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Farewell Ladakh! I woke up at 5 am, to catch the customary “butt crack of dawn” flight (as a friend of mine was in the custom of crassly describing ungodly-early events… don’t worry, the literary content improves from here on out). Thankfully no problems flying out of Ladakh, and I must say, if I thought the flight in was incredible, which it was (is!!!), the flight out was equally breath-taking. I say this because I was lucky enough to catch the sun rising over the Himalayas, with a “bird’s eye view” as it were. WOW!?! And then seeing the snowy, jagged edges poking up through the occasional clouds is really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Landed in Delhi, where, if I had not been met by Peter Sonam again – the less-than-tall but incredibly kind-hearted Tibetan guide for the Indian segment of our journeys – I might have had an aneurysm. Let’s just say that the airport in Delhi, despite having been upgraded (now the hawker / taxi-drivers have to wait in a slightly restricted area), they still use every trick in the book to get you to come with them. But there was Peter holding a sign with my name on it – very special!
Well I now had over 36 hours until my flight out of India, so Peter checked in with me to see what I wanted to do. I had already been told about Manjukateela (spelled: “Manjukatilla”), so I did not require much persuasion to go there. Affordable hotels, people speaking Tibetan, some fun shops to explore – “hey why not?” And of course there is always the unplanned for, extracurricular adventure that you can never plan for. I had a couple of these present themselves.
First, let me briefly explain my experience of this Tibetan slum.. I mean “settlement.” I would never say slums unless I meant it, and I mean no derogatory slight again Tibetans, but you may get the idea here in a minute. We pulled off the crazy-busy highway (all roads in Delhi seem busy and / or crazy, and the road near the settlement was no exception) into what seemed like a small pull-off. At first, I thought we were having car trouble and that the driver needed to take a look. Because there was no way there were any hotels nearby… Uhhh well… Not so fast. Peter told me we had arrived! Haha! Good joke! But then he got out and started unloading my backpack.. Well I carried my pack and he insisted on carrying my duffel. We walked through what could have easily been someone’s backyard (my point is, this entrace to Manjukateela was extremely casual – no sign saying where we were) and then entered a small tight avenue bordered on both sides by large sandy-brick buildings. This tight thoroughfare was the main path of the settlement. The little side “streets” were even more claustrophobia-inducing. There were little shops on either side of the main “street” and many vendors hawking trinkets, food, religious items and more.
Peter told me he would take me to a hotel that was both affordable and that offered A/C. Well, he got one part of that right. And bless Peter Sonam’s heart, he is obviously a very busy man who is doing his best to be a good father as well. But this hotel did not seem to have any A/C rooms. I’m not complaining though! For 400 rupees a night ($10 U.S.), I have no foot to stand on for complaints. My room consisted of two beds, a funky contraption in the window which LOOKS like an A/C unit, but which only seems to blow air across dripping water, which I guess cools it a little, and a side table. I had a separate bathroom which was nice. Slight tangent: New Delhi is probably more hot than anywhere else in the world during the month of July. I am from Virginia, where the temperatures can peak in the low 100’s (degrees Fahrenheit) and the humidity is extreme. Yeah, well India proved that to be a drop in the bucket. I would take Virginia’s weather any July over Delhi’s – at least the threat of malaria has not made it to the mid-Atlantic States yet. (When I landed in Delhi at 1 AM, the temps were at least 90 degrees with high humidity. Yes, one AM…)
Oh, and did I mention that the hotels in Manjukateela operate illegally? Yeah, luckily I found out later that the Indian government turns a blind eye on the settlement’s “hotels” which are not able to pay the taxes (I think that is the reason). I’m hoping it is not because they are unable to pass sanitation standards! Somehow India still benefits from having the settlement there, so a deal has been struck: we don’t see you, provided you don’t go and do anything really stupid..
Yes, this is where I landed for a short stint of my pilgrimage. Oh – and by the way, in case I forget to mention this – I would stay in Manjukatilla again at the drop of a hat. Maybe I would choose a different month, but I enjoyed my stay and I look forward to exploring it further. So, to continue, the main “street,” which shifts – sometimes slightly wider, more often than not, narrowing or forking to become two tiny paths around a building – probably extends a mile from one end of the settlement to the other, at most. At the far end from where I entered, there is a pleasant Buddhist temple, which I explored that afternoon with new found acquaintances as well as a monastery, which seemed to be locked, temporarily.
I stayed in a hotel which was near the entrance. As I mentioned, it was affordable and adequate. Plus I could turn on the strange box in the window to create a loud dripping / blowing noise which truly distracted from the heat (and eventually you get used to the high temps!). 🙂 Downstairs, the hotel had a delicious restaurant where I ate several meals – including Tibetan dumplings, known as momo(s).
The balcony near my room looked out over a river, which was lined by tiny farms and little shacks or tarps which had been put up to shelter people. It seemed to be a poor area, plus there was quite a bit of refuse scattered between the hotel building and the river. I’m not sure, but I think there was a wall between the hotel and the shanties.
I met an intelligent and lively couple from France in the restaurant, and we had a pleasant conversation. I shared what little I know about Tibetan Buddhism with them, and then they asked to be shown around the settlement. It was my first time, so we all just went exploring. We found the above mentioned temple and monastery, plus numerous shops, vendors and beggars. Afterward, they wanted to explore Delhi before they were off to Ladakh – so I shared some about my experiences up north. I was exhausted from all of my adventures, so I chose not to go with them. Chance of combating disease-ridden mosquitoes + testing out unknown public transportation + crossing Indian equivalents of hyper-busy interstate highways = Kirby wants to rest and not think about it! Had I been more resourced, I definitely would have gone exploring, but as it was my adrenals needed a healthy break.
This is getting long, so I will wrap up shortly. Across the tiny alley (side street) from my hotel, I happened to stumble in after the French couple left, was a treasure: the Drikung Kagyu Institute of Manjukatilla. Imagine! An entire (very small) bookstore dedicated to the tiny lineage of Tibetan Buddhism that I practice, being right across the street from my hotel. What are the odds?! In the entire Manjukatilla complex there was only one other bookstore that I found and it was very general. Well guess what?
I drank a lot of Tibetan tea and caught up on Drikung Kagyu lamas from the owner, Tsondu Senge. He is a very kind-hearted, attentive and generous man! He had his family members keep bringing tea for us. I purchased several books and upon doing so, he threw into the “package” several beautiful religious trinkets (I say trinkets for lack of a better word) – for instance little double vajra key chain, etc etc. He also gave me a picture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama holding hands with the Drikung Holinesses under a picture of Milarepa – very precious indeed! Thankfully his English was very good (because my Tibetan was and is still not up to snuff!).
It was a very small world. It turned out Tsondu Senge’s brother had gone to secondary school with Khenchen Rinpoche, Konchog Gyaltsen (the first Tibetan lama who I took refuge / Bodhicitta vows with), so they were good friends and hence Tsondu laa had many stories to share about (any) this or that Drikung lama and where he was at the moment. He was very connected (not that it is an extensive lineage). But I must have chatted with him for three or four hours. I had questions about the numerous texts he had in his shop – about half of which were in Tibetan. I asked what had been translated into English, what people were working on. I asked about the Thangkas he had – which deity was holding what implement, etc. Plus he had incredible Drikung statuary which I was too light in the pocket to afford – gold statues of 4-armed Mahakala, Achi Chokyi Drolma and Jigten Sumgon.
So there I was, in a little Dharma paradise, in the Tibetan “settlement,” resting and waiting for my flight back to the West.