Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Monday, October 08, 2007

At Home with His Holiness
After being on the move for a year, spending three weeks anywhere feels like settling down. Jason and I got quite absorbed in our volunteer projects, made friends with several locals and made our simple studio apartment into home during our time in McLeod Ganj.

Making Contact

While Jason taught with Lozang Zopa (aka Bobby the Buddhist monk) at Chime Gatsal Ling monastery, I worked for Contact, McLeod's local community magazine. My first assignment was a story on Tibet's fledgling democracy. I began by interviewing the President of the National Democratic Party of Tibet, which proved a fun and informative way to kick off my research. I really enjoyed working with Lobsang Rabsel (Contact's Editor in Chief) on the editing, proofing and layout of the October issue. The magazine made it to press the day we left town, and is now available around McLeod. Contact readers may even spot a photo of Jason stuffing samosas, which accompanied a review of our Indian cooking class.

Lobsang and I, taking a break from editing

It was a true privilege to work with Lobsang. He was supportive, appreciative and fun in spite of the plethora of resource limitations and challenges he had to manage. Lobsang told me about his escape from Tibet 15 years ago, which involved trekking for 26 days across the Himalayas in harsh, dangerous conditions. His is a disturbing yet inspiring survival story. I suspect his experiences have shaped his positive attitude and determination to prevail in the face of challenge. I believe I got more out of volunteering than I put in, and am grateful to Lobsang for an immensely rewarding experience.

His Holiness' Homecoming
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was scheduled to teach at his temple in McLeod Ganj the first week of October, an exciting prospect for us. In anticipation of this special event, we registered with His Holiness' Security Office, paying 5 rupees (10 cents) for an entry ticket with photo ID. We went to the temple two days before, taping cardboard signs to the floor to reserve our spots, and purchased mini radios, so we could tune into the English translation of the teachings.

The crowd waiting patiently for His Holiness to arrive

Tea, anyone? Tibetan butter tea being brewed at the temple in enormous quantities

The arrival of His Holiness

With seating limited in the main temple, these monks watched His Holiness on a flat screen TV in the adjacent temple

Bread and tea was passed around to everyone, and special offering prayers were said

This is the view from where Jason, Lozang Zopa (aka Bobby) & I were seated. We were very fortunate to be able to see His Holiness, seated in front of the Buddha statue

These teachings were on a particular text, Nagarjuna's 'Commentary on Boddhicitta', requested by a large group of Korean Buddhists who had travelled to India for the event. Not surprisingly, the teachings were tailored to both the audience and the text, which made them quite difficult to follow for us. However, attending the teachings was unforgettable, and being in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama alone was truly a special experience.

Incense burning where His Holiness walked after the morning's teachings

The 'holy wave,' accompanied by a glowing smile, showing the wonderful warmth & compassion His Holiness generates

Cameras are actually not allowed at His Holiness' teachings. Being able to take these photos at the teachings was an unexpected privilege, courtesy of Contact. Lobsang managed to get me a press pass, so in addition to listening to the teachings, I also got to be photojournalist for a day. As a result of this mutually beneficial arrangement, Lobsang has pictures for his November magazine, and we have 'limited edition' photos.

Jason & the Monks

Jason's experiences at Chime Gatsal Ling monastery became richer by the day. He particularly enjoyed meeting a very special nine year old, Tulku Urgyen Rigdzin. Tulku was recognized by the Dalai Lama as an incarnation of Pema Namgyal of Nyagrong, an important lama (teacher). Tulku does not study with the other young monks of Chime Gatsal Ling. Instead, he has his own tutor, Palchen Lhundrub, and follows a special program of training, preparing him to become a lama.

Left to right: Tulku, Lozang Zopa (aka Bobby) and Palchen, during an informal English lesson

Jason was given a touching send-off by his students at the monastery. The monks had clearly enjoyed learning English with Jason during his short time there, and they certainly made a lasting impression on him. The monks showed their appreciation with cards, gifts and some great farewell photos.

Students in various shades of saffron say farewell

Jason was handed this kata (white scarf) by this young monk. Following the Buddhist custom, he then placed the scarf over the monk's shoulders. This is a common ritual between teachers and students, and shows the student's respect and appreciation

Monks on the monastery roof with Jason & Lozang Zopa

See you next time!

When we weren't volunteering or attending His Holiness' teachings, we spent time with Lozang Zopa visiting his temple, attending a lecture he gave to Western Buddhists and of course eating meals together.

Lozang Zopa seated in the temple at Chime Gatsal Ling monastery

The rest of our time was spent enjoying the peaceful, positive atmosphere of McLeod Ganj, walking in the surrounding hills, cooking and even playing 'Yahtzee'. We spent a lovely hour walking the pretty path around His Holiness' temple. Passing a plethora of prayer flags and mani (prayer) walls, we fell into step with the elderly Tibetans circumambulating, counting prayer beads as they walked.

A colorful mani wall near His Holiness' temple

Jason works his culinary magic in our single burner kitchen. Curried potatoes, anyone?

Yahtzee on the balcony. Does it get any better than this?

The view from our balcony. OK, maybe this is better than Yahtzee

Perhaps we left a tiny mark on McLeod Ganj. The place undoubtedly left its mark on us. We hope to be back one day to visit friends old and new.

Next on Donkey Crossing

Join us as we travel to Amritsar in Punjab, home of the famous Golden Temple, then on to Agra for an encounter with the spectacular Taj Mahal.


Anonymous Bobby the Buddhist monk said...

While J is too humble to say it himself, I'm under no such restraints: The monkeys loved ya. More than once they expressed admiration for your good humor and stout build! Twas good of ya to bring yr lovely wife too. She set a new standard of dedication and conscientiousness in her volunteering work. Youse're welcome back for a walk anytime!

7:25 AM  
Blogger MidWestCowboy said...

rach and j,
your experiences always amaze; cheers to your most recent encounters, your survival in the himalayas, and to our friend bobby miller...his smile speaks louder than words...
can't believe a year has passed; happy anniversary to donkey crossing...the blog is a wonderful and anticipated read...LOVE YA'S

11:27 AM  
Blogger dizz said...

Wow! Each time I read your blog I get all excited by your latest adventures but this post? Awe inspiring!

Can't wait for the next chapter. Thank you again for letting us readers travel along with you :o)

3:01 AM  
Blogger Donkey Crossing said...

We are so grateful to you all for reading Donkey Crossing and for your kind, encouraging comments.

Bobby - we miss you already. Thank you for making McLeod Ganj unforgettable.

Rachel xx

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Rob said...

Holy Moly! You guys never cease to amaze. I had a feeling His Holiness was bound to show up on these pages. How many people get to have the experiences you've had? Truly amazing!

1:37 PM  
Blogger kelly said...

Contact...also a great movie. I love the name of this paper and I hope you have some extra copies...I would love to read your contributions. Fantastic I dare say!

8:41 PM  

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