India: Mar.-Apr.2014

It was starting to get hotter in the south, so we headed north to Dharamsala in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, where the Dalai Lama lives.

Outside the Tsuglagkhang Complex (the Dalai Lama's residence). Most Tibetan pilgrims make a clockwise 'kora' (ritual circuit) around the Complex - this is along that path. As we completed the circuit, there were a few people lined up along the road by the gate so we waited with them. A few minutes later, the Dalai Lama waved to us as he was driven by... you couldn't miss his big smile!

We met some Tibetan nuns in the airport when we flew up to Dharamsala, and they invited us (well, actually Roxanne) to visit them. On our last day up north we moved down to Dongyu Garsal Ling Nunnery ( - the nun in the upper left of their homepage is Dechen - she runs the guest house and laughs a lot). Here's Roxanne outside their amazing temple - no photos are allowed of the inside so we can't show you, but it was spectacularly painted with Tibetan Buddhist images from floor to ceiling. We sat in on their morning and evening prayer chanting (puja). Before we left, the head of the nunnery Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo invited us in for a chat, and welcomed Roxanne back anytime.

Down the road from DGL Nunnery. Those are the Himalayas in the background.

Monkey on patrol at Agra Fort.

Foreigners pay about 10X as much as Indians to visit the Indian monuments, but then you get to jump the queue, which on a Saturday can be 1000 people long! 750 rupees is worth about CD$13.

Taj Mahal tourist. With many of the monuments in India, visitors have to remove their shoes to walk through. Considering the cleanliness of one's feet most of the time, this seems counterproductive... The Taj was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. 20,000 people worked for 8 years to construct the Taj. About 20 years later, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb who imprisoned his Dad in another palace built into a section of Agra Fort, within sight of the Taj. The local folks told us that the son overthrew the emperor because the emperor was planning to build an identical black Taj on the other side of the river, and the son had other plans for the family wealth...

Inlay details. There were a dozen different colours of semi-precious stones used for inlays into the white marble. The marble pattern was chiselled out to a depth of almost a centimeter, and the coloured stones fitted and polished. There are acres of these inlays in the Taj as well as other wall carvings.

Carved Taj wall. There are also Arabic prayers inlayed around the doorways (on the right).

Sun Salutation sculpture in Delhi airport. We're now heading to the Buddha pilgrimage sites.

First stop: Bodh Gaya, the place of the Buddha's enlightenment.

Probably the most famous living tree in the world, the Bodhi Tree is the tree the Buddha sat under when he attained enlightenment. This is the most revered site of all the Buddhst pilgrimage sites. We sat inside the little fence you can see in the photo, and waited for leaves to fall. A few leaves would blow off every 15 or 20 minutes, and then there would be a big (but very polite!) scramble by the monks and nuns and visitors to collect the leaves. We collected a few ourselves...!

Big Buddha.

Sunrise on the Ganges. It's now the dry season in Varanasi. Th monsoon will start in June/July, and the Ganges will rise up to the top of the steps (ghats )/bottom of the buildings. The music is from a yoga class on the ghats.

We found this old astronomical observatory on a rooftop in Varanasi. It's the same one that John found 32 years ago - the big flat area in the back had old sundials and unfamiliar geometric instruments mounted on it back then.

Deer Park. This stupa marks the place where the Buddha gave his first teaching.

Bigger Buddha.

Sunset on the Ganges. All of the still, bright spots on the water are flower offerings - leaves pressed and dried into the shape of bowls then filled with flowers and a lit candle. These are set adrift, floating down the river. The big bunch near the beginning are out in front of the burning ghat where cremations take place continually.

We moved up to Lumbini, Nepal to visit the birthplace of Siddhartha Gautama - later in life he became the Buddha. People rub gold foil on all of the statues and monuments here as a sign of devotion.

We stayed in a thatched-roof cottage in a very quiet and peaceful farming area with giant storks and antelopes.

Everywhere there is a Buddhist holy site there are always strings of Tibetan prayer flags. The Tibetans believe that as the flags flutter, the prayers on the flags are repeated over and over. These flags are near the Buddha’s birthplace.

Siddhartha was born into royalty, the prince of the Sakyan kingdom in the fertile plains below the Himalayas. About the age of 30, he was deeply shaken by experiences of old age, sickness, and death. He decided to abandon his privileged life and become a sadhu – a wandering ascetic – to attempt to find true meaning in life. To disentangle himself from his princely duties, he had to escape - he slipped out of the Sakyan capital (Kapilavastu) through the eastern gates. These monks are chanting in the eastern gate ruins in appreciation of his determination to find the Way...

Monk crossing.

There are four main pilgrimage sites marking the Buddha’s life: Lumbini, where he was born, Bodh Gaya where he awakened, Sarnath where he gave his first teaching and Kushinagar where he died. At Kushinigar a serene park contains the big stupa (monument) marking the spot where the Buddha died, plus a 6 meter long reclining Buddha statue representing the Buddha on his deathbed.

The round building is the stupa marking the place of the Buddha’s death, and the rectangular building houses the reclining Buddha statue.

Where’s Waldo? Like the other pilgrimage sites, there are many Buddhist temples from different countries around Kushinagar. This garden full of terra cotta monks was at the Burmese temple.

Remains of the giant stupa at the place where the Buddha was cremated.

Another day in Delhi...

Still lookin' for a good used car.

Honorary Sikhs with Inderjeet Singh Dau at the Delhi Sikh Gurdwara. This building used to be a palace. During an epidemic, the eighth Guru of the Sikhs instructed the King to have his subjects bathe in the pool in the background, and this ended the epidemic. In gratitude, the King converted the palace into a Gurdwara (place of worship for Sikhs) which still feeds hundreds of people for free every day.

Zen car. Maruti Suzuki makes a car called 'Zen'.

Roxanne's arm covered with henna designs, signed by Rukshna the henna artist. She found us in a Delhi park and persuaded Roxanne she needed to upgrade her arm.

Ghandi memorial. The spot where Mahatma Ghandi was assassinated is marked with a simple monument including his last steps.

Back in Canada! In retrospect, the 'best of India' for us was meeting two astonishing teachers - Ama Sami, the Zen Master in south India, and Jetsuma Tensin Palmo, the founder of the nunnery up by Dharamsala. When we started out 'going gypsy', we used to say that we were going off to look for 'great beauty and great wisdom'. There have been lots of very beautiful places, but we were delighted to also find that there are still remarkably wise, clear-minded people out there...

We don't have any plans to stop our travels for a few more years. We'll be somewhere in Canada until about mid-September when we're hoping to go on another pilgrimage walk - this time around Shikoku Island in Japan - an island with 88 Buddhist temples around the perimeter. You walk each day from one temple to another - it takes a couple of months to walk around the 1400 km circuit. We'll be back in Canada for Christmas 2014, then hope to spend next winter in Belize...

We didn't really think about continuing the blog over the summer, but then we went to Roxanne's Mom's place and some interesting things happened. Take a look at the next page, 'Canada summer 2014'.