Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Into the mountains: Bir, India

"Sense pleasures and desirable things are like saltwater - the more one tastes them, the more one's thirst increases." 
 ~ Gyalse Ngulchu Thogme, Thirty-seven Verses on the Practices of Bodhisattvas 

"Desires fulfilled breed more desires."
 ~ Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

My friend Jennifer and I were deciding how to get from Rishikesh to Bir, near Dharamsala, the home of Tibet's Dalai Lama, well into the foothills of the Himalayas. The overnight bus is a 15 hour drive, leaving at 4pm and arriving the next morning. The train arrives at 2am, but requires a further 5-hour taxi ride into the mountains. We chose to go by taxi on a pretty exhausting 14-1/2 hour drive (map link), over tortuous mountain roads, about a third of which were unpaved, all of which were rutted, with near-constant honking of horns and passing trucks on blind curves as they belched black smoke and dust into our open windows. Delightful, except not. We were BEAT when we arrived, but, incredibly, our taxi driver left after an hour's break to drive back the same night. It didn't seem possible, but he claimed he was fine. (How could that be?) 

Bir is a beautiful, unhurried place, filled with Tibetan monasteries (and Tibetans!), green hills, tea plantations, snow-covered mountains in the distance, and restaurants that serve wonderful momos (Tibetan dumplings) for 60 cents a plate. Luckily, not long after we arrived a well-known Tibetan nun, Tenzin Palmo, was giving three days of teachings. Ms. Palmo is famous for being one of the first Western women to become a nun, and for having lived in a cave at 13,000 feet elevation for 12 years! 

We've been here a week now, and we're just loving the place. Maybe in the photos you can see why.

Love to you,

This lovely old Tibetan woman was sitting in the Chokling Monastery during a 10-day "long life" ceremony, or "puja."
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Birds on top of the monastery's ornamental roof line.
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Monks start young.
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These two women were watching the long life puja.
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One young monk helps a younger monk with his robes.
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A statue of the Buddha at the front of the prayer hall in Chokling.
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Blowing conch shells as part of the ceremony.
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The view from the sidelines, where we were sitting.
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Another young monk.
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Inside this small workshop young Tibetan craftsmen are making these elaborate ornaments out of, I believe, copper. It's supported on a block of malleable wax.
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The carnival is in town, and these kids got the first (and only) ride. 
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Jen played with these two beautiful grimy creatures for about an hour. They're the same two as in the photo above.
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This looks a little dicey, but safety rules are lax here. (There are safety rules?)
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This is the view we had from the balcony of the hall where we heard three days of teachings from Tenzin Palmo.
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We visited a friend's project high up the hill. Our friend Nathan is showing us the trail to start our one hour walk down.
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I'm always grateful when a lovely old woman like this allows me to photograph her.
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Next time your Mom wants help with the groceries, show her this photo! And then help her with the groceries. She's carrying a big bundle of grass up pretty steep hills.
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As the hills start to level out further down the hill, wheat fields are plentiful, and so are the gorgeous kids.
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This is the little girl's grandmother.
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She's not unattractive!
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A handsome old guy walking down the road.
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Young monks on the last day of the big puja.
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A monk from Germany was showing the kids some magic, and they loved it.
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Inside the puja, we were given candles and incense to light. A few minutes later, they took it from us and gathered them all together.
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Gathering the incense sticks.
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Just before the rice wars. The solemn "tossing a few grains of rice" devolved into an all-out rice war, with monks throwing handfuls at each other and at the tourists. It was really fun.
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A close-up of the floor after much rice-related tomfoolery.
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The sun shines through a window and illuminates a bright red wall.
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Butter lamps, as they're known.
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Lunch at the Tenzin Palmo teachings, with Artyom, Kate, Zohar and Nathan.
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(The End)