One of the first things you may notice is the drive down from McLeod Ganj/Upper Dharamsala takes a good while, but it's a fascinating look while transitioning from what is, for all intents and purposes, a Tibetan village to a more typically Indian town. Both are great, by the way, but you get a quick study in the differences of cultures right away. Once outside of Dharamsala proper, you're in some of the most beautiful scenery ringed about by the Himalayan foothills. The photos which follow hint at that, but hardly capture it.
The first stop along the way was Palumpur, flush with tea gardens and abundant with water flowing down from the mountains ("palum" means just that). Unfortunately, people still don't get the idea of conservation despite highway signs telling people not to litter. We stopped at one juncture along the way and I watched in disbelief as a taxi pulled off to the roadside so the driver could get out and toss what looked like five pounds of trash into the river! Dorjee pointed that out as one more way things India was going to have to change. And it's not Indians only; I'm doubly shocked when I see my Tibetan friends just casually toss crap off onto a mountain or hill side.
All that aside, our first stop was the zoo at Dhauladar State Park, which has approximately fourteen kilometers of trails. It's a modest affair and charming because of it. By the time we got there, most of the critters were sleeping. The bears and leopards were napping in the shadows which didn't make for great photos, so I opted for more intimate looks. I forewent the roosters and chickens, but I did grab the porcupine and vulture following. And Dolma pulling her hair back!
And in case there's any doubt:
Before moving on, I want to note that Palampur itself is definitely worth exploring. Aside from its natural attractions, the town itself is extremely proactive in terms of health training, agriculture and education. The literacy rate is something like 78%, considerably higher than the national average of 59%. Moreover, despite my repulsion at the flagrant dumping of trash in the rivers and streams, there really is a lot of work going on to preserve, protect and nurture the environment.
Once again, I have a number of pictures from my camera and once again, these will have to be uploaded to my Picasa or Photobucket streams later.
Tashi Jong is the main monastery around which the Tibetan camp/community had been built. It's a Drukpa Kagyu monastery founded by Adeu Rinpoche and as well as performing the liturgical functions, is also a haven for the traditional arts. Tenzin-la pointed out to me that the community of Tashi Jong is thinning out as young people choose to move away to pursue other lives. While this is a common, if not predominant trend among the Tibetan communities across India, it's impact is felt more in these smaller settlements.
Tenzin also told me something I wasn't really clear on; that the communities would either be supported more by agriculture or by what he called industry - that is, the traditional arts and crafts manufactured and sold by the village artisans and guilds. Both models find themselves in jeopardy as the younger generations leave to pursue better pay and integrate into more modern lifestyles. Needless to say, this is having a negative impact on these communities in many different ways, not limited to population decline but also to diminishing familial and social support, something that is cutting deeply into traditional communities across the world, but is more acutely felt in populations at risk like the Tibetans who are extremely communal and family oriented.
Below are some snaps of the monastery, its stupa and the exterior of the meditation hall. Just as a side note, I don't know why I didn't take any pictures of the interior. It's really beautiful, and I was extremely moved just being there, but I didn't feel 'right' about it. I mentioned that to Dolma when she asked and I couldn't really explain it.
From here, we were on our way to Bir. I joked that it would be fun to have a beer in Bir, but puns should just be left alone. The silence was threatening until my dear Dolma said a beer in Bir would be nice. Sadly, no beer, but a good time, nevertheless, was had by all.
Bir is home to Deer Park, by the way. One of the great resources for Buddhist study and practice as teachers from all over the world come and teach. I was sad that Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo was coming to teach there just as I would be leaving.
We stopped at Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lödrö Institute which was built on an earlier foundation in the 1990s and was overseen by Khenpo Kunga Wangchuk until his passing. It's been supported and consecrated by many high lamas, most notably and recently, His Holiness Sakya Trizin. The institute seeks to preserve the shadra tradition while at the same time training teachers to be more sophisticated in their methods of teaching in a more modern world. Frankly, upon walking through the gate, I was ready to live there.
The grounds are immaculate and the meditation hall is a marvel of architecture, with classrooms on the upper levels (we could hear the rumbling of hundreds of monks overhead as classes let out). The hall interior is fantastic with a remarkable collection of thangkas. The outside murals are beautiful renderings of episodes from the life of Gesar, mount Meru and other representations of Abhidarma, along with sculpture of various buddhas and bodhisattvas.
Palden and Tenzin on the veranda overlooking the institute grounds.
This is such another world altogether and one I wouldn't mind visiting again, for a much longer stay.
Following is the gate and the some of the surroundings. The road leading to the entrance is lined with saplings (I want to say elm trees but I could be wrong).
Before heading to Tashi Jong, we stopped off at a hotel/resort that had been a retreat, of sorts, for the British during the Raj. The grounds were well-appointed and we had a pretty good meal.
Can I tell you how dear to me Dolma, Dorjee and their family are?
Photo: Tenzin Dorjee. I was about to say something witty to Palden...I didn't realize I was squishing Dolma! Honest!
In Parts 3 and 4, I'll take a last look at McLeod and Part 5 will be the wrap-up in Delhi. Not that I want to interrupt my fond farewell, but today is Earth Day and I have a separate post for that.