Looking out from our balcony... Upper Dharamkot, Dharamsala. Wow, this place is stunning. Lush, green mountains, dotted with small homes, adding splashes of color among the rocky terrain. A thick, damp blanket of clouds lingers above, adding to the mystique, waiting for the perfect time to sift through. Eagles soaring high, dancing and gliding with the wind, ...powerful yet graceful. Honestly, no words can really describe the beauty... the vibrating pulse of the Himalayas.
We finally left the vortex of Rishikesh that kept us there for 2 months and made our way northwest to the mountain town of McLeod Ganj. We were following the good weather, heading higher into the mountains for cooler air, better hiking, and fewer flies. The drive here was great. Perfect weather, minimal traffic, real roads that were well marked, and limited potholes, random animals, and sketchy death drops off the cliff. It was short, sweet, and relatively uneventful. Which, trust me, is always a good thing when driving a motorcycle through India. Especially when you know nearly nothing about motorcycles. Really, what were we thinking? So far, so good though and we are learning a lot about bikes in the process. We really do love it, which I never really predicted happening. We're not quite "bikers" yet, but at this rate, Colin might come home with a ponytail, bad tattoos, wearing ass-less chaps and a "Bucky" bandana. Let's hope not, but Colin can be quite unpredictable at times. Since shipping the motorcycle back home is not an option due to Indian laws, we are enjoying it while we have it and are trying to stay alive in the process. A bit dramatic, but truthful. India is crazy.
As for the past two months, we settled quite comfortably in the area around McLeod Ganj. It is a quaint mountain village, and the home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, as well as thousands of Tibetan refugees and Buddhist monks and nuns. It is nicknamed "Little Tibet", feeling more like a Tibetan village than Indian. It's beautiful, clean, and you can actually drink the tap water. (at your own risk, of course But after 6 months of acclamating, ...it's do-able). Prayer flags strewn throughout the mountains, turquoise and red coral jewelry, steamed momos (Tibetan dumplings), hand painted Thongkas, prayer wheels, sand mandalas and monks chanting Om Mani Padme Hum . I really love it here. It's peaceful and quiet, and the Tibetans are such kind-hearted, honest people... even after all they've been through. We haven't wanted to leave. We found a great guesthouse and paid $3.75 a night for a spacious room, with big windows, solar hot water, and a mountain view. What else could you ask for? Plus, this area is rich in art, music and natural healing, so we took all kinds of classes. Tai chi, yoga, belly dancing, momo cooking class, fire poi, macrome, silversmithing, but mostly, we played lots of music. Our music teacher, Ashok, was here for the first 6 weeks so we continued flute and tabla lessons, and Colin found jam sessions to join in atleast 3 nights a week. He even found a drum set in one of the restaurants and played a show one night with 3 other musicians. He was in heaven. Unfortunately, the foot pedal exploded into about 15 different pieces as he was playing, ... but it was exciting none the less. Now that I write it out, we were actually quite busy. We went to music and dance concerts, hiked, camped, got massages and even heard the Dalai Lama speak for 3 days. What a gift. The English translation was terrible, but it was really special to hear him speak in the Tibetan temple in his home town, sitting and singing with thousands of Tibetans and monks. A definite highlight of the trip so far. What an amazing man, a true symbol of compassion. We felt blessed to be in his presence.
Two days after hearing the Dalai Lama speak, we did a 10 day silent retreat at a place called Tushita Meditation Center. We both entered excited, yet a bit apprehensive, but it turned out to be a great experience. It really is amazing what you learn about yourself when forced to sit in silence for 10 days. Your patterns, triggers, mental processes ...it brings everything up to the surface. What an interesting experience, being the observer, fully present for much of the day. Being here, in the now. Sounds so simple, but is so totally not. My untrained mind darts back and forth from the past to the future, unconscious, unaware, with small moments in the present. Delusions, confusions, filling the silence with meaningless chatter, gossip, pointless blah blah. Riding the waves of the self-cherishing mind... the ups and downs of happiness and suffering that we create. The roller coaster of emotions, ego and identity that we can choose to step out of and onto stable ground by just breathing into the present moment. All illusions simply fall away... peaceful bliss... fully connected to our true existence. In the silence, time disappears and spirit appears. It felt so strange leaving the nest and into the "real world" after 10 days in the bubble. It felt so chaotic, loud and empty. Even though it was nice to discuss our experiences, I wanted to crawl back into the womb. It's definitely harder to find that presence living in today's society. I guess that's why monks meditate in caves and not in downtown Delhi, but being aware of and training the mind to be in the moment helps us be in a peaceful state in all situations... centered and compassionate. Although we aren't quite ready to shave our heads and become monks, our 10 days in silence definitely helped to re-inspire us to meditate daily, which was the initial goal. So, hopefully we'll stick with it.
Anyway, speaking of rambling on, ...I'm going to wrap up this blog. As of now, our current trajectory is to leave in 3 days, when my silversmithing class ends to head to Amritsar to see the Golden Temple and then we will start our journey higher into the Himalayas. We will ride along the Pakistani border north to Kashmir, then head east to Leh/Ladakh and down to Manali driving through the highest motorable passes in the world, clocking in at over 20,000 ft high. It is supposed to be a pretty crazy drive, but one of the most beautiful in the world. Cross your fingers and keep us in your prayers. You are in ours for sure. Life is good. Much love.
(So I took a much needed long break from my camera for most of this time... so the pictures are limited. )
our bike... on the way to McLeod Ganj
Straight up chillin
a little blurry,... but I love this photo
rolling into the mountains
again... a little blurry, but that's the downside of taking photos on the bike. I like her though. She blew me a kiss after I shot her photo. Beautiful
Colin making friends along the way
Oh Colin. This was after I had them sewn once... and he continued to wear them like this for a couple of weeks before I begged him to throw them away. Non-attachment. They were cheaply made, but lasted a good 3 months... what do you expect when you pay $2 for a new pair of pants?
Ashok, my flute teacher. A special man
A classical indian music concert he played here in Dharamkot with tabla and sitar. It was beautiful
Gagan... Ashok's cousin and student
Ashok gave Colin a traditional Indian outfit to wear for the concert. It was a bit too small for him which I think made him look like a preacher. Pretty cute. With Betuk, the sitar player.
mmmm... momos (Tibetan stuffed dumplings). We had 3 hrs of instruction and got to eat all the momos for $5 each. I love India!
Fire Poi class. How fun!
TIPA Tibetan Institute for Performing Arts We went to a show here... it was excellent. All things from traditional Tibetan dance, singing, theater, Indian music, Japanese Butoh, fire dancing (poi), hip hop kids from the slums of Delhi, etc.
Our crew on the hike up to Triund. It was about a 6 hr hike up to the top and then a 360 degree view of the Himalayas. Amazing. We spent 3 nights up there camping.
The hiking has been great. The terrain is very similar to climbing 14ers (14,000 ft mountains) of the Rockies, in Colorado. "Trails" that are steep, dusty and rocky. Spruces and pine trees, nettles and ferns. Although, it's been painfully obvious how out of shape I am. Even with the yoga, acrobatics, and walking around India with a pack for the past 6 months, these mountains are kicking my butt. It's like being on a stairmaster for like 4-8 hrs. It's definitely no joke. Yet it feels good and can be really meditative after a while.
4 hrs into the hike. Starting to feel it.
Mules carry supplies up to the top... hard work. On their way back down
I love ferns
Finally reached the top. It was worth the hike
A monk and nun camping at the top. Beautiful
Setting up our campsite. Rita and Nicolette love these girls!
cow trying to get in our tent
we put up our prayer flags... setting the mood
playing in the clouds
wild horses at the top
we had a great time
huge langur monkey... our spirit guide. amazingly big
not a bad camp site
the clouds coming in
our shadows on the rock