Delhi: Goodbye India

Our time in Delhi was short, so we decided to hop on the metro to Akshardam temple which is an opulent temple. We sat a boat ride which gave us some strange commentary & irregular facts. It was good to visit for a few hours.

That evening, Premji taught me to cook a chicken curry, unfortunately I misplaced the recipe! But I remember that he put Amchoor powder (mango powder) in the delicious salads he prepared. He makes the most refreshing Nimboo pani (lemonade) too. They had adorable dogs in that house.

Thumbs up delicious!

Thumbs up delicious!

After dinner, we went to India Gate to hang out with the locals. There were a lot of families.

Subhen loves dirt, coke & kids.

Subhen loves dirt, coke & kids.

Subhen left early the next day for his flight to South India & I decided to go shopping alone in Janpath. I bargained for the auto price & I eventually found an elderly auto driver to take me home for a fair price but I had decided beforehand to give him more money. I just like the thrill of bargaining and this elderly driver delivered me home safe. I was grateful for that & really, a few rupees contributing to someone’s income in India would make a bigger difference to him than to me.

Kashmir, Srinagar

Me sleeping in car.

Me sleeping in car.

It was a long overnight journey in the car. This was when I learnt that I could sleep anywhere & in any position when exhausted.

When I woke up, I saw paddy fields, hungry I was craving for basmati rice.

Famous Dal Lake

Famous Dal Lake

In Srinagar, we visited Jama Masjid which is a mosque built in Kashmiri style.

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Shah-i-Hamdan

Shah-i-Hamdan

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We visited Shah-i-hamdan & Shankacharya Hill too.

Srinagar is a city of Mughal Gardens. We visited Shalimar Bagh, Nishat Bagh & Pari Mahal. It was very relaxing.

Mughal Gardens

Mughal Gardens

We had the best biryani rice I’ve ever tasted. I broke my paranoid vegetarian fast & had meat. I had been having meat cravings for weeks!

Best Biryani! Yum.

Best Biryani! Yum.

We took a domestic flight to Delhi. There was an insane amount of security checks, worse than Heathrow.

Leh, Ladakh : Hemis Festival

We attended the Hemis festival which is a celebration of Lord Padmasambhava or representative incarnate of Lord Buddha.

Hemis Festival

Hemis Festival

The Hemis monastery, rooted in Mahayana Buddhism was founded in the 13th Century & today is headed by Gyalwang Drukpa.

Cham Dance

Cham Dance

Colourful dancers don masks & put on the Chams performance to the clashing sounds of cymbals, drums & deep mellow sound of the long horn. It is based on sacred plays to dispel evil & welcome harmony. The colourful costumes & buddhist complexes are beautiful contrast to the desert surroundings.SONY DSC

Leh, Ladakh: 3 day Hike from Spituk->Zingchen->Stok

The next day, we started our 3 day hike from Spituk->Zingchen->Stok.

Day 1 to Spituk was a 12 kilometer walk in arid desert conditions for 6 hours.

walk..walking

walk..walking

Desert walk

Desert walk

We were walking alongside horses.

Pretty horses!

Pretty horses!

We arrived at a little village & lived with an elderly lady & 2 elderly men.

Home stay in Stok

Home stay in Stok

On day 2, we waded through rivers because some of the bridges had been washed away. This was a fun obstacle course!

streams to wade through

streams to wade through

Most of the terrain was rocky & we clocked in about 9km of uphill and downhill. The weather was pleasant like spring.

Onward to Zingchen

Onward to Zingchen

As we were reaching Zingchen village, I had shortness of breath & was breathing heavily. My guide was concerned about me.

Zingchen is such a beautiful oasis of calm. I enjoyed my time in the fields, walking around & absorbing the views.

Zingchen

Zingchen

I was so nervous thinking about the last day because I knew it would be tough, I could hardly eat dinner. Our guides were so friendly & reassured me that we should be alright. I really didn’t want to be a burden or a quitter. I wanted to finish it but I just didn’t know what lay ahead or how to go about the hike.

Persevere!

Persevere!

The final day was the journey from Zingchen to Stok. We started our hike early. I noticed I had shortness of breath & the feeling of pins & needles in my hands. I didn’t want to make a fuss & I thought that if I ignore it & persevere it would go away. I really wanted to enjoy the hike & finish it. So I shut up, focused & persevered. Thankfully, those feelings subsided after 2 hour. I think my body acclimatised to the altitude in the mountains. The journey up the mountain was tough & it felt like a long time before we reached the summit. The more I thought of reaching the summit, the longer it felt. I decided to be present & focus on each step. Forget about feeling self-conscious if I was slow. It wasn’t a competition & the most important part was staying safe & focused. After a while I got better. As Subhen says, “Trust your feet”.

I really enjoyed the journey & by lunchtime, we reached the top. 1000ft up! We went from about 3o00ft to about 4000 ft. Absolutely spectacular!

Yay!!!!

Yay!!!!

We were reaching the end & we had the option of walking down or sledding down. I wanted to walk but was so tempted to sled. So I held onto the guide for dear life & sled. I was laughing a lot & it felt pretty magical.SONY DSC

It felt really trippy because the mountain was a multitude of iridescent colours.SONY DSC

We continued our hike & there was one section that was really scary, I had to jump down to cross a gap & if I missed my landing….that would be the end of me. I was terrified but there wasn’t a way out so I jumped. Quite remarkable what I can do in gun to my head situations.

Majestic view!

Majestic view!

Towards the end of our hike, we could see the Himalaya’s at a distance.Unbelievable! This image is real.We took the longest time, I was taking too many photos & I wanted to enjoy the walk. At one point, Subhen was so embarrassed he told everyone that I was a ‘professional photographer’.

I was exhausted but happy. Thrilled that I did something unbelievable & pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it.

I did it! AWESOME!

I did it! AWESOME!

Leh, Ladakh

The Manali-Leh route was a beautiful scenic drive although it was a gruelling 24 hour jeep journey. We started the morning in freezing winter temperatures.

Freezing!

Freezing!

There was ice when we looked out of the window.

the drive

the drive

This soon changed to spring weather and then arid desert climate.SONY DSC

I was awake throughout the journey because I love watching the changing scenery. It was stunning & unbelievable. Beautiful! It felt like heaven on earth.

Rambo our hero driver

Rambo our hero driver

We had the coolest Rambo Ladakhi driver. Subhen & I were in awe of his stamina to drive with hardly any break in a cramped jeep. Killing time, we were dancing to Rambo’s catchy Hindi music on repeat. I was miming Hindi songs & giggling all the way.  Other people were not having such a great time, suffering from acute mountain sickness (AMS) & vomiting all the way, I felt sorry for them. I’m so glad I took Diamox in advance.

Hindi music rhythms

Hindi music rhythms

Being female is bit tricky on long journeys without toilets. My first pit stop was behind a straw pen of braying goats. It was strange peeing outside the pen with a goat staring at me braying. I told it to shut up. Second place, I had to play hopscotch over rocks to get to the blue shack!

Hop-scotch over the rocks to the blue shack to pee.

Hop-scotch over the rocks to the blue shack to pee.

Finally, there was the great challenge of peeing by the road in broad day light with passing trucks. ARGH! I had an umbrella open & tried to relieve myself as fast as I could! Lesson: Never fear, You can pee under my Umbrella ala Rihanna.

Leh is uniquely situated 3505m in the mountains & accessible only from July to October making it quite remote although it is busy during tourist season. Ladakh was a popular trade route on the Silk road. Consequently, Ladakhi people have Central Asian or Tibetan features. Buddhism travelled from India to China through Ladakh. Leh has spectacular sceneries with magical colours.

Jama Masjid was the first stop when we arrived & we made our way to the Shanti Stupa on a hill. It felt never ending but was worth the climb.

Shanti Stupa

Shanti Stupa

The next morning, I was so nervous because I was signed up for my first experience in white-water rafting, Subhen coaxed me to eat eggs on toast & walked with because I probably looked quite pitiful. He went mountain biking in the highest pass in the world, Khardung La. Click here to read his account. He had fun. It was the Zanksar River from Nemo to Chilling, Grade 3.Once again, the scenery was spectacular. We were given instructions,wet suits & the right gear. It was very professional & I highly recommend the company I went with especially as I saw firsthand how other companies didn’t even provide wetsuits to their customers. I had great team mates & we all took turns at the helm.

I was the last person at the helm, obviously the most nervous. Everyone was really supportive. Towards the end, the raft came to a corner of a hill & there was an opening towards the mountains. It felt like curtains drawn revealing the spectacular mountain range. I was overcome by the beauty of the mountains, that precious moment & happy tears streamed down my face. That feeling & image is immortalised within me.

forever in my heart

forever in my heart

It started to rain & we sang “Singing in the Rain”. Everyone was friendly & fun.

Manali: Vaishisht

The car park was pitch dark in Manali. I was ready with my head torch beaming in the dark. We didn’t know where we were & it was too early for taxis so we waited for an hour. Locals flock to the hills in Manali during the peak of summer and accomodation seemed difficult to find. We decided to head to old Manali, Vaishisht. We found a hotel with a balcony & a nice view facing the mountain. The temperature was cooler & pleasant.

Manali

Manali

We waved at our American neighbours across the balcony. We spoke to them daily & they would point towards the mountain indicating that their intention to hike. The American gentleman seemed to be reading the same book & staring into space daily. In his hand was a spliff – I could smell charas a mile away. It was amusing. Manali is well known for good charas which grows everywhere.

Hot spring temple

Hot spring temple

I think it was the Temple of Lord Ram where I bathed in hot spring water daily. There are separate baths for men & women. I recommend bringing a bikini because I didn’t & my bra doubled up a bikini top. I felt embarassed at the prospect of being topless & surrounded by other women. On the last day, I realised that I had to have a dry bra for the journey ahead. I undressed facing the wall, shielding my breasts with my hands. The other women started talking to me in Hindi & smiled. It was obvious to everyone that I was shy. The showers were busy with people & a nice lady beckoned me to share her shower. She spoke a little English & we exchanged pleasantries. She said “ Oh, there’s no need to be shy, its only ladies here” by this point I got over feeling self-conscious & spoke to her. Strangely, it felt nice being in the presence of other ladies & bathing together.

Among the things I did was my first swim in a waterfall & hike to the top of Jogini waterfall in Manali. Warning: watch out for cow dung when walking, its everywhere! We walked & swam a little in the water fall. It was my first time swimming in a waterfall: loud gushing sound & numbing cold water. I was a bit scared & glad Subhen was there.I had so much fun & loved it. I was happy. We met a group of Indian guys & they wanted to walk uphill to get to the source of the waterfall. I didn’t want to be left behind on what could be fun but I am terrified of heights. I summoned the courage & decided to hike up with them. This was my first mini hike. I focused on the road ahead, turned on my ipod, wore my hat to give me a tunnel vision & repeated the mantra “I can, this is easy” in my brain.The path wasn’t very clear & it was uncertain where it led but we kept going. The Indian guys were happily singing Hindi songs all the way & doing a little dances. It was hilarious.

Jogini Waterfall.

Jogini Waterfall.

When we reached the waterfall….it was spectacular! For me, it was better than Niagara Falls. Water cascaded from a ridge of rock down onto the ground where it flowed into a stream downhill. We could feel the wind & water spray on our faces. Magnificent! The fact that I faced my fear meant a lot to me too. I felt really taken care of by everyone. It was great meeting them & chatting to them over a cup of chai.

Dharamshala: Norbulingka Institute

Thangka Painting

Thangka Painting

I wanted to go to the Norbulingka Institute but I thought we didn’t have the means to go there as it was 6km away. I was thrilled when we decided to go & looked forward to learning about Tibetan art. We travelled down to Dharamshala to get a bus which seemed to stop in the middle of nowhere & we walked for about 20 minutes until we reached the Norbulingka Institute. We had a hearty Tibetan lunch at Yangzom restaurant opposite the Institute.

Norbulingka Entrance

Norbulingka Entrance

The entrance of the Norbulingka Institute was colourful & intricately carved in wood. I loved it! The Japanese styled gardens were beautiful & filled with colourful prayer flags.

prayer flags

prayer flags

This Institute was established to teach & preserve traditional Tibetan art forms: woodcarving, statue carving, metalwork, Thangka painting & embroidery. We were taken on a tour to learn about Tibetan craft. I really enjoyed myself & am in great awe of their craftsmanship.The craftsman are refugee artists from Tibet & all proceeds from the sale of the items at Norbulingka is to sustain the center & preserve their culture.
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Woodwork

Woodwork

The Losel Doll Museum was adorable. I loved looking at the costumes of dolls representing the different regions in Tibet. There were  little caricatures of Tibetan festivals too.

Cham festival dance doll

Cham festival dance doll

I couldn’t help but feel sad for the Tibetan people & the fact that their culture was attempting to be annihilated.

We had our habitual power nap in the Buddhist temple. It was a beautiful small santuary & I felt zen. I didn’t want to leave this peaceful oasis.SONY DSC

I would love to purchase a Thangka painting or some pieces from the Norbulingka Institute for my home one day. Here’s the website.

Dharamshala: McLeod-Ganj

Tibetan Prayer Wheel

Tibetan Prayer Wheel

McLeod-Ganj is the current residence of the exiled Dalai Lama making it the center of Tibetan culture in India.

We stayed at Om Guesthouse which had a great view.

One of the attractions was the Bangsu waterfall which was small & a bit stagnant because it was summer. Subhen swam while I watched over our things.

I noticed that McLeod-Ganj seemed a tad cleaner than normal India & the people didn’t hassle you if you didn’t want to buy anything.We ate a thali at Moonpeak Restaurant which was nice. Most of the time we had Tibetan food at Gakya Veg which was vegetarian. I had some momos which are vegetarian dumplings but I wasn’t a fan. I preferred their noodles. We drank a copious of lemon honey tea to acclimatize ourselves to the higher altitude.

One morning, I woke up early to have breakfast. A staff working at the guesthouse was having his breakfast, feeling curious I asked “What are you eating?” He replied, “Tibetan bread” & offered me some. It was delicious & tastes of sesame, I headed out of the hotel to get my bread from a lady vendor. Later on, Subhen informed me that the man who offered me bread had escaped from Tibet as a young boy.

Escaping from Tibet & the passage to India is a treacherous journey over the mountain bearing the risk of starvation, frostbite, being caught & tortured by the Chinese authorities.Tragically, death is a common outcome. This man had left his loved ones in Tibet & has never been home since. Such harrowing stories are the norm of Tibetan refugees in Dharamshala. This plight is highlighted in this NYT article about refugee monks in Dharamshala. My personal view is that the torture & murder of Tibetans is an act of genocide by the Chinese authorities.

Tsuglagkhang complex is the official residence of the Dalai Lama, Buddhist monks & the Tibetan Museum. The Tibetan Museum gives valuable insight into the Chinese occupation & the Tibetan exodus into India. The depiction of torture subjected to ordinary Tibetans, Buddhist monks & the pillaging of Tibetan natural resources by the Chinese authorities was moving.

We were having our nap in the Temple grounds (we made a habit of having power naps in temples. haha!). When we heard some people talking & clapping hands in the level below. We looked down & we watched the monks debating. It was fascinating, every single time they made an argument, they would stomp their feet & clap their hands.

Monks debating

Monks debating

We attended prayers dedicated to the Buddhist monks who self-immolated in Tibet at the Temple complex. The hall was filled with people & I found the chanting soothing.

Prayers

Prayers

Butter Tea

Butter Tea. Very Salty!

We attended a candlelight vigil around McLeod-Ganj & felt solidarity about the atrocities committed in Tibet.

Solidarity walk

Solidarity walk

Candlelight vigil

Candlelight vigil

Amritsar

Sikh Pilgrims

Greeting magical dawn at the Golden Temple.

Determined to attend the prayers & greet dawn at the Golden Temple we made our way to the Golden Temple at 3am.

Sikh pilgrims bathe in the Amrit Sarovar

Sikh pilgrims bathe in the Amrit Sarovar

Dawn emerged & pilgrims arose to bathe in the Amrit Sarovar. It was a special scene of Sikh pilgrims deep in their devotion. I felt to privileged to be present observing this intimate scene of the Sikhs practising their faith. It was one of the most memorable & beautiful sunrises I experienced.

For breakfast we had some free chai & chapati from the dining hall, Guru-Ka-Langar. I felt so welcome during my time at Amritsar. We visited the Sikh Museum which gave us an insight into the Sikh struggle for recognition against the Mughals & British.

The last stop was Jallianwala Bagh, a park where General Dyer, a British officer opened fire on innocent Sikhs. It was sad. One can only imagine the scene of 400 innocent Sikhs who died when the British troops opened fire without warning. Bullet marks remain on the walls.

Remembering those who perished

Remembering those who perished

Amritsar & Wagah border

Amritsar!

Amritsar!

It felt like a miracle when we finally reached Amritsar. I was glad we had friends to laugh about the busses breaking down.

I asked them, “Do busses break down in India frequently?” The man who did a monthly pilgrimage said, “No, this is my first time that 4 busses have broken down consecutively”

They were friendly & showed us around. Subhen had a lassi by the road side. It had a nice covering of dark dust but according to Subhen the it was “the best dusty lassi” he had. That guy can eat anything, anywhere.

Ladies waving flags

Ladies waving flags

Indian crowd

Indian crowd

Our time was limited so we decided to head to Wagah border also known as the India-Pakistan border crossing . Daily pomp & ceremony is exhibited at the border closing ceremony between India & Pakistan.The Indian crowd was electric: full of people dancing & singing. Loud chants of ‘Hindustan Zindabad’ (long live India) echoed in the stadium. The officers were dressed in their best, putting on an impressive show. It was uniquely entertaining.

Indian Guard

Indian Guard

Jai Ho!

Jai Ho!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we had a delicious dinner at Brothers restaurant. The panner & lassi are the best I’ve had.

After dinner, we visited the Golden Temple. We dressed appropriately. As I walked up the marble steps, I was greeted by the dazzling Harmandir Sahib, a two-storey marble temple. It was indeed a sight to behold. In 1830, Ranjit Singh led the Sikhs to victory against the Afghans & to celebrate decided to gild the Temple with gold. The reflection of the Harmandir Sahib glimmered in the Amrit Sarovar (Pool of Nectar), a sacred pool surrounding the marble temple. The original copy of the Sikh book, Adi Granth scripture is housed in the Harmandir Sahib. We were fortunate to witness the evening prayer ceremony.It felt surreal in the beautiful Harmandir Sahib with the sound of peaceful prayers chanting.

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