The Daily Explorer

December 22, 2011

From Rishikesh to Dharamsala

Dharamsala, India: December 2011

MOZZIE BYTE (Editor): A warm welcome to all our Daily Explorer readers. For those of you who are joining us for the first time, Ray has been travelling and living nomadically for just over six years since he left England in November 2005, visiting 21 different countries so far on his journey. We have been publishing exclusive news and stories about his experiences (you will find all of these in our Previous Issues archive). Our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com.

In our latest issue, we continue to follow Ray around a country that he has been longing to explore for many years and one that is a target for many travellers and soul-seekers alike – India! Joining our team to report on what our global nomad has been up to is our guest Indian correspondent Sam Ozer (above). Sam is one of India’s most seasoned, talented online journalists with an extensive knowledge of the terrain and we are delighted to have him on board with us. Ray has been travelling through Rishikesh and Amritsar on his way to Dharamsala where he decided to stay for a couple of weeks so he could attend a three-day teaching with His Holiness, The Dalai Lama.

In case you missed our last issue, we had an update from Ray as he began his exploration of India in Delhi and saw how he fared during his subsequent visits to Jaipur in Rajasthan and the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal in Agra. You can read it now at: The Wonder of India – The Taj Mahal

Above: In our last issue, our intrepid explorer began his exploration of India in Delhi and we saw how he fared during his subsequent visit to Jaipur in Rajasthan, as well as the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal in Agra. You can read it now at: The Wonder of India – The Taj Mahal

Anyone who has travelled through India will know that the country is absolutely vast and journeys that look relatively short on a map will often take much longer than you might ever expect. When I spoke to Ray in Rishikesh, he confirmed this. “Most people travelling to Rishikesh from Agra would head back to Delhi and take a train or bus from there” he told me. “But that didn’t make sense to me as it seemed to be out of the way and I was hoping there might be more of a direct route. I then discovered that there were a number of buses that run between Agra and Haridwar, which is about one hour from Rishikesh and the nearest you can get using trains or buses. The downside was that these journeys were only possible on what they euphemistically call ‘local’ buses ie. they have bench seats, no limits as to the number of passengers, are generally 40-50 years old and offer an extremely uncomfortable, very slow ride because most of the main ‘roads’ are nothing more than pot-holed sand traps and very few highways have tarmac surfaces” he explained. “However, they are very cheap which makes them popular with hard-core budget travellers. I arrived at Agra bus station to discover there was a “sleeper” coach available, but it was not going to leave for 5-6 hours and when I took a look inside, it was so filthy that I decided to give it a miss and take an earlier bus instead” he recalled.

Above: Map of India showing our global nomad’s route. The blue lines represent the part of Ray’s journey we covered in our previous issue – The Wonder of India – The Taj Mahal – and the yellow lines show his route from Agra to Rishikesh (circled in red), then on to Amritsar and Attari and finally to Dharamsala (larger red circle) – “It looks like a stone’s throw on the map, yet it took me 14 hours to get to Haridwar (for Rishikesh) and a further hour from there. I hardly slept a wink because there was a permanent sand storm going on inside the bus, due to the fact they have no windows and the roads are all unsurfaced, making them incredibly dusty. Add to that the near absence of suspension and being squashed by hundreds of standing passengers and you can see why people find travelling in India so exhausting” said Ray

Below: To get to Rishikesh from Agra, Ray decided to forego a ride on the overnight “sleeper” bus (left) and go on the “local” bus instead (right) – “I took one look inside the sleeper bus and just couldn’t bring myself to get on it, despite the consequences – a hard bench seat in a very uncomfortable, dust cloud on wheels for 14 hours” said our budget traveller

Rishikesh represents the gateway to the Himalayas (see map) in the Tehri-Garhwal region of Uttar Pradesh. It abounds in natural splendor. The spectacle of the Ganges rushing through the Himalayan foothills is an awesome sight. Several temples dot the banks of the Ganges at Rishikesh, which is located at a height of about 1,360 feet above sea level. It is believed that several yogis and sages lived and practiced penance here. According to the Lonely Planet, ever since the Beatles rocked up at the ashram of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late ’60s, Rishikesh has been a magnet for spiritual seekers. Today it styles itself as the ‘Yoga Capital of the World’ – with some justification – as there are masses of ashrams and all kinds of yoga and meditation classes. Most of this action is north of the main town, where the exquisite setting on the fast-flowing Ganges, surrounded by forested hills, is conducive to meditation and mind expansion. In the evening, the breeze blows down the valley, setting temple bells ringing as sadhus (spiritual men), pilgrims and tourists prepare for the nightly ganga aarti ceremony. “Even in 2011, Rishikesh is still very New Age” said Ray. “I found out that you can learn to play the sitar or tabla on your hotel roof, try laughing yoga, practise humming or gong meditation, experience crystal healing and all styles of massage, have a go at chanting mantras and listen to spiritually uplifting CD’s as you sip Ayurvedic tea with your vegetarian meal” he added. “For me, I was simply happy to rest and relax, take walks along the river and read spiritual books whilst enjoying coffee at the rather lovely German bakery by the bridge overlooking the Ganges. It was the first place in India where I was inspired to stay for a while, with a really great vibe, decent food and guest houses and most importantly, laundry services” he laughed.

Above: The spectacular view of the hills surrounding the River Ganges as you enter Rishikesh. In the distance you might be able to see the Lakshman Jhula suspension bridge. The Ganges abounds in fish and offerings of puffed rice are made to these creatures

Below: The Lakshman Jhula, a 450 feet long suspension bridge was built in 1929.  This is where Rama’s brother Lakshman is said to have crossed the river on a jute rope. The freshness of the air, and sound of flowing water, the scenic beauty of the region and the distant sound of bell chimes create an unforgettable experience for those that visit this ancient pilgrimage town. The building in the background is the Tera Manzil Temple, a multi-storey complex of idols of Hindu Gods and Goddesses which is very popular among the domestic pilgrims

Above: While Rishikesh has a permanent population of around 60,000, the city (left) attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and tourists each year, from within India, as well as from other countries. It is a vegetarian city by law, is alcohol-free, and has also banned the use of plastic bags by shopkeepers and vendors. The Shiva Ghat (right) is where many of the pilgrims take holy dips and is also the location for a beautiful puja ceremony each evening

Below: Pilgrims and visitors gather around the God Shiva at sunset. Every evening, the Ghat becomes a sight to behold as the golden shadows on the river illuminate rows of devotees sitting patiently on the steps of the Ghat. They hold blazing plates filled with ghee and to the accompaniment of drums, chants, bells and prayers, release tiny oil lamps on flower bedecked leaf boats and allow them to float down the river

Above: Visitors, devotees and pilgrims gather around the Swami’s who lead the puja ceremony. A Swami is an ascetic or yogi who has been initiated into the religious monastic order founded by Adi Sankara or to a religious teacher

Below: “There was a pretty big crowd of people gathered at the Ghat the night I attended the puja ceremony” said Ray. “In Buddhism, puja’s are an expression of honour, worship and devotional attention. Acts of puja include bowing, making offerings and chanting. It is very colourful and really gives you a buzz if you join in with the singing and chanting” said our global explorer

Above: The Shiva Ghat also has an image of Hanuman, a Hindu deity – “I noticed that something strange started happening as the puja ceremony began” recalled Ray. “Every now and again, there would be a noise similar to the sound of sliding doors opening in a science lab or space station, which co-incided with two red doors in the chest of Hanuman (left) sliding back, revealing smaller images of Sita and Ram inside his chest (right)” observed Ray. “I am not too sure of the religious significance but it was certainly entertaining for a little while” he told me. “I later discovered that Ram is an incarnation of Vishnu, hero of the Ramayan. Sita, his queen, is also an avataric incarnation (in Hinduism, God incarnates as divine couples, Ram and Sita, Shiva and Parvarti, Krishna and Radha, etc…”

Below: A pilgrim sits beside the river Ganges between Lakshman Jhula and Ram Jhula

Above: The so-called “Yoga Capital of the World” has literally hundreds of courses going on for people in pursuit of personal growth

For those readers who like the history of popular culture, The Beatles visited Rishikesh in 1968 to attend an advanced Transcendental Meditation (TM) training session at the ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Amidst widespread media attention, their stay at the ashram was one of the band’s most productive periods. Their adoption of the Maharishi as their guru is credited with changing attitudes in the West about Indian spirituality, and encouraging the study of Transcendental Meditation.The Beatles first met the Maharishi in London in August 1967 and then attended a seminar in Bangor, Wales. Although planned to be a 10-day session, their stay was cut short by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein. Wanting to learn more, they kept in contact with the Maharishi and planned to attend his ashram in October, but their trip was rescheduled due to other commitments.

The Maharishi’s compound was across from Rishikesh, located in the holy “Valley of the Saints” in the foothills of the Himalayas, and the home to many ashrams. The Beatles arrived there in February 1968, along with wives, girlfriends, assistants and numerous reporters, joining about 60 other TM students, including musicians Donovan, Mike Love of The Beach Boys, and flautist Paul Horn. While there, Lennon, McCartney and Harrison wrote many songs (Ringo Starr wrote one), of which eighteen were later recorded for The Beatles (White Album), two for Abbey Road, and others for solo works. Ringo Starr left on 1 March, after only a short stay; Paul McCartney left mid-March due to other commitments; while John Lennon and George Harrison left abruptly in April following financial disagreements and rumours of inappropriate behaviour by the Maharishi, accusations which were made public. Harrison later apologised for the way the Maharishi had been treated by himself and Lennon, and in 1992, he gave a benefit concert for the Maharishi-associated Natural Law Party. In 2009, McCartney and Starr re-united at a concert held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which funds the teaching of Transcendental Meditation in schools. “I have always loved the music of The Beatles and still listen to it regularly. I hope I manage to be as creative in my own life as they were and I am very happy to have come here to see where it all happened for them” Ray told me.

Above: Meditation chambers for Transcendental Meditation, at the old Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, now abandoned and in ruins. The Ashram got famous internationally with the arrival of The Beatles in Feb 1968, though it was later shifted to Noida near Delhi in the late 1990’s. For anyone old enough to remember The Beatles, they composed nearly 48 songs during their time at the Maharishi’s ashram, many of which appear on the White Album. Several other artists visited the site to contemplate and meditate

Below: The Maharishi’s ashram was located in this quiet spot right beside the Ganges (left) – “Thesedays, the only musicians in town (right) are “The Monkees” joked our ageing traveller

Above: Our global traveller departed Rishikesh by train for Amritsar. Fortunately for him, it was not as overcrowded as the one in this picture, sent to us by one of our readers – “It was my first experience of taking a sleeper train and it worked out pretty well” he told me. “Once I had chained and padlocked my luggage to the bed, I was able to sleep pretty comfortably and arrived in Amritsar in great shape” said our global nomad (Picture: Susie Moberly)

Like Rishikesh, Amritsar is also in the northern part of India (see map) with a population of over three and a half million. Amritsar is very close to India’s western border with Pakistan. “I knew I was only staying for a day or two here so I had to do my research and have a plan of action when I arrived” recalled Ray. “I was staying at the Grand Hotel near the railway station and they had an afternoon tour to the border ceremony at Attari (which some other travellers had recommended) so I arranged to go later that day. That left me time to visit the Golden Temple – which is without doubt Amritsar’s most famous attraction – and the Jallianwala Bagh which was the location of a violent massacre of Indians by the British in 1919” explained Ray. The city is the main centre of Sikhs’ cultural, religious and political history and it houses the Sikh temporal and political authority, as well as the Sikh Parliament.

The Harmandir Sahib (referred to as the Golden Temple in western media), is an important Sikh shrine that attracts more visitors than the Taj Mahal with more than 100,000 people every day. It is the number one destination for Non-resident Indians in the whole of India. During the eighteenth century, the Harmandir Sahib was the site of frequent fighting between the Sikhs on one side and either Mughal or Afghan forces on the other side and the gurdwara (temple) occasionally suffered damage. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh secured the Punjab region from outside attack and covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, which gives it its distinctive appearance and English name of “Golden Temple”. The present day Golden Temple was rebuilt in 1764 by Maharaja Jassa Singh Ahluwalia with the help of other Misl Sikh chieftains. “It is a spectacular sight” said Ray. “Although it is a religious place, I couldn’t help feeling that I had walked into a giant James Bond movie set and kept waiting for the speedboats, soldiers with machine guns and an evil-looking man with a white pussycat to appear” he laughed.

Above and below: The spectacular ‘Golden Temple’

Anyone who has watched the 1982 Richard Attenborough movie about the story of Gandhi may remember the portrayal of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre under the direction of British Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer (played by Edward Fox in the film). “I watched it again soon after my arrival and India and was totally shocked and appalled by what happened. When I realised that this tragic event took place in Amritsar, I knew I wanted to visit the site for myself and try and make sense of it” recalled our traveller.

For our readers who are interested in the history, here is a brief summary of the background and build up to the event: In 1919, when India was still part of the British Empire, Gandhi’s call for protest against the Rowlatt Act achieved an unprecedented response of furious unrest and protests. In Amritsar, more than 5,000 people gathered at Jallianwala Bagh. This situation deteriorated perceptibly during the next few days. British politician Michael O’Dwyer is said to have believed that these were the early and ill-concealed signs of a conspiracy for a coordinated revolt around May, at a time when British troops would have withdrawn to the hills for the summer. On April 10, 1919, there was a protest at the residence of the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar, a city in Punjab, a large province in the northwestern part of the then unpartitioned India. The demonstration was to demand the release of two popular leaders of the Indian Independence Movement who had been earlier arrested by the government and removed to a secret location. Both were proponents of the Satyagraha movement led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The crowd was shot at by a military picket, killing several protesters. The shooting set off a series of violent events. Later the same day, several banks and other government buildings, including the Town Hall and the railway station were attacked and set afire. The violence continued to escalate, culminating in the deaths of at least five Europeans, including government employees and civilians. There was retaliatory shooting at crowds from the military several times during the day, and between eight and twenty people were killed. For the next two days, the city of Amritsar was quiet, but violence continued in other parts of the Punjab. Railway lines were cut, telegraph posts destroyed, and government buildings burnt. Three Europeans were murdered. By April 13, the British government had decided to put most of the Punjab under martial law. The legislation restricted a number of civil liberties, including freedom of assembly. Gatherings of more than four people were banned.

On April 13, the holiday of Baisakhi, thousands of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh (garden) near the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar. Baisakhi is a Sikh festival, commemorating the day that Guru Gobind Singh founded the Khalsa Panth in 1699, and also known as the ‘Birth of Khalsa.’ During this time people celebrate by congregating in religious and community fairs, and there may have been a large number who were unaware of the political meeting. An hour after the meeting began as scheduled at 4:30 pm, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer marched a group of sixty-five Gurkha and twenty-five Baluchi soldiers into the Bagh, fifty of whom were armed with rifles. Dyer had also brought two armoured cars armed with machine guns, however the vehicles were stationed outside the main gate as they were unable to enter the Bagh through the narrow entrance. The Jallianwala Bagh was bounded on all sides by houses and buildings and had few narrow entrances, most of which were kept permanently locked. The main entrance was relatively wider, but was guarded by the troops backed by the armoured vehicles. General Dyer ordered troops to begin shooting without warning or any order to disperse, and to direct shooting towards the densest sections of the crowd. He continued the shooting, approximately 1,650 rounds in all, until the ammunition supply was almost exhausted.

Above: The Amritsar Massacre portrayed in the 1982 film “Gandhi” by Richard Attenborough

Apart from the many deaths directly from the shooting, a number of people died in stampedes at the narrow gates or by jumping into the solitary well on the compound to escape the shooting. A plaque in the monument at the site, set up after independence, says that 120 bodies were pulled out of the well. The wounded could not be moved from where they had fallen, as a curfew had been declared – many more died during the night. The number of deaths caused by the shooting is disputed. While the official figure given by the British inquiry into the massacre is 379 deaths, the method used by the inquiry has been subject to criticism. In July 1919, three months after the massacre, officials were tasked with finding who had been killed by inviting inhabitants of the city to volunteer information about those who had died.This information was likely incomplete due to fear that those who participated would be identified as having been present at the meeting, and some of the dead may not have had close relations in the area. Additionally, a senior civil servant in the Punjab interviewed by the members of the committee admitted that the actual figure could be higher.

Above: Jallianwala Bagh today is a memorial to the tragic events of April 1919, in which British Indian Army soldiers opened fire on an unarmed gathering of men, women and children. The firing lasted about 10 minutes and 1,650 rounds were fired, killing 1,579 people. The well into which many people jumped and drowned attempting to save themselves from the hail of bullets is also a protected monument inside the park – “When you are there, it is hard to imagine the horror of what took place” Ray told me. “Back in 1919, news did not travel so fast as it does today. Despite the Government’s best efforts to suppress information of the massacre as it happened, rumours spread elsewhere in India and widespread outrage ensued. However, the details of the massacre did not become known in Britain until December 1919” said our well informed traveller

Below: This building has been preserved and you can see numerous bullet marks from shells fired by British soldiers. In 1997, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, participating with an already controversial British visit to the monument, provoked outrage in India with an offhand comment. Having observed a plaque claiming “This place is saturated with the blood of about two thousand Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims who were martyred in a non-violent struggle”, Prince Philip observed, “That’s a bit exaggerated, it must include the wounded”. When asked how he had concluded this, Prince Philip said “I was told about the killings by General Dyer’s son. I’d met him while I was in the Navy”

If Jallianwala Bagh is the darker side of Amritsar, then the border ceremony at Attari is definitely its lighter side counterpart. Attari is the only road border crossing between Pakistan and India, and lies on the Grand Trunk Road between the cities of Lahore, Pakistan and Amritsar. Wagah, as it is called on the Pakistan side of the border, is a village through which the controversial Radcliffe Line was drawn. The village was divided by independence in 1947. Today, the eastern half of the village remains in the Republic of India while the western half is in Pakistan. “Having been to Berlin this year, I was amused to discover that the Wagah border is often called the “Berlin Wall of Asia” said Ray. “Each evening, there is a retreat ceremony called ‘lowering of the flags’,which has been held since 1959. At that time there is an energetic parade by the Border Security Force of India and the Pakistan Rangers soldiers. It may appear slightly aggressive and even hostile to foreigners but in fact the paraders are imitating the pride and anger of a Cockerel” said our knowledgable visitor.

Above: The Bab-i-Azadi entry gate on the Pakistan side of Wagah Border (left) and the entry gate on the Indian side of the border (right). With over 8000 people visiting the border on an average day just on the Indian side, both governments have started developing Wagah as a tourist destination, improving tourist and custom facilities. The Indian government plans to develop a global tourist complex at the  border, which is 30 kilometres away from Amritsar

On August 14–15, 2001, the respective Independence days of Pakistan and India, the candle-lighting ceremony at the Wagah border, in which 40,000 Pakistani citizens and 15,000 Indian citizens took part, was seen as a reflection of the changing public mood over India-Pakistan reconciliation. Such candlelight vigils and the yearly ‘Midnight Peace Festivals’ were also reported in subsequent years. In May 2005, Pakistan allowed the import of five specified food items, free of tax via the Wagah border to tide over shortages in the domestic market;eventually, in an unprecedented move, on 1 October 2006, trucks carrying goods crossed the Wagah border for the first time since the independence of Pakistan and India over 60 years ago.

Above and below: Troops of each country put on a show in their uniforms with their colorful turbans. Border officials from the two countries sometimes walk over to the offices on the other side for day to day affairs. The happenings at this border post have been a barometer of the India-Pakistan relations over the years. In July 2010, as part of a move initiated by India, both countries agreed to tone down the aggressiveness exhibited by soldiers during the gate closing ceremony because the soldiers hurt their feet and knees performing the goose-stepping every day – “It was very dramatic and really entertaining with the crowds on both sides of the border cheering on their respective sides. The atmosphere reminded me a little of my school sports days” said our traveller. “If you go to Amritsar, it is well worth seeing” added Ray (Photo’s: Wikipedia)

Above: Before departing Amritsar, our global explorer took the opportunity to return to the Golden Temple after the border ceremony in Attari – “It looks and feels so different at night and is quite mesmerising” observed Ray  (Photo: Wikipedia)

To get from Amritsar to Dharamsala is relatively straightforward – you either take a bus or train to Pathankot, which takes around four hours and from there, another bus winds its way up into the mountains for another 3-4 hours to reach the secluded, charming hillside town of Macleod Ganj. I was curious to know why Ray had included it in his itinerary. “Some of our readers may be aware that Dharamsala is the exiled home of The Dalai Lama and many thousand Tibetan monks. I wanted to attend a special three-day teaching with him” explained Ray. “My friend Silky was going to be there and she told me about the teachings His Holiness does about twice a year which are open to the public, and they sounded really interesting. It was fortunate for me that I chose to go, because by the time I arrived I was really dying to get away from the cities which are extremely noisy, polluted, crowded and unpleasant. Macleod Ganj is up in the mountains, the air is much cleaner and cooler and the ambience is entirely different from typical, larger Indian cities – to me, it feels more like being in Tibet than in India, and I loved Tibet when I visited there in 2008” said our happy traveller.

Above: On the way to Macleod Ganj, which is a suburb of Dharamsala in Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. It has an average elevation of 2,082 metres (6,831 feet). McLeod Ganj was named after Sir Donald Friell McLeod, a Lieutenant Governor of Punjab, while the suffix Ganj is common Hindi word for “neighbourhood”

Below: Ray’s friend Silky enjoys the early morning sunshine – “She has attended teachings with the Dalai Lama in previous years and when she told me about them, I felt inspired to come” said Ray

There is sometimes confusion around the distinction between Macleod Ganj and Dharamsala, so I asked Ray if he could clarify it for me. “Sure I can, Sam. It goes back to March 1849, when the area was annexed by the British after the Second Anglo-Sikh War. Soon after, a subsidiary cantonment for the troops stationed at Kangra was established, on the slopes of Dhauladhar, in an empty land, with a Hindu resthouse or dharamsala, hence the name for the new cantonment, Dharamsala. During the British rule in India, the town was a hill station, where the British people spent hot summers. When the district headquarters in Kangra became overcrowded, the British moved two regiments to Dharamsala. By 1855 it had two important places of civilian settlement, McLeod Ganj and Forsyth Ganj, named after a Divisional Commissioner.Lord Elgin, the British Viceroy of India (1862–63), liked the area so much that he even suggested at one point, that it be made the summer capital of India. The twin towns of Forsyth Ganj and McLeod Ganj, continued to grow steadily in the coming years and by 1904 had become important centres of trade, commerce and official work of Kangra District. But much of the town was destroyed by the devastating 7.8 magnitude 1905 Kangra earthquake, in which close to 19,800 people were killed and thousands were injured in the Kangra area. The earthquake destroyed most buildings in Kangra, Dharamsala, and Macleod Ganj. Thereafter district headquarter offices were shifted to a lower part, and the town waited for another half a century before anything significant transpired in its history” explained Ray. “In March 1959, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, fled to India after the failed uprising in 1959 in Tibet against the Communist Party of China. The Indian Government offered him refuge in Dharamsala, where he set up the Government of Tibet in exile in 1960, while Macleod Ganj became his official residence, and also home to several Buddhist monasteries and thousands of Tibetan refugees. Over the years, Macleod Ganj evolved into an important tourist and pilgrimage destination, and has since grown much in population” added our global explorer.

Above: Macleod Ganj from a distance. It is sometimes known as “Little Lhasa” or “Dhasa” (short form of Dharamsala, used mainly by Tibetans) due to its large population of Tibetan refugees. The Dalai Lama’s residence, and the venue for his three-day teaching, is circled in red

Below: Our traveller stayed in a room adjoining the Kirti monastery, which gave him some fabulous views across the mountains and down in the valleys below

Above: Sam Ozer asks Ray: Are you smiling because you are enlightened? “No” says Ray (left) – “I have just registered to get my badge so I can attend the teachings, so I am nearly enlightened, but not quite!” The Namgyal Monastery is a huge complex and provides a perfect space for the teachings (right)

Below: It is a buddhist tradition to say prayers as you light butter candles inside the monastery

The most important Buddhist site in the town is Tsuglagkhang or Tsuglag Khang, the Dalai Lama’s temple. It has statues of Shakyamuni, Avalokiteśvara, and a statue of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). Other Buddhist and Tibetan sites in McLeod Ganj include the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, Gompa Dip Tse-Chok Ling (a small monastery) and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. “I met several westerners in town who were attending many different kinds of teachings each day, including some at the Library, so I went to a couple of sessions myself to find out what more I could learn about Buddhism” he told me. “You can see that tourism is an important industry in Macleod Ganj, but overwhelmingly, people come here to study Tibetan Buddhism, culture and crafts. The town is also known for Tibetan handicrafts, thangkas, Tibetan carpets, garments and other souvenirs. I am delighted to say that there are one or two excellent Tibetan restaurants too” added Ray.

Above: Mainstreet, Macleod Ganj (left). The town is situated on the Dhauladhar Range, whose highest peak – “Hanuman Ka Tibba” – at about 5,639 metres (18,500 feet), lies just behind it, as you can see from this picture of our traveller as he sits down for lunch

Below: Silky walks behind a Tibetan nun and touches the prayer wheels outside the Tsuglagkhang Temple. In the early morning, you are welcome to participate as the monks chant and meditate. You can join local residents for a meditative walk around the temple/monastery complex, which is known as a Kora. Along the way you will see many prayer flags and “mani” stones. Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. Kora many be performed while spinning prayer wheels, chanting a mantra, counting mala, or repeatedly prostrating oneself. In this way kora functions as a mind-calming meditative exercise. In accordance with Buddhist tradition and belief, kora is always performed in a clock-wise direction, and is often performed 108 times

Above: The Tsuglagkhang Complex is the largest Tibetan temple outside Tibet, and it has a large meditation hall containing some beautiful statues and thangkas, as well as a Kalachakra temple with beautiful murals. It is the monastery of the Dalai Lama and is located just in front of his residence. “In case you are thinking of visiting, you can find the Namgyal Cafe on the basement level of the complex where they serve really amazing pizza’s” Ray told me

Below: Near the Tibetan Government in Exile, is the library (left) which has a small but interesting museum and adjacent rooms for teachings about many different aspects of Buddhism (right)

Above: His Holiness The Dalai Lama talks about meditation and serenity during the three-day teaching organised in honour of a group of Korean monks….

Below: ….. and attended by hundreds of members of the public (left) from all over the world. Long time Tibetan supporter Richard Gere also showed up (right) – “There was an audible gasp emitted by the audience as he joined the proceedings on the second day” said Ray

Above: An aerial view of Macleod Ganj from the road to Bhagsu, which is about two kilometres from Macleod Ganj and is a holy pilgrim site for Hindus. Bhagsu has an ancient Shiv temple. However, the main attraction and the crowd puller here is not the temple, but the public swimming pool! It is a treat for tourists making it to Dharamsala during the hot months. But if you are not a great fan of busy places then steer clear as it is always crowded, except during the cold winters when the water is freezing

Below: A picturesque trail leads towards the Bhagsu waterfall, which takes about 20-30 minutes to reach from Macleod Ganj. If you have a lot of clothes to wash and you don’t want to give it to the laundry man to save some bucks, then this is the ideal place to do your own laundry and take a bath in the cool, clear water from the Dauladhar ranges – “I think I’ll take my washing to the laundry” said Ray

Above: Our traveller enjoys the peaceful and calming Bhagsu waterfall – “I am very lucky to be able to do things like this” he told me. “After six years of nomadic living, I still pinch myself sometimes to make sure I am not dreaming!”

Editors Note: Our special thanks to our new guest correspondent Sam Ozer, who has made a fantastic debut contribution with this excellent edition of The Daily Explorer. Sam will be uploading the third and final edition covering Ray’s first visit to India in the coming week, so look out for an email in the next few days. Our thanks to everyone at The Daily Explorer whose tireless work makes this journal possible. And our thanks to you, our readers, for your continued interest and support. Many of you know that our aim at The Daily Explorer is to create a great publication for you, so please keep sending us your comments and suggestions as to how we can improve what we are doing. You can use the comments box on this site, or email Ray (ray@thedailyexplorer.com), ‘Mozzie’ or any of our correspondents at mozzie@thedailyexplorer.com.

From time to time, readers send in video clips which we really appreciate. Whilst some are not appropriate for inclusion, the following clip is amongst the most inspirational clips we have ever received here, so sit down with some tissues for the next few minutes and take a look:

That’s it for now. My special thanks to Susie Moberly who took the picture of Ray below. Our next issue of The Daily Explorer will be online before the year is out and I will send regular readers an email with the link next week. Enjoy your Christmas!

MOZZIE BYTE

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6 Comments »

  1. Hey Ray, awesome report this month! Huge flooding back of emotions for me as I recall visiting Rishikesh and Macleod myself. Keep on trucking buddy. Mark.

    Comment by Mark Westoll — December 22, 2011 @ 6:33 pm

  2. Fantastic scenery up there in Macloed Ganj… a beautiful place. Let us know how the Dalai Lama’s talks went.
    Happy Christmas from Northamptonshire!

    Love, JaneXX

    Comment by Jane Harries — December 22, 2011 @ 8:44 pm

  3. I stayed at a place called ‘Eagle’s Nest’ just above Mcleod Ganj back in 2006 – amazing place and your pictures brought it all flooding back Ray – thanks!

    Have a peaceful Christmas

    Tony

    Comment by Tony Barton — December 22, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  4. My favourite picture is of the train with all the people on it! And what you said about ‘pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming!’ – you deserve this experience and I savour the glimpses of some of your journey and meetings too. Happy Xmas and New Year 2012. In friendship, Sarah (Melbourne VIC)

    Comment by sabe — December 23, 2011 @ 8:01 am

  5. What an amazing insight into the spiritual capital of the world! Namaste and a very Merry Christmas to you Ray xo

    Comment by Sally Pannifex — December 26, 2011 @ 6:07 am

  6. Great to read your blog and funny to see that photo of you in the Christmas hat! It is just amazing to get glimpses into the bits of India I didn’t get to see but as you commented it does take ages to get from one city to an other and exhausting too! I had the same experiences with those buses but in the end had NO choice… had to sit on a hard wooden bench for 5 hours in Kerala… in retrospect it was a fascinating journey but not sure if I’d do it again. All very interesting and keep ’em coming! Happy new year and many more travels to come? Love and light…

    Comment by Susie Moberly — December 30, 2011 @ 7:40 pm


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