The Himalayas of India: Ladakh and Dharamsala,
I was asked go to the Indian Himalayas with a journalist, exploring some places where there might have been signs of Jesus coming to India. I was to be the photographer. This sounded very exciting! I invited my friend Tom, whom I've traveled to India with two times before. Regrettably, the journalist could not come. And my girlfriend Lisa could not come either. But the prospect of going to the Himalayas had whetted our appetite, especially since we'd been there in 1997, so we headed for the hills.
Unexpected encounters and surprises awaited us at every turn: sitting next to rock star Ronnie James Dio on a plane, searching with excited villagers to find the ancient Aramaic text and Christian crosses of the mysterious Tangtse boulders, slogging through the mud at the Hemis Festival, exploring the ancient stone temples of the Chamba Valley, visiting the Tibetan school for Tibetan refugees who have escaped the Chinese when I am Chinese, and sadly, coping with the unexpected death of our cat Waylon back at home. I felt happy and at ease for much of the trip, but parts were draining as well.
"Why do you like India so much?"
It was a valid question; I had told the Sikh man sitting next to me on the plane that this was my fifth trip to India.
I thought for a bit. "It's a land of extremes and diversity," I replied. "The diversity is fascinating. And I love how everything in India seems brighter, more colorful, more flavorful, more potent, more vivid."
The man nodded knowingly and smiled. He felt the same way, and glowed with thoughts of love of his Mother Country. And him and the passenger near us spoke about American reality TV shows and how they created unlikely combinations of people and let the hilarity ensue. But thinking about this some more, it occurred to me that India was more fantastic than any reality TV show could ever be. What reality TV show, after all, could ever compare to a country that would:
- grind to a complete halt to watch a TV show about Prince Rama?
- turn the act of worshipping into the most heady, potent sensory experience?
- attempt the grand experiment of democracy despite 200 languages and over one billion people within its borders?
- have gatherings of devotees equaling the population of Australia descending upon Allahabad to wash their sins away in the Ganges, a spectacle of such massive proportions that it can be seen from outer space?
- have a total stranger sharing a bench on a train turn to you and suddenly exclaim after two hours of silence, "I am so happy! I am so very happy! My wife, my wife has attained Perfection! She has been meditating for years, and she has attained Perfection! I am telling you, I am so very happy!"?
- have throngs of people descend upon you, put a baby in your lap, gather around to take photos with you, thank you, and promptly vanish?
- share their highways with camels and cows?
- provide refuge to 100,000 hungry Tibetans escaping across the Himalayas while much of its own population faced crushing poverty?
- allow Parsis, in the interest of religious freedom, to hang their rotting dead outside in the middle of a bustling metropolis for weeks, waiting to be eaten by vultures as is their custom - and then offer tourist taxi tours to the site?
Over one billion Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, and 200 languages: India was easily more diverse, more strange, more fantastic than the wildest dreams of any reality TV producer. And best of all, you could go there and experience it for yourself.
The Himalayas of India: Ladakh and Dharamsala, Summer 2008
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November 2008: Los Angeles Friends of Tibet/The Tibet Connection fundraiser for water purification system for the Transit School
December 2009: The reverse osmosis water purification system is installed.
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