Co Housing Retrospective

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It’s odd the way things happen…We lived in a small co housing community in Vancouver from late 2001 until mid 2006, selling our unit about a year later. We  fell into our first apartment there, having been gently urged by a friend who often stayed in the building to visit a woman who rented her unit each winter when she volunteered in Africa. Our home is on the Sunshine Coast, a small rural community a 40 minute ferry ride from Vancouver, and weren’t looking for a place in the city, although we had both begun to work in Vancouver.

The funky looking building, consisting of town houses and apartments, had been built three years previously on a lot that at one time held three houses and a corner store. The community was a village unto itself, an oasis in the midst of city busyness, a place where you could visit with other residents in the laundry room, while reading the paper in the foyer sitting room, at common meals or in each others’ apartments. After the initial six months, still needing a place in the city, and wanting to stay in the co housing, we purchased a small, lovely apartment with a water view.

Living semi communally in a building with about twenty other families was a new experience, not at all like my small communal house in Guelph while I was a university student. For the most part it was very pleasant in this middle class community neighbourhood of well educated, similarly minded folks.

The building was self managed, and until I stopped going and my partner continued on, to represent our unit, meetings were a frustrating experience for me…as a strong minded group of folks micro managed each aspect of running the building. My joke was that it took us three months to decide what toilet paper to buy for the common house washroom!

Recently we returned to “our” co housing for their 20th anniversary celebration, after being back in our small town for 12 years,  It felt very familiar, it was basically the same community, but in my recollection it was a friendlier place during our four and a half year stint there. Several of our friends were missing that day, both current and past residents of the building, but the ones who were there, folks who had established the co housing twenty years earlier, were happy to see us. Oddly, even though we were guests in their “home”, not one newer resident, arrivals after our time, said hello, or asked if I was a former resident, or a friend of someone in the building, to my disappointment.

It was a nostalgic feeling returning after so many years at such a special time. We felt at home, yet not at home. I’ll never forget my time living in co housing, and I’m sure my partner, Don, won’t either. We are very happy to be back in our own small house near the ocean, in our quiet but active community here on the Sunshine Coast of BC. Had we remained in Vancouver, we would have stayed in co housing.

Tibetan Resettlement Project Finale

It was a humbling experience, standing in front of a a hundred plus Tibetan immigrants in a hall in Burnaby on a Saturday evening not long ago. The Vancouver Cultural Society was officially marking the end of Canada’s Tibetan Resettlement Project, an undertaking that resettled 1000 Tibetan Buddists from Arunachal Pradesh in  remote northeast India.

Officially called stateless or displaced persons, the parents and grandparents of these Tibetan folks became isolated in the northeastern Tribal States of India, a place rife with poverty, when they followed the Dalai Lama out of Tibet many years earlier. So remote were the settlements, that even the Dalai Lama’s Government in Exile did not know they existed for the first while. Canada’s five year private sponsorship program officially ended in December of 2017, with the last people arriving in March of 2018.

All sponsors and volunteers in the province of British Columbia were invited to this appreciation dinner, along with the new Tibetan families and other Tibetans  already living in Vancouver. Sadly, the many sponsors and Tibetans from Victoria,  Vancouver Island were not able to attend, and we met only a handful of folks from Vancouver. Don and I were the sole representatives of our sponsorship group on the Sunshine Coast. Our Coordinator, who sponsored three families, was there with her partner.

Our group sponsored a family of four, the Mom, who arrived with almost no English, with her two teenage children in December of 2013, and the Dad, who followed four months later, unable to get his discharge from the Indian Army until then. Another son remained in India, at age 22 too old to be included in the family application.

The Prime Minister at the time, Stephen Harper, to his credit, had agreed to the Dalai Lama’s request to resettle the displaced Tibetans in Canada. Becoming involved in Canada’s somewhat “under the radar” project, (the Canadian government did not want to offend its Chinese trading partner), was a spiritual calling on our part.

There are no accidents. Our many friendships with Tibetans living in exile in Dharamshala, India, developed during five visits spanning ten years, had led us to join the Canada Tibet Committee, and we were notified of the first sponsorship organizational meeting in early 2012. Our application went in during the summer of 2012.

We hit the ground running when our family arrived, the demands were great in the early days. Gradually the family members became more self sufficient and we were needed less.

Despite the small size of our community and scarcity of good jobs, our family and indeed all the families on the Sunshine Coast have done very well, working hard at whatever jobs were available, then gradually moving into more skilled areas.

The appreciation dinner and entertainment evening went quickly. At 10 pm we were readying ourselves for the dash to the last ferry, when we were called up on the stage. We were introduced to the audience and honoured with a khata scarf by the wise Rinpoche from the Vancouver monastery.

Every action we took on behalf of our Tibetan family, and for our Tibetan friends in India, brought us appreciations tenfold over. Each small gesture has been acknowledged many times more than we ever expected or wanted. Their gratefulness was very humbling. Yes, we have helped our family start a new life in Canada, and helped other Tibetans in small ways in India, but I do not think they realize how they have enriched our lives, and the heart opening we have experienced as a result. In the future, I plan to tell  our Tibetan family that they have changed our lives also, and we are blessed to call them our friends.

Ellen

My Romance with India – is it Finished?

In 2012, in a European cafe in Udaipur, we met a Canadian man from the interior of BC. This was his sixth trip to India, although each time when he returned home he said he was never going back. India is like that – it does not resonate with everyone – but if it does, it gets into you and stays there. Into your psyche, your emotions, your spirit and into your very senses.

In many ways we feel done with Mother India, complete. Some things have come full circle. Our closest Tibetan friends are moving to Canada soon, the father is already there, waiting for his family, as I’ve written previously.

India lives in me and always will. I cannot shake her off. In fact part of me is always there. I can call up the memories whenever I wish to, and as the world becomes a smaller place energetically, I have a sense that my two spiritual homes are beginning to segue into each other in a new and deeper way.

Delhi has been our entry point and often our exit point on most of our five trips. Flying in or out of Mumbai and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, the exceptions, were just fine, but Delhi holds a place in my heart. I like Delhi and feel very comfortable there, despite the pollution and chaos. (It rates 11 out of 30 for the world’s most polluted cities, and 6th in India for pollution). We were very fortunate on this trip, to miss particularly bad pollution weeks, both coming in and leaving Delhi.

Walking in the laneways of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, of Udaipur, and in 2007,  the Holy City of Varanasi on the Ganges, the draw of the Dalai Lama’s temple over ten years, the power of our Golden Temple visit, the unsurpassed beauty of Lake Pichola and the Old City of Udaipur, these are the memories I carry within me.

India is not all brightness & light. There is a growing middle class, yet poverty remains rampant. It is not a country for women, although middle and upper class women have more equality these days.

Everything is as One as we delve inward towards our centre…our connections with the presence of the Divine during this special journey, the very act of writing about this trip…all these things join me to my dear Tibetan friends in India: Kelo, Thupden, Tsoknyi, Dekyi and Pema.

This is what I will remember always…

An interesting article for you:

https://qz.com/1218598/why-an-indian-girl-chose-to-become-an-american-woman/

Ellen

Copyright 2018 Ellen Besso

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.

Udaipur Part 2

We began to explore the area around our neighbourhood, and ventured across the footpath to visit our friend Lal Singh at his travel agency the next day, but did not connect with him until a few days later. Our other friend Deepti, formerly a travel agency business partner, met us on the second day at a mini clothing department store, then took us to a four story flashy mall for browsing and lunch, after we picked up her young son from playschool. One of the fast food kiosks on offer was Subway!

Deepti had initially offered to pick me up on her motor scooter and drive me to the clothing store. For a split second, a younger me thought “Yes!“, but then reality took over and the idea of sitting behind her on a bike in the busy Udaipur streets with the bizarre traffic patterns, (choreography, Don calls it), scared the shit out of me. “Don wants to come with us“, I told her, and we met her there in an auto rickshaw, quite dangerous enough in heavy traffic for my current tastes.

Deepti later switched vehicles with her husband, whose office was across the street from the store, in order to drive us around. Don and I crossed the busy street on foot – very carefully – and farther along street I spied Deepti, scooter at right angles to the traffic, crossing a couple of lanes of cars, then riding slowly in front of a city bus! I could hardly believe my eyes. Afterwards I said, “You must have nerves of steel.“. “You have to“, she replied. Sadly, I did not capture a picture of her – but the image is impaled on my eyes!

Over the ten days we were in Udaipur we visited a few of the sites we`d seen before. My favourite, the enormous Indian market, really of about twenty markets, is divided into areas according to their wares: vegetables, cook wear, clothing, and so on. As usual, we saw only a couple of white faces during our time there; the rest of the tourists just have no idea what they are missing.

Our goal on this visit, along with window shopping, was buying a rope to secure Don`s old suitcase. I noticed the rope kiosks by accident on our way out of the market, and Don purchased a blue rope with sparkles on it, luckily just the right length for what he needed.

We had seven days of warm weather, with cool evenings, then some rain came in, very unusual in early December in Udaipur. But a cyclone was brewing farther south, in Northern Maharashtra State and Southern Gujarat State. The cyclone never materialized, but it brought the poor weather. While it was interesting the experience three days of poor weather for the first time ever here, we were sad to lose precious days, as it is doubtful we will return to Udaipur.

One Saturday afternoon, towards the end of our visit, we had an Indian adventure, when we set out in an auto rickshaw, with a driver chosen by Lal Singh, to find a pharmacy. The pharmacy we were referred to was closed, so our driver raced around the circuitous laneways of the Old City, looking for another store, with no luck. Branching out farther, we had to detour several times, as hundreds of folks lined up along bridges and roadways, part of Hindu and Muslim weddings.

We finally located an excellent pharmacy in another part of the city, a long ride in heavy traffic when in an auto rickshaw. Later we were trapped in the middle of what initially looked like a protest, (not good; our government travel advisory tells us to stay away from large crowds), but it turned out to be a Muslim holiday parade.

The highlight of our visit to the City of Lakes was dinner at each of our friend`s homes, where we were served delicious meals. At Deepti’s home we were privileged to be included in their evening pujas, prayer chants to Sai Baba.

A funny cultural misunderstanding occurred in Lal Singh`s home, where we were served appetizers and drinks, and enjoyed pleasant conversation for several hours. When the hour of nine o’clock drew close and we still had not eaten, we weren’t sure what to do. When I quietly told the host we would need to leave soon, my partner Don suggested we should eat. It was then that we discovered that in traditional Rajasthani homes, the guests are meant to say “let’s eat”, not the hosts!! We all had a good laugh over our faux pas, then enjoyed an excellent meal of butter chicken.

On our last morning, we climbed the steep stairs to the deck to find the skies had cleared, and all the tables replaced on the open part of the deck. We passed a happy hour eating breakfast and soaking in the view of the lake and the city before our driver arrived to take us to the airport.

What I will forever remember about our three visits to Udaipur is the strong friendships we developed there, the hours of enjoyment on the deck of Dream Heaven Guesthouse, high above Lake Piccola, and the Indian Market.

Ellen

Copyright 2018 Ellen Besso

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.

Udaipur, City of Lakes

Our third, and possibly last sojourn to Udaipur, in South Rajasthan, was lovely. As is our pattern, we first reacquainted ourselves with the beautiful Dream Heaven Guesthouse, then began to revisit the Old City. The owners of Dream Heaven, Deep and Dilip, brothers-in-law, were happy to see us, on this, our third visit, (the first was in 2009, the second in 2012).

We arrived at Dream Heaven in the late afternoon, just before dusk, after a morning flight from Kangra, near Dharamshala, into Indira Gandhi Airport, Delhi, followed by an afternoon flight to Udaipur, and a busy one hour drive into the city. We noticed that the traffic is heavier now than on other visits.

The first thing one does at Dream Heaven after depositing their baggage in the room, is visit the marble deck at the top of the building. We had forgotten just how breathtaking the view of the lake and the five century old city is at dusk.

We were given a lovely corner room with two view points, a step up from our usual room over the kitchen, a great room with a view, but also with kitchen fumes from time to time!

Dream Heaven, built high above the lakefront, was Deep’s father`s dream, and is built on the family land where Deep was born. Opened in 2006, with just two rooms and four dining tables, it now has eighteen rooms. The additions, all designed by Deep, have turned the guesthouse into a fascinating above ground rabbit warren, with its narrow passages on many levels, joined by stairways of varying heights and steepness.

The simple Dream Heaven rooms are all decorated in traditional Rajasthani style, with wall murals and wall hangings in beautiful colours. It is truly what Deep and his family dreamt of, a  relaxing guesthouse for visitors to come and feel safe and comfortable in. The family members all live in the building, each group in their own quarters, and that adds to the homey feeling.

The Dream Heaven owners and their staff really do live up to their motto of honesty and hospitality and their belief that “Guests are like god”. The delicious food served in the deck restaurant and the incredible views made it hard for us to eat anywhere else, but we did patronize other restaurants at lunchtime.

Ellen

Copyright 2018 Ellen Besso

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.

 

 

 

 

You Stood in Line to Be Here Now

New Message from the Council of Grandmothers through Sharon McErlane
“Blessed are all beings,” the Grandmothers said.  “You are blessed.  Everyone on Earth is blessed.  Perhaps you think that because there is so much strife in the world today, you are not blessed, but cursed to be living in these times.  No!  We assure you the opposite is true.  You stood in line to be here on Earth now!” they cried.  “We are speaking figuratively, but in essence, you did.  You wanted very much to be part of life here at this moment in time!
 
“Courage is called for now and your soul wanted to experience courage. Steadiness is called for and you wanted that too.  You wanted a challenge, to be utilized for the highest good and so you were allowed to be part of the great shifting that’s begun.  You are blessed indeed.
 
“Things are not as they seem,” they said, nodding to reassure me.  “We have told you this before and we know it’s hard for you to grasp.  A BIG picture is being formed now and a confluence of events is taking place, an intersecting of energies as they overlap and dovetail with one another.  This is taking place in the most creative and unsuspecting ways.  What’s occurring is so astounding that all you can do is stand back and marvel at it.  Greater changes than you can imagine will begin to reveal themselves now.  What is unfolding is indeed marvelous and as you gain in understanding, you will join in marveling at it.
 
“The gross selfishness and the disrespect for living things that you are witnessing now are aberrations.  Sickness, grotesque formations of energy, and ancient thought forms are surfacing from the primeval ooze.  This dark and heavy energy must come out.  It must rise and be eliminated from Earth’s energy field.  As it rises up, it is hideous to behold and it stinks!
 
“However, this ugliness is in the process of coming up and out, up and out.  It will not last,” the Grandmothers said.  “Let it come.  Let it swell up from everywhere on Earth, from all levels of society.  Let it rise and lift off.  You may even be aware of it coming up out of you and out of others too.  Simply watch it as it goes.  It’s time for it to leave.
 
“As this seemingly dreadful drama takes place on Earth, hold fast to us and to the Net of Light.  Let yourself rest, anchored in light, held steady while all that is ready to be eliminated comes to the surface.  This is your work now … bearing witness and allowing what must go to go.  We stand with you.” 
 

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

Celebrating Friendship, Our Final Weeks in Dharamshala

After our two peak experiences during the week of November 13th, our remaining ten days were spent visiting with friends, usually in their home. The week after the Golden Temple trip and meeting the Dalai Lama, we developed an Indian cold, usually a hard hit for us, blamed on the changing weather by both Tibetans and Indians. I don’t disagree with that popular belief, but also think our immune systems are not used to the cold germs in India. After seeing a different Doctor of Tibetan Medicine, a middle aged nun, this time right in the McLeod Ganj office, we took it easy for a few days, going out to eat but otherwise lying low.

The Friday after meeting His Holiness, we climbed down the trail from Pema Thang Guesthouse to Chonor House below for dinner, a five minute hike on rutted dirt. I had been trying to have of meal of their tasty chicken teriyaki for several days, but they had run out of chicken due to a  large visiting group requesting chicken momos, a delight somewhat similar to perogies.

On this particular night the Hummingbird Restaurant was catering a dinner for all the staff of the Norbulingka Institute, the Tibetan Government in Exile’s cultural workshop and retail facility in another town down the mountain. We could not order from the menu, we were told, but were invited to attend the dinner, as their guests, even though we were not staying at the hotel. This invitation was typical of Tibetan and Indian hospitality; both in the home and in hotels.

We sat a while before the food was ready, but it was well worth the wait. Everything at this restaurant is fresh and high quality and the chefs had outdone themselves on this occasion. First we were offered some birthday cake, and chose a small slice. (Cake first appears to be a Tibetan custom, as it happened again at the birthday dinner of our young friend.) The dinner on this evening consisted of appetizers, barbecued skewered fish and meats, then a hot buffet, followed by a dessert station consisting of mini cakes and puddings. Everything was delicious, and we particularly enjoyed the fish, not having eaten fish for several weeks.

During our time in McLeod Ganj we had the honour of visiting five Tibetan homes, more than usual, for mostly Tibetan meals. Our friend K cooked each of the three times we visited her and her husband, she would not take no for an answer. It didn’t matter if we had just eaten, we had to eat more! If K spoke English it would have made no difference; she just ignored my words and hand motions as if they were invisible!

Our final evening in Dharamshala, we went down the hill to Dr. D’s, for her daughter’s birthday dinner, this time Indian takeout, her choice. It was a perfect ending to our trip, dining with our closest friends in their small apartment where we had sat on many previous visits to the town.

The next morning we checked out of Pema Thang at 7:30 am and took a taxi downhill towards Kangra Airport. Near the back entrance to the temple I spied K and T on the road, ready to begin their circumambulation of the temple grounds, (clockwise waking around a sacred site), followed by their morning visit to the temple itself for worship, their first visit of the day. At my request our driver stopped the car, and more tashi deleks, (translated simply as “blessings and good luck”), and hugs were exchanged before we reluctantly climbed back inside the taxi.

Saying goodbye to our dear friends was hard. We spent many happy hours in Dr. D’s apartment over ten years and I have a snapshot of it in my memory. We will visit her and her family in their new home in Canada in a year or two. I took a picture of K & T at the door of their home so they will live on in my memory.

Now, after some weeks back home, I am beginning to realize how my journey with the Council of Grandmothers and the Net of Light, begun last spring, affected me during this very special time in Dharamshala. During my first two plus weeks there I cast the Net of Light, the Divine Light that holds and protects this planet and all beings on it, around the Dalai Lama’s temple repeatedly each day. Shortly after meeting His Holiness, I suddenly received the message that the net was now cast around the entire town, and that my work was completed.

We have visited this small town in the foothills of the Himalayas five times over ten years, and have developed many enduring friendships. What I will always remember about McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, whether I return or not, is my comfort level there, how at home I feel. “It feels like a second home to me”, Don says.

Note: You can read Alma Anderson’s channelled messages about my lifetimes in the Dharamshala area in An Indian Sojourn.

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.

Next: We return to Udaipur, Rajasthan to visit our Indian friends.

The Dalai Lama Blesses Us

After we had been in Dharamshala for two plus weeks we reached the apex of our visit: an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Months earlier our friend, a former minister in the Tibetan Government in Exile, had suggested that we apply for an audience, so we visited the temple to inquire and were given the Dalai Lama’s Secretary’s office contact information. Internet connections were poor, worse even than I remembered, so I tried the wifi at our favourite breakfast restaurant. Oddly my email request for an audience disappeared from the tablet, so Dr. D. sent an email and phoned the Secretary’s office.

On our way back to Dharamshala from the Golden Temple Dr. D. received a phone call from the temple office, asking why she had not returned their email. Apparently she had forgotten her email password! Our presence was required the very next morning at the temple, she was told.

We arrived at the temple office early the next morning, as instructed. We had no hard copy invitation to present, but after a bit of  confusion, the words “We’re from Canada”, alerted the security officer to who we were. We were then sent outside where female and male security guards searched us and instructed us to leave our bags. My body search was thorough, the female guard found a toothpick in my pocket and confiscated it!

We then lined up on the driveway towards the reception building and home of His Holiness, standing in the chilly morning air for about an hour. Most of the sixty or seventy attendees were Tibetans, with about a dozen Westerners. Finally the Tibetans were directed to move up towards the building, where they stood, heads bent and khata prayer scarves in hand. All the Westerners stood a few yards back.

After a short time along came the Dalai Lama, accompanied by several monks. His Holiness took his place in front of the entrance to the building. The audience was tightly orchestrated, with several older monks flanking Him and a long line of Tibetan security guards forming a tunnel visitors walked through. An Indian Army guard with an automatic rifle stood on each side of the doorway, a much smaller army presence than during the Dalai Lama’s teachings, when thousands of folks are present.

Each group or individual was directed through the tunnel of Tibetan security guards, while the rest of us stood back and waited our turn. Four Western women went before us, one of them a nun. When a question was asked by one of them, the Dalai Lama offered them a ten minute mini history lesson. His recall of historical dates was impressive.

Then it was our turn to meet Him. He grasped my hand, then Don’s. I told him that  twenty Tibetans live in our community near Vancouver, (part of Canada’s Tibetan Resettlement Sponsorship Program). He expressed interest, and I had the sense he was about to ask me something, but the staff intervened and told us to line up for  pictures. The monk photographer quickly took eight pictures of the three of us. I then asked His Holiness if he would bless our friend who was very ill at home in Canada. An expression of deep compassion crossed his face, and he gave a brief blessing in Tibetan. We thanked him, bowed, then left, with precious pills and blessed red silk thread in hand.

What remains with me, and, I believe always will, was the gentle peace surrounding His Holiness, indeed around the whole area where we stood. His Holiness gave us a lot that day. We received a powerful healing energy from his presence and his touch.

Afterwards, walking down the driveway of the temple towards the street, I was attacked by a street dog, a first. The dog jumped on me twice, and in my haste to get away from him I fell off the roadway to the ground below, a drop of a foot or more; I remained on my feet and fortunately was not harmed. The dog and his friend continued to follow us after this. Naturally, I was shook up and afraid they would jump again and bite me this time.

No one, including the police, believed the dog was harmful, however, there is still a  threat of rabid dogs in McLeod Ganj.  The vaccination program is improving each year, though. Eventually Don took charge of the situation and, taking me by the arm, suggested we leave the main road and go up the  Kirti Monastery laneway.

After mulling over what happened for a while we concluded that the dog did not mean harm, he was being playful, and was responding to my altered state after meeting His Holiness.

The meeting with the Dalai Lama had a great impact on both of us. Our previous exposure to Tibetan Buddhism, both in India and in Canada, and to Tibetans through our enduring friendships in Dharamshala and our Tibetan family sponsorship in our home community, deepened our experience.  And I would venture to say that past  lifetimes as Tibetan Buddhists also contributed to making the encounter more profound.

In later days we met a beautiful man, a Tibetan Buddhist who manages a catering facility for the government in exile’s cultural department. He told us that he blacks out every time he meets His Holiness and does not remember the experience.

Looking up the term “medical blackout” I found: a transient dulling or loss of vision, consciousness, or memory. While we did not have that experience, the audience had a strong effect on us and we believe we received a powerful healing from the Dalai Lama’s touch and from being in his presence, one that we are still integrating into our energy system.

At our initial chiropractic session within a week of our return from India, our spines were quite integrated, and our doctor sensed that it was from the experience of meeting His Holiness.

Clearly, meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama was our destiny, part of our spiritual path.

Tashe delek,  

Ellen

Copyright Ellen Besso 2018

Next: Celebrating Friendship, Final Weeks in Dharamshala

Golden Temple Road Trip

 “I am a stranger to no one & no one is a stranger to me. Indeed I am a friend to all.              Guru Granth Sahib,  Sikh saying

Two weeks into our sojourn, we took a trip to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, with our Tibetan doctor friend and her daughter. It was now or never, we felt, as we had skipped the long drive to Amritsar on previous trips. We’d waited so long, in fact, that the road system had improved, and the timing of the trip was just five hours.

It goes without saying that it was not a particularly relaxing five hours, driving in India is unsettling at the best of times. The driving style is very different from what we’re accustomed to. The volume of traffic, congestion, plus mountain roads on the first leg of the trip mean that drivers weave in and out, tailgating and passing where we westerners would never consider doing so.

On clear, flat stretches, fairly uncommon, drivers speed to gain time. The drivers are competent and I no longer become anxious on the road, relaxing into the process, trusting that we will arrive safely.

Our drive to Amritsar was uneventful and we arrived at Mrs. Bhandari’s Guesthouse in the early afternoon. Amritsar, a small Indian city of just over one million people, is only 50 kilometres from Lahore, Pakistan, also in the state of the Punjab. Amritsar is a busy, dusty commercial centre, where drivers deliberately drive through red lights at all times, unless there is a police presence in evidence. This is exceptional even for India!

Because of the congestion, our driver advised us to have a meal and rest, then visit the temple once only, at dusk, the best time of day to see it.  We would not enjoy an early morning visit, he told us, as it’s chilly and foggy at that time of day .

Our first sighting of Mrs. Bhandari’s gave the impression of a dusty, out of date, dreary place. Why had our McLeod Ganj hotel sent us here, I wondered. The guesthouse, built in 1954, was situated in a former army cantonment, a military district where army units may be encamped for long periods of time. Originally the rooms were rented out to teachers, army captains and officers. Mrs. Bhandari died in 2006 at the age of 101 and one of her daughters now runs the place.

The rooms, in a row on the inner side of the property, beside a garden, were old fashioned and musty, but smelled fine after a good airing. We were treated to a fine meal of Indian food in a cozy private dining room in the main building, a large colonial style home. That was when we began to realize that Mrs. Bhandari’s was a hidden gem. The beautifully appointed, British style dining room was a throwback to another time, due to the British influence in India during the last century.

After our meal we wandered around the grounds, enjoying the flowers that had been painstakingly nurtured in the dry ground and the well cared for green grass, a challenge in the dry climate of India. Our young friend played on the swings and teeter totter with my partner. There was even a swimming pool on the grounds.

We had a tour of the main house, decorated in period style,  and the two kitchens, one for breakfast, where the yogurt and cheese was made, and one for other meals. The next morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast before departing.

 

Later our driver let us out at a large commercial plaza, about a ten minute walk from the temple. Along our walk we saw hotels and many stores and street vendors, selling mostly souvenirs of the Golden Temple.

Guards at the temple entrance instructed us to cover our heads with small orange triangles unless we had a hat or head scarf with us, and to leave our footwear at the complementary shoe storage. We then walked through a symbolic foot bath and onto the grounds of the temple proper. Our Tibetan friend noted that no one was searched before entering the grounds of the temple complex, quite different from the Dalai Lama’s temple.

The Harmandir Sahib or Hari Mandir, officially renamed in 2005, is commonly known as The Golden Temple, and is the holiest shrine in Sikhism, a major pilgrimage destination for Sikhs from all over the world and a tourist attraction. Construction began in 1574 on land donated by the Mughal emperor Akbar.

The temple is gold-plated, with copper cupolas and white marble walls encrusted with precious stones in floral patterns. Verses from the Granth Sahib (the Sikh holy book) decorate the inside and outside. In the early 19th century, 100 kilograms of gold were applied to the lotus-shaped dome and the decorative marble was added. It was a majestic sight to behold.

The Golden Temple itself is open to everyone, as are all Sikh temples. No pictures can be taken inside it. It is said to be the most spiritual place in India. It was almost twilight when we entered the complex, the ideal time to be there, with the lights coming on and a bit of fog in the air. It was both magical and spiritual, deeply peaceful yet also powerful.

The entire complex had an impact, the scene felt quite other worldly to me, but the Golden Temple itself enthralled us. The temple lies in the centre of a sacred pond, the Amrit Sarovar, or Pool of Nectar, surrounded by the other temples and the wide marble walkways. It is reached by crossing the Guru`s Bridge, symbolizing the journey of the soul after death.

We were clearly meant to visit the inside the temple, as, along with a couple hundred other folks, we inched along the Guru’s Bridge for only twenty minutes before reaching the doorway.

The male chanters sat beneath a jewel studded canopy in the centre of the temple, along with a handful of other people, including women. Sikh visitors pay their respects by touching their foreheads to the temple floor and walls. I stood with my hands together and instantly dropped down into a deep meditative state, lifted up by the spiritual energy.

We were aware that chanters sang the scriptures from the Holy Book from four a.m. until ten p.m. in the Golden Temple, and the audio could be heard all round the complex, but we did not realize until later that the activities inside were televised throughout India for Sikh viewers.

Afterwards we moved inside one of the buildings, each took a divided thali tray, then sat on the floor of a large dining hall, or langar. The kitchen serves two halls, with a total capacity of 5,000 people. About 50,000 people are served on an average day; on religious holidays up to 100,000 eat in the halls. Dal is cooked in enormous vats, each holding up to 700 kilograms.

Male volunteers walked around the room offering everyone curd, (yogurt), dal, (split peas or lentils), chick peas in sauce and roti, (bread). We did not receive vegetables or dessert, as is often the case, I read, but we were very happy with what was offered. There was no fee for the food, although donations are accepted.

It was a privilege to spend time at the Golden Temple complex. We felt very welcome and there was no pressured to buy anything, adding to the tranquility. The temple staff, serving us food and gently correcting us when we put our feet in the sacred lake, truly lived up to Guru Granth Sahib’s motto of friendship with all. We spent only a couple of hours there but the time stretched. Kyros, or sacred time was at play.

Ellen

Copryright 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.

Next Time: Audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

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.