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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dharamsala a pictorial

There were enough  reasons why we planned a trip to Dharamsala

 One it was early summer and the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh was a good place to be in as the weather would be pleasant 
Secondly it had the Sterling resorts of which we have been   members for the last two decades so accommodation was assured to be good 
Thirdly there weren't much hill stations in the  north or south of India for us left to be seen and above all we wished for a chance to see the Dalai Lama ,the spiritual head of Buddhism his holiness himself if there was a chance 
So we flew to Chandigarh from Chennai by Jet Airways 
 ,Chennai Domestic Airport was definitely better than its International counterpart with plenty of shopping choices
Jet airways too was pretty comfortable 



Reaching Chandigarh we booked a pre paid cab from airport to take us to Dharamsala a distance of 237 km .
Volvo luxury buses also plied between Chandigarh and Dharamsala the most economic was the HP Transport bus but it would be a rickety ride .
Chandigarh is a planned city designed by the great architect La Courbaisier and is divided neatly into sectors ,
we left the city and its broad roads and moved on to Punjab state and later into HP ,
the climb started by dusk and it started becoming darker and colder as we climbed up
Dharamsala itself is around 4500 feet ASL and is a crowded town ,
we reached there by going through quaint junctions like Sheela Chowk etc ,
Sterling resorts was a little way beyond the town and googling helped us find it ,
we checked in tired and it was only the next morning we knew that we were just behind a flowing stream and snow covered mountains .
After a short morning walk when we found out that there were local buses which could take us to Dharamsala town and later to upper Dharamsala or McLeod Ganj 







We had a quick egg bread breakfast in a Dhaba and in no time was in a bus with the locals going about their morning schedules to reach Chamundi temple as an auspicious start ,
The Chamundi temple  was one of the   Shaktipeeths 
there are 51 shaktipeeths totally 
Legend describes Sati who married Shiva immolates herself because Dakshan her father insulted her and her husband .An infuriated Shiva dances his angry Tandava holding her corpse 
As this dance of destruction of Shiva could destroy every world in the universe Lord Vishnu on being appealed by Devas uses his chakra to cut Satis corpse into pieces in order to calm Shiva who was dancing with it 
The parts of Sati fall in several parts of  India Nepal Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and these sites are called Shatipeeths so goes legend and faith .
There are 5 in HP 
Chamundi Temple ,Chindapurni, temple Jwalamukhi Temple ,Vijreshwar temple and Naina Devi temple
we would visit all except for Naina devi temple as the road to it was in repair .
The Banganga lake was by the side of Chamundi temple which was reached descending down  some steps 
Drummers sat on the steps and  reverently kept drumming 
the sound  would merge with the cymbals and bells ringing from inside the temple ,
devotees surged ahead to get a glimpse of the Devi and the priest was intoning his mantras .after partaking a simple prasad of puffed rice and dry fruits and getting a scarlet red mark on the forehead adorned by the priest himself we moved to the banks of Banganga with moneys loitering about ,
a slight drizzle was on and we quickly took photographs of the lovely river lake and the mountains in the background it was the Feet of Sati that was said to have fallen here .
we walked back to the small town and caught a bus to Dharamsala again and later to Mc Leod Ganj 












It was cold and drizzling as we walked along the crowded narrow streets which went up and down .
The snowy peaks towered high above us winking in their brilliance while a feeble sun attempted to give us some warmth .
We were at Mcleod Ganj up in the foothills of the Himalayas in HP 
During British rule Mcleod was the local Governor and he discovered this hill station also called upper Dharamsala 10 km above lower Dharamsala .
Later in 1959 His Holiness the Dalai Lama was given sanctuary by India here and it is now a Tibetan settlement and Govt in exile .
His escape from China was written by me as a post 
http://hariwrite.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-escape-of-dalai-lama.html

This place is thus  called Little Lhasa 
the Dalai Lamas home .in the Tsughalakang complex 
His holiness was in Japan when we went 
We were disappointed we had no chance to meet him or attend his prayer meets 
the center itself was perched on a mountain slope with lovely views it was spacious adorned with fluttering prayer flags and rolling prayer wheels ,red robed monks were in plenty several of them were in broad balconies playing some sort of meditation game where one would make noise while others gazed benignly some older monks walked with consternation some were meditating with a faraway look in their peaceful eyes .heavy tomes of  books lined the library and the huge worship hall was filled with Buddhas with a unfathomable but divine countenance 
 The town itself was filled with pizza eateries German bakeries and British pastry shops as plenty of foreigners were seen there with thier big cameras and tote bags 
trinkets statuettes bells Tibetan antiques were all on sale in small shops and the place was colorful 
we bought some hot Momos from a middle aged lady selling in the streets and ducked into an empty workshop as the rains became heavy to dip into the fiery sauce and eat our Momos under the shadow of an old car it was cool and romantic and we were reminded of our younger courting days 
the momos were delicious and melted in our mouths though we did try momos later in fancy restaurants it was never as tasty as this was 




We took a short trip in a hired car to interesting places around the town
We first saw a scenic lake later a view point to see the Dhauladhar ranges ,we also saw a trekking track which according to our driver who also would turn as trekking scout if needed was a bit strenous taking about 12 hours of hard climb ,we went o one to see the St Johns episcopal cathedral called st Johsn church inthe wilderness ,this was a qauint little church made of stones reached by a rock hewn path admidst Deodar trees ,lord Elgin once viceroy lay buried here as he died here in 1863 and the lovely stained glass windows are donated by his wife Lady Elgin ,probably one of the oldest cathedrals in India it still had regular sunday masses










Afternoon lunch was in a Tibetan restaurant and we had hot and sour soup ,momos rice and pepper chicken i think it was not bad 

India is the land of taste,the variety of food available and the different tastes of different regions is unparalleled any where else I feel 

we had pretty strong guts and were not very squeamish on street food too 






the streets of Dharamsala 

The walks in the mountains
the blue hills 

The Momos 

We slept tired back in the resort 
the next day day two we walked along way almost 5 to 6 km beyond the town and into a place called Shidbari ,we saw an art gallery on the way ,the roads were busy with buses and cars and people going for work children going to schools and we were the lonely walking couple with hats and caps and cameras the arch typical tourists but it was enjoyable as we saw the place better 
It was along walk to reach Chinmaya mission at Shidbari ,we went in and had a look but the place was quiet and not very busy as construction was on and no classes were on at the time 
we then took a car back visiting Gyuto monastery on way back again a few km away in Shidbari 
the Gyuto order was formed in 1475 by Jetsun Kunga Dhndup and is one of the main Tantric colleges of Gelug tradition ,their Vajrayana teaching was famous ,
in 1950 when China invaded Tibet there were around 1000 monks and 60 of them escaped ,they were in several places in India and now in Sidhbari Dharamsala and there were about 500 monks here now ,The monks are well known for their tradition of choral chanting which had been recorded in the west in best selling albums ,the baritone haunting chants is mesmerizing to hear and is supposed to have healing powers 



Gyuto monastery had as its titular head the Karmapa 
His holinesss the 17th Karmapa ogyen trinley dorje is the titular head of the 900 year old karma Kagyu lineage he is now 29 years old he had a dramatic escape from Tibet in 2000 when he was 14 years old 
 it was a lovely place with huge Buddhas and paintings ,there was also a good library and we talked to the bespectacled librarian who himself had made an escape via the mountains from China along with the Karmapa before coming here and settling down 
Gyuto monastery 







Afternoon saw us in the stream behind the resort ,the clear mountain stream flew fast and furious but we could sit on the rocks and dip our legs in the pristine coolness 

The next Morning we walked uphill on the road for more than a km 
Surprisingly we found a Shiv temple amongst the trees 
we walked up into a quiet neat temple 
Panditjee informed us of an older temple down near the rolling stream 
We clambered down the stone steps to find a narrow cave with a tiny opening 
The man who came from temple to guide us said we needed to prostrate ourselves to see the swayambhu or self formed shiv lingha in the place where Arjuna was offered blessings and heavenly arms by Lord Shiva in answer to his penance in Dhwapar yuga goes the legend 
It was really an enthralling walk and we felt blessed







We also visited the Norbulinga monastery and institute  just about a km from sterling resorts .
It has a beautiful monastery library painting sculpture Tangha painting workshops 
It also has a guest house
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on our way back to Chandigarh in a cab we had booked from a travel agency in Mcleod ganj we could    see four more shaktipeeths ,
the first one was   Khangra vejeswari temple it was said that the breast of Sati had fallen here ,temple was crowded but there was an orderly line and we could see golden statuettes of lion packs in front of the deity 



most of the temples had huge markets where one could get all puja items and plenty of sweets and almost everything ,temple visits to many villagers around was also a shopping spree it was spiritually and materially fulfilling 


The Jwalamukhi temple was next in our list 
This temple is unique that it has no idols only a bluish natural flame between stones which is natural gas and never quenches ,said to represent the tongue of the godess which had fallen here 
The Kangra king built this  temple
In 1009 Mohammed Ghazni destroyed it 
Later Akbar the great visited the temple and tried to put the flame out by using waterjets but failed to do so he realized his folly and donated a golden umbrella but this turned onto a strange metal as Devi was unhappy with his acts as goes a story 
Guru Ranjit Singh gold plated the domes later 
So goes legend
We did see the dark blue flame burning with luster
Jwalamukhi indeed







After the temple visits we sat back and dozed as our car descended into the plains ,we passed the Anadthpur sahib Gurudwara by dusk and saw plenty of people walking great distances to reach there as a penance 
Ananthpur Sahib Gurudwara 


\By night we had checked in to IMA guest house in Chandigarh and tucked in a Punjabi tandoori chicken for all our troubles and the next day morning Ola cabs brought us to the Airport at a bargain price  lesser than an autorickshaw fare !
and Jet Airways safely put us in chennai 




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