The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
Ladakh:  Thikse and Hemis Monasteries, Shanti Stupa
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Inside Thikse Monastery, a monk prepares butter sculptures...

...with the glow of the vast Indus Valley as the lamp for his work.

The spectacular Thikse Monastery, growing out of the rocky mountain rising above the Indus Valley.

We ate at a restaurant run by the Thikse Monastery, eating thantuk, a Tibetan soup with flat square noodles and vegetables, washed it down with delicious Kashmiri apple juice, and then continued down the road, following the Indus River to Hemis Monastery.


When I came back from Ladakh eleven years ago, I took my film to a lab.  When I went to get my prints back, the guy asked, "How did you get the sky so blue?  What kind of filters did you use?"  I replied that I didn't use any filters, and that the sky was really that blue due to the elevation.  If you love gorgeous blue skies, it doesn't get much better than the Himalayas.

After crossing the Indus River, we drove along a winding road, climbing up further towards a valley.  Hemis Monastery clung to the sides of a towering mountain, with jagged peaks looming overhead like something out of "Lord of the Rings".  We arrived to see monks practicing for the Hemis Festival next month, performing largely one-legged dances, playing hide-and-go-seek, drinking chai, painting, and laughing.  Although more than two weeks away, they were practicing for the Hemis Festival, which I was eager to attend.

A young monk beams as he sounds the drum during rehearsal for the upcoming Hemis Festival.

Monks rehearsing slow dances for the Hemis Festival.  When fully attired in frightening skeleton masks, the slow drums and largely one-legged dances are hypnotic; when in rehearsal, they have more an air of absurdity.

Tenzin from Hemis displays the upcoming 2008 Fall Ladakhi robe, perfect for that monk on the go, wouldn't you agree?

The Hemis Monastery has a temple devoted to Guru Rinpoche, or Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Tibet. 

Hemis Monastery has a particular significance, too, for those who believe that Jesus may have come to India and the Himalayas.  A Russian writer/explorer named Nicholas Notovich allegedly visited Hemis Monastery, where a monk showed him and gave him a remarkable translation of a manuscript stating that Jesus, or Saint Issa, had visited India.  This manuscript has since disappeared, although Professor Hassnain and other Jesus-in-India scholars have a diary from a Christian monk at the Moravian Church in Leh that states that Notovitch did indeed visit Hemis Monastery.  This manuscript is one of numerous manuscripts that allegedly state that Jesus visited India.

Although reading that it had disappeared, I inquired about the manuscript anyway.  One of the head lamas in the Hemis Museum stated that Jesus may or may not have gone to Tibet, but in either case, he did not know of any manuscripts of Jesus or Issa ("not here").  I asked whether it could be in the Tibetan Library in Dharamsala.  "Maybe, but not here."  I was heading for Dharamsala in just three weeks.  What would I find in the Tibetan Library?

I have no idea whether Jesus visited India during his "Lost Years" between 13-30.  But like anybody else, I love a great mystery, and was only too happy to explore it while here in the Himalayas, a land where just about anything seemed possible.

The Hemis Monastery, nestled in a spectacular valley with jagged peaks above and surrounded by streams, belongs to the Drukpa order and was founded in the early 17th Century.

Prayer wheels near the Padmasambhava Temple in the Hemis Monastery courtyard.  Every year, the monastery holds their famous annual festival to commemorate the birth of Indian guru Padmasambhava, held on the 9th to 11th days of the 5th Tibetan month (lunar calendar), which falls in late June to mid-July.  I was eager to return to Hemis to see the festival.

Another view of the Hemis Monastery from the courtyard.

One of the stupas as one climbs up the valley to Hemis Monastery.  Although driving this time, little did I know that I would get to know much of this valley and its mani stones quite well when I returned for the Hemis Festival.

We returned on the Manali road, following it back up the Indus Valley.  Along the way, we stopped to view some of the stupas in Choglamsar, just fifteen minutes from Leh, with the mighty Himalayan peaks in the distance.

1 July - The next day, Tom and I still felt a bit odd.  12-hour jet lag, 3500 meter (11,500 ft) altitude, and adjusting to new food can do that to you.  And unfortunately, Tom was feeling it.  I felt okay, and walked through the quiet main street of Changspa and up the steep steps to Shanti Stupa. Tom, not feeling well, turned back and headed back down towards Mentonkling Cafe, where he shouted out to me later as I passed by.

This is the view of Leh, with Changspa in the front, while climbing the steps towards Shanti Stupa.

Shanti Stupa is not exactly an ancient edifice.

A Japanese guy living in India wanted to spread Buddhism and decided to build it.  Financed by the Japanese government and other entities, he realized his dream in 1985, way back when Michael Jackson ruled the airwaves. 

Now, I can't help but think that if one is spreading Buddhism, building it in a place where there are literally hundreds of thousands of chortens and stupas in a predominantly Tibetan Buddhist region is preaching to the, uh, tantric choir.

The Himalayas of India:  Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
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