A Travellerspoint blog

July 2012

India: Ladakh

Click here for a tale of trekking, cycling, socialising and marvelling through the remote, otherworldly and harmonious cultural and ethnic crossroads of Tibet, Nepal and India, sitting high towards the heavens.......or simply, heaven itself!

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Ladakh

The wondrous region of Ladakh comprises large eastern section of the state Jammu and Kashmir, bordering the Himalayas.
It is a predominantly Buddhist society, with an even mix of smiling Tibetan, Nepali and Indian faces, thriving in a harmonious community they call their own, with a unique language and set of traditions.
His Holines the Dalai Lama was in town when I was there to give a set of discourses at the Leh Temple.

This welcoming community coupled with the staggering, jaw dropping Himalayan landscape (and adventure sports on offer) makes this one of the best places in the world to travel.

This is my last stop in India and I will be leaving (literally and figuratively) on a high note.

Ladakh is by far my favourite place in India, and perhaps the world, for so many reasons.
I hope this entry helps explain why...

om mani padme hum

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Bumpy 17hrs to Leh

I took the bumpy 17 hour ride on share bus along the The Manali-Leh highway. A largely unsealed dirt track; sometimes no track at all - where drivers just pick a path through the open plains flanked by the huge Himalayan mountains.

This is a magical journey through the barren, stone and dirt mountain ranges at 4-5000 metres - through the clouds and a constant view of enormous Mars like contoured hills.

There are no towns en route, just small tented stops for chai / supplies (they also offer beds for travellers who get stuck).

Up here there is space, snow capped mountains, clear views, clear air, roaming nomads, ongoing construction on the highway (those guys do it really tough) and an amazing atmosphere of just...... wow

The views made the uncomfortable journey all worthwhile.

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All roads lead to Leh (new and old friends)

As the guidebooks say, Leh is very traveller friendly - everything you need is here - nice guesthouses, plenty of restaruants serving great cheap food, social atmosphere, and an abundance of travel agents offering adventure tours, etc etc.
I bumped into so many folks I met in different places over the past 6 months - it seems like all roads lead to Leh.

Lodgings

After arriving from the mega bumpy journey, I headed straight for Saser Guesthouse as it was the top pick in the Lonely Planet.
It is indeed a nice place, but not the best value…. Rp500 for a room with run down bathroom, grubby linen (the silk liner came in hander), and hot water rarely on.

Later in my stay I went to Zik-Zik with my trekking buddies. This is THE best place to stay (out of the few guesthouses I checked out).
The family who run it are super friendly and everything is comfy, clean and new - including gleaming western bathroom, thick mattresses and wifi… Rp600

Leh

I caught up with my buddy, Ryan from Sivananda / Andamans / Kolkata / McLeod and we explored the town.
There are vantage points everywhere to get a great view of the town, with the enormous mountains encasing it... cradling it.

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Happy faces everywhere, speaking Ladakhi (Julee!), some in traditional dress, others in western clothes.

There is a shanti, yet vibrant kind of buzz here.

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In the evening we went to a restaurant that I'm best not to name, and sat by the fire with other travellers from Egypt, South Africa and Israel.
The proprietor was planning a secret party out in the wilderness (locals, rightly don't want parties ruining the shanties of Leh) and really talked it up.
Rp500 to join party out in the Himalayan wilderness - sunshine, BBQ, music, plenty of up for it travellers... what more could you want.
We put our names down....

Party In the Himalayas

Along with 60 or so other party goers we arrived at the restaurant in the morning, in time for our secret buse, taking us to the mystery location.
The party was great - very social and international.... Germany, Canada, France, Norway Israel, USA, and fellow Aussies, all doing full enjoy
Great food, and company and nobody was shy to bust a move. The surrounding scenery actually made the experience a little surreal - in a good way!

It was a good move to keep the party away from Leh.
Though I had a great time, I think this kind of thing has ruined other parts of India.

Pangong Tso

I got a nice surprise after the party…. a trekking pal from Sikkim, Natalie messaged me and was also in town. She was organising a trip to Pangong Tso with a big group and invited me to join.

We were a small UN representing Australia, USA, Israel, Chile, Belgium and Holland.
It was indeed a very bumpy but picturesque ride through the enormous valleys to Pangong Tso.
On the way we stopped at the world's 3rd highest pass for some tea.

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Pangong Tso (lake) is an enormous lake sitting at around 4000 metres, and sits within both India and China.
Words really can't describe it…. please have a look through my pictures (link below) to see.

Morning view:
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We roamed the area during the late afternoon and enjoyed a nice dinner in one of the cafe tents on the bank. We were so far from anywhere, the dark sky was awash with bright stars.

In the morning, our Chilean representative, Connie led a magnificent Kundalini yoga, mediation and chanting session on the banks; a very powerful experience, heightened by our truly amazing surrounds as we looked out to the enormous blue lake with multicoloured grey, brown and red mountains in the background.

Late afternoon view:
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On the way back we stopped at several active Buddhist monasteries, built into the mountains, and some other gorgeous settlements nestled into the valleys.

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This was definitely a major highlight of my Indian experience.

Cycle down Khardung La (the highest pass in the world!!!)

Khardung La is the highest vehicle pass on earth. It reaches over 6000 metres!

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What else to do but get some mountain bikes and cycle down it.
The road to the top stretches 34 mms from Leh.

I joined my group via one of the agents (just down from World Cafe), and we took a 4WD, carrying our suspension, super tough bikes to the very top of the mountain!

The journey up was quite exciting - only one small lane at the edge of the mountain - and trucks and cars trying to pass in both directions - it is amazing, how close the vehicles get both to each other and the cliff edge!

When we got to the top we enjoyed some tea at the world's highest cafe, then set off down.

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It was a bumpy ride down the unsealed road. Plenty of opportunities for some jumps and passes through small rivers.
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As road smoothed out towards the bottom (and eventually became sealed) we got some serious pace.
It was a fantastic ride, and the astounding view really forced me to pinch myself…. surely it doesn't get better then this.
The Himalayas (literally and figuratively) rock!

Stok Trek

You can do any kind of trek in Ladakh - from overnight home stay strolls to full on month long expeditions with sherpers and ponies carrying tents and supplies, requiring ice picks, abseiling gear and tons of stamina.
I felt a little trekked out from the past couple of months of ramblin' and the high altitude living.
The English lads I met on the biking trip were keen for an overnight home stay trek to Stok and invited me to join.
It is always cheaper to trek in bigger groups… I tried to rouse some of the party goers from the previous week but they were a bit withered. All roads lead to Leh, and many end their Indian journey here….

So, the three of us joined our guide early in the morn' and set off to the Ladakhi montain ranges just outside of Leh.
This is gorgeous scenery - barren, but enormous, with vibrant contrasting colours, interesting wildlife (we saw a lot of cheeky marmmots, wild mules, yaks, etc).
The first day was an easy warm up - 3 hours walking along the flowing river up to our home stay at the base of the Stok ranges.

Our Ladakhi hosts served us a delicious veg curry and dahl for dinner. Our room had clear views of the valleys, and the surrounding farms.
So peaceful, so remote… if God exists he smiles so proudly and warmly over Ladakh.

Day 2 was a tough one. We slowly ascended to the peak, up the steep stony path, with jagged mountains surrounding us - it kinda felt like Lord of The Rings… we were leading up to something.

When we reached the peak, a sense of achievement and wonder emerged in the group. The views were worth the climb. Only pictures can describe.
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We met other trekkers from Spain, France and Austria at the top, and a convoy of locals herding ponies carrying their village supplies came past.
Julley! (Ladakhi for hello, thank you, goodbye, etc, etc)

The descent was great fun, and of course the views were stunning.

At one point the gradient was too steep for walking, and since it was just dry dirt and hardly any rocks our guide led us to skate/ski down on our shoes.
I stood side on, recalled my Noosa surfing lessons (crouch, one arm bent sideways, the other pointing forward with fist clenched). We got up some nice pace and descended several hundred meters in a few minutes!

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The remainder was a nice stroll into Stok.

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Goodbye Ladakh

This region is up there with my favourite places in the world, and a great way to end my time in India.

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I leave here; sated, fulfilled, amazed, calm, inspired, full of wonder, with great memories and wonderful new friendships.
Most of all, I feel so blessed and thankful to be able to roam and experience this amazing, intriguing, puzzling, ancient, inquisitive, staggeringly diverse country, and be so welcomed everywhere.

A farewell letter to my gracious host to follow…..

Om shanti friends…..

Keep smiling, loving, rejoicing, living…..

lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:56 Archived in India Tagged ladakh lah trekking_india pangong_tso khardung_la parties_india Comments (0)

India: Kullu and Parvati Valleys (Himachal Pradesh)

Here is my tale of high altitude trekking, high altitude (and intriguing) communities and amazingly warm hospitality, in breathtaking shanti surrounds...

semi-overcast 26 °C
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The wonderful valleys and mountains of HP

Wooziness from McLeod to Vashisht

McLeod to Manali was a pretty horrid journey; a true test :-)

We set off from around 8:30pm in the rusty old bus, swerving down the mountains at a pace that only Indian drivers can justify (and whilst smoking a chillum at the same time)... bound for Manali.
At around 10:30pm there was a loud BUMP and the bus stopped.
The driver got out, inspected the damage, came back in and sat down.... but said nothing to the passengers.
We sat waiting patiently waiting for an explanation or some kind of action.
It was pouring rain.
Eventually one of the Indian passengers made a call, and found that a public bus was departing for Manali, from a few minutes walk down the road.
Myself and about other passengers grabbed our bags and trudged to the public bus.

When we got there it was already full, but the conductor let us stand in the aisle. This is what I love about India, there is always room and people are happy to accomadate.

A swervy, sweaty, misty, smelly 4 hour journey to Manali ensued. I could sense that some of my Russian compadres were on the verge of technicolour yawns. Though we made it without incident.

Upon arrival I made a sharp exit to Vashisht via rickshaw.

Vasisht Vs Old Manali

Most folks I met who had been up here said Vashist is better than Old Manali. I beg to differ.
Old Manali is better equipped, has nicer guest houses and more atmosphere.
I recommend Geeta, opposite the English Bakery - where I am now, on a second pass through Manali, waiting for bus to Leh.

I didn't like Vashist. It was full conceited, antisocial western stoners!
If you want to smoke charras with a bunch of fascist hippies then go for it.
Yes, fascists they wear their dreads and faux Indian gear as uniform just as their corporate aggressors wear ties and fancy cufflinks..... When I had dreads hippies couldn't wait to chat... I see now how they grunt and scoff at folks who don't wear the uniform ;-)

I couldn't wait to leave Vashist and rejoin India!

Manali

Manali is a nice bustling town. There isn't much in terms of attractions or traveller friendly accomadation, but it is friendly and vibrant. There was an enormous influx of Punjabi tourists when I was there.

Manali
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Nagggar and Kullu Valley

I decided to venture down further down into Kullu Valley for trekking and shanti.
Some chums back in McLeod recommended starting in Naggar and staying at Pappu and Meera's guesthouse - two very good pieces of advice!

Pappu and Meera are amazing hosts - very gracious, serve amazing food and nothing is too much trouble. Their house sits high up the mountain of Naggar with amazing views wherever you look.
I had a great room with bathroom and balcony for Rp400 which is a super deal.
Meera's pranthas are delicious!

Naggar Town
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View over Naggar (from my balcony!)
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There, I met Jan - a long term stayer from Germany. He is writing a book about his experiences of living in India on and off for the past 20 years. His observations and insights were very interesting.
He get to know everyone in town, and introduced me to his card playing friends who could have easily been Khaderbai and his goons in Shantaram.
Naggar is a very friendly, jovial, gorgeous and shanti place....

Trek to Malana

I organised a trek through Pappu: 32kms from Naggar to Malana via Chandrakhani pass.
This is a very tough journey - with steep inclines and very rocky terrain. It gets more and more spectracular as you go further up though - up through the clouds!
There are high altitude farms and communities here.

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Amazing views on the way
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Being at the top of Chandrakhani Pass, among the clouds with wild horses running around reminded me of the dream sequence in Blade Runner
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On the way down to Malana we hit some trouble. It started raining heavily and this is the rockiest part of the journey. With low visibility it was difficult to tell how far we had to go in the dwindling daylight.
Luckily we slowly but surely made it to Malana before dusk

Tragic Malana

Malana is famous for charras (hashish), and this seems to be the primary industry of the village.
Cannabis plants grow absolutely everywhere!
Education, though offered is hardly taken up, with kids seemingly just playing, throwing rubbish at each other or filling their faces with sweets and crisps.
Most families make their living by rolling cannabis plants to extract the charras, and make a small fortune in the process.
Children are taught to roll charras at an early age, and I was told that during peak charras harvest (2 months) of the year, even less kids are in school because the family requires them to work in the family business.

Malana is probably the filthiest town I have seen in India.
People hardly wash, and the entire ground of the village is littered with candy and empty crisp packets.

Most families in Malana are very wealthy by Indian standards (we saw young children with Rp100 notes in their hands), yet their clothes are old, filthy and torn; plus their homes are falling down and unkept.

As we ate breakfast on the roof of my guesthouse (run by outsiders), I watched kids climbing into the town's water tank to swim, with their shoes and clothes on!
This is also what everyone in Kullu that I would see. It's a tragic but intriguing place to see.

To compound the absurdity, it is forbidden to touch any of the local people or buildings.
People of Malana consider themselves and their buildings holy. This adds a very comical element to the experience.
I could not shake anyone's hand or touch any buildings away from my guesthouse.
To make a purchase you must put your money on the ground or table where the vendor replaces it with the good(s).

Both myself and Amit, my guide (who has taken many many groups here) could not wait to get out of there.

The view of Parvati from Malana is nice though:
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Return to Naggar

On the way back to Naggar, we stopped in Kasol for a while.
This is a more extreme traveller spot - with trance parties, charras; whatever other contraband you like.

India being a largely conservative, caste conscious society do not like this kind of tourism. Locals very rarely participate in Parvati Valley shenanigans. Generally they are actively trying to attract a more genteel kind of tourist (I feel this will take time and better infrastructure though) but they tolerate/facilitate to make good money. Many, many people tell me this.

A friend once said to me - If westerners want to come here and impress Indian people, wear a neat shirt and present yourself properly. Walking in barefeet and smoking charras is not what we want from visitors!

It was great to get back to Naggar and shanti Kullu Valley for some of Meera's lovely home cooking, a chat with the other shanti guests and prepare for the next and final stage....

17 hour bus journey to Leh awaits.

Om shanti friends!

p.s. I took a ton of super snaps, you can see them all here!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:45 Archived in India Tagged india trekking himachal_pradesh kullu_valley parvati_valley nagger malana Comments (1)

India: Dharamasala / McLeod Ganj

Immersing in the amazing high altitude home of the Dalai Lama and learning from the wonderful Tibetan community; plus yoga, a tabla course, new friends and being in the moment

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McLeod Ganj

McLeod:
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McLeod Ganj is just above Dharamasala in Himachal Pradesh, and is absolutely one of my favourite places, not only in India, but the world.
It has a large Tibetan population and home to the Dalai Lama where he teaches freely and campaigns for Tibet's freedom.
India welcomes any Tibetan who can make the journey over the Himalayas, and most of them come here.
There is a steady stream of international volunteers to help the community.
Aside from the heartening community spirit here, it is a gorgeous high altitude, spacious area with courses offered in literally ANYTHING.
It has good accommodation options and great food!

Pretty much an ideal place for any intrepid traveller to stay awhile.

Journey

It was a 17 hour bus ride from Rishikesh to McLeod. It was pretty cramped and a bit sweaty, but you get used to these journeys after a while in India.... thinking back to Vipassana - staying equanimous, and understanding impermanence... eventually made it :-)

Lodgings

I headed over to Bhagsu (about 2km from central McLeod) with fellow travellers from Switzerland and Ukraine, as it is a bit more traveller friendly and quieter than McLeod - with lots of yoga and more courses available than you can poke a stick at - music, Ayurveda, painting, stitching, didge making, singing / chanting, reiki, jewelley making, wood carving, etc. Yes Bhagsu is one of the many traveller ghettos .... and particulartly popular with young stoners on the move.

Anyway, we found Cloud 9 (next to Hezi's travels). It's a really nice place. Good clean rooms, nice courtyard and cheap. Rp200 (AUD$4) per night for a room with a bathroom. Unbeatable for me so far for the price.
The only problem for me was that it is a party place. So, if you want sleep before 2am, then look elsewhere.
Israeli kids (I call anyone under 25 kids) come to Himachal Pradesh or Goa straight out of intense army training to let loose.
If I was 10 years younger I would have stayed up drumming to their heavy guitars, and showing them the Melbourne shuffle whilst they blast psy-trance.... but I am here for early morning yoga, volunteering, and generally getting some shanti.

After 2 nights of not much sleep - I spoke to the owner, and told him I was leaving because of noise.
He had No noise after 11pm signs around the hotel, but this fellow was too amiable to enforce it.
He pleaded and said he'd speak to the kids - I told him ..."it's not you, it's me"
If kids want to party, the Himachal mountains are a good place for them... they should be able to!

I found a gorgeous room offered by a family, in their home further up towards Dharamkot. Peaceful sleep for the rest of the time.
Bhagsu is awesome. If you want early sleep just go a bit further up the hill :-)

I encountered this group of Hare Krishnas (video):

Gorgeous Surrounds

Himachal Pradesh is one of India's most scenic states. McLeod Ganj sits at about 3800metre elevation with steep sweeping decorated and stunning views wherever you look!
I went on a few nice walks - up to the waterfalls near Bhagsu, and then higher up towards one of the Tibetan monasteries above Dharamkot.

Yoga

Mahi is famous in McLeod Ganj. His yoga classes are fun and informative.
Unlike many yoga courses in India, he takes the spirituality out of it, and replaces his explanation of asanas with science.
He explains the impact of every pose throughout the body, and how all muscles are linked.
For example, when we do toe stretching we are improving the function of our sinuses.
He likes to adopt random names his students too - even if he recalls your name - he will just call out "Olga" or "Simon".

I got a lot out of each class - and they are cheap.... Rp200 each!
Ask anyone in Bhagsu where to find Mahi's class and they will tell you.

Tablas

Rohit Mishra and his wife run a fantastic music school in Bhagsu.
They offer courses in tablas, jembe, flute, guitar, singing, and are both ex teachers of Banaras University in Varanasi.

Tablas are a particularly difficult instrument to learn. Finger placement is essential to getting the correct tone, and usually every beat is a different intone or strike. It's like playing a melodic instrument without keys or strings and continually adding accents.
Rohit is a great teacher. I learned a lot within one week (and a bit of practice between classes).

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Through his affiliations with Banaras University, his able to have instruments made at fairly good prices.
I had a pair of tablas made, as did an Israeli couple who were studying with him for a month.
I found good sets of tablas in the stores for around Rp14000
My order for good wood/live skin drums was Rp8000 through Rohit.

I definitely recommend studying here if you are thinking of learning tablas.
The teaching is solid, and you will learn Indian rudiments very quickly.

Volunteering

There are a huge number NGO's operating to aid the Tibetan community in McLeod Ganj.
They are listed here
I taught conversational classes each day (at 2pm just outside Oasis cafe).
It was a totally amazing, informative and rewarding experience.
People from all aspects of the community turn up to learn - youngsters, monks, nuns, shopkeepers, elderly, etc.

Each day a topic is decided upon, and the facilitator writes up 4 questions based on this topic to discuss in groups (1 teacher to 2 or 3 students).
After an hour of discussion each student must have written a succinct answer for each question, and present at least one of them back to the class.
One day the topic was inspiration
We had to define the term, what it means, discuss books and actions that inspire.

Another day the topic was ego: what is it? do we need it in life? what would the world look like without ego?

In my group I had a young nun, a student, and a shopkeeper. The answers I got were so profound and well thought out to me - but they flowed so very quickly naturally from them, without hesitation.
Tibetan culture is studious and considered. All Tibetans fervently study Buddhist philosophy and the Dalai Lama's books.

My students may have improved their English; correct sentence structure, how to express themselves and find more appropriate words to suit their thoughts, etc.
However, I got so much more.... an insight into the hearts and minds of enlightened people; pragmatic, compassionate (even towards their aggressors), and acknowledgement that utopia still requires an ego.

I saw people who are happy and at ease despite their disposition....happy in the present, but determined and fighting. Studious and hungry to learn and better their lives.

Tibet in Exile

After China invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled to India where he was received with sympathetic arms. He was able to setup headquarters here in McLeod Ganj and continue teaching.

Tibetan refugees are given land, accommodation, assistance, etc and an (albeit tenuous) status of residency.
In McLeod Ganj this community seems to flourish. The Dalai Lama temple is an amazing peaceful place and there are many schools and programs here for Tibetan people.

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I attended two talks from people who fled Tibet to live in exile here.
The first was by a young man who left his family behind forever to escape, and build a life for himself.
He told of the harsh oppression facing Tibetans by China, and the banning of their Buddhist customs and rituals.
Monasteries have been burned to the ground and most statues of Buddha have either been destroyed or sold on the international market.
China has also encouraged / forced mass migration of Chinese people into Tibet, so now Tibetans are a minority in their own country.
Slowly they are being swallowed up and completely repressed.
This fellow started an NGO to help Tibetans in exile make a life for themselves in India - through language teaching programs, upskilling (IT courses), etc... a platform allowing visiting volunteers to help whilst they are here.
His story of escape was inspiring yet harrowing at the same time - he will never see his family or Tibet again, unless China releases it's grip.

China perpetuates programs to get people (especially young) to renounce the Dalai Lama in return for entrance to schools and government aid, etc.

The Dalai Lama named the new Panchen Lama (born in 1989) to become his successor.
In 1995 this boy was kidnapped by China.
China then named a new boy of Chinese origin to be the Panchen Lama.... which in effect means once the Dalai Lama passes, they want their own controlled person to take his place - Tibetans of course would not accept this.

The second talk was from a political prisoner who fled to India after being released from a 5 year term in prison - for simply protesting.
He was part of a peaceful protest in a monastery in 1996. He was continually tortured and told to renounce the Dalai Lama during incarceration. He showed photos of the tools he was tortured with, including having a nail hammered into the point between is finger nail and finger.

After 5 years of continual physical and mental abuse he was released to a very different looking Tibet.
He spoke of China's envelopment of Tibet and how it is disappearing.
He also spoke of the hard journey to India, and trying to make a life for himself without his family.

It is hard for all Tibetan's here... those who flee, have to go forever and almost all will never see their families again. Family is so important in Tibetan culture.

I have spoken to quite a few Indian people this, and asked for their thoughts.
India does not have a social welfare system for Indians, yet Indian people understand that without family to support them, Tibetans should be somewhat looked after when they come to India.

Some Indians are disparaging of the fact that the Dalai Lama remains here in protecion.
They say he should be in Tibet, fighting back and leading his people. Gandhi liberated India peacefully and from within India.
Indians are proud, nationalistic, stoic and unafraid to speak their mind. I have never heard this argument from any western friends.

Regardless, the Dalai Lama is a popular figure internationally. However it seems no nation or organisation is really brave enough to take decisive action for Tibet, and risk business with China.

Tibet deserves to be free... we can only hope..... or maybe do!

On to Manali...

Posted by SkinnyFists 06:09 Archived in India Tagged tibet mcleod_ganj bhagsu volunteering_india learning_tabla_india yoga_india Comments (0)

India: Punjab

Experiencing the super festive changing of guard at Pakistan border, and the magnificent Golden Temple in Amritsar.

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Punjab

To Go or Not?

I had initially decided not to go to Punjab. It is out of the way from my planned path - with two attractions to see, and not much to do.
I'm currently in Dharamasala, enjoying fantastic yoga, tabla lessons, and getting to know Tibetan culture (stay tuned for details in next update...)

I was in Hezi's Tours using the internet, when a voice said from behind....
"Hey, do you want to go to Punjab?"

I didn't. It's far out of the way...
"No, you only need to look at a photo of the Golden Temple online to get Amritsar.... and Changing of The Guard (at Pakistan border)... how great can that be?"

Trip organiser, Chen was trying to get numbers for a day trip to Punjab. Charter a vehicle, leave early morning and come back late at night.

Genius! I decided to join.

Chen managed to round up 9 people for the trip - 7 Israelis, and 2 Aussies.
A great group and good fun..

Changing of the Guard

Every day at around 6pm, there is a changing of the guard for border patrol, on both sides - Pakistan and India.
On either side of the border are large arena type setups - where both nations show national pride and try to outdo each other, by dancing, chanting, singing, etc.

There is capacity for (I'm guessing here) 40,000 people on either side.

When we arrived, we had to queue in a "staging area" where it got really cramped, really fast!
One thing I love about India is that tempers never seem flair - they are always either calm or very happy...
Anyway, we were all so squashed in - rib crushingly so - yet nobody got upset, pushed hard, etc.
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Men and women are queued separately which makes perfect sense in this instance.

Folks running to get a good seat:
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After about 30 minutes we were allowed to pass through to the border side arena.

Foreigners are seated in their own area with very primo views!

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This was the greatest show of national pride I have seen in India.

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Indians outdid Pakistan in every way!

Videos I captured....

Dancing:

National Pride:

Jai Ho!

Chanting for India

Marching to the Border

This was a beautiful celebration!

Golden Temple

Next we went into Amritsar to see the (Sikh) Golden Temple.
This is an intensely spiritual and majestic place.

Punjab is home of the Sikh's - their warrior based culture is steeped in strength, prosperity, work ethic, etc.
You get a sense of these characteristics when you walk into the vast and spectacular marble complex.

The temple itself - (Gold!) sits in the middle of a large man made lake, with other temples surrounding it.
Chen had the great idea to go at night - it is truly gorgeous lit up with darkness behind!

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A ceremony of some kind was taking place at the time we were there.

We had to queue for roughly 45 minutes in the grand entrance, to enter the temple - though the wait was definitely worth it.

View from the queue:
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The interior is also mostly gold, and the music played by the "custodians" (Sikh's do not have any kind of priests).

As we walked through the temple, we were invited to sit and witness proceedings taking place in each of the golden rooms.

I was really drawn to the music. Strong, melodic, rhythmic tabla's, soaring melodies from the Baja (melodeon) and chanting.

It was a magical experience - I would say en par with Taj Mahal at the very least.
A video from youtube:

I'm so glad I joined the group, and of course Chen was right - you can't really get Punjab by looking at photos ;-)

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:48 Archived in India Tagged amritsar punjab change_of_guard india_pakistan_border india_festivities Comments (0)

India: Rishikesh

Chilling, eating, exploring, and reveling in festive ancient spirituality during Indian holiday time

sunny 34 °C
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Rishikesh

Arrived in Haridwar after 20 hours on the train.
It was an uneventful journey. I was knackered from Varanasi and welcomed having a bench in an air conditioned cabin to just sleep and listen to tunes.
From Haridwar it was an hour long cab to Rishikesh.
The driver dropped me off at Jaxman Jhula bridge, and I crossed the mighty Ganga and found the excellent Dev Ganga guesthouse.

It was the also the height of holiday season in India (Laxman Jhula bridge):
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This place is really well maintained, spotless; the rooms have modern/quiet AC units, the beds are comfortable and I had a gorgeous view of the Ganga from the balcony - Rp1200 (AUS$20) per night. A little pricey by Indian standards but worth it.

Rishikesh is the world epicentre for yoga, ashrams and Hindu spirituality.

The Beatles came here (though there is no sign of that in present day Rishikesh - most Indians don't even know who the Beatles were), to explore spirituality, and wrote most of the White album during their stay.
There are many great ashrams here, and most hotels offer yoga drop in classes and longer term programs.

Laxman Jhula
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After such a heavy indoctrintation of becoming unindoctrinated through Vipassana - I felt that living under the guidance and rules of another Guru was going to be a little too much - so I decided not to join an ashram this time and soak in the vibe.

Instead, I walked around the gorgeous forested hills, explored the spiritual Swarg Ashram, wandered through the nice markets and read 2 books whilst enjoying the great food at Pyramid Cafe, Little Buddha, Little Italy, and the many other awesome chilled traveller eateries here.

Satsung time on the Ganga!
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Om Namah Shivaya!
Shanti shanti

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:13 Archived in India Tagged rishikesh hospitals_india Comments (0)

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