On Sept 20th all the English teachers from Tibet Charity were kindly invited to take a tour of some of the Tibetan Buddhist sites located in the valley area close to McLeod Ganj. At 7.00 am we assembled in front of Tibet Charity office and met the Director Mr. Tsering Thundup who saw us off on our adventure. The day was warm and sunny and promised a good trip.
Our first destination was about a two hour drive through the towns of Dharamsala, Palampur and Baijnath to the Tibetan settlement at Chauntra. The traffic was light and we had a good chance to see some of the rural scenery and interesting small towns along the way. At Chauntra, we arrived at the Sambhota Tibetan School just as morning assembly was finishing and the children were moving into their classes. We were met by the Headmaster who escorted us on a tour of his facility, allowing us to visit several class rooms, a dormitory room and the kitchen with its huge cooking pots. He was most helpful in answering any of our questions about the school. The kindergarten children sang a lovely song for us. They seemed very healthy, happy and interested in having visitors to their class.
We then travelled a short distance along the road to arrive at Dzongsar Khyentse Chokyi Lodro Institute. Here we walked around the temple area, admiring the garden with its beautifully scented roses and enjoying the peace of the area. Inside the temple itself, everyone exclaimed over the very spacious interior decorated richly with paintings, exquisite fabric hangings and beautiful statues. The temple and the square were magnificent but strangely empty. There were two monks cleaning the temple floor but aside from them we saw no one else.
Returning to our taxi, we proceeded to the village of Bir where we had a welcome stop for lunch at a shady roof top café. As we were eating, all of us remarked how different the small rural towns were from McLeod Ganj — much cleaner and the traffic proceeded at a much slower saner pace.
After lunch, the next scheduled stop was the monastery of Palpung Sherabling at Bir. The road approaching the monastery was rough and very narrow but the resulting slow ride was compensated by the chance to observe the natural beauty of the area we were travelling through. Soon enough we started to see the blue prayer flags signaling the approach to the monastery. We were pleased to find out that we had arrived just at the start of a teaching. We followed the crowd entering the temple and Tenzin Tsephel was able to arrange that we received blessings, scarves, and red cords from the Rinpoche. Unexpected but very much appreciated.
Unfortunately the necessity to push onward to finish our schedule and also because the teaching was only available in Tibetan, we reluctantly left the temple area behind but we were able to take a short time to view the collection of large Stupas close by.
Our final destination was Doegyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery. Founded by Tenzin Palmo, a British nun, this nunnery and its temple have been built quite recently in order to provide a place of learning and study for women seeking Buddhist instruction. The temple is small but exquisitely filled with images of the Taras in the Thanka wall paintings. The nunnery, although quite small yet is well laid out, spacious and very clean and peaceful.
Finally we made the return trip to McLeod through the small towns – now with the shop fronts open and people everywhere. We arrived in McLeod just in time to have the skies open and the rain poured down on us. After a wonderful clear and sunny day this was a surprise ending to our journey.
Many thanks to Tsephel for her organization in navigating us through our trip and for answering our many questions with patience and good humour. Thanks also to Tibet Charity for the day’s tour which provided both more insight into Tibetan culture and a very pleasant day spent getting to know our peers.