A Travellerspoint blog

Dharamsala and Amritsar

Spiritual Focal Points

sunny 35 °C

In the last 4 days I have been to McLeod Ganj (Dharamshala), the spiritual centre in exile for the Tibetan Buddhists, since 1960 after the Dalai Lama was driven out of his homeland by the Chinese and then Amritsar, the site of the Golden Temple and the spiritual centre of Sheik faith. Both places have many similarities but I feel they have even more striking differences.

The Buddhist complex is very plain with little of the decoration that is prominent in the original temples, that they left behind in Tibet. It has a museum showing in graphic detail, the plight Tibetan refugees after China invaded Tibet in 1949. This knowledge of the museum is second hand, as the Dalai Lama was in residence during my stay and to gain access to it, required me paying for a registration card, showing them my passport and giving them two passport photos. A lot of tourists were in town to hear the Dalai Lama speak. In the morning they could be seen scurrying down towards the temple complex, armed with cushions and water bottles and latter that day returning back to their hotels. They would congregate together to talk about the meaning of something he had said or in some cases just talk about how close they had got to him. He is almost treated like a "living deity" something which I find very hard to accept, especially when Buddhism in its truest sense is "a philosophy not a religion" These "spiritual tourists” come into town and start changing into devoted followers, donning red pieces of garb, shaving their heads and sitting around cross legged meditating. One wonders whether they will still look like that when they get back to their real lives and the holiday is over.

Then there is the Golden Temple with is hundreds of kilograms of gold coatings, set in the middle of a large moat. The complex is two colours, brilliant white and brilliant gold. Its free to get in, its free to eat there and if you want to it is free to stay there as well, although giving a small donation is standard practice but money will be asked for. As the devotees walk around the moat, or wait in line to visit the central temple, verses of scripture are mezmerizingly intoned over speakers to the Muslim devotees. Its sound and delivery are very soporific and you often find yourself closing your eyes and just drifting off.

It also has a museum which should probably be named “The Paintings of the Martyred". These graphic paintings show historic devotees maintaining their faith while enduring all sorts of tortures. After the calm restful beauty of the temple and its surroundings, the museum jolted me back to reality.

I also went to Waghu to watch the nightly ritual/comedy of closing the border between Pakistan and India. This performance almost defies description with its mixture of mini military tattoo and farce. The border guards from both sides march and gesture their superiority accompanied by lot of cheering and support from both the Pakistani and Indians spectators on both sides of the border. It really has to be seen to be believed

Regards

Chris Sig

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Posted by Chris Sig 09:54 Archived in India

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