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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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Hindu places of worship in Dharamshala by Maryama

Butter Lamp in Dharamshala

28 May 2015

Though Dharamsala is renowned around the world for being the residence of the Dalai Lama, the guru of Tibetan Buddhism, this tranquil hamlet plays host to many an ancient Hindu temple. Hinduism and Buddhism co-exist peacefully in this beautiful hill town, located in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Here is a list of some of the popular Hindu temples in and around Dharamshala: Baijnath temple The Baijnath temple is the shrine of Lord Shiva, one of the members of the supreme trinity of Hindu Gods. The mandir was constructed in early thirteenth century by two local merchants named Ahuka and Manyaka. The temple is an excellent example of medieval Indian architecture. The walls of the temple are adorned with beautiful paintings and carvings of numerous Hindu deities. The water in the temple is believed to contain therapeutic properties that cure people of their illnesses. A unique feature of this temple is the presence of the two Nandi statues (Nandi is the gatekeeper of Lord Shiva) unlike the other Shiva temples where only one Nandi statue can be seen. Devotees perform a famous ritual whereby they whisper their wishes into the ears of the Nandi idol and their wishes would be granted by the God. On a sunny day, one can be treated to spectacular views of the Dhauladhar hills of the Himalayan mountain range. The tall peaks stand majestically on either side of the Beas valley where the temple is located. Chamunda devi mandir Located on the banks of Baner river in Kangra district (approximately 15 km away from Dharamshala) of Himachal Pradesh, the Chamunda Devi mandir is the abode of the deity Goddess Durga, known locally as Chamunda. According to the legends, the Goddess killed the two demons Chand and Munda in a fierce battle, and was thus endowed with the title Chamunda Devi. The Devi’s idol is flanked on either sides by the idols of Lord Hanuman and Lord Bhairo. Devout followers believe that worshipping at this shrine would give them and their ancestors mohksha (salvation). The temple itself features a diverse range of images from various Hindu sacred texts such as the Devi Mahatmyam, the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha. These images vividly portray various aspects of Hindu folklore and tradition. Jwalamukhi temple Located in the valley of Beas nearly 60 km away from Dharamshala, the Jwalamukhi temple is believed to be more than 1000 years old […]

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Discover Bylakuppe by Maryama

Namdroling monastery in Bylakuppe

21 May 2015

Bylakuppe – a quiet and sleepy town located in the Southern part of the Indian state of Karnataka. It is easy to dismiss this tiny hamlet as an obscurity but there’s more to this town than meets the eye. It is home to the biggest Tibetan settlement in South India. Thousands of Tibetans have made Bylakuppe their home. What started has a refugee camp for Tibetans who fled their homeland during the 1959 Chinese invasion has now become a thriving ecosystem in itself. A quick stop at Bylakuppe is more than sufficient to get a flavour of the Tibetan culture, architecture, religion and cuisine. The town is build around the ornately designed Namdroling monastery, the largest teaching centre for the Nyingma school of Buddhism. Nyingma is the oldest of the four major categories of Tibetan Buddhism. Many ceremonies are conducted in the monastery every year, the grandest of them being the Tibetan New Year Losar (usually in the month of February or March). The celebrations run for over a week during which Lamas (Buddhist monks and nuns) take turns to conduct non-stop prayer sessions. The monastery also contains the Golden Temple which houses the three deities Guru Padmasambhava, Buddha and Amitayus. The statues are eighteen feet tall, plated with gold and seated next to each other. The atmosphere is breathtaking when the prayer sessions are in progress. Hundreds of monks chant verses in unison while drums and gongs ring out loudly. Zangogpalri temple, relatively modest when compared to the Golden Temple, is also part of the Namdroling monastery. The Sera Mey monastery and the Serpom monastery are some of the other places of interest in Bylakuppe.

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The four places that shaped Buddhism by Stéphanie

Eyes of Buddha

20 May 2015

Buddhism is one of the oldest religions in the world. Its principles are based primarily on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known popularly as the Buddha (meaning ‘the Enlightened one’). Born into a family of Kings, Siddhartha renounced his material pleasures in search for a higher meaning in life. He wandered far and wide in the Indian subcontinent before he became Lord Buddha. His principles on which the religion was founded were shaped by four places namely: Lumbini – Buddha’s birthplace Bodh Gaya – the site of his englightenment Sarnath – the site where Buddha delivered his first discourse Kushi Nagar – his place of death In fact, the Buddhist text Parinibbana Sutta says that Buddha himself identified these four places before coming into this world. Lumbini Situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in modern day Nepal, Lumbini is the place where Queen Mayadevi is said to have given birth to Siddhartha Gautama. Legend says that the Queen visited Lumbini during her pregnancy and was enthralled by its natural grandeur. Once when she was standing in a garden she felt labour pains, caught hold of a branch of the nearby sal tree for support and delivered the baby. A temple was erected in honour of the Queen and she was worshiped as a Goddess in the past. In 294 BC, the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka visited Lumbini and constructed a stone pillar and four stupas as symbol of Buddhism. Though it had suffered serious neglect for many centuries, Lumbini is today a very popular tourist spot. Bodh Gaya Perhaps the most sacred Buddhist site, The North Indian town of Bodh Gaya is the place where Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Buddha. Enlightenment is a state where one has a profound wisdom about the universal truths that guide mankind. Siddhartha is said to have undergone a rigorous six-year long penance in Bodh Gaya before he finally became awakened. A huge temple complex known as the Maha Bodhi defines the town’s landscape today. Millions of tourists from all around the world visit Bodh Gaya year after year. You can also read  our exclusive article about Bodh Gaya to know how this quaint Indian town became the birthplace of Buddhism. Sarnath Located a stone’s throw away from the holy Indian city of Varanasi, Sarnath is fortunate to have played host to Buddha’s first ever sermon known as Dhammacakkhapavathana Sutta. After becoming enlightened in Bodh Gaya, Buddha went to Sarnath to impart his learnings to […]

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Kailash: the sacred mountain for four religions by Stéphanie

Mount Kailash

14 May 2015

Mount Kailash, also referred to as Gang Rinpoche by the Tibetans and Gangdisi Shan by the Chinese, is a 21778 feet tall majestic peak located in Tibet. Though it does not rank among the tallest peaks in the Himalayas, one of Mother Nature’s finest creations, Mount Kailash holds significance for other reasons. It occupies an important position in the beliefs of four religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Bönism. Buddhism According to followers of Tantric Buddhism, a sect that firmly believes in the Mahayana philosophy of Buddhism, Mount Kailash is the home of Demchok, the divine figure who is associated with the feeling of ultimate bliss. Moreover, there are many religious sites dedicated to Guru Padhmasambhava who is said to have laid the foundations for the spread of Buddhism in Tibet. According to religious folklore, Mount Kailash was the scene of one of epic battles between proponents of two religious faiths. Before Buddhism planted its roots firmly in Tibet, Bön was the predominant religion in this region. However, Jetsun Milarepa, a famous Buddhist yogi and poet, called upon the advocate of Bon religion Naro Bön-chung for a combat. Both the warriors were equally matched and during the course of the battle it became evident that neither one of them would be able to claim a conclusive victory. Finally, it was mutually agreed that whoever reached the top of Mount Kailash first would be declared the winner. Naro Bön-chung quickly began his ascent but just when he was about to reach the summit, Jetsun Milarepa rode on the rays of the sun and pipped him to the finish. Thus, this landmark race firmly established Buddhism as a major force in this region. Jainism Jains believe in the concept of rebirth and they also believe that the soul can attain ultimate liberation or moksha only if it frees itself from the human form that it is constrained to. According to Jain texts, Rishabadeva – the founder of Jainism – is said to have attained moksha at Ashtapada, a mountain peak adjacent to Mount Kailash. Jain literature also refer to Mount Kailash as Meru Parvat and consider this peak to be the centre of all physical as well as spiritual cosmos. Hinduism Lord Shiva, one the three most important gods of Hindu religion, dwells in Mount Kailash. Mount Kailash is the abode of Shiva and his wife Parvati where they are said to exist […]

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