Friday, December 30, 2011
McLeod Ganj, day 2; Dal Lake, Tsechokling Gompa, Church of St John in the Wilderness, Prayer Flags
December 30th, 2007
I started the day with an early morning walk to Dal Lake, a sacred site for the local Hindus.
Walking by the bus stop, and the access road down to Dharamsala, I thought about what they'd said about waiting here to see the Dalai Lama drive by. That's not how I planned to spend my morning, but just then a black car with tinted windows went passed and I wondered if they actually was the Dalai Lama's car. You don't generally see much traffic up here on the ridge.
The lake is a 2 km walk into the wooded hills, passed a little village, then back into the pines and cedars. When I arrived, it was nice but nothing amazing, just a small, greenish lake in the woods. It didn't inspire me to even take out my camera.
On the way back, I climbed down a little ways off the road, where there was a beautiful view of the small Tibetan community from across the hills, with the mountain range extending up, in layers, behind it. The view stretched down to Dharamsala and extended the near 2000 meter drop out into the misty infinite.
A bit further down, just off the road I spotted a grave yard and a small, square, stone cathedral beside it. My guide book told me that it was the Church of St John in the Wilderness and many of the graves were those of some of the victims of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in 1905, that destroyed nearly everything in Dharamsala, including McLeod Ganj.
I returned to the main road I'd followed out of McLeod Ganj, but instead of taking it all the way back in, I followed a bird down a side path and eventually found myself at Tse Chok Ling Gompa, a temple complex and monastery that I imagined didn't look much different that one I might see if this were Tibet. I entered the main dharma hall and looked around. It felt nice to be inside a dharma hall again. It had been a long time.
I continued along the path leading through the complex, up the hill and came out just below the bus stop. I followed the temple road back to the Dalai Lama temple, but this time continued past to see if I could spot his residence. I noticed some buildings up in the woods but they were gated off, with good reason I'm sure. I was still enjoying this road, though, lined with rocks carved with "Om mani behme hum", the Dalai Lama's mantra (pronounced "Om mani padme hum" in most other places), and painted with bright primary colors, then a small set of prayer wheels, monks in rich red robes, and prayer flags tied between the small pines on the edge of the road, looking out over Dharamsala. I had a sense there must be something ahead.
I continued walking until I arrived at a large dormitory for monks, right on the edge of the ridge, with a collection of Tibetan stupas on the hill side of the road and a massive sail-like formation of prayer flags up on the hill.
I climbed up behind the stupas and walked amongst the tower of flags, flapping gently in the breeze. The late afternoon sun warmed their colors against the deep blue sky. I felt the prayers lifting off in the wind and dancing joyfully around me.