My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Trilingual Prospects? Not!!

This week I have been a bit more active than usual. To start out, I woke up early last Wednesday to go to the Main Temple, for it was a holiday celebrating the day that the Buddha Descended from Tushita (Pure Land) to earth. Thus, there was a ritual happening at the temple. Most people pretty much circumambulated the temple while the ceremony was going on. All around the temple people offered prayers. And many had been in front of the temple doing full body prostrations. Since it was a holiday there was no school. But I do have to say that the mention of these holidays just creep up on every one, for not even the director of the school know about the holiday. So while at the temple, I ran into two other teachers and we talked about going to the Gyuto Monastery ( about 30 minutes from Dharamsala) to see His Holiness the Karmapa. So at around 12:30pm we heading to the monastery. This place is huge and extravagant in contrast to the poor Indian community that surrounds it. When we got there we circumambulated the temple and then submitted our passports numbers to the security guards so that we can receive blessings from the Karmapa. Afterwards there was a puja (ritual) going on in the temple. Now the monks from the Gyuto Monastery are world famous for there yang style of chanting, which involves producing the most amazing vocal harmonics over and under there main vocal tone. So many people were gathered outside the temple just in amazement at the sounds that were exiting the temple. I have heard this style of chanting before but to hear five hundred monks hitting these surreal harmonics is truly an experience. And then it came time to receive the blessing. We all crammed into a room after being padded down by the guards. I had just previously purchased a Katak in the temple, so the people (a mixture of Tibetans and Injis) took out there Kataks. And then, first we made a line and one monk placed the Kataks around everybody's head as we headed to another room where the Karmapa was given blessings. The Karmapa is quite young, maybe about 20-21 years old. As I walked towards him, I looked him square in the eye and he then handed me a red blessing cord and that was it. I was thinking to myself, man!! this guy doesn't look quite so happy. I mean he does this twice a week, with about 300 people coming each time. I know that if I was him, I will look quite bored myself. But the Karmapa does have a reputation of being quite stern looking. He does have a energy about him. After that I found myself at the Norbulingka Institute, which is suppose to be an exact replica of the Dalai Lama's summer palace in Lhasa, Tibet. Again it is a beautiful facility surrounded by poor Indians. The focus of the institute is the preservation of Tibetan Culture through art. We met many young Thangka Painters (intricate religious silk paintings) as they were working on their pieces. We met woodworkers, metal workers, and embroiders. They were all at work on there pieces as we walked around taking pictures at what they were doing. The best moment was when we went to the woodworking shop and there were about fifteen Tibetan women sitting cross-legged on small benches sanding wood and gossiping. When they saw us, it led to a uproar amongst the women, especially for James ( a young handsome British dude). Then with my choppy Tibetan, I had caused another uproar as I conversed with the women. They were teasing one of their fellow workers by saying that her face looked similar to James. The poor women was trying to defend herself from the comments of her coworkers. At last as we were about to leave, I asked if I could take a picture of them and I ended by telling them "Khyerang tso peh nyingje bo doo" (You all are very pretty), which cause a last and very loud uproar. They were literally howling on their benches. That day had been a productive day of minor touring and pujas. And it is great down there for one gets a better sense of the mountains. On Thursday, it passed with my third view of the Dalai Lama sitting the Indian shotgun side of the beige toyota waving all the way up to the temple. I was suppose to lead a class that day because the teacher was going to Tso Pema (A sacred lake close by that has a cave in which it believed that the Indian Tantric Guru Padmasambhava practiced meditation). It is also said that in this cave imprinted in the rock is Padmasambhava's handprint due to the tantric power that he had gained from his practice. For those not in the know, he is said to have brought Buddhism to Tibet a long time ago. So I did those classes which was totally fun by telling them about Native Americans since it was Thankgiving and it gave me a break from working in the office very morning. Changing topics, I have become a regular of a restaurant called Shangri-La (what an appropiate name heh? LOL). I pretty much eat there 3x a day, it is ran by the Gyurmey Monastery in South Indian and I have made friends with the monks who work there. They don't mind dealing with my Tibetan unlike other folks. One of the funny thing is that I don't know any of their names. Anytime I need their attention I just say "Kusho La"(Honorific for Monk) and bam I am in a conversation. Anyways a few days ago at Shangri-La I met a woman from Colombia and we were talking with each other. Her English was not so good, so I spoke to her in Spanish. She was asking me if many Tibetan who escape to India walk across the Himalayas. So I asked Kusho La how he had gotten to India. Well what happened was that Kusho La's English was non-existent and the Colombian Lady was in the same boat, so that led me to play translator totally unexpectedly. It was a hilarious position for me to be in. Here I am with the Tibetan language skills of a 4 year old, the Spanish skills of a 13 year old translating back and forward between them. Many times some of my responses to the Colombian from the monk, was mix up Tibetan, English, Spanish garble. I will afterwards then noticed that she will shoot a face of utter confusion at what had just escaped by mouth. Eventually I survived this interaction. This might be a taste of what is to come if I became a translator. Big, Big "IF". Anyways now comes a Italian man who joins us after the monk had left and I was translating between him and the Colombian lady. Wow, I as mentally exhausted. I had mentioned to her Dorje Rinchen a.k.a Dorje Momo's story and she wanted to met his family. So I first asked him if it was ok to bring her to one of our lessons, which was fine with him. So yesterday at about 6pm we met in front of Shangri-la and headed to Dorje's pad. We first had our lesson for a hour, and then Dorje told his story to lady, through me as psuedo-translator. This was more tiring than the night before, but I pulled it off miraculously. What made the experience so special was that the French mountaineers that Dorje and his wife on ran into in Nepal took pictures of them. And Dorje had them. Now those were potent pictures. Dorje and his wife's face was totally frozen and you could see what they had been through on their faces. There was some true power there. That brought the whole story home. At first, I was quite cautious about bringing the lady to Dorje's place, for they are not a museum place that tourist can just waltz up into the place. But Dorje's receptivity to telling his story, brought an experience to the Colombian lady that she would not of had if she had just listened to those long haired women hungry cat-daddies who hang about the streets of Mcleod Ganj. That was seen and heard was at least authentic. So that is that. My last rant, is that this week has been the week of meeting Spanish speaking folks. While at the Norbulingka Institute, I met a group of seven Spaniards traveling around India. Then yesterday the Colombian lady, whose named is Marseilla by the way, and I were dining at a popular restaurant that Injis love called Khana Nirvana. While there a lady approached us and asked Marseilla in Spanish if she was Colombian. The lady was also from Colombia and her name was also Marseilla. She was there with her American husband and son. They are teaching at the American Embassy School in Delhi and will be India for two years. We had a big ole conversation in Spanish, so this week I had spoken more Spanish than I have since I had left Panama when I was twelve years old. Well that is my week. Reporting from the Tibetan capital-in-exile, this is Hotfoot wishing everyone a Happy Turkey day, or Tofurky day and Buy Nothing Day


Monday, November 21, 2005

Kangra Fort

Yesterday was the first day that I have actually left Dharamsala since I have arrived. A group of us had met at the busstand at around 8:30am and took a jeep to lower Dharamsala. We squeezed about 9 people into a jeep. It was also the first time seeing the main road that leads to McLeod Ganj. I was surprise to know that a military base is directly below McLeod Ganj. When I had arrived in Dharamsala, my bus dropped me off in lower Dharamsala and not McLeod Ganj. So when I took a taxi up, we went by the road that passed the Exile government building. That is why I did not see that main road. When we finally reached lower Dharamsala, there was about twenty folks rushing the jeep. I had to push my way out of the ride. By the time that we had got out, all those folks had some how squeezed into that tiny ass jeep. I had almost lost my waterbottle in the process, but a sadhu baba in the jeep had found it, so we gave a couple of rupees (which some injis call rupes) to him. Another first of the day was taking a true grudgy Indian bus to Kangra. It is only about 14 km to Kangra from Dharamsala, the bus ride was great. The seats were not long enough, thus my knees could not fit in. The seat are hard as nails. But the smell of incense and the stare of Shiva and Parvati from the bus altar brought me some reassurance.The temperature and flora and fauna changed drastically, it was hotter with more true jungle. Throughout our group we have been saying that this was our chance to see the real India, for being in McLeod Ganj is so different. Mainly because of the tourism. I found this kind of interesting, for I do not have quite the same sentiment. No doubt that McLeod Ganj is set up for tourism and the Tibet culture is heavily present, to me it is the multifacetness that make this country so astonishing. Just with the amount of languages that it contains, I do not think that there is one India. Once in Kangra, we met up with our tour guide named Vikram. He had lived all his life in Kangra, and wants to attract tourism to the area. So far the state tourism of the Himachel Predesh focuses on McLeod Ganj and not the many other relics that can be found. From Kangra one can see the entire Himalayan foothill mountain range, that scenery is one that can not be seen in McLeod Ganj. First, Vikram took us to Hindu temple devoteed to Devi called the Brajeshwari Devi Temple . We had to take our shoes off and present offerings to the goddess who resided in the main mandir (temple). Outside the mandir there were many other side temples holding Shiva lingams, and the 12 manifestations of the goddess Kali. This temple is built on a site that has been holy for 4,000 years. The story goes that Shiva's first wife was Sati. Sati's parents did not approve of Lord Shiva ascetic ways. So due to the disapproval from Sati's parents, she threw herself into a fire or her parents did (I can't remember Vikram exact words). But in either case Shiva was not happy with this turn of events. So he took different part of the ashes and dispersed them around India. Sati breasts where placed at the Temple that we were visiting and thus it has been known for the practice of left-handed Tantra, which today is illegal. Somewhere in Assam, Sati's vagina is placed and at that temple left-handed tantricism in still practiced. Vikram told us that in Assam they will closed the Temple for ten days for tantric rituals. The whole story interesting, especially to the fact that Sati is also a event in which a widowed wife is suppose to throw herself into her husband's funeral pyre out of devotion. In some cases the other people end up throwing a widowed wife in the pyre. I enjoyed that temple and the associations that it had with Shiva and Tantra. After the temple we had tea with Vikram family. Inside Vikram house one sees a silk hanging of Buddha with Indian figures in the teaching mudra. A picture of Jesus, a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and a picture of Sri Sri Satya Sai Baba. I thought that is shows the Indian way of accepting various holy people of different faiths. And we asked Vikram about his choice of various faiths in his room. He said that he truly felt that all religions boiled down to how we treat each other and that they set up in the direction towards selflessness. I know that I tend to think that way myself, but at the same time I have seen the opposite due to what I feel to be identification as a person of a religion than a person striving for planetary betterment. After Vikram's place we had incredible lunch at Indian dhaba (Cafe). The food was incredible and so cheap. In McLeod Ganj it is a bit pricy. Eventually we hopped on some richshaws and headed for Kangra Fort. The fort is supposed of been built during the times of the great Indian epic the Mahabharata. It reminded me of something out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of doom. There were so many little side paths that looked like dungeons. Places were tons of booby traps could easily be imagined. I feel sad that my references of the fort came from popular movies. That reinforces how much effect pop culture has had on me and the world. I referred to the fort saying " Wow, this is just like Indiana Jones" but when the fact of the matter is that this fort was created way before Indiana Jones and had it own identity separate from Inji pop culture. The coolest thing out of the whole trip was when Vikram took us to spot were we had to tread some water through a river and we looked up the rock cliff and we saw a secret walkway that Vikram thinks was used for escape. No one knows where the tunnels starts. Part of the tunnel was blocked during a huge earthquake in 1905. The whole place was magical. On the top of the fort there was a small Jain shrine with a 3000 year old statue of Mahavira, at least according to Vikram. We talked to Vikram about how he feels about Tibetans in India and what was the general feeling amongst Indians for Tibetans. Vikrams has many Tibetans friends that he has known personally for years. And also he has great respect for HHDL, but he say that some Indians would like to see the Tibetans leave. When asked why, Vikram says that many some Indian feel that the Tibetans do not like Indians. He has witnessed this himself in McLeod Ganj, where he walked into a store and be asked to leave. But at the same time he knows Tibetans that treat him like family. Me and my tutor had a long discussion on this subject a few days ago and I find it to be very interesting. Anyways we spent most of the day in Kangra and had a great time. I will definitely go back in the future. Right before we left Vikram gave us pictures of original Kangra style paintings that he had taken. Mine was a Krishna gently washing Radha hair. We said our goodbyes and took the grudgy Indian bus back to McLeod Ganj and almost got into a accident. Our first bus was packed in tight. Lucky the second bus was roomy, LOL. I am glad to get out of McLeod Ganj for the day. And I am looking forward to attended the Kalachakra in South India. Work at Tibet Charity in quite regular for me. We had a meeting this pass Monday to add suggestions on how to improve it. They have text books which they are trying to implement, but some teachers feel that it is too late, and that it should wait until a new term. I will be working on give a clear pictures to the new volunteers over email. I have been contacted many volunteers and keeping up with them. Liking my time here, lowly my Tibetan is improving, what a job though. I hope that all is well. I am out.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Kalachakra Initiation in January

Well, last Sunday I was able to wake up early to hike to Triund. Man, It was a longer hike than I had anticipated. We had a group of four and we left McLeod Ganj around 7am and did not arrive until 12:30pm. One Swedish woman who was with us was lagging behind so that took some of our time. The views as we traversed our way up was amazing. We got see a huge flock of goats chillin' on the side of the mountain as we hiked up. Once we had got to Triund, the mountain range is right in your face and they are massive. For it boggled my mind that these mountains that face Dharamsala are just the beginning and by far are not the tallest. We had about ten minutes of picture taking time before the clouds totally covered the mountains. Every day, around midday the clouds comes to cover the mountains, then around dusk they dissipate. Many people were up there, mostly Inji's and some have spent the weekend up there. It is for sure butt ass cold at night in Triund. The area is a bit grassy with goat and sheep droppings fertilizing it. I walked around abit and found a few dried laid stone huts. Most of them just big enough to sit in cross-legged. Also one could see the "metropolis" of McLeod Ganj, for compared to the rest of surrounding area, McLeod Ganj is densely packed and congested. We stayed there for about three hours. I met a lady from Spain, so I used it as a opportunity to brush up on my Spanish. I have met a few folks from Spanish speaking areas, like Argentina and Spain, but not much. I have met , many Koreans, Israelis (including some Hasiddics), Thai, English, France, Taiwanese, Mongolian, and German folks. On the way down, our Swedish friend had fell and twisted her ankle. So by the time we had gotten to Dharmakot, we needed to catch a motor-rickshaw to Dharamsala. Those rickshaw are quite small, so I decided to walk since it wasn't too far from my apartment on TIPA Rd. So that was my journey to Triund in a nutshell. The rest of my week has become quite standard. I work in MEC's office every morning writing emails to new volunteers or writing letters to donors. At 2pm I met with Pema to get tutored in Tibetan then at three go back to Tibet Charity for conversation class. And I met with two students in the evening. So far pretty laid back. I am happy with studying Tibetan. If I was not doing that I will probably get myself into trouble, of which there is a lot of trouble to get into. I am beginning to plan to go to the Kalachakra initiation ceremonies that HHDL will have in January. It is at the Amaravati Stupa in Andhra Pradesh South India. It is believe by Tibetans at it is at this spot that the Buddha himself first taught the Kalachakra. The Kalachakra, comes from the section of tantric texts known as the Highest Yoga Tantra. With the Kalachakra being the Highest of these Tantras. Within are detailed introductions to achieve the goal of this practice. This also requires that the practitioner has a indept knowledge of the Kalachakra mandala. For most people this is way over their heads. But HHDL believes that the vibrations produced during this initiation can help with world peace. It has been said that this might be the biggest Kalachakra. For in the past, in Tibet it was only given to those highly advanced yogins and tantrics. I am excited to go, and know that it will be a challenge. It will be hot down there, I will be going with another volunteer, so I wouldn't be alone. Also next month HHDL will be giving teachings at the main temple which I will try to attend. Next weekend a group of us will be going down to Kangra Fort. That is all for today.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

A Diwali passed.....

Tashi Delek to all you folks who read my entries! I've got to tell you that I definitely find it amazing that people are reading my stuff. It has nothing to with you, but mostly with my view of my self. My self-esteem has never been the best thus many times I feel that things that comes from me are not worth two cents. Of course this is not very spiritual of me and I have been hoping that spiritual inner reflection will gradually assist me in overcoming many of my deficits. Maybe!! So.. This passed Tuesday was the Indian festival of lights known as Diwali. Here in McLeod Ganj and I assume the rest of India this meant lighting off fireworks. Here I have only seen one small Hindu temple that I walk by everyday on my way to Tibet Charity. Diwali is the celebration of the victory of light over darkness, or if you want to be a bit deeper than this, the victory of wisdom over ignorance. As some of you might know Delhi had just suffered from some terrorist bombings right before Diwali, in which 60 or so people had died. I am sure that for those families who had lost someone in that blast that Diwali, the victory of light over dark, has a intensified meaning. This pass Monday, a few westerners (or I will now use the Tibetan term Inji's since I like the term so much) had a Halloween party. But we can not trick or treat here in McLeod Ganj, for that will surely ruffle many Tibetan feathers. We could get a tons of things to make costumes out of, but here some Inji's have permanent costumes and the locals will think nothing of it. So we had a party. No pumpkins, no candy, no cut-out copies of Dracula or the mummy. No witches on broomsticks (which by the way I have always found to be quite disgusting once I knew the history behind it). I've got to say that I'm glad not to have the commercial pressure that comes at this time of the year in the States. Over there, from Halloween, into Thanksgivings, into Christmas and New Years, we are jogged into a consumer frenzy. Just visit any Wal-mart. Dracula is replaced by Turkeys and then they are slyly replaced by Santa Claus and so on. No doubt that India is aiming from such consumerism, but at least in McLeod Ganj, that manifests with folks letting off firecrackers for a night and I can not forget a fight very now and again. Changing... Changing... I must, like all other American give my respects to Rosa Parks. Now that woman back in her day seriously "Rocked Da' House"/ RIP Rosa Parks. That all I got to say about that. My pass week in McLeod Ganj has been growing colder. In the sun it is pretty hot, but away from the sun it gets quite cold. I am currently searching for some winter clothes. For now though I am OK. I continue to tutor Dorjee Rinchen during the week which has been a blast, he is a very diligent student. Before too long I think his English improve dramatically and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I am fighting a cold though, but with this being India, these things do happen. Two days ago I was pretty bad, but after sleeping for 14 hours straight I am all good. I figured out that if I drink a lot of Hot lemon, ginger honey tea, my body can woop a wussy little cold. If worst comes the worst, I can buy almost any medication here over the counter. Work at Tibet Charity Multi-Education Centre has been better. Many of our volunteers are truly talented individuals and I have been learning many things from them. For the most part I am the official "Office wrench" which has been very enjoyable. But so far, nothing outstanding has happen. I have found myself surprised with my Tibetan language progress. This morning I went to Kirti monastery were a monk named Jamyang Tempa lives. I was connected to him by the righteous Berea Tibetan named Tsering Ten (Wasssssuuup Ten). Jamyang knows absolutely no English what so ever, so I was at first quite nervous about meeting up with him and also he is from Amdo. But it turned out OK My Tibetan was very choppy of course, but I was content that we were able to communicate at a basic level. And now on every Sunday I will help him with his English (which will be interesting). Last weeking I did some minor touring of the area for the first time since I have been here. I went to the Bhagsu Waterfall, were I found a valley full of wet maroon shawls drying in the sun on huge rocks. A few Indian guys wanted me to be in their picture with them which was fun. They asked me if I liked WWF wrestling, and who my favorite wrestler was. Many folks were washing clothes or themselves below the waterfall. I touched it with my pinky finger and found it to be extremely cold. Above the waterfall I went to the infamous Shiva Cafe which is rumored to have the "Happy Lassi". This was quite the Hippy Dippy joint with some dreadheads milling about. I have been seriously forewarned about trying the "Happy Lassi" so I resisted the temptation and went on my merry way. From there I walked back to McLeod Ganj, on which on my way there I was scared half to death by a Swami holding a cobra. From McLeod Ganj I booked it up tp Dharamkot, which is about a 15 minutes walk from my apartment uphill. I reached a spot that was filled with prayer flags. I chilled there for a bit a went back to McLeod Ganj. Tomorrow, if I wake up early enough I might take a 3 or 4 hour hike to Triund which is the top of ridge which faces the really big mountains. But I will have to wake up at 5:30 am, for there are some teachers hiking together. It is already slightly snowing up there, so if I don't go now I might have to wait several months. No Mas, No Mas. Well, have fun where ever you might be. Muchas Amor.