Rising very early, most of us were in the lobby on time! We drove back to the airport and boarded our flight to Kullu in the Himalayas.
The flight up from the plains of central India into the mountains is spectacular. Looking down on the green plains of the Punjab we get the first view of the white peaks of the mountains in the horizon. More & more we see the massive expanse of the greater Himalayas range. As we head north, the ground rises up towards the plane and deep valleys filled with green terraces become clear below. Remote hamlets and villages with no roads touching them speckle the landscape below. It’s impossible to comprehend the lifestyle of people at such high altitudes, building narrow terraces and tilling the rocky soil and in order to simply grow some barley or corn. These villagers keep sheep to sheer their coats, spin the wool, and weave it into the many-coloured clothes, called patoos, and shawls that they wear.
Everyone was excited and exhilerated flying into Himachal Pradesh, the Himalayan province. The plane flew near steep ridges before finally turning into the widening Kulu Valley We landed in Bhuntar and stepped into the cool fresh air.
Beside the rushing Vyaas River, at the Apple Valley resort we met Deep Shika, a yogi who has lived in the Himalayas fully immersed in meditation study and practice for the last 25 years. She spoke to us about meditation and of the esoteric awareness of understanding that the subjective quality of objects in the mind are always changing, and becoming aware of our true and ever-changing essence. There were lots of questions and discussions before we sat in silence, simply absorbed in the space of pure being.
In taxi cabs, we drove up to Naggar Castle. Up in this little town, we ate lunch at the rustic old heritage castle. There were wonderful shawl shops and we almost all bought woolen shawls, hats, socks and mitts.
We took time to walk around, down little paths by the village houses, pet cows and low stone walls.
In the bus, we drove to Manali to the Banon Hotel. This is a reasonable Himalayan hotel when it is warm, but it turned out to be the coldest winter here in the last 50 years! Our rooms were cold and the only warm room was the bar, where a wood stove cranked out the heat! We got hot-water bottles and bundled up in our socks and hats and slept, getting accustomed to the high altitude.
The next morning we did yoga in the warm bar-room. It was wonderful to practice together and then meditate.
We walked to the Hadimba Temple, and ancient authentic Himalayan temple, rich with historical tales of the local gods, and alive with current ritual practices. Fresh blood was on the snow infront of the temple from a recent chicken sacrifice to the god of the temple. Large pairs of horns of rams from sacrifices adorn the whole outside of the temple walls.
We rang the large brass bells hanging outside the door and entered into the inner sanctum of the old temple, where it’s dark and filled with incense smoke.
On the outside of the temple, local ladies dressed us up in patoos and put angora bunnies in our arms to take photos of us looking like them! It was hilarious once we all were dressed in mountain robes, standing like a family tribe all holding white rabbits!
No sooner had we un-robed form the woolen blanket wraps, but we climbed up on yaks and had rides up the road. My yak was all black and named “Raju.” It’s actually comfortable to ride a yak’s walk. It’s swinging and gentle, much easier than an elephant or a camel!
We walked to the town of Manali and passes down the main street. Being there before the high tourist season of the summertime, when the throngs from Mumbai flood up here, the town is filled with merchants and locals hanging out and wandering about. We visited a Buddhist temple and went upstairs where we were able to sit on the wood floor and simply sit in meditation. A few Indians there joined us in silent sitting.
Huge and colourfully painted statues of the Buddha filled the center of the little temple. After we went to another temple, a slightly larger one where a resident monk offered to talk with us and answer our questions.
We sat around the edges of the temple on cushions, behind low tables where the monks put their scriptures when they chant here. Again, a large Buddha statue dominated the room, all painted in red, blue, yellow and adorned with glitter and coloured lights.
The humble monk told us that he is not a senior monk, he ahs only been a monk for 35 years! All the ‘senior’ monks were down in the south Temple, and he was left to man this northern location till their return.
We took turns asking questions and his answers were perfectly clear and very educated, even as he kept insisting he was not learned enough!
He answered our questions on transience, practice, study, and patience. Then, in the midst of the lovely discussion, a visiting India man jumped up and budded in. He was very eager to speak to our group and show us and his new bride that he is very knowledgeable and wise and can teach foreigners about religion! The monk tried to settle him down, but he animatedly went on for almost 15 minutes all about the life history of the Buddha! There was no stopping him! It was a fine demonstration and a very typical example of an Indian man enthusiastically showing off!
We ate lunch at Johnson’s café. Some people went back to town to shop, and others of us returned to the hotel. There I offered private classes. We kept the wood stove burning and people stayed close by it, playing board games, drinking tea and spending what is in reality a very typical Himalayan winter evening.