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Little Tibet-Ladakh by Stéphanie

03 June 2015

Ladakh – literally ‘The Land of Many Passes’ and also known as ‘Little Tibet’ – is situated in the northern-most part of India and shares borders with Tibet, Pakistan and the Indian states of Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Punjab. Its three main regions are Leh and the Upper Indus Valley (Ladakh’s Buddhist heartland), the isolated Zanskar Valley, and Kargil and Suru Valley, with its ancient Islamic culture. Ladakh’s Himalayan mountain ranges roll from the southeast to the northwest, reaching altitudes of 7,000m, with an average valley elevation of 3,500m. The 2,000-mile-long river Indus, originating in Tibet, drains the entire region, and is fed by rivers and streams from side valleys. ‘Little Tibet’ is shielded from the Indian monsoon by its marginal mountains, which keep rain-bearing winds out and create a dry, desert-like climate. Short, warm summers are followed by long, cold winters, with little snowfall and temperatures dipping to -35C. Ladakh is one of the highest inhabited areas of the world, and its sparse population has, over the centuries, developed a unique culture, strongly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The region’s picturesque village oases, with their flat-roofed mud houses, are surrounded by barley and mustard fields. Fort-like monasteries perch on the Ladakhi hilltops, and dazzling blue lakes contrast with the snowy peaks, vast plains and deep gorges. Plant life flourishes on the plateaus and along the streams of Ladakh. Flowers include anemones, blue poppies and edelweiss. Many medicinal plants grow at altitudes of up to 4,900m and, although there are few trees in the region, poplar, apricot, apple, mulberry and walnut can be found in the villages and lower valleys. Despite its extreme climate, the region harbours a multitude of wildlife, including yak, ibex, wild goat, blue sheep, Tibetan antelope, wolves, foxes and the endangered snow leopard. Birdlife includes snow cocks, partridges, the rare black-necked crane, griffon vultures, and the bearded vulture. Situated in central Ladakh, Leh is the second largest district in India. Leh town, at an altitude of 3,500m, nestles in the stunning Himalayan landscape. Its attractions include the deserted Leh Palace, whose architecture was inspired by the Potala Palace in Tibetan capital Lhasa, and Leh Monastery and gompas. South of Leh, in lower Ladakh, the Sham Valley is notable for the 500-year-old Basgo Palace (built by the Namgyal dynasty), the 11th century Likir Monastery, which houses a 25-foot guilded Buddha statue, and the 10th century Alchi Monastery – […]

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The inner Shambhala of Kalachakra by Stéphanie

Mystic land

02 June 2015

Shambhala has many names as well as a long history among the Tibetan and Indian peoples. Today it is revered as a Buddhist Pure Land – a place that is as much spiritual and mystic as it is geographic. In the West, Shambhala has become known as Shangri-La, a utopian paradise of peace and tranquility. For Buddhists and those seeking spiritual transformation, it is something much more. In Sanskrit, Shambhala means “place of silence or peace.” It is a land of paradise that is spoke of in many ancient texts, some of which predate Tibetan Buddhism. According to myth, Shambhala can only be entered by those who are pure of heart. There is no suffering and the land is ruled by love, wisdom, and peace. In Shambhala, there is no old age, there is no lack or want, there is only beauty and enlightenment. In Bon scriptures (the religion of Tibet directly prior to Tibetan Buddhism), references to this magical land can be found many thousands of years ago. They describe a land called “Olmolungring,” If you look at Hindi texts, Shambhala is known at the birthplace of the final incarnation of Vishnu. Many believe this incarnation, Kalki, will bring in a new Golden Age of humanity. History shows us that the Buddhist concept of Shambhala is an adaptation from the Hindu myth of Kalki, but it is the Kalachakra texts which first discuss this land in detail. This ancient text is a teaching on the “cycles of time.” There are three parts to all cycles: external, internal, and alternative. Everything that is discussed in the Kalachakra is discussed in terms of these three areas, including Shambhala. Externally, Shambhala is a physical place where only those with certain karma can ever reach. It is not a place you can find on a map or ever arrive at – it is a Buddhist Pure Land in the human realm. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama described it best during the 1985 Kalachakra teachings, “… it is not a physical place that we can actually find. We can only say that it is a pure land, a pure land in the human realm. And unless one has the merit and the actual karmic association, one cannot actually arrive there.” The inner and alternative meanings deal with an individuals mind and body. Shambhala can be thought of as achieving inner peace and silence. […]

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The profound joy of travelling by Stéphanie

Night in mountain

30 May 2015

The fourteenth century explorer Ibn Battuta famously said  that Travelling leaves you speechless and turns you into a storyteller. He couldn’t have summarized the joy of travelling more appropriately. Of all the stories one can find in this world, the best ones are found in between the covers of a passport. How true! Travelling is more than just having a bucket list of places to visit and jumping from one place to another. It is an experience in itself, one that creates memories for a lifetime. When we travel we open our hearts and eyes to new and wonderful experiences. Only when we travel do we realize that the stereotypes we hold about other countries, races and culture are not necessarily true. In fact, the freedom of travelling whirls us around, turns us upside down and stands everything we took for granted on its head. One is reminded of Aldous Huxley’s words “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”. The reasons to travel are aplenty. Some travel to discover themselves, some to travel to find peace, some travel because they love to while some travel just for the sake of travelling. Whatever the reasons might be, the experiences are very likely to be profound. Otherwise, why would countless people even forsake their careers and normal lives just for the sake of joys of travelling. There have even been cases of people who have visited every country in the world. To them every place is their home, every person is a friend and every day is a new horizon. However, one doesn’t have to quit his/her work or study an become a full-time vagabond. Travel can most certainly be an unobtrusive hobby. In fact, travel is one the best ways to oneself from the stress and mundanes of normal everyday life. In a way travelling is a tool to keep our minds and spirits awake and lively. One can even go on to say that travel is a heightened state of awareness in which we are not only mindful and receptive but are ready to be transformed. That is why the best travels do not end!

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Why you should go on a spiritual journey at least once in your life! by Stéphanie

Spiritual journey

29 May 2015

People go on all kinds of travel: adventure travel, weekend travel, business-cum-pleasure travel, long-term slow travel and so on. However, there is one kind of travelling that we all should consider trying at least once in our lives – the spiritual kind. Well, first of all, what is a spiritual journey? In simple terms, a spiritual journey is one that creates a positive change in your mind. On a deeper level, it is one that helps you in the process of finding your purpose in life. The obvious question that comes to mind is how can travelling help us  in these regard. Well, the answer is it might or it might not. Only those who can experience a profound joy in travelling are capable of finding a higher purpose in travelling. Having said that, why should one go on a spiritual journey? Well, firstly, travelling is more than just packing your bags and visiting new places. It is a feeling, an emotion, a source of joy and sometimes even a life-changing experience. To quote the famous words of H.C.Anderson, “To travel is to live”.  One might ask what kind of a journey can be classified as a spiritual journey. Well, the answer depends on the individual. One might find deeper meaning in visiting places of religious worship while one might be at peace with nature. There is no right answer to this question. However, any kind of journey that leaves a deep and strong thought about your life in your heart is inherently spiritual in nature. A spiritual journey is a journey that touches you inside. There have been countless instances where people have made life-altering decisions that can be attributed to a journey they had taken. When you travel, every day is a new landscape, a new horizon and endless possibilities. Naturally, it has a deep influence upon us. So, it is time to tie your shoe laces, pack your bags and start exploring.

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What can atheists learn from religion? by Stéphanie

Atheism and religion

25 May 2015

Theism and atheism are black and white concepts. As their names suggests, they are mutually exclusive of each other and no person can claim to be a believer of both the concepts at the same time. However, that does not mean there cannot be flow of ideas and thoughts from one domain to the other. Though atheists might strongly denounce God to the point of being fanatic, there is a thing or two that they can learn from religion. In fact, it is possible to be a strongly atheistic and yet find religion useful in life, even though not on a day-to-day basis. For such a thing to happen, an atheist might find common ground between some of his/her principles and that of religion. For instance, many religious faiths around the world profess a certain code of morality that we as humans should abide by. When we lack clarity about our own sense of morality, then it isn’t erroneous to turn to religion to seek help. That doesn’t mean we have to blindly accept what religion has to offer us. Instead, after deeply studying the various tenets of the particular religion, we can draw our own conclusions. One might even say that religion has no place in an increasing scientific world. However, many religious principles are valid and enduring even in the 21st century. Many religions teach us the importance of compassion, community, family and love. Stripped of their super-natural overtones and archaic rituals, religions are in essence about humans and society. While one doesn’t have to entirely agree with all that religion says about how we as humans should live, one doesn’t have to summarily reject it either. In short, religions are too useful, resourceful and perspicacious to be left in the hands of theists alone.

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You can visit Mount Kailash through the Nathula pass by Stéphanie

Mount Kailash

23 May 2015

Tourists from India can undertake a pilgrimage to Kailash through the Nathula pass in the Indian state of Sikkim. Located in the Tibetan Autonomous region of China, Mount Kailash is held sacred by not one but four religions namely Hinduism, Bonism, Jainism and Buddhism. To know more about Mount Kailash, please click here. In the past, pilgrims going to Kailash and Mansarovar had to make do with the Lipulekh Pass in Uttarakhand. Otherwise, they had to go to Nepal before reaching Tibet. In the existing routes, pilgrims had to undergo extreme hardships as they involved heavy trekking on rugged terrain and high altitudes reaching up to 6000 metres. Moreover, these routes could accommodate only a limited number of pilgrims. Acknowledging the limitations, the Governments of India and China signed a bilateral agreement in September, 2014 thereby opening the alternative Nathula route. The first batch of pilgrims are expected to make use of this route in June this year. The Government expects 1600 pilgrims to use the Nathula route in 2015. The biggest advantage of the Nathula pass is that it allows pilgrims to drive all along and they don’t have to go on foot. Pilgrims would first travel from Gangtok in Sikkim to Shigatse in Tibet. From there, well laid roads extend all the way to Kailash and Mansarovar which the they can make use of. The Nathula route would not only  reduce the hardships and travel time of the tourists but also enhance the visitor capacity. Many more pilgrims, especially senior citizens, are expected to evince interest now that they have more options to choose from. While the Nepal route takes 10 days to weeks, the Uttarkhand route takes almost a month. In contrast, the Nathula route is expected to take just 8 days.

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