This is the fourth time that I was able to able to visit the country with a multitude of ethnic groups and religious faith, India. I went along with my husband Jeff this time around to explore the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh. The exquisite city lies next to the picturesque peaks of the Himalayan Mountain. We got there on a good weather and we enjoyed our vacation exploring on our own itinerary. There was never a dull moment as we immersed ourselves to the endearing charm and scenic beauty of this country. Everything about it was meant to impress.
From New Delhi we boarded a commercial flight to the Shimla Airport. As soon as we got out of the airport we immediately proceeded to tour the Kalka-Shimla Railway. It is one of the remaining legacies of the British government who once made this city their official summer capital. The sight of a small locomotive plowing on small tracks looked like a scene straightly pulled out of a book. It was certainly interesting for avid railways fans. The winding paths, spacious first class tram, a hundred pitch dark tunnels, and the sceneries we saw along side the tracks totally captivated me. It is fitting of its UNESCO World Heritage Status recognition. I took pictures on its every turn, bridges passed, the lush green, and the entrance to the tunnel. We loved the chai (tea) sold by vendors in between station breaks. Although it travelled kind of slow (total of six hours back and forth), I think it is meant to be so we can fully appreciate the beautiful sights we passed by. The only downfall was the long queue to get a ride on this attraction but nevertheless the effort and the long wait was greatly rewarded by the sights we saw. The hill slide view was breathtaking!
It was way colder the next morning when we head out to see the Viceregal Lodge. The grand architecture of this building is what makes it popular among tourists. It is once the seat of power in India during the British occupancy. The guide provided historical bits of information as we walk thru the tour of pictures, coat of arms, and old books. This lodge holds a very significant importance as this is where the fate of a once partitioned country was decided. A good view of the Himalayas can be seen from its windows. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden that is well maintained and an interesting aviary on its side. The Victorian style architecture of the building added more allure to its old world charm. From here we took a walk along a curvy road to see The Mall. It is a huge shopping area where tourists and locals can bargain and buy everything at a much lower price. Good walking shoes are important to enjoy the shopping experience. I bought so many things from here like handicrafts, incense sticks, pure silk and a colorful pashmina. Research first before buying as a great deal of time is spent haggling over prices. I was more than happy to be there while I enjoy shopping and the panoramic sight of the surrounding hills and mountains.
The next day we took a bus ride that traversed along foggy roads to reach the Jakhu Temple. The long climb on its stairs was all worth it when we finally reached the Lord Hanuman Statue. What’s amazing is it is still in perfect condition and the area around the temple is very clean. I got amused too on how they got to bring it all the way up there. My husband and I took turns taking pictures beside this huge statue. There was no entrance fee and there are lots of playing areas for kids to enjoy. The cold fresh air is what I loved most about the place. But the monkeys are another story. I was caught unaware and they have already grabbed my bag and shades. They snatch things on broad daylight! But they were really tolerable as I tried to recover my things. They even gamely posed for a picture. The biggest treat when we reached the top was the 360 degree view of the city. It is truly one of the best places we visited in Shimla. Before the day ended we make a quick visit to the Shimla Christ Church. The marvelous old church still delights visitors with its Victorian architecture and enticing façade. At night it looked stunning when lighted. Its stained glass windows added mystique to its beauty.
We got up early the next day and catch a domestic flight to reach the city of Dharamsala. Away from all the hustle and bustle of the city we found ourselves totally enamored by the serenity of the Norbulingka Institute. It was put up to preserve the rich culture of the Tibetans. It was wonderful to see the whole temple as it is a sight to behold. The Tibetans who live around here are polite but can not speak English well. They are very welcoming and they showed us all the aspects of their creativity. I really enjoyed watching the students at work in their lovely garden. The temple is peaceful, beautiful, and the gardens are magnificent. The café is very nice and the people who live there are very friendly. I loved it; it felt like I walked into another world a beautiful one. It was worth visiting all the shops and the museum where they showcased their painting and magnificent reproductions of everyday life and the folklore of the Tibetans. We felt lucky to have witnessed busy Tibetan craftsmen in action in thangka painting and various woodworks on statue making. An interesting Tibetan costume museum and sewing shop is adjacent to the school and open for the public to see.
Just a stone’s throw away from the school we got more thrilled as we visit the famous Dalai Lama Temple Complex. The complex is a simple concrete block. Many monks were at prayer when we got there but they seem unmindful of the tourists and just go on doing their normal activities. There are two temples at the site which is very spacious and beautiful. The home of the Dalai Lama is just behind. We were fortunate enough to be right in the gate when he arrived with his entourage after a visit from a city. We waved and he responded with a nod and a smile. What amazed me more was the modesty of His Holiness. The temple houses the most beautiful Buddha I have ever seen; it is also the perfect place for meditation. Even outside the chanting of the monks seems to reverberate thru the air sending chills to my spine. Just being inside is a humbling experience.
Across from the temple is the house of the Dalai Lama. The Tsuglag Khang is his permanent residence here. The palace was open when we got there. His Holiness only appears when he wants to share teachings on important Buddhist event or occasions. Picture taking is granted within the allowable distance I took lots of photographs each time I had the chance because it might take awhile for me to go back here again. Smoking and littering is not permitted within its premises. It is advisable to wear proper and decent clothing. It was a unique experience to understand the humility of the friendly and affectionate monks.
We went back to America that night feeling spiritually refreshed. I look forward to coming back there one day and witness not just spectacular views but feel empowered by humility and meekness inside the temple again.