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Pilgrimage to Ladakh, India; June / July 2008
By the way, this title is meant as a double entendre: I have been back from Ladakh for about a year (and been very busy with school) and it took AT LEAST a year to accumulate the merit and other resources required to go on this incredible pilgrimage.
So… as I was mentioning, I finally got the time and space to write this thoughtfully (compared to the bare bones description of my journal). From 15 June through 15 July ’08 I was on route to / from or in Ladakh India. Here is entry number one, of many…
6/15/08 – My itinerary for the trip was comical, but considering the tickets were free using mileage plus, I did not complain. As a result however, I was to fly from Dulles to London to Vienna to Delhi. Then, on the return trip, I flew from Delhi to Frankfurt to Toronto to Montreal, then took a train from Montreal to New York City and then to Washington D.C. (where I picked up my car and then drove the final 3 hours back home to Charlottesville… pant pant pant!).
Despite leaving late at 12:30 pm, we were served breakfast on the flight and then a snack, and by the time that was over, we were in London, at 12:45 am – good morning! (again…) Walked through customs only to discover the lights were out? And that I could have entered England with anything… hmm? Maybe everyone who flies in after 1 A.M. is safe…
6/16/08 – Everyone seemed very friendly in the U.K. Fascinating! I wonder if that is normal, a fluke, an unusual astrological phenomena or “(E.)” none of the above? It was interesting – I got turned around in the airport, and spoke with several strangers while I was attempting to sleep and wait. Everyone was pleasant and amiable. Great! On my flight through Vienna, I sat on the plane with an interesting character – Raniger Singh. He is a humble taxi driver from London, who just happens to speak nine languages – yes, that’s right – nine! He named off several Indian dialects I had never heard of, plus Hindi, Punjabi, English, German… Wow! I felt a little ashamed to merely speak one (what a typical Ammerrican). Need to work on my Tibetan!
My luggage did not arrive on my flight, surprise surprise (*see my itinerary). The gentlemen at Delhi airport handled things professionally however, noting what my baggage looked like and getting my address etc. I arrived in Delhi at one in the morning, which led to not having to worry about customs twice(!) [Sometimes, you hear stories of great Lamas or seriously devout practitioners having easy circumstances when they travel (I’m neither of those by the way), but I was glad to not have to deal with a rubber glove on the arrival trip!] At least in India there were people manning the booths, but I just walked through without stopping. Whoops! Of course, they could have stopped me too…
I was met at the airport by a petite Tibetan man named Peter Sonam who has a huge, kind heart (in his little frame). As his driver took us around the relatively deserted, nocturnal streets of Delhi, he told me about the plans for our trip. The tiny car we were in almost got swallowed by several enormous potholes – seriously! From a previous trip to India, I was aware of the wild drivers in Delhi, and even at 1:00 AM, in the course of 20 minutes, the driver honked his horn more than I have in my entire life. There were a few interesting places in the road where lanes just mysteriously merge and begin again later, without warning. However, compared to the last time I was here (2001), the experience was very pleasant.
I recall that in my last journey to Delhi, I was shocked and amazed at the enormous number of species / vehicle types sharing the road – cavorting camels, dallying donkeys, consecrated cows, enormous elephants, hungry humans, busy bicycles, roaming rickshaws, tiny tuk tuks – the loud three-wheeled-golf-cart-like, exhaust-spewing vehicles, titanic trucks, bursting-at-the-seams buses, coke-can cars / vans, rare, mercurial Mercedes and pedestrians. Someone seems to have cleaned up the streets in Delhi – way to go!
Did I mention the heat?!? OMG! (Now I know why people with health conditions are warned about summer time in India!) When I left the confines of the modern, air conditioned airport, stepping out into the noisy lanes of Delhi, I was overwhelmed. The humidity and heat at 1 AM was enough to make Virginia’s muggy summers pale in comparison! Think moist sauna – all night and all day – muggy, hot, humid period.
My pleasant ride with Peter Sonam and driver ended as we arrived at the World Buddhist Center, which is a diamond in the rough (see photos!). The resident monk greeted me and offered tea, as well as generously staying up to chat a little. I had forgotten it was 2 AM, or rather, my system had no bloody clue what time it was, and I may have kept him up a bit. But the beautiful and sacred atmosphere of the Buddhist Center there felt like coming home and I was glad. =^)
P.S. Note to self – next trip, take thrice as many photos – despite taking about 500, I find myself looking for images that I do not have recorded.