India

Bye Bye, India

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So, everything must come to an end – at least that’s what they say.. The people who say that..

This whole trip to India was kind of an experiment – I wasn’t completely sure why I was going, I just felt that I should go and so tried to keep an open mind and let myself be guided by some inner compass. I think that turned out pretty well.

It seems the trip can be divided into two very different sections; the India part for the first four weeks and then mini-Tibet for the last three weeks. Very different experiences indeed. India was fun and chaos and as much as I enjoyed that adventure, mini-Tibet was where I lost my heart. Before even leaving Denmark, I had a feeling that I needed to go to the mountains – where everything else was up for debate, going to the mountains was the only thing certain. I never expected it to have such a profound effect though – and it really did. There’s the places you like for various reasons, you either live there or could imagine yourself living there – they live up to your general standards plus a little extra. And then there’s the places which resonates on a much deeper level, where your soul feel at peace and at home. That’s how I felt there at the foothills of the Himalayas, surrounded by Buddhist monks and immersed in Tibetan culture. At peace and at home.

The first couple of days in Mcleodganj I stayed at a very nice hotel with great reviews, beautifully decorated rooms and a nice family running the place. And yet, it just didn’t feel right. I had noticed a house close to the temple that seemed to speak to me but which also looked very closed off – definitely not your regular tourist place. But of course I had to explore why I was drawn to it and so I rang the bell and met the most wonderful Tibetan family and their hysterical little dog – and the next day I moved into my new home. The room was small (but functional), the bed was a single (but not too hard), the shower was a bucket with a cup (but nice and warm) – and it just felt right. I loved my little and very simple room – my Tibetan cell :)

Walking around the town and the surrounding areas, exploring waterfalls and amazing mountain nature, eating delicious food, meeting people and making friends – those three weeks didn’t feel like some vacation trip, they felt like life.

A few days before I had to leave, I went to the temple like many times before – but this day there was extra security and I had to leave phone and camera outside. Inside there was decorated with flowers and flags and a sort of audience area had been set up. Honestly, it didn’t even occur to me to go stand there (I’m just not an audience kind of person) and so I went upstairs and sat with the monks and nuns who was filling up the place for what would obviously be a full day of chanting. By then I was pretty certain that the Dalai Lama would be there and I was excited to finally see him. In the meantime, I enjoyed the chanting as much as ever. Then, maybe an hour later, people downstairs started to move around and the photographers got into position. We all looked down and across the courtyard towards His Holiness’ house where a group of lamas and security people and other important people were making their way towards the temple. First I saw his feet, then his whole legs and then the entire body of this very sweet old man, walking and smiling and just looking lovely. It was a moving moment and maybe even more so because I was sharing it with a group of nuns who were just as excited as I was. He made his way across the courtyard and up the stairs to where we were all sitting and after a short round, he went into the temple – and shortly after the chanting started again and it went on for the next two hours. Then he spoke – and laughed – for about half an hour and then more chanting. Obviously, I didn’t understand what he was saying but nevertheless, experiencing him in person was special.

The final days there I made sure to soak up as much wonderfulness as possible while also taking care of the last practical things like sending the last package, meeting with friends and buying presents. I tried to keep the balance between feeling sad for having to leave and grateful for having been there.

The initial plan had been to leave a few days early and then celebrate Holi, a Hindu festival with Delhi friends before leaving India. But I really had no desire to be in Delhi again and the Dalai Lama would be giving a teaching on the morning on the 8th that I was sad to miss out on. And suddenly I realized that I had been limiting myself, thinking that I needed to do the responsible thing and take a bus to be in Delhi early enough to avoid stress – when I could just as easily attend the morning teaching and then take a taxi straight to the airport. Okay, it would be a 10 hour drive and also cost just a tiny bit more than the bus but I really don’t believe in limiting myself beyond absolute necessity – and I’m not convinced that ‘absolute necessity’ was applicable in this case.

On the morning of the 8th I woke up very early and decided to just get up and head to the temple. On the square in front of the entrance I had a glass of chai, then bought a chapati and went inside. This day there was a ton of people, a ton of security and in many ways it was no longer my temple but was now a place for all the tourists who had been filling into town the past couple of days in order to see the lama.

A little after 8am, His Holiness appeared and took his seat in the front and for the first 20 minutes there was different rituals taking place and chanting. I was sitting with a group of elder Tibetan people in front of me and monks and nuns on all other sides of me. The elders had brought little dried flowers that you use for a symbolic offering to the teacher, the lama, and was making sure that everybody around them also had one, me included, and a monk sitting next to me explained all the formalities. For more than three hours the lama was teaching, cracking little jokes a few times and being really cool. I actually ended up having to leave before he was done because I had a taxi to catch but it turned out that he stopped shortly after. The entire teaching is available online;

http://www.tibetonline.tv/videos/999/jataka-tales-2012

I managed to zip my backpack – quite an accomplishment since I had bought around 15 pairs of pants, several shirts, a ton of yakwool hats and gloves and shawls and other presents. Three times throughout my trip, I sent home packages of stuff to be able to fit everything and still it was a challenge and I had to wear three shawls on my way home because there was no way I could fit more in the bag.

Me and my driver left Mcleodganj around 2pm – he was very colorful because of the Holi but luckily completely sober. I have never had any problems with motion sickness but going down the mountain with all the sharp turns, holes in the road mixed with the Indian driving made me so sick. It was awful and I don’t know how people who get motion sickness ever go anywhere. I didn’t really have much choice and just closed my eyes and tried to embrace the motion. And so for the next almost three hours, I was in the backseat in a kind of fetal position, clutching the seatbelt and with my eyes closed – focusing on breathing, not throwing up and really regretting  starting our road trip by eating a sandwich. The poor driver seemed a little worried and once he realized how crappy I felt, he tried to avoid the holes and drive softer. Once we got down to flatter grounds, I got better and we stopped for chai – both of us relieved that I was going to survive. Back in the car we put on music, Hindi pop, and now it was a real roadtrip. Driving towards Delhi I was reminded of how the real India looks and I both reconnected with the warm feelings I have for the country as well as was relieved that I was experiencing it from the peacefulness of a car and not having to actually deal with it :)

Driving is really meditating for me and a time for trance like reflexion (I really hope it’s a different experience for the person who is actually driving) and as we moved through the landscape, I relived the entire trip. It seemed like the perfect way of wrapping up my Indian adventure.

After a few hours more we started seeing a lot of Sikhs all going in the same direction, dressed up and riding sometimes three and four on the same motorbike and in caravans in big trucks. Apparently there was a very important Sikh festival and as we got closer to the city where it was, the traffic got more and more congested. Reaching the town where it was, it took us more than an hour to pass through and if we hadn’t been pressed for time, I would have wanted to stop for a while.

The festival plus a couple of accidents (other people’s) put us behind schedule and so the last 4 hours the driver just stepped on the gas and raced towards Delhi – I was struggling to stay awake but failed. At 1am we pulled up in front of the airport – the drive had ended up taken 11 hours and my body was not happy and my head was blurry. We said goodbye, I went in and through security, spend my last rupees on some snacks and found my gate just in time for boarding – perfect timing.

Sitting down in my seat, I noticed a foul smell. Seriously bad. I was a little surprised and very embarrassed to stink like that but thought that maybe it was understandable after spending all day in a hot car. And then I saw them. The source of stinkyness. And they didn’t belong to me but to the man sitting behind me. And they weren’t wearing socks. And they were gross. I was appalled and very irritated to find them right there, within my smelling reach, on an eight-hour flight. But honestly, I couldn’t bear bitching about it – I mean, what could he do. But I could bear to take a picture and then I used the flight blanket to cover the gap between my seat and the wall and that way blocking the flow of the stinkyness.

I slept most of the way to Frankfurt, spend two very boring hours in transit and then a short flight to Copenhagen where I was picked up at the airport.

I never like returning home and more and more I realize that maybe I should start taking that seriously.. And change reality..

India has been amazing. I have so much newfound inspiration and gained valuable insights. This journey has been so much more that I could ever have imagined it would be – and I’m not even done digesting it all.

In the middle of my coming-home-blues, I feel incredibly grateful for the advice of good friends, for the support of my family and for allowing myself to follow the signs and going on adventure.

A Day at the Temple

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Sunday morning I was woken up by the sound of chanting monks – and honestly, what could be more wonderful? At first, it was still dark but a few birds had begun singing and I could feel that stirring of a waking day. Then gradually it became lighter and more sounds mixed with the chanting and there was no way I could stay in bed.

I was actually sick and had spent most of Saturday being pretty pathetic – and as I got dressed, I realized that okay, perhaps I’m still sick. But how often are you in mini-Tibet, being woken up by the most beautiful chanting, chanted by the most beautiful Tibetan monks? Right. So off I went to the temple.

I recognized the chant as being the same as at Losar and I now know that it is the Tibetan Chant for World Peace. I’m still not sure if that is the name for the whole prayer or just part of it, the text takes up an entire book and there might be several chants. Before I leave here, I will find out.

The temple was full – well actually the temple itself is pretty small and only holds what seems to be the oldest and most important lamas, the ones leading the chant, a few of them wearing yellow half-moon shaped hats – the rest of the monks and nuns are sitting outside in sections covering three sides of the temple.

After another half an hour or so everybody breaks for about 15 minutes and then assemble downstairs. The downstairs area also has a temple, a very small one, and two monks are now sitting in the doorway of it, facing out (and actually facing across the courtyard and directly into HH. the Dalai Lama’s residence – I imagine him peeking out the window to see what’s going on :)). All the monks sitting as audience on one side and all the nuns on the other, first one monk, the two, then four, is standing in front of the two sitting monks, asking them questions and clapping loudly in their hands while doing so. The tone of their voices is sometimes provocative and mocking and the whole thing seems like some kind of theater.

At this point I’m very much aware that my body is challenged, my head feels very warm and prickly and a couple of times my sight goes black with little stars and I have to sit down and lean up against a pillar. I probably should have been in bed but how often are you in… Right.

Several times the standing monks are being replaced, the two sitting remains the same and it seems they are being tested. I’m doing the best I can to decode this strange phenomena but tone of voice and gestures etc doesn’t always mean the same in different languages so what I see as mean mocking, might be completely harmless.
One of the standing monks, one who have been particularly menacing, is finishing his round and leaves the area for a short while before returning and finding a seat among the monk audience. He looks exhilarated and very satisfied with himself, and in a very innocent and likeable way, like a proud and happy kid, with a bounce in his step and a bubbly grin. The reality of this performance is definitely something other than just mocking.

After a while I’m deciding that maybe I should go get some rest, it would be horribly embarrassing to lose conscience right in front of all the holiness, not to mention right outside the lama’s windows. So I leave and on the way I ask one of the security guards what is going on. He explains that it is in fact a test, he calls it mind wash. The monks are practicing and debating and every clap marks a question. His English was not the best and my sharpness not the sharpest so I will find out more – but I have read about the debates, I just didn’t know they looked like this.

On the way back I stop at my favorite cafe, OneTwo Cafe, for some breakfast and then back to bed for a few hours. The cafe is almost exactly between my room and the temple, it’s the nicest Tibetan girls who run it, the food is great and it’s overlooking the square right in front of the temple so there’s always life to watch. The yellow building in the back is the temple. Around noon there is chanting again and I feel better and so I head back to the temple.

I have never considered myself a chanting kind of person. I mean, I can see the purpose of it and I can even enjoy it once in a while but it has never been my choice of devotional expression. But this chant for world peace.. It goes straight into the deepest of my heart and it makes every cell in my body vibrate in the most beautiful way. Well, I guess I can’t really explain it but the effect is overwhelmingly powerful and makes me feel that if I could just sit and listen (at least until I learn the words myself), I would be happy – nothing more in life would be necessary. And that’s a pretty powerful feeling. I wonder what it would take to convince the monks to come back to Denmark with me…

Well, okay so anyway – for the next hours I’m sitting there outside the temple, surrounded by monks and nuns and chanting, being happy, contemplating life. There is little breaks here and there, tea and bread is being passed around, there is chatting and laughing, and just like at Losar, the chanting never stops, the intent remains strong. The energy being accumulated on a day like this must be profound and I can only imagine how far it reaches or how astonishing it must look through the eyes of a clairvoyant.

So Sunday was wonderful and I went to bed feeling grateful and peaceful and connected with myself, my heart and the whole universe – just how it is supposed to be.

Experiencing Tibetan Medicine

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The past couple of days I’ve been hanging out at the Tibetan library, expanding my horizon. The library is in the same little area as the government in exile and the medical & astrological institute so in a way you have the essence of Tibet represented in one place. To me, that place is pretty much perfect; the view of the mountains, full exposure to the culture and ancient knowledge readily available – what’s not to love?!

Outside the library, a number of very content dogs are hanging out. The dogs here are much healthier, happier and relaxed than other places in India – here they have their own place in society and are not just outlawed and homeless animals.

A few days back a friend gave me a tour of the area, including the astrological museum. I had been wanting to get an astrological consultation, which is a little different from our western classical astrology – among other factors, past and future lives as well as the influences of the elements are included. It turned out that because of the huge demand of horoscopes, the department have been forced to put all consultations on hold and focus on catching up on analyzing. They still had two kinds of consultations available; partner compatibility and death prediction – one I don’t need and one I don’t want :D

So instead we visited the astrological museum and that was actually very interesting – astrology and health are very much related as opposed to the western world where astrology is mostly considered on the more alternative side.

Then a couple of days later, I meet someone who is suggesting that I should get a physical by a Tibetan doctor. He says that might be interesting and describes it a little bit. There’s more to the story regarding that meet but that’s down a completely different path – let’s just say that I was ready to follow whatever suggestion he might have had. So the next day, yesterday, bringing a small plastic container with urine, seriously, I walk down to the Drungtso Healing and Astrological Centre. I think this was the most excited I’ve ever been about going to get examined by the doctor, it was definitely the adventure of the day.

The clinic is very simple and the people working there are very nice – the whole thing has got what I’ve come to understand as the ‘Tibetan atmosphere’, happy and relaxed in perfect balance :) I go meet the doctor and sit down and she starts by measuring my pulse – with three fingers. index, middle, and ring finger, each finger doing its own thing*. Very accurately she goes through the process of diagnosis, once in a while asking me questions. Afterwards she takes the container with urine and shakes it. She does that a couple of times, making little remarks about the size of the bubbles and such. I’m just sitting there fascinated and if she had let me, we could have stayed there all day, me asking a million questions. She concludes the consultations by prescribing me four different kinds of medicine, one for the cold that is creeping up on me and three other kinds for making my whole system get into perfect balance. She also makes a few suggestions as to what I should and shouldn’t eat.

Out in the clinic again I first go to the cashier with my prescriptions and then afterwards I go to the dispensary where they take almost 15 minutes counting the exact number of pills needed, carefully putting them in small plastic bags with little notes of guidance.

After the doctor, I headed straight to the library and spend the next few hours reading about Tibetan medicine, which is just amazingly fascinating – and not just because I’m easily fascinated. Its approach to health is holistic in the most holistic way possible and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

Okay, so the pills look like little goat poop, you know, the little round things that could assemble licorice.. They’re different variations of brown and smell very nature’ish. I’m supposed to crush them and then mix with hot water – three at the time, spread out across the day.

This morning I then started my treatment towards perfect balance. I don’t have a pill crusher here but the doctor said it would be fine just crushing them between my teeth and then drink hot water to flush them down.

My first thought was that the pills were actually harder than expected. My second thought was pure panic. The taste was awful! I wanted to rip out the whole interior of my mouth to make it stop. Horrible!

So this afternoon I tried to crush the pills, using two forks, and then mixing them with water. Two forks are not sufficient for crushing Tibetan goat poop but the experience was definitely less traumatizing and I feel confident that this too will lead somewhere satisfying :D

* If you should feel like learning just a little more about Tibetan medicine, the website of the Drungtso Centre is very informative;

http://www.tibetanmedical-astro.com/about_tibetan_medicine.php

Momo Making

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Okay so it’s not really a secret that I have fallen completely in love with the Tibetan people – and their food!

I’ve made some new friends and yesterday I was invited home to one of them to hang out with him and his friends and learn how to make momos – a kind of dumplings, little packages of dough filled with whatever you like and then either steamed or fried.

We started with going shopping for different vegetables since I’m so difficult to not eat meat. When we got to his place, his friends were already working on preparing everything.

The whole thing was a very different cooking experience – with not much space and not all the fancy tools we have, everything took place on a small coffee table and a big scarf laid out on the floor.

First you mix flour and water into a dough – simple.

All the ingredients are rinsed and cut – equally simple.

Then the dough is first rolled into a long sausage shape and then divided into small pieces. Each piece is shaped round as a ball and then flattened to small pancakes. 

Now the tricky part; you put the pancake in your hand and place a spoonful of the filling in it and then you use your thumb to keep the filling in place while the other hand works its way closing the momo, making a rippled line.

I tried every step of the process and we all agreed that I’m a fast learner :D But the momo technique might take a little more practice to be perfected.

Once all the momos are made, they are put in a big steamer and steamed for 20 minutes. First thing I’m going to do when I get back to Denmark; buy steamer.

Final result is a huge portion of the most delicious food ever. You eat the momos with a hot chili sauce mix, dipping each bite of yumminess – I’m a fan :)

And the thing is, you can continue eating forever! We were talking and learning chinese and I was asking loads of questions about their escape from Tibet and different customs and so on all the while eating and then eating some more..

It ended up taking all afternoon and one of the things that I’m so fascinated by in the Tibetans that I’ve met, is the natural ease they display in everything they do. No hidden agendas, no ego play – just very pure and simple being.

Tibetan Losar

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Today, Friday, is the third and final day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year. For the past three days, there have been mass prayers and ceremonies around town and at the temples. On a more selfish note, for the past three days all the Tibetan restaurants has been closed, leaving only limited selection for dinner – really can’t wait for tomorrow.

This year, there has been no celebrations like usual. Instead, to commemorate  the self immolations, the Tibetan people have been wearing their traditional clothes as a statement. There have been hunger strikes outside the temple and the Tibetan Youth Congress has held several events to create attention and support for their cause.

This morning I went to a mass prayer – it wasn’t something I’d planned, I just wanted to walk down to a smaller temple just south of the big Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses both the Namgyal Monastery and Temple as well as the residence of HH Dalai Lama. It’s a very beautiful walk through pine forest and all along the path there has been put stones engraved and painted with the Buddhist mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum”.

 

When I got to the temple, there were so many people and after making sure that my presence was accepted, I sat down and joined the prayers. Well, I didn’t know the words but I listened and focused my intentions, in awe to participate in such a moving experience. In the middle all the monks and nuns were sitting and were leading the chanting and spread out on both sides were everybody else. Sometimes only the monks and nuns were chanting, then it was like everybody else answered and they chanted back and forth, sometimes quiet, sometimes louder and more energetic. Children were running around playing, cookies and chai were being passed around, a few tourist walked by and there were some press photographers and a camera crew – such a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and never without losing the chanting.

It went on for another 30’ish minutes (by then my butt was really cold from sitting on the ground) and then everybody stood up and received a small handful of flour, me included. I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with it but was told that it was for throwing. We were now all standing, facing the temple and a new prayer was said while holding out the hand with the flour. Twice we lowered the hand and raised it again while the prayers continued and on the third time we threw the flour up in the air and everybody wished each other happy new year, laughing and covered in white :)

That concluded the ceremony and everybody started walking back towards the main temple, most also making a round in and through the temple. The whole thing was such a beautiful experience and I’m so grateful to have been a part of it.

Later in the afternoon I went to the Namgyal Temple again (I live right next to it) and another mass prayer was going on. It was actually the same chant as in the morning – I still didn’t understand the words but recognized it just the same.

Around town as well as inside the Tsuglagkhang Complex, big posters have been put up with pictures and stories of the recent self immolations and also posters showing the latest killings of peaceful Tibetan protesters. Tibet has been pretty much sealed off and it’s practically impossible to enter or leave. Many people here in Dharamsala have family and friends still in Tibet, some of them escaping themselves by foot across the Himalayas.

It’s heartbreaking that after som many years, the situation has not improved and it’s almost incomprehensible that the Tibetan people are still so full of smiles.

And they have beautiful smiles.

Mcleodganj

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*

There’s a peace and a stillness here that fills me with gratitude.

When the mind is quiet the heart speaks.

View over Kangra Valley…

Best offer on the mountain…

Himalaya foothills…

Serenity…

Dried up Bagsu stream…

Tibetan prayers blowing in the wind…

Monastery entrance – shave your head and come on in…

Looking out over the world…

Chandigarh Re-energizing

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Chandigarh gave me just the break I really really needed and nourished me back to my balanced self – some had to do with the non-touristy feel to the city and a lot had to do with my wonderful host. I ended up staying there for 4 days, got some good nights sleeps and some long talks about life and love (what else is there to talk about). Soniya, my couchsurfer angel and our neighborhood :)

It was a couple of strange days, very conscious about being fragile but on a deeper level very clear and in touch with my heart and I gained some profound insights.

Just one day was very difficult – I was pretty much crying the whole day and of course that was the day I had chosen for sightseeing. Others might have postponed playing tourist but I was pretty damn determined that I was going to see the damn sights. So I went to the Rose Garden – it’s a park and there’s a lot of roses.

And I went to the Rock Garden – it’s a big park build like a fantasy out of rocks, very surreal and kind of cool. At the Rock Garden I almost broke down though – it’s hard enough to feel like shit but when you have an audience at all times, it really does add to the challenge. At one point an entire family is following me and I just know that they want a picture. Earlier that day I had said no for the first time when someone asked me if they could take my picture, I really wasn’t up for it. So this family follows me while talking loudly together and one of the men then starts calling me. I should just have kept walking but I turn around and he asks if they can take my picture and I apologize and says no. As soon as I have said that, several of them takes out their cameras and goes paparazzi on me. It was very uncomfortable. I get so angry and shout at them, which doesn’t impress them at all and then I walk off, immediately starts crying but keeps walking and misses out of quite a bit of the fantasy due to very blurry vision.

After that experience I was pretty exhausted but also wanted to see the lake. It’s an artificial lake and for some reason I thought it would be tranquil and with some beautiful nature relaxation. It was not. Maybe because it was Valentines Day or maybe because it was India, there was loud music, boat rides and a million people. I tried to just stay in my own quiet zone but honestly, it’s hard when people are giving you so much attention and photographing you when they think you don’t notice. I felt like the loneliest person in the world – or the loneliest animal in the zoo.

Well, I did survive and went to the university to meet with Soniya. Waiting for her, I spent some time in the university rose garden. I was walking around smelling all the different kinds of roses and at one point I took just one step out into the dirt to reach a really beautiful one. It turned out that they had just watered that section and so my left foot got completely drowned in mud – it looked great :)

I found Soniya and we got into her car and started driving – and I started crying – again. What a day. We had decided to go watch a Bollywood movie – you can’t go to India without having a Bollywood experience and it really turned out to be a perfect way to escape reality for a while. The movie was in hindi of course but the plot is so simple and they use a lot of English words so I had no trouble following. Bollywood is so cheesy and pretty cool!

I guess that day was another turning point, cleaning out some old to make room for some new. The next day I had clarity and balance and connection with my heart and was ready to move forward.

On Thursday the 16th I had decided to leave for the mountains and so after a day at home being cozy and taking care of some practical stuff I went to the bus terminal to catch the bus to Dharamsala. It’s an 8 hour ride in an old Volvo bus. Not really luxury but the seats does recline – mine was a little broken so that was actually the only thing it could do, be reclined. I had brought snacks and my iPod was charged but I hadn’t realized the falling temperature. Some of the windows were a little broke and as we ascended, the temperature descended and I kept pulling stuff out of my backpack to wrap and cover myself with. We arrived around 3am and thank god I happened to know someone who was there for the weekend so I got picked up at the bus terminal and had a place to crash and didn’t have to be bothered with finding a place until next day.