We were wondering whether to have breakfast in the hotel or go to Vishal’s, at 10 am we decided to go towards his place but he met us in between and all of us walked down.
Vishal had messaged me last night that there was a surprise for us. So I asked him but he was just smiling. We started walking down towards Dharamsala, Bhim and I were like as long as it’s a descent its fine with us. We were exhausted by now with the long journey we had these past few weeks.
Vishal, Bhim and I were waiting near a point for a bus. He pointed out to one old temple that was hundreds of years old and said we could trek there today. We were very tired but we also thought why not? I asked Vishal when is the bus coming as it seemed like a bus stand. After some time right in front of us, a big car stopped.This was the surprise! Vishal booked the car for an entire day for sightseeing Dharamsala! This was his gift!
We were completely taken aback by his generosity! The driver was his friend but am sure he paid for the entire day. Bhim and I were like Vishal what did you do?? Why did you spend so much money? Vishal said Listen just accept this gift of mine. I wanted you to enjoy Dharamsala without having to walk or take buses. We were overwhelmed.
We three sat comfortably in the car while Vishal told the guy to take us first to Tibetan Library Archives. This was a big complex by itself and impressive. The Dalai Lama when he made that great escape from Tibet, carried ancient manuscripts, books with him, the Tibetan people too procured as much as they could while escaping because this was their culture and history, they had to save it. The Chinese destroyed everything else.
The archives was impressive with a short tour of the museum. Every monastery if you look at it was constructed as a ‘ Mandala’. The altar was ‘ Nirvana’- Enlightment or as we know it, ‘Moksha’ and to reach that, a human had to resist and overcome many obstacles, all within us. Temptation, greed, anger, attachments. Bhim explained this to us and commented how similar it was to Hinduism.
There was constant restoration work happening preserving the old manuscripts written thousands of years ago. Right from clothes to different tribes, to their way of living before China’s invasion was depicted in miniatures. The educational institution was here. One of the staff members said they were building a massive complex- a learning centre with arts and aesthetics outside Bangalore. Dharamsala was too small to host programs for students coming from all over the world.
It was a beautiful drizzly afternoon with mist when we walked into the monastery in the complex. Serene and quiet. How devastating it will be if we were told one day that your language, your way of life, your religion must not exist and it’s only our way you should follow and that’s exactly what China did.
It was lunch time and we were famished, Vishal took us to a nice Punjabi Dhaba, more like a small restaurant. We hogged on Parathas and Paneer. Vishal seemed quiet and lost in thoughts on and off.
Then he took us to this old temple. It was a Shiva temple but patronised by an old saint whose photo was in the main temple. Up in the hills, one could even trek to this place. It was still drizzling and the path to it was lush green blooming with wild flowers. He showed us the original old temple that stood serene in its isolation. One could get a vantage view of Dharamsala, Bhim pointed out to the massive sports stadium. It stood out.
There was a beautiful silence to the place. We saw an old dog sitting and staring at the main altar with Shiva Linga. It was a beautiful moment.
Bhim was wandering about while I walked with Vishal. He softly told me that he became quiet suddenly thinking of his father. That pang, that loss came in spurts, that void, that memory. My eyes welled up when he said ‘Aap samaj sakte ho na, aapke maata pitha ki bahut yaad aati hogi’( You understand this, you think of your mother and father a lot right?) How could I not? I had that rare circumstance of being an only child and losing both my parents when I was young.
The old dog was whining with hunger, he seemed to belong to the temple and Vishal packed Roti and vegetables so we gave it to the old guy. Even here no one seemed to mind a dog inside the temple, it was as natural as it should be. We are all created as one, aren’t we?
We made our way out and as I looked back I saw the dog looking at us, regal with that stare. I am sure we crossed paths in our previous lives..
The drive was beautiful with the rains. Bhim was sitting in the front with the driver while Vishal and I sat at the back chatting. Old hindi songs were playing in the car and we were singing out loud.
The next stop was the Aghanjar Mahadev – Shiva temple. It was said that Arjuna- one of the Pandava brothers did a penance right here and Lord Shiva gave him the most powerful Astra( Weapon) – ‘Mahapasupatha Astra’. The temple domes were a beautiful bauxite red in colour and the rains added a magnificence to it. It was so quiet again we felt blessed.
Bhim had gone down, slippery steps down where the gushing river was flowing and right below was the small cave, where the old Shiva linga was worshipped. The cave was very narrow so one had to go flat and slide inside it with great difficulty.
We sat there on the rocks looking at it all. This was sheer bliss. The gushing flowing water that was light blue. There was a small bridge up ahead with lush greenery, it was magical. I closed my eyes and listened in. As we were about to walk out, Bhim splashed water hard on my face and ran laughing! We started playing around. By the way my turn is still pending, to do that to him and it will happen on our next travel! 😈
It was time for Chai and pakodas so right outside the temple, we stopped at a small chai shop. Sitting under the trees, a slight drizzle we had hot delicious pakodas and chai! This was sheer pampering. We fed the remaining tiffin Vishal carried to a cute friendly dog hanging out with us. She was an adorable girl.
We visited the Gyuto Tantric Monastery temple. This one primarily focused on Tantric studies. Before anyone comes to a conclusion, let me tell you Tantra is a vast subject and there are different schools. Tantra in Buddhism and Hinduism is completely different unfortunately the Western school of thought took only one aspect of it, the erotic part and completely twisted it. I remembered coming here in 2017 and attending morning prayers thanks to a senior Lama I had met, Geshe Lobsang.
The last stop was the famous Norbulingka temple. You would think you were in some exotic place in the far east. Architecturally very beautiful filled with lush greenery, koi pond with fish, very Zen energy. It was 5.30 pm so the temple was closed with very few visitors.
The colours of green red and gold beautifully combined in their architecture. There was a wood workshop with young Tibetans carving idols,mandalas out of wood. Each one very engrossed with their work playing their own music in the background. From hard rock music to new Bollywood songs 😊
We were going back towards Mcleodganj and it was an eventful day and I felt truly special for what Vishal did today. How often do we get that genuine care and attention? This was a gift I would cherish for a long time to come.
On the way Vishal saw a guy walking up with groceries and he stopped to give him a ride. A young saintly looking guy, he was from Calcutta and was living in Mcleodganj for almost 8 months now sometimes working as a massage therapist. Soft spoken, gentle with a lilting voice.
We finally reached Vishal’s shop, ‘ Shankar Chaat Bhandar’ and our man washes his hands and directly gets to work. We spent time there eating our dinner while his big brother regaled us stories about his last trip to Pune to visit his son and how he hated the food there😊
It was time to call it a night. Vishal would stay until the shop closed around 9.30 pm. We told him we would meet him before we left. Tomorrow we would be out of Dharamsala..
When I think of it now, what Vishal did for us was priceless, more than any gift we would have got even from our own family. He gave us his time, affection and he took care of us, who does that nowadays.
It was back to the room and the lights of Mcleodganj hills. To be continued..