Dharamshala International Film Festival 2017

Our days in McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala were gentle. They passed in a peaceful, timeless way, as we reconnected with our friends and with the town. Early awakening for me during the first week as my body adjusted to the twelve time zone difference, connecting with our daughter in Vancouver by text and checking news as I sipped my hot water in bed.

Then preparations for our day, and the ten minute walk to our favourite restaurant, Kunga/Nicks Italian Kitchen, for breakfast. During the first two weeks we were able to sit outside, soaking in the panoramic view of the valley, ending in the Indian town of Lower Dharamshala below. Homes and guesthouses have been built on the steep sides of the hillsides down three sides of the valley, with Little Amdo, named after one of Tibet’s provinces, to the left, and Loseling Guesthouse, where we stayed in 2012, run by the South Indian Monastery of that name, to our right.

Our friends K & T lived in Little Amdo when we first knew them, before the paved road went in. Visiting them involved a downhill climb on a rough path, muddy after rain or during the road construction period. They did this multiple times each day, until their son moved them into their lovely self-contained apartment near the temple, with all the comforts for them in their twilight years.

Our first weekend in town we attended The Dharamshala International Film Festival, or DIFF, who’s sister festival originated in Switzerland, where there is a very active community of Tibetans and Tibetan supporters. In its sixth year, DIFF showcases the best of recent Indian and world cinema, including fiction, documentaries and shorts.

It was our second visit to DIFF, another opportunity to screen unusual films often only seen at film festivals. In 2012 we had the privilege of attending both DIFF and the more grassroots Tibet Film Festival, my personal preference, both held in McLeod Ganj, at TIPA, (Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts) and in the tourist centre auditorium. Two films from the 2012 Tibet Festival still live in my memory; Girl from China, still not released, it appears, and Summer Pasture, released in 2010.

This year the main DIFF venues, two auditoriums, were at Tibetan Children’s Village school, billed as a ten-minute drive through the forest from McLeod Ganj. A shuttle makes the trip every half hour during the day. Alternatively, you can take a taxi, as we sometimes did, or an auto rickshaw, a bumpy ride up the mountain. A few films were shown in Lower Dharamshala in the state of the art Gold Movie Theatre, buried in the bowels of a modern building.

With so many films on offer, and not wanting to watch back to back films all day and evening, choices were difficult. Looking back, I can see that the films we screened had a common theme, explorations of the lives of women, men and children, often in smaller towns.

Our favourite was the film that opened the festival, Mukti Bhawan: Hotel Salvation; it had won thirteen awards worldwide, including the Venice Film Festival, Dubai’s festival, the South Korean Film Festival and the San Francisco Film Festival. It was the story of an Indian man who went to Varanasi, the Holy City, to die, accompanied by his son, staying in a guesthouse designed for that purpose. The acting and the photography were excellent, and we felt like we were revisiting Varanasi in person.

You might think that this would be a depressing film, but it’s not at all. It was very captivating and I would certainly like to see it again.

Turup was an in depth exploration of women’s and men’s lives in a small village in a Bhopal neighbourhood, through the lives of three very different women and a young man. An excellent movie.

White Sun, a film set in Nepal, tells both personal stories and is also a political narrative about Nepal’s rebirth after twenty years of unrest. It narates the story of a Maoist man who returns to his remote village to bury his father, a much more complicated task than it seems on the surface.

Out of This World was a documentary, a very well done update of a 1949 film shot on location in Tibet, months before the Chinese invaded the country, by Lowell Thomas, a prominent American journalist and his son. The invitation was extended to Thomas in the hopes that he could convince the US government to curtail the Chinese invasion. The photography was very well done, the journey in and out of Tibet gruelling, the exit from Tibet almost killing the elder Thomas. The original footage of the visit was fascinating, showing meetings with high lamas including His Holiness.

If you have a chance to see Angamaly Diaries think twice!  It is unusual for us to walk out of any kind of film, but we did walk away from this chaotic, cowboy and Indian type film, (read, boys on motor cycles, racing around, getting into all kinds of trouble). There wasn’t really one plot, just a series of disparate ‘adventures’, something an untalented fifteen year old film maker might have done! To say it did not live up to the level of this film festival is a gross understatement.

DIFF was a great start to our month in Dharamshala.


Please Note: Since I completed my research, the DIFF site appears to have been taken down, but perhaps the links will work again at a later date. Sorry!

Next: Golden Temple Roadtrip

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Ellen Besso is a former Life Coach & Counsellor & a Reiki Practitioner. She is the author of An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering, and Surviving Eldercare: Where their needs end & yours begin, both available through Amazon.

 

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Drop Into Your Heart – the Grandmothers/Net of Light thru Sharon McErlane

It’s not complicated, the Grandmothers tell us. This is the most recent newsletter from Sharon McErlane, who channels the Council of Grandmothers. I first wrote about the amazing Net of Light last September; see Light or Darkness, Your Choice.

Grandmothers,” I said as I stood before them, “what is the most important thing we can do today to help ourselves and others? There’s so much turmoil, anger and fear in the world right now. What’s the best thing we can do?”

“It is your heart that will lift you,” they said. “If you move into your heart and keep your focus there for only a few seconds, it will lift you.” Fixing their eyes on me they said, “You are looking at this situation the wrong way. You think there is some work for you to do. You think you should lift your heart, should make yourself think differently, should be different in some way, etc. etc.” They shook their heads back and forth, back and forth as they regarded me patiently. “It’s not like that,” they said. “Because your actual nature is love and peace, you don’t have to ‘make yourself’ do anything in order to feel good. If you simply drop into your heart and wait there, you will automatically open to peace and love. It’s the way you’re made. It’s your natural way of being.

“You needn’t struggle and you needn’t be afraid,” they said. “It’s the mind that manufactures all of that; there’s no fear and struggle in the heart because the heart knows better. The heart knows HOME; it is tuned to home. So get to know your heart. It’s time. Haven’t you wasted enough years following after those images in your mind? Aren’t you tired of all that racing, chasing and disappointment? “So,” they shrugged, “give yourself a break. Return to peace.

“Move into your heart and start to live from there. Try it! Think of taking up residence and then throughout the day consciously return to your heart. Like a magnet, let it pull you into peace and safety. Then rest at this quiet center point. You can always venture out again with the mind if and when you want to, but up until now you have allowed that ever-searching, ever dissatisfied mind to control your life. So much so that you’ve lost your affinity for peace, which is your natural state. We are urging you to return to it now. Return to balance.

“Go into your heart and rest there. Start by thinking of the center of your chest and of us calling you home. Then let yourself drop in. It’s like a cave or a nest inside yourself and there we will enfold you and hold you steady while you replenish. You deserve a break, so take it. Take it now.
“Living a heart-centered life will restore and revivify you. It will fill you full. Then you will have something to give to the world.”

To Learn more about the Great Council of the Grandmothers and how to work with the Net of Light, go to www.netoflight.org .

 

Arrival in Dharamshala

McLeod Ganj, Upper Dharamshala

Our morning flight from Delhi to Kangra Airport, fourteen kilometres southwest of Dharamshala, was uneventful, but on arrival in McLeod Ganj I discovered that I’d left one bag on the airport luggage belt, necessitating a speedy, (read racing), return taxi trip down the hill by my steadfast partner.

As we travelled north from Delhi we began to fly over the lower foothills of the Himalayas, landing in the green and luxuriant Kangra Valley, sheltered by the Dhauladhar range, after one and a half hours. The Kangra Airport, at almost 2500 feet in elevation, is about half the elevation of Upper Dharamshala.

The first time we flew into Kangra in 2015, I was quite nervous. It was February, a season of unreliable weather, with plenty of rain and fog. Several years earlier I had read Mick Brown’s Book, The Dance of 17 Lives, about the seventeen  incarnations of the Karmapa, the third highest Tibetan Buddhist incarnation. In the book the author described his flight to Kangra during the month of February in bad weather. His seatmate, a monk who happened to be one of the Dalai Lama’s brothers, was petrified, constantly repeating a scary mantra: “Maybe today we will die”, unnerving all around him. We were fortunate, our weather conditions were fine for both our 2015 and 2017 trips, and we never flew over high mountains, as Brown’s book seemed to imply.

Settling in at Pema Thang Guesthouse came easy, as we had stayed there previously, and the staff really make you feel like you’re home. We had the good fortune of moving into the best room in the guesthouse after our initial two nights, with a discount, as a large party of Danish students had booked all the less expensive rooms.

Our view was superb, and we could observe the activity at the Dalai Lama’s temple any time, day or night. It was an excellent November and barely a drop of rain fell during the entire month we were in McLeod Ganj. Temperatures did not drop significantly at night until mid month.

We wasted no time; knowing we might not return to Dharamshala, we began connecting with our dear friends the day we arrived in town. Dr. D., my “Tibetan sister” came to our room with her young daughter that afternoon, with the usual arrival gift of fruit and khata welcome scarves. The next morning we visited K. and T., an older Tibetan couple who live near the temple.

This trip was memorable due to our deep connections with individuals. We built on already established relationships with very exceptional people, some of whom we have known for ten years over our many visits to the town. Their deep spirituality,  their love and generosity, allowed us to connect heart to heart at a new level. Over the years we have come to know and appreciate each other in many new ways.

Dr. D. administered to our medical needs with her powerful Tibetan medicines, invited us to her home and took a road trip with us. There was a particular reason for visiting Dharamshala this fall. The family is leaving the country, moving to the west, and our time together was especially poignant.

Our dear friends K. and T. a deeply devout couple, have taught me much about love. They and all their children are full of light, what I perceive as pure love. Being in their presence opens my heart. Formerly comfortably off nomads in Tibet, their life both in Tibet and in India has been spent in devotion to Tibetan Buddhism and to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Twice each day they visit Namgyal Monastery, close to their apartment, circumambulating the temple grounds, (ie, moving around a sacred object or idol on foot), during the morning visit, a 45 minute journey, uphill for the last part. At the temple they do multiple prostrations.

We do not shared a language with our friends, but it does not seem to matter. Their son, a monk who disrobed in order to support his family, joined us from Kathmandu on WeChat video during our first visit and interpreted. Dr. D. accompanied us on one visit, but we went alone on our final visit, enjoying ourselves as always, miming what we needed to say to each other, and eating the delicious Tibetan food, K insisted on feeding us.

Our hearts and souls know each other; it is not necessary to speak. Once I asked T., through his son, what he thought our relationship was in the past. His clever reply was “The Buddha knows”.

During the final weeks before we departed Canada to journey to India, many times I felt an urgency to leave, and heard a voice in my head saying, “I have to get to India, I have to get to India”. Having reached Dharamshala and begun reuniting with the town and our friends, I felt content to be home once again.

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Next: The Dharamsala International Film Festival, (DIFF)

India 2017 – Delhi Yet Again

Each of our trips to India has been different, in its own way. Our fifth journey, in the fall of 2017, was remarkable, although we visited many of the same places. The journeys built on each other, bringing us to this point. This recent one, likely our final visit to India, with its strong themes of spirituality and love, lifted us to a new level, one where we began to connect with humanity in deeper ways.

We arrived at Indira Gandhi Airport in New Delhi just after midnight on the 28th after leaving Vancouver at dinnertime on Thursday October 26th. Exiting the airport was a slow, exhausting process, taking about two hours. The new e-visas for foreigners visiting India for less than 60 days proved to be very popular and immigration lineups were exceedingly long. The fingerprint machines were malfunctioning and the bored and weary security officers repeated the instructions to each passenger four or five times before successful readings were taken, spraying our hands with hand cleaner between attempts.

Our goal was to reach Dharamshala, our main focus, about 500 kilometres to the north, as soon as possible. We passed a fitful half night’s sleep and a lazy day in the neighbourhood around Bajaj Guesthouse, in the quiet, middle class Karol Bhag community, followed by another full night of predictably disturbed sleep, (jetlag from passing through twelve time zones is often brutal). We began staying in the Karol Bhag area when our wonderful hotelier, Brij, sold the Prince Polonia Hotel in Paharganj, a fascinating working class market district closer to Old Delhi.

Sunday we rallied and enjoyed a half day outing. Around noon our hotel driver drove through the heavy traffic of Old Delhi to Jama Masjid Mosque. Built in the 17th century, it holds up to 25,000 people on special holidays. We had attempted to enter the mosque during our 2009 trip but were turned away as it was Friday, the day of worship for Muslims.

On the plaza of the beautiful mosque we were surrounded by Indian families and groups of young men who asked to have their picture taken with us. This is common in India, I suspect they tell folks that we are their Canadian friends. A quick getaway is necessary after a while or you would find yourself still there an hour later!

After the mosque we walked the narrow lanes of the market for a while, searching for an interesting place we had visited eight years previously, but we’d not done our homework, and all the lanes looked pretty much the same. Our driver came and found us there, concerned that he’d lost his charges.

Copyright 2018 by Ellen Besso

Coming Next: Arrival in Dharamshala, home of the Dalai Lama

Ellen

Ellen Besso is a former Life Coach & Counsellor & a Reiki Practitioner. She is the author of An Indian Sojourn: One woman’s spiritual experience of travel & volunteering, and Surviving Eldercare: Where their needs end & yours begin, both available through Amazon.