An overnight bus ride away from Delhi is Mcleod Ganj or Upper Dharmasala. Dharmasala is situated in the Himalayans and is located in the Himachal Pradesh state but it feels like a whole new country. Mcleod Ganj is a tranquil town and it is the home to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan-in-Exile government. Mcleod is home to many Tibetan refugees and attracts throngs of foreign travelers volunteering for the Tibetan cause, doing yoga and meditations, studying Buddhism and just relaxing in the Himalayans. Mcleod is a place where you could easily stay for a prolonged period of time which I did. I stayed for almost a month and I enjoyed my time there. During my stay I hiked to the smaller towns just outside of Mcleod, played basketball with some local Tibetans, visited the Dalai Lama's temple, and did some volunteer work. Mcleod was a nice rest from the hurried lifestyle of Delhi.
From McLeod, with four other friends, I went to Amritsar. Amritsar is located in the Punjab state and it is home to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is the holiest temple of the Sikh religion. The bus station in Amritsar welcomed us back into the breakneck lifesytle of India. We were immediately pursued by rickshaw drivers and the accoustics in the bus station seemed to amplify every voice and sound. It felt like we were entering a riot.
My friends and I stayed in rooms that were attached to the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is stunning. The temple offered free meals throughout the day. You could donate money or help wash the dishes. My friends and I helped wash dishes for an hour or so and the people smiled with joy. We heard that they served almost 30,000 people per day. Each day in the Golden Temple, the sacred Sikh book is processed out in the early morning and returned at night. One morning, my friend and I attended the procession of the sacred book. We huddled with the numerous Sikh pilgrims and watched the ceremony with curious eyes. It was a great experience. During our stay at the temple the Sikh's made us feel at home and welcomed us with open arms.
Just west of Amritsar is the Pakistan border. Each night, there is an elaborate border closing ceremony between India and Pakistan. Both sides of the border are lined with grandstands and when we attended the ceremony, the seats were filled to the brim. The border is closed for two or three hours and each country performs a slow, comical ceremony. On our side, an Indian emcee encourages the crowd to cheer for India - "go, India, go" It is reminscent of a high school pep rally. The throngs of Indians always seem to be on a brink of rioting but at the last minute they would settle down. The ceremony is a hilarious spectacle to watch.
Freedom in Exile - Dalai Lama
Fire in the Snow - Palden Gyatso,Tsering Shakya
Reincarnation: A Boy Lama - Vicki Mackenzie
Wrestling The Dragon - Gaby Naher