlled speed throughout the drive of 1 hour. He found out from our conversation that we love the greenery and nature and took routes which have tea gardens, jungles and avoided traffic wherever he can. The drive was very enjoyable. Unlike other hill station, this side of HP has taken good care of their forests.

We reached Shatobari Greens by 10.30 am. This homestay is run by a retired government official and his wife. The property is in forest area and 6 km away from main Mcleodganj. There is no markets and no civilization around. We planned our stay in this homestay, which is away from the hustle and bustle of city and surrounded by pure nature. It’s so blissful to be woken up by chirping of birds.

SHATOBARI GREENS

We have planned this trip rather differently. We kept only two days to see museums, monasteries , Kangra fort and Masroor rock temple. On other days, we planned our outings for leisure walking around forest and villages and enjoy nature. The local temples, sunrise and sunset points and Triund trekking were not on our platter.

We had masala tea with light snacks in our room. The room on first floor is very spacious with two balconies. It has a small kitchenette well equipped with gas stove, fridge , electric kettle and basic utensils. The big room has nicely furnished bedroom and dining room. The property is rather new and has very positive vibes. I fell in love with it the moment, we entered. They are not keen to serve meals, though on our insistence they served us basic home food of dal, sabzi, roti, without any dessert. Breakfast was stuffed pranthas. Other options for breakfast were toast and sandwiches. They do not have many options. Homemade food is a blessing while on vacation. I hope, they may add more varieties as there are not any options to eat except self cooking, which many like me may not want to do on vacations. We had stocked seasonal fruits, cucumber, tomatoes along with some cakes, biscuits, namkeens , cup noodles , bread and butter for in between meals munching.

After freshening up, we went out to explore the surroundings. The majestic Dhauladhar range is visible all around. The thick jungle, chirping of birds and fragrance of greenery… it was an awesome outing. RB was experimenting with his photography and trying new settings in his camera. I lied down on the stones placed around the roads and was mesmerised by the purity of nature around. It was as if time has stopped. The stillness has it’s own language. I have not seen such azure blue sky since quite some time now. Ahmedabad is polluted dusty city.

After spending good time, we started back. The coming back was tough as it was all climb yet enjoyable. We had good sleep after all this exercise and woke up only in the evening. Next day was election day in this part of the country. We planned to go for local monasteries and museums. As Mcleodganj is home to Dalai Lama, the tibetan influence is visible all around. It has been almost 5 decades and the tibetans and local population is well adjusted.

Common street view in Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj.

The monks are seen all around in the city. Tourists very often ask them to click a picture with them and it appeared that they are very much used to it. They happily become part of the moment with a smile. They get huge support from international communities. Our drivers told us that these monks are running some of the most expensive hotels, restaurants and clubs here. Their financial status is very visible

We had hired a cab and started at 10 in the morning. This day, we visited the famous Dalai Lama temple,Norbulingka institute, war museum , tea estates, highest cricket stadium of India and Naddi. Bhagsu temple and waterfall were given a miss. It was a day well spent. More on these in separate posts. The election was peaceful and on many polling booths, there were ques.Our driver had casted his vote before coming to pick us. Such stories are a proof that our democracy is maturing. A glimpse of our visit:

20th May was kept for walking trail to Dal lake, which is 4 km from our homestay. A small lake , surrounded by forest and an old Mahadev temple is a peaceful serene stopover. It took us 1.5 hours using the short cuts as told by local people. This small lake is the hidden gem.

After spending good time there, we came back by evening by an auto rickshaw. Next day was marked to explore our heritage. We were to go to Kangra valley to visit Kangra fort, state museum and Masroor Rock temple. I will write separate posts on these. It was such a pleasure to get acquainted with our glorious past. I wonder, why we were not given the richness of our culture and traditions in our history classes? These should be made a part of local studies to expose new generations to their glorious past.

22nd May was again kept for “on foot outings”. It was local hiking and trekking and photography at our own pace. After having sumptuous breakfast of mixed veg stuffed pranthas we walked out around 10.30 am. Wandering aimlessly is great fun, which I guess, I have last done long back during carefree childhood years. We explored local surroundings. There was a ridge nearby with a great view. Conversations at small tea stalls, lunch at the home of a jawan, who is serving in Indian army and attended a local wedding on our way back were some of the highlights of this unplanned day.

23rd May – The day of Lok Sabha election results and the day we were to start our return journey. Our flight was at 11.30 am and we were to reach airport by 10 am. Our cab came at 9 am and by this time, many trends were available. It was an exciting day. Thanks to Jio, we remained connected to the world. The layover at Jaipur was of 4 hours. By the time, we boarded the plane at 5 pm, results / trends have clearly projected the new government.

It all ended happily. As they say, all’s well that ends well. So true for our vacation and the Lok sabha results !!

All pics © with Neerja Bhatnagar

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