For those of you who know me well, you probably know that I have an inexplicable affinity for Tibetan culture. So you can imagine when I reached McLeod Ganj (upper Dharamsala), the last bastion of Tibetan culture in the world, it was a bit of a dream come true.
The streets are filled with Thangkas (Tibetan painting), monks and Momos (Tibetan dumplings).
The thin mountain air is full of chants to Avalokiteshwara (Bodhisattva of Compassion).
The atmosphere is very laid back – a curiously pleasant mixture of hippies and refugees.
We have been enjoying the great outdoors here too – with an average altitude of 4500 feet, we are no longer merely seated at the foothills of the Himalayas, we are actually IN the Himalayas. Every day we have been hiking some of the local trails. This culminated with yesterday’s 20 km hike up to Triund, a summit of 10000 feet. When you factor in our getting lost on the way down, which resulted in a total circumnavigation of the adjacent villages, the total distance came closer to 25k – but the beautiful thing about this place is we don’t mind getting lost at all. I suppose I am experiencing the Buddhist concept of enjoying the journey rather than the destination.
A few reviews for people who may come out here:
Pink House Hotel – is one of the best places I have stayed. The prices are more than reasonable and the staff (Javid and his family) are amazingly helpful
Bob’s Coffee – I don’t know what the name of his cafe will be called but Bob is a friend of ours we met here who is opening a small shop near the Tibetan Institute of the Performing Arts. He’s a great guy and really knows what western baking should taste like 🙂
Taste of India – fantasic Kashmiri food
Carpe Diem – best multicultural restaurant I’ve experienced in India, and a friendly staff
I’ve discovered during my stay in India that I have rather exquisite taste. Every single shop I have walked in to, either in Kolkata, Rishikesh or Dharamsala, I have managed to pick out the single most rare or valuable object for sale as the only one I want. This trend was validated by my recent (and only) souvenir purchase. After visiting every Thangka shop in town, I discovered that the subject which I wanted in my painting (Dhyani Buddhas combined with a KalaChakra) was only painted by the grand masters. To understand the effect this has on price, let me explain that there is only 1 school of Thangka painting in the whole world, and in that school there are less than 10 masters. These masters only paint with semiprecious stones and gold. The painting I finally found and bought was so rare that I literally only saw 4 that were similar in the whole town. Completely worth it for me though, as it was by far my favorite, it is going on my altar, and I bargained it down a considerable amount 🙂 But sometimes I wonder if less knowledge of the culture would be easier on my wallet…
Today I am heading back to Namyal monastery (home of the Dalai Lama) for a small meditation before embarking on a quest for singing bowls. Also, the old Tibetan lady outside the monastery sells the best momos in town. Tomorrow we head for Agra, the former capital of the Mughal empire and home of the Taj Mahal.
Om Mani Padme Hum