Monday, June 07, 2010

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Dalai Lama: "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."

I'm writing from Dharamsala, India, home of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. People who come regularly say  the changes in the town over the last few years are shocking. The first and only time I was here was on my very first trip to India in 1992, and I'm happy to say that it was so long ago that I've forgotten too much to be shocked. On my first trip, it was a backpacker-friendly community that was really about the Tibetans. It's transforming now into an Indian tourist town, with massive traffic jams on the single-lane streets and the resultant car horns, mega-blocky concrete hotels, and major water problems from over-development. But it's still backpacker-friendly, with delicious food, wireless internet cafes, and a marijuana-friendly culture that some dread-locked ravers find irresistible. And when the Dalai Lama came back into town last week after an overseas trip, the street was lined with beautifully reverent Tibetans, happy to see even a fleeting glimpse of His Holiness, as he's known.

Since I uploaded the photos below, I've taken quite a few more, including on an amazing hike yesterday. I'll send more photos soon, and fill you in on my travel plans, including a trip to Singapore, then summer in Europe!

Much love,

The photos below can also be found here:

Butter lamps are a common Tibetan religious observance. These are inside what's considered the Dalai Lama's temple. Supposedly they represent the illumination of wisdom.
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Love this kid!
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This monk Nawang is my new best friend. Very sweet guy, and he's invited me to visit him in Ladakh or Manali, where he spends part of each year. He just had cataract surgery on both eyes. One eye doesn't work very well, but with the other eye, he says, "I understand everything" - meaning he can see everything.
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Little girl sharing a confidence with her Mom. 
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This beautiful little guy is half German (father) and half Tibetan (mother.) If only he got enough to eat!
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These prayer wheels are filled with written prayers, and spinning them generates good karma, also referred to as accumulating merit. More merit => better rebirth. 
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It's fairly uncommon to see a woman saddhu like this one. I think she has a striking face. She was sitting in front of the Dalai Lama's temple, either "begging" or "requesting alms," depending on your outlook.
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This kid and his two friends all had the same expression as they looked into the camera, like I might swat him. I thought about it, but decided not to!
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We visited an impressive non-profit, the Norbulingka Institute, which serves to preserve Tibetan culture and traditional arts. They train something like 100 artists at a time in three-year programs for thangka painting (shown here), sewn thangkas, and sculpture. They have some amazing works on display, and the grounds are really stunning.
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This small fabric thangka is 100% thread. There's no ink or drawing of any kind.
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This (bronze?) plate is hand-hammered, not cast. It's amazing how much time and skill it would require.
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This huge thangka is hanging in the monastery, which is part of the institute. It's also completely sewn.
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This is a small section of the thangka above - in the center of the lowest section.
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And this is even a smaller portion, showing the robes of the lute player above. It shows how much detail goes into a thangka like this. Incredible.
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There was some sort of protest/procession happening down one of the streets in town. If it's not obvious, these are mostly nuns.
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These young men were also in the procession.
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Beautiful Mother and baby. (And their family makes some wicked-good pizza!)
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I wanted to take her photo as soon as I saw her.
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I tend to particularly like kids who let me pick them up! I actually took this photo myself with one hand.
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Hopefully this isn't the room they're offering for rent.
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These boys were keen to get my photo with them on their camera phones. I returned the favor, sans me.
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Adorable - full of confidence and potential.
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These photos can also be found here:

(The End)