The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
Ronnie James Dio, Ladakh, Shey Palace
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26 June - So how many of you sat next to a rock star on your plane ride to India? 

Ronnie James Dio, the singer of Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Heaven and Hell, and I talked about everything from our favorite Indian food in the Valley, recording, playing guitar, baseball, Tom Petty, Pro Tools, the Akai MG1214 (which he also still owns!), Children of the Night, and a lot of other topics.  He also wants to tour in India someday.

He has had some famous neighbors near his home in the Valley.  One time, he heard sirens and looked out the window.  Tom Petty was outside, and his house was on fire.  Soon after, some reporters showed.  "One guy from the press broke away stuck a microphone in front of Tom Petty, and asked, 'Your home is on fire.  How do you feel?' "

Incredulous, Petty replied, "How do I feel?" and decked the reporter.  And that was the first time that he met Petty.

The coolest part of meeting him is that he's a great guy, super friendly, funny, articulate, intelligent, humble, and down to earth. Kicking a trip off like this, I felt, was a great sign of things to come.

28 June - I had just arrived at the Delhi International airport.


Tom's nickname for me.  He had arrived in Delhi two days before.  After 27 hours of riding planes halfway around the world, it was good to hear a friendly voice. 

But the plane riding wasn't over yet.  We waited for several hours in the domestic airport, then caught another plane to Leh in Ladakh, 3500 meters (11,500 ft.) in elevation, high up in the dry Himalayas.  Adjusting to a twelve-hour difference in time zones and a dramatic altitude change after traveling in airplanes for over thirty hours was a rough way to go.  The first day, we took it slow and easy, not doing much, relaxing at this rooftop cafe on Fort Road and drinking a Ladakhi/Tibetan noodle and vegetable soup called thukpa.

Tom and I had traveled to Ladakh eleven years ago, and were excited to be here again.

The Ladakhis integrate their Tibetan Buddhism seamlessly with their everyday life, and you can find prayer wheels along many pathways.  Each prayer wheel contains scrolls with mantras, and spinning it releases a prayer to the heavens. 

How would it be if our government had an Astrophysics Department? How would that affect what they did?

Tom and I noted that Leh had changed dramatically from eleven years ago, so much so that we didn't recognize much of it.  The Ladakhis concurred.  But old Leh, pictured here, looked much the same.

Still jet-lagged and short of breath, I nevertheless took short walks, sometimes around the old town of Leh, just beyond the main bazaar, where kids played soccer in the alleyways, older people mumbled prayers, people got haircuts, and others went about their business.  But as busy as they may have been, chortens such as this photo served as a reminder for their spirituality.

30 June - After a couple of days adjusting to the extreme time change and altitude, Tom and I hired a taxi to drive us to three nearby gompas (monasteries or hermitages).

Closest to Leh, our first stop was Shey Palace, which houses a three-story gold Buddha.

Although the giant gold Buddha was spectacular, my eye was often drawn towards some of the beautiful color of the simpler things, such as these candles and incense, offerings to Buddha.

Cabinets with offerings and yak butter lamps inside the Shey Palace just outside Leh in Ladakh.

One of the friendly monks at the Shey Palace. 

One of the reasons that I was initially supposed to go on this trip with the journalist was to explore the possibility of Jesus coming to India, with me serving as photographer.  Many people in India believe that Jesus came to India when he was between 13-29 years of age.

Although the journalist ultimately did not come (but was perhaps there in spirit), and felt that I should at least inquire about manuscripts or texts at each gompa that we visited.  And while the monks at each monastery were friendly and helpful, often wanting to know more, we ultimately never found anyone who knew where any manuscripts describing someone fitting the description of Jesus (Saint Issa, Ishaputra, Yuz Asaf, etc.) were.

Shey chortens, with the mighty Himalayas in the distance.

Next stop on our small road trip was Thikse Monastery, a fantastic tumble of buildings growing out of a small mountain, and dramatic in appearance.  You'll see a photo of all of Thikse Monastery on the next page.

Shown here is a close-up of the paintings above the doorways in the courtyard...

...and the full doorway.

At Thikse, for fun we tried to replicate a photo I took of Tom eleven years ago at Samtanling Gompa in Sumur in the Nubra Valley.

One of the lovely door handles leading to the prayer room at Thikse Monastery.  I loved the exquisite detail in the monasteries.

Me hanging out at Thikse Monastery.

The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
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