Himalayan Immersion Overview: July 2 - 16, 2006
In his seminal work, The Interpretation of Cultures, anthropologist Clifford Geertz writes that the goal of the researcher is to "descend into detail, past the misleading tags, past the metaphysical types, past the empty similarities to grasp firmly the essential character of not only the various cultures but the various sorts of individuals within each culture, if we wish to encounter humanity face to face."
For the program to succeed, participants will need to travel with humility, to become actively engaged in the culture, to make the most of their encounters with the people they meet and to try learning through avenues that may be unfamiliar at first. In order to achieve these goals, we will provide educators with the necessary tools better to understand the culture, with a special emphasis on culturally appropriate behavior as well as learning key words and phrases in Tibetan and Ladakhi languages.
Participants will also have the chance to meet leaders in the communities we visit who will provide us with a unique perspective on the people and philosophies of each tradition we encounter. A series of reflective and interactive exercises throughout the journey will help educators focus their studies and apply what they learn to developing curriculum for the classroom. Furthermore, members of our group will have the opportunity to meet local teachers and form relationships with schools within India to learn about other approaches to education.
In sum, participants will study culture and religion through meaningful interactions with the people who live this tradition in the places where Buddhism has thrived for a millennium. As you explore the landscape and acquire new information, you will also gain a better sense of how to teach about this subject and return to the classroom with a deeper knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm for the tradition.
Dharamsala: Home of the Tibetan Government in Exile
From a modest monastery on the side of a hill, the His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the world's Tibetan Buddhists, holds quiet court in the bustling town of Dharamsala. In this large village tucked inside the folds and valleys of the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, prayer wheels whistle in the hands of the faithful while novice red-robed monks in training dart through the streets. Over the last 45 years, Tibetans have transformed this former British hill station into what is now known as Little Lhasa. Dharamsala is home to the Tibetan government in exile as well as dozens of monasteries and important cultural organizations including the Tibetan Library and Archives. With a healthy mix of people conducting daily business along with those who practice sacred rituals, it is equally easy to get lost in good-natured haggling in open markets and shops as it is to have lively discussions about the nature of emptiness or how best to reclaim Tibet from the Chinese. It is also where Tibetan traditions of medicine, astrology, law, religion, language, and the arts are preserved and nurtured. In short, Dharamsala is now the epicenter of the contemporary Tibetan world.
Little Tibet: Ladakh
Few things could be lonelier than that landscape of storm-beaten rose-brush and rock, and yet I never felt alone. All round me, along the path, in the willow grove, by the stream, on and between the rocks, there were signs that others had passed the same way. Prayer flags shook out their yellow and red rags from the heart of a gully or from the tops of crags above me; stones arranged in half circles, in sacred letters; I came to the fork in the path and looked up. There, half a mile above me, was the monastery; there Go-Tsang was at last, high in its cradle of rock, with nothing but the wide, burning sky behind it. --Andrew Harvey, --A Journey in Ladakh
High on the Tibetan Plateau in India's northern-most region lies the former kingdom of Ladakh. Known as Little Tibet, Ladakh has been open to foreigners only since the mid-1970's. Prior to 1962, when the threat of Chinese invasion prompted the rapid construction of a road into the region, travel to Ladakh involved several weeks of difficult walking at high altitudes. However, over the centuries, many teachers, nomads, traders, and pilgrims did make this journey over mountain passes, across vast plains and from one sparsely settled valley or town to the next, most with ancient monasteries built into the cliffs above the villages. Because of the nearly impassable Himalayan ranges to the south and southwest, almost all of Ladakh's cultural influences came from its neighbor in the other directions---Tibet. As you walk through some of the quiet side streets of Leh, Ladakh's capital, it is easy to think that you've stepped back in time and are wandering through a traditional Tibetan town before the Chinese invasion. In fact, as many experienced travelers have noticed, Ladakh is one of the very few regions in the world where Tibetan Buddhism and all its cultural forms have flourished without interruption since introduced more than 1,000 years ago. This continuity and endurance, of a religious tradition and the people that support it, set in a landscape of austere and formidable beauty, help make Ladakh one of the world's most magical destinations.
We begin our program with a flight to New Delhi, India. The next morning we will have a day exploring the capital city, viisting one of the most colorful markets in Asia, Chadni Chowk, India's largest mosque, Jami Masjid, and the historic Red Fort of the old city. That evening we board an evening coach to Dharamsala, in the forested foothills of the Himalayas.
We begin our time in Dharamsala with an afternoon walking tour of the town, including a visit to Namgyal Monastery, the home of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Over the next few days, we will also make time to visit other important religious and cultural centers and to meet with several leaders in the community as well as to join the community's celebrations of His Holiness the Dalai Lamas' birthday on July 6th. We will also attend any public teachings or audiences given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and request a private audience with the His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, the head of the Kagyu Lineage of Tibetan Buddhism.
We then board our private coach and drive to Amritsar, the site of the Golden Temple and the center of the Sikh religion. We will have an evening and a morning there to join thousands of pilgrims who take tradition meals together at the temple. Then we continue our travels back to Delhi for one night. Early the next morning, we board a flight up to the Tibetan Plateau, arriving in Leh. After our orientation in Ladakh's capital, we will take several day trips to nearby monasteries, including Stok, Stakna and Tikse, where we will have tours and meet several of the monks who reside there. We will also travel west to view the great monasteries of Lamayuru and Alchi, known to have some of the most beautiful and unique Himalayan art in the world.
Though these days will be full, we will build in time to discuss many of the nuances of the society and to discuss ways that the culture has been preserved over the centuries and also transformed in recent years. After four days in Ladakh*, we fly back over the Zanskar range to Delhi where we will have a free day to explore on our own, visit the National Museum, or Raj Ghat where Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Indira Gandhi were cremated. There will also be an optional excursion to Agra to see India's most famous architectural achievement: the Taj Mahal. We meet again in the evening to have a farewell banquet before transferring to the international airport and beginning our return home.
Throughout our time in Ladakh and Dharamsala, participants will have the chance to brainstorm curricula and speak to ways that it would be possible to integrate these lessons into the classroom. These discussions will be facilitated by experienced PVI staff who have years of experience with these subjects in a variety academic institutions.
*Participants, if they choose, may elect to stay for an extended period in Ladakh to explore independently after the group departs.