Dharmshala - a world apart
May 13, 2006
|In the heart of the foothills of the Indian Himalayas is a community quite different from the rest of the country. Instead of practicing Hinduism, the people of Dharamshala are devout Buddhists. Instead of wearing traditional Indian dress, they are garbed in maroon robes. Instead of chaos, there is calmness and a way of living that is beyond any materialistic society.
We arrived in Dharamshala after an exhausting night of traveling on a bus for 12 hours from Dehli with Bollywood movies blaring in Hindu the entire way. As the fog was burning at first sunlight, we were twisting and turning around harrowing corners climbing 1500 meters to the quaint town where we would spend the next week.
We had full intentions to spend part of the week trekking in the Himalayas, but soon realized we were a bit out of season and we were without the snow/ice gear we would need to get very far. So we opted for a day trek to Triund, a seventeen kilometer hike from Dharamshala, which was recommended to us from a few locals.
The hike would take us up to a ridge that overlooked the jagged, snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas and the steep decline to the valley below. Based on the thunder and lightning storm that shook the town the day before, we knew we had to be at the peak at early afternoon, so we set off early.
It was a beautiful day and as we hiked, we ran into a few characters along the way including two women who were sneaking out of their no-talking Buddhist retreat where they had been in silence for the past few days. They were gabbing away, with a lot of pent up energy and were eager to talk us.
Tommy also befriended a dog (which we didn't know whether or not was a stray) and the dog ended us joining us for the day. Unfortunately, dogs are not looked highly upon by goat and sheep ranchers in the hills and he almost got nailed by a rock on the way back down. We didn't let the assailant get away without a few words, but apparently dog abuse is common in the rancher's country.
The Himalayan peaks were majestic from the grassy knoll where we stood at the top and reminded me of the San Juans in Colorado on a grander, more intense scale. Maybe I felt the harshness of the mountain range because I had just finished reading 'Into Thin Air' about the wrath of Everest. Or maybe it was because it was such a foreign land and it was difficult to imagine standing at the base of peaks that stand more than 26,000 feet above sea level, nearly twice the height of the highest peak in Colorado. I felt privileged just being in the presence of such beauty. Not long after reaching the top of our climb, the clouds started moving in, and it was time to descend.
Back in Dharamshala, I was interested in knowing more about the strife of the Tibetan people. Unfortunately, the Tibetan museum was closed for the week we were there, so we had to look elsewhere for information. I was so intrigued with how the people remained so kind and peaceful after being booted out of their country by the Chinese and forced into exile.
We watched the movie 'Seven Years in Tibet' while in Dharmashala and it seems to be a good summary of life in Tibet in the 1940s up until the Chinese takeover of 1949. The current Dalai Lama was the head of state and spiritual leader in Tibet during the invasion (he was fourteen at the time) and for the next ten years until he was forced to take his people into exile. Today, he leads his people from this Indian mountain town and tours the world spreading his messages of love, compassion and forgiveness. I imagine that Tibet once had the feeling that Dharmashala is known for today.
With the combination of amazing scenery, the Tibetan influence, and interesting, friendly people all around including an 80 year old Indian yogi I took a class from, we found ourselves in a new, refreshed state of mind after leaving this mountain haven.