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From Jammu we reached Pathankot and from there took a bus to Dharamshala. More than 10 hours for 230 kms, the State Government should do something to improve the public transport.
Reached McLeod Gunj at around midnight – surprised to see some shops and restaurants open – checked into the hotel and called it a day.
Woke up to the view of the Dauladhar range and to the chirping of birds.
A warm tea is all I need to start my day.
I had listed out around 10-12 places\things to do but once we were out on the streets I didn’t feel like working on my checklist. Dropped everything and went with the flow – which included again a pot of ginger tea and brunch – had a toast and pancakes for almost almost 2 hrs. Tibetan culture was getting onto me and I was enjoying it. One other reason could also be because my legs were still all dead and McLeod Gunj is no plain area. All the streets are at least at an inclination of 30-50%. I moved the streets of McLeod Gunj like a tortoise with a grim smile on my face. I was very particular I wouldn’t be an impulsive shopper anymore, however if the universe has different plans for you then what can you do.
Slowly crawling all over the place we reach the Namgyal Monastery, the abode of Dalai Lama. This is a quiet monastery nothing fancy plain and simple architecture. What I saw there was quite thought provoking for me.
In my perception till then – a monk was someone who had given up worldly pleasures and meditating to get nirvana. However when I saw the their daily rituals and their way of life – these monks got me curious.
On entering the Namgyal Monastery, I saw monks doing their traditional Buddhist philosophical debate. The debate happens between a Challenger, standing and asking questions and the Defender, sitting and answering them. The debaters are seeking to understand the nature of reality through careful analysis of the state of existence of things. There is a dramatic clapping which is done by the Challenger only. In their understanding of the gesture, the right hand represents method, meaning especially the practice of compassion, and the left hand represents wisdom. Bringing the two hands together represents the joining of wisdom and method. At the moment of the clap, you hear the left foot stomp down and that represents slamming shut the door to rebirth in the lower levels.
All around you, you see smiling Tibetans chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum” and counting through the rosary beads in their hands. And one fascinating thing I came to know about the Namgyal Monastery and for that matter all the other monasteries there was that they all have Tantric colleges which teach monks the essentials of sutra and tantra. For a monk an average day consists of two hours of ritual, two hours of sacred arts, three hours of philosophy classes, two and a half hours of debate, and several hours of meditation and personal study and the students who completes a 13 year course successfully gets his\her degree of Master of Sutra and Tantra.
If you ever go to a monastery never miss the evening prayer routine, it is heavenly.
Statue of Buddha Sakhyamuni
Guru Padma Sambhava
Guru Padma Sambhava, a great Indian Sidda, who went to Tibet in the 8th century. He helped the King Trisong Deutsen in building the cathedral of Samye by subduing all the enemies of the Dharma. He also gave tantric teaching in Tibet, also known as the “Father of Buddhism”.
Magnificent statue of 1,000 Arm Avalokiteshvara of whom the Dalai Lama is believed to be the human embodiment, next to him – Maharishi Patanjali.
This statue of the Buddha of Compassion exudes the very spirit of selfless love and the very essence of compassion, its thousand arms stretching forth in all directions, bringing hope and salvation to all beings from their treacherous and myriad sufferings in the pitiful and tragic pit of samsara.
He is also referred to as Chenrezig, his teachings are contained in the mantra – OM MANI PADME HUM
Mani\Prayer wheel – these are devices for spreading spiritual blessings and well being. Rolls of thin paper, imprinted with many, many copies of the mantra(Om Mani Padme Hum), printed in an ancient Indian script(Sanskrit) or in Tibetan script, are wound around an axle in a protective container and spun around and around. Tibetan’s believe that chanting or spunning of the mantra invokes the spiritual power and blessing of Chenrezig(Tibetan name)\Avalokiteshwara.
You can just see so many people just repeating this mantra around you irrespective of time or place.
Other beautiful paintings inside the monastery
After spending ample time in Namgyal it was time for Gyuto Monastery. This brightly colored monastery with the majestic Dauladhar mountains in the backdrop is also a Tantric school.
We were just in time for the evening prayers.
I refrained myself from taking pictures but just when I did this guy caught me….
Calling it a day with another pot of tea and lazy-lengthy dinner. I bought a Tibetan Pain oil in the market and massaged myself back to walk like a human.
Now because I can walk freely it was time for some more trekking again 🙂 …Going to Bhagsu Nag temple and Bhagsu waterfalls. In India wherever you go you are bound to have a temple nearby and a story connected to it.
Bhagsu Nag story: It is said that Bhagsu was a king, or a local chief, and his region was plagued by drought. He set out, promising his subjects that he would bring water. His search brought him to these mountains, more specifically, to a lake – the Nag Dal – which belonged to the serpent king. Bhagsu himself had magical powers. He managed to transfer the water from the lake into a kamandalu (water receptacle), and started on his way back home. The serpent king returned home that night to find his lake empty. Needless to say, he was irate, and he set out to find the one responsible. He caught up with Bhagsu here, and there was a terrible fight. Bhagsu was lethally injured, and the kamandalu fell, releasing the water, which flowed down the mountain. Realizing that his end was near, he surrendered to the serpent king, asking only that the water be allowed to flow on, so that his people would be relieved from the drought, and that his name be associated forever with this place. The serpent king relented, and henceforth, the water flowed free, and this place came to be known as a combination of both their names – Bhagsu Nag.
Bhagsu Nag Temple
And the trail
There is another side to this beautiful and peaceful place, as the road winds up from Dharamshala you start seeing signs of “Free Tibet” and stories about the enforced disappearances posted all over the place. In 1959 Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet following the Chinese invasion of Lhasa, Tibet. Since then Dharamshala, India has become a home to Dalai Lama and to the many refugees who are escaping Tibet and arriving India. It has also become a center for the “Free Tibet” movement. For more history click here.
The quaint 150 year old Anglican St John’s Church, this one is set amidst tall deodhar trees and built in neo-Gothic architecture.
I wonder what it would be like to live here. Below is the Naddi Village and the view they get to see everyday.
View of the Dauladhar mountains from Naddi
The trip is never complete without a little activity.
And finally the sun sets in the mountains and it’s time to move on….
OM MANI PADME HUM
The world is becoming noisier and heading towards global warming and I have been a witness to both this year. This year has been the noisiest year for me so far. The apartment we moved to in the city – feels like I am living in a subway station, even all the places we visited this year – there was so much honking, drilling, hammering and pounding. So this year for me is – Noisy @ 16 !!!
We wanted to visit Varanasi during this Diwali but as the flight charges were sky rocketing we went there after Diwali, I had packed most of my woolens as after Diwali northern India gets really cold, but to my surprise it wasn’t cold at all, we witness a pleasant temperature – good for us; but this made me realize that global warming is for real and we have to do something about it -if we can.
We landed in Varanasi and took a cab to the main ghat areas where we had booked our guest house, our cab driver Mr Pintoo not only made us feel safe but also told us where we should go, what we should do and not do and finally we ended up booking him for the rest of our trip. We were dropped at a point some 500mts away from the ghats as no motorized vehicles are allowed near the ghats. We entered the famous gallis (alleys) of Varanasi, they do look creepy – some of them so be cautious but its exciting as well.
A labyrinthine set of galli’s(alleys) landed us near our guest house – Sita Guest House
My first thoughts – “where is the guest house, I could only see the water in the ghats”
So this is front face of the guest house and the one marked in blue was our room with the Ganges view. There is no lift and yo do have to climb those steep stairs to reach the room but once you reach there its all worth it.
Early morning boat rides and swimmers – this was the best part of the day for me, waking up to a sunrise right across the river – the cool breeze and happy people enjoying their baths/rides.
Varanasi is a spiritual city, where Hindus go to pray, wash away their sins and honor their dead on the banks of the Ganges. Dying in Varanasi is seen as auspicious, as it ends the cycle of rebirth.
The morning visitor – (kingfisher probably, not sure??) who fearlessly sat along with us enjoying the sunrise.
The famous Dashashwamedha Ghat
The walk along the ghats revealed the artistic side of the city.
The collectible shop – Assi ghat
Itihaas cafe at Assi ghat where the food is good and so is the ambiance.
Ganga Aarti at Dashashwamedha Ghat
We actually took a boat ride in the evening and while coming back he stopped the boat in the middle of the river so that we can see the aarti from the riverside and that was heavenly.
Most of our day 3 morning went into finding an ATM with cash in it, because of the recent demonetization in India there were fewer ATMs with cash and in Varanasi most the businesses don’t accept cards.
We spent the entire evening relaxing at the BHU Vishwanath Temple which is a replica of the main Kashi Vishwanath temple – a little or far bigger in size 🙂 and a marvel in marble.
The walls are inscribed with illustrations from the scriptures and their explanations – which caught my attention.
Market outside BHU Birla temple.
Away from the ghats, the streets are busy, crowded and dusty. You get to see a lot of diversity in this place, with boys playing cards near the ghats, people washing clothes on the ghats, people praying at the ghats, boat riders constantly offering you a boat ride – not free of charge of course, women preparing local delicacies on the doorways in the galli’s, restaurants serving Italian, French, Spanish and German food, priests performing puja, foreigner’s looking for spiritual experiences, foreigner hippies looking for ….(you know what I am saying), cows here and there, hordes of old people on the streets who have come here and are waiting to die here so that they can attain moksha, people carrying dead bodies to the ghat, burning corpses, floating corpses in the Ganges.
Varanasi is a very special place. It is the oldest city in the world located along the banks of the River Ganges which is dripping with history and spirituality. This is one of the main holy places for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists.
The 80ft, Buddha statue in Sarnath
And finally the famous Blue Lassi shop, I have never had such mixed feeling while enjoying a mere lassi. This is a small shop in one of the galli’s near Manikarnika ghat (usually where the dead bodies are burnt). So I have my lassi in my hand and I am thinking UMMMM….. and right then I see some people taking a dead body to the ghats for cremation , which made me feel guilty about enjoying something – I try to shred the thought and again UMMMM……and there goes another dead body. Finally after seeing 4 of those I quickly finished my drink and shot out of that place.
And then again there is this early morning sunrise which makes you forget everything and you fall in love with this place all over again.
Om Namah Shivay !!!
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