Nyima-la giving a lesson on the letter 'nga' of the Tibetan alphabet, Dharamsala
As is evidenced by the blog, we have now arrived here in Dharamsala after a busy and awakening two-day visit to Amritsar and the Golden Temple as well as the Wagah Border ceremonies on the Pakistan border. Plus a day of eventful travel getting here, and a full day and then some which started just this morning.
Wagah Border ceremony in-step parading
Breena and Cassie sport their nationalist Visors from both sides of the border while watching the pomp and circumstance from the Indian bleachers, Wagah Border (India and Pakistan)
Yesterday found us at one of the filthiest and foulest train station platforms I've ever encountered in years of travel across South Asia (no doubt due to the Diwali rush), but the morning assault on the senses was allayed by some of the finest onion pakoras, for breakfast, ever experienced. Tea served to us on a tray while sitting atop our mountain of backpacks was just a prelude to a lively hacky sack session which brought on an prize-fight crowd totaling no less than several dozen men and boys (all the while Jordan talking one on one with a friendly and playful sadhu, one speaking Hindi, the other English). There weren't even close to enough seats on the train for all of us passengers, so after bumping a couple of poachers out of our compartment we sat cozy and some of us even slept up top in the luggage benches (which were closer to the fans). That is, until the train hit a farm tractor (the driver escaped, or rather fled, unharmed).
Back on track after the requisite inspection by all but ten percent of the passengers on the train, we continued to Pathankot and the bus station there where we made a reasonably quick connection onto a mint-julep green mini-bus which fit us, our Croatian friend Melaina, and a couple of Himachali travelers here and there (we were sorry, however, not to get a ride in the Mad Max-like auto rickshaws parked outside the station). Lovely ride up into the conifer-rhododendron forests on this southern slope of the Himalaya, as different as can be from the northern plateau we got to know so well in Ladakh. Our good friend and local coordinator Sonam Peter met us at the bus stand here in Leh, amidst a busy candlelight vigil marching in protest against recent Chinese persecution and assassination of Tibet citizens attempting to escape into Nepal and henceforth India. Quite a demonstration of social activism and Tibetan as well as international solidarity as a first introduction to this dynamic community. After getting settled into our rooms we had a quick dinner before a group screening of the excellent documentary, ‘Cry of the Snow Lion.’
Today we got fully orientated here in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala with a visit to the spiritual center of town, Namgyal Monastery, and its Kalachakra Temple as well as Gonkhang assembly hall. Our time at this gonpa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery, was followed with a tour of the exhibits at the moving and sobering Tibet Museum. Early afternoon featured the first hour of our two-week series of Tibetan language classes with our fanastic teacher, Nyima-la. And after class we returned to the roof-top of our guest house for tea and biscuits and chocolate muffins with which to greet our homestay families.
Tonight everyone is spending their first night with the excited surrogate families whom they’ll get to know so intimately over the next three weeks, and tomorrow we’re continuing where we left off today with another class with Nyima-la, a talk with the prominent Tibetan political activist Tenzin Tsendue, and then a visit to the Tibetan Library of Works and Archives as well as the Gangchen Kyishong, the government center of town, also known as the other or temporal half of the formerly active Potala Palace (the first, spiritual half being the Namgyal Monastery). And this is just before lunch, as tomorrow afternoon the Independent Study Projects begin.
Pictures and updates to follow tomorrow.
Kale shu ah-