Wednesday, November 22, 2017

She's Coming to China!

Yim and I at Maijishan Grottoes in Tianshui, China in 2016

It all started with my posting on Facebook.  Given how much I travel, I am always asked where I am going to next.  So, I decided to give my friends a clue about my next trip.  Not surprisingly, my cousin Yim, who is one of my Facebook friends, responded with a question.  She's as much into traveling the world as I am so I was not at all surprised at her comment. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Blossoms Tour. China 2018

Someone took this photo of place known as Apricot Valley.  If you know the name of the photographer, please click on the Send feedback button and let me know their name so I can give them proper credit for capturing this incredible view!

I've been home, from my summer trip to India and Nepal for a little over four months now and I have been sorely delinquent in doing any blogging about that trip. Hopefully, with winter just around the corner, I will find myself cooped up indoors and will productively spend the time in front of the computer recalling that most amazing trip.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Boudhanath and Dinner With the Thapas.


After leaving Awantika at the Mitini offices, Adärsh, Chantale and I got back in the car for the short drive back to Adärsh's office. There, we said our thank you's and goodbye's before Sonam whisked us off to our final sightseeing destination for the day - one of my favorite spots in the Kathmandu Valley - Boudhanath. Like Swayambhunath, Boudhanath is a Tibetan Buddhist stupa.

Lunch With Adärsh, Awantika, and a Visit to Mitini.

From left to right:  Lakshmi Ghalan (founder of Mitini), Awantika, and Chantale.

We had a very nice lunch today with Adärsh and a young woman who works in his office named Awantika.  We met them both at Adärsh's office which is housed in the same building as one of his father's offices. 

Bhaktapur. Part 2.


There's not much I remember about Bhaktapur from my 2007 visit but the one thing that does stick out in my memory is pottery square. But I only recalled it when I saw the sign posted on the wall pointing in the direction of the square. I told Chantale we had to go check it out.

Bhaktapur. Part 1.

Nyatapola Temple, Bhaktapur Durbar Square.

We began our day today with breakfast with the lovely host and hostess of the home we're staying in.  It was quite the spread of food.  I'm certain that Sumina awoke early to help her servant get all the food ready for us.  Bindu was there to keep the conversation going and before we knew it, all the food was gone and it was time for Chantale and I to begin another day of sightseeing in Kathmandu.  On the top of today's itinerary was Bhaktapur.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Kathmandu. Budhanikantha Temple.

The statue of Lord Vishnu in the pool at Budhanikantha Temple.

From Swayambhunath, Sonam drove us to the home of his employer - Arun Ji.  It was rush hour traffic and the already congested roads of Kathmandu are even more congested.  It was another short drive that would take at least 45 minutes!

Stupa on the Hill. Swayambhunath.


From Patan Durbar Square, Sonam drove us to Swayambhunath.  In 2007, I visited Boudhanath on my first day and came here on my second day.  When I suggested that to Bindu, he replied that Swayambhunath is closer to Patan so it's better for us to come here today so that's what we did.

Patan. Kumbeshwor Temple.


After our visit to the Golden Temple, it was time to head to Kumbeshwor Temple which is located a short walk down the same street from the Golden Temple.  Not that I remember this from my previous visit but because the posted signs pointed me that way.  So far, Chantale has just be following me and thankfully, I have a good enough memory to remember the names of these places!

Patan. The Golden Temple.


The Golden Temple was a place that I fell in love with on my 2007 visit to Patan.  I was completely mesmerized by all the beautiful statues and statuettes and carvings that I saw here.  Back then, I had yet to visit any Buddhist temples so I had nothing to compare Kwa Bahal and now, after having visited more Buddhist monasteries, pagodas, and temples than I can easily recall, this place still holds a special place in my travel heart. 

Return to Patan Durbar Square.

Chantale along with a group of local men sitting out front of Patan Museum.

With our meeting with the mayor of Lalitpur out of the way, we could now just focus on seeing the sights of Kathmandu. When I was here in 2007, I fell in love with Patan so on this trip, I decided it was the first place I wanted to take Chantale to visit.

A Meeting With the Mayor of Lalitpur.


It's not everyday that you get to meet an elected official for no reason other than someone thought you should meet them and they went ahead and set up a meeting for you.  That's exactly what happened today.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Back in Kathmandu!


I'm back in Kathmandu!  It's been 9 years since I was first here.  I fell in love with Kathmandu the moment I set foot here and it's been a wish of mine ever since then to one day return.  I had to admit that part of me wanted to come back to see how the place has been since the devastating earthquake in 2015.  I will found out shortly.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Our Last Views of Leh.

Main Bazaar in Leh.

After leaving his mom and home behind in Stok, Dorje drove us back to Leh. I had no idea where he was taking us and for whatever reason, I had completely forgotten about having him take us to visit those places that I had made a mental note that we had to go see.  Oh well.

A Visit With Dorje and His Mom.

Chantale and Dorje's lovely mother. She's wearing the NYC baseball cap that Chantale had just gifted her.

Without a doubt, the most memorable part of today was spending time with Dorje and his mom in their family home where his mother treated us to some home made curd, freshly brewed butter tea and chapati.

Visiting Stok.


The first thing we had to do this morning was say goodbye to Ayşe who left us early to return to Turkey to spend more time with her family before returning home to the US. I was fast asleep until I heard her alarm go off.  I waited for her to get ready to literally walk out the door before I got out of bed to give her a big hug and to wish her a safe journey.  Tashi had arranged for a car and driver to take her to the airport so I told her to let me know if her ride did not show up.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hemis Festival. The End.


The dance performance of The Five Tshog Len and The Ten Great Ging was the last of the day.  It was an incredible set of performances though the festival day was not yet quite over. There's a closing ceremony, if you will

Hemis Festival. The Five Tshog Len and The Ten Great Ging.


The Five Tshog Len and The Ten Great Ging were the last two dance performances and the performances overlap so I'm including both on one post.

Hemis Festival. The Five Chemchog Heruka.


After a joyous dance performance by the Four Lords of the Graveyards (some metal rock band should take this name!), the Five Chemchog Heruka make their appearance in the courtyard.

Hemis Festival. The Four Lords of the Graveyards.


The Four Lords of the Graveyards function to summon and magnetize the evil forces that work against the welfare of sentient beings and the Buddha Dharma.  Their masks represent human skulls and their costumes are of skeletons.  The dance they perform is a joyous one - celebrating the victory of good over evil, a continuation of the theme of the dance performances preceding this one.

Hemis Festival. The Four Goma.


The Four Gomas aka Four Gatekeepers work to protect sentient beings.

Hemis Festival. Serkyem.


After the performance by the 12 Zhing Kyong, the Serkeyem takes place. The Serkyem is a libation or beverage offering rite performed by the Acharya or Lobpon (main teacher of the Hemis  Monastery). 

Hemis Festival. The Twelve Zhing Kyong.


After about an hour long intermission during which I think pretty much every one turned into a lunch hour, the dance performances resumed at the sound of the horns. 

Hemis Festival. Lunch Break!

Clockwise from the woman with the scarf on her head.  That's Dorje's sister, her son, Dorje and Dorje's mom.

The morning dance performances took up about 2.5 hours. To me, it felt like maybe an hour of time had elapsed. I guess I was so focused on watching the dances and taking photos that I didn't even notice how quickly time had flown by.

The Hemis Festival. The EIght Manifestations of Padmasambhava.


After the sixteen dancers wearing copper gilded masks have chanted the invocation mantra of Padmasambhava, his eight manifestations appear.  The manifestations are the principal forms that Padmasambhava assumed at different points in his life.

Hemis Festival. Bringing Down Blessings.


The second dance is called Bringing Down Blessings which is performed by sixteen dancers wearing copper gilded masks.  They represent fairies that purify the place, the teaches and the disciples. Their function is to consecrate; to bring down blessings from higher beings.  Carrying a damaru (hand drum) in one hand and a bell in the other, the dance and chant to invocation mantra of Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche).

Hemis Festival. Setting the Limits or The 13 Black Hat Dancers.



The first sacred dance of the Hemis Festival is called Setting the Limits or the 13 Black Hat Dancers. Thirteen monks perform wearing tantric dress with symbolic meaning. With their spiritual power and through the ritual gestures and dancing that evoke divine wrath, they cut off evil spirits and negative influences. In the process, they set a physical boundary so that no entity may enter the sacred space or bring obstacles. This performance is therefore called Setting Limits.

Hemis Festival. The Opening.


Today was the day that the entire trip to India was planned around!  Today was the day we attended the Hemis Festival, held in the monastery of the same name.  Because I shot more photos and videos and wanted to showcase as many as I can, I am splitting my Hemis Festival postings into several.  This is posting is just an introduction, covering up until the moment the mask dances begin.  Each dance will be presented in its own posting.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

One More Roadtrip Back to Leh. Thiksey Monastery.

Ayşe posing with two of the young monks we had lunch with at Thiksey Monastery.

It wasn't the best night's sleep last night but apparently I fared much better than my two travel companions who were so well encased inside their Silk Cocoon mummies that they basically could not move around in bed.  Poor Ayşe complained she was so sardined (is that a verb?) in that couldn't even roll over from one side to another!  I just had to laugh at her.  To top it off, I was worried that the girls would be too cold at night so I piled all the extra blankets on to top of them.  It seemed they didn't need the extra blankets because it turned out they were too hot!  Why didn't they just throw off a blanket?  I just had to laugh at them!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Stunning Beauty. Pangong Tso.


Five hours after we left Leh, we arrived into Pangong Tso, gorgeous turquoise colored water lake nestled in the Himalayas. Situated at an elevation of about 4,420 meters (14,500 feet), about a quarter of the lake is located with the borders of India, the rest is in China. It is considered a sacred by Tibetans. For me, it was just a breath taking sight.  I am so glad that we gave up the trek, which would have been might torturous for me, to come here.  The lake reminds me a lot of Yamdrok Tso which is a lake I visited when I was in Tibet in 2007.  For the gals, this is the first time they've ever seen scenery like this and I know they will not soon forget it.

Another Road Trip, Another Mountain Pass. Chang La.

Another road trip, another mountain pass, another selfie 😁

Today was suppose to be a start of a day trek but instead, we embarked on a road trip to Pangong Tso.  Since this was literally a last second change to our itinerary, I had not done any reading about what this road trip would be like.  I had no clue it would involve going over another really high altitude mountain pass!

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Mountain Pass And a Couple of Avalanches.


Back at Nyamgal Guesthouse, we said our goodbye's to Tsering and wished her much success in finishing up with her college degree.  We then rushed back to our rooms and quickly repacked our back packs.  Of course, Chantale....with all her gear, had the most stuff to pack up but in no time, we were ready to hit the road with Dorje.

For the Kids.


We awoke this morning to the news that heavy snowfall had fallen over night in the area around Khardung La Pass.  For safety reasons, the road was closed.  Dorje was in contact with the office as well as several of his fellow drivers.  At best, we could begin to make our way back around noon so for now, we were stuck in Sumur.  Not idea but nothing anyone can do so we just had to be patient.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Nubra Valley. Lunch in Sumur & Samstaling Monastery.

With young boys (monks perhaps?) at Samstaling Monastery.

Technically speaking the Nubra Valley actually comprises two valleys: Nubra and Shyok, each sharing the name of the river that flows through the valley.  Hundur and Diskit Monastery are in the Shyok Valley. The two valleys and the two rivers join in the region’s heart near Diskit before flowing westwards into Pakistan to eventually join the mighty Indus.

Nubra Valley. Panamik Springs and Yarab Tso.

At Yarab Tso.

From riding bactrian camels our trip through the Nubra Valley took us to a hot spring and a lake. But first, we had to get there. More dreary views of sand that is already gray in color.  I was trying to stay positive but seriously, it's just gloomy here today.  I really want the sun!

Nubra Valley. On The Backs of Camels.


After breakfast at the Hotel Snow Leopard, in Hundur, we packed up our bags and met back up with Dorje.  He looked well rested which is good though since we're staying in the Nubra Valley for a second day, it will be easier driving....no crazy mountain passes!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Nubra Valley. DIskit Monastery.


After arriving in the Nubra Valley and having a quick lunch, Dorje took us to Diskit Monastery.  Founded in the 14th century by Changzem Tserab Zangpo, a disciple of Tsong Khapa, founder of Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) sect of Tibetan Buddhism, it is the oldest and largest monastery in the Nubra Valley.  It also happens to be where His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be coming to in the next few days.  He will be arriving into Ladakh tomorrow for a one month stay.

The Nubra Valley Via Khardung La Pass

At Khardung La, one of the world's highest motorable mountain passes at an elevation of 5,359 meters (17,582 feet). Not easy to breathe!!

Today was the start of another road trip.  We brought our suitcases from the room and handed them over to the front desk guys who took them back into storage.

Although Dorje had given us enough time for breakfast, we quickly downed it and were ready to hit the road bright and early at 8am.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Road Trip Back to Leh. Likir Monastery.


We reached Likir Monastery shortly after 1p; it was barely a 20 minute drive from Saspol village.  By now I've realized just how much there is to see, in terms of monasteries, on the relatively short stretch of road between Leh and Lamayuru.  Aside from the Indian tourists that have ventured into this region, it is predominantly if not wholly occupied by Tibetans.  My friend Shaz told me that Ladakh would remind me more of Tibet than India and indeed it does.

Road Trip Back to Leh. Village Unknown.

Door leading to Saspol Caves. That tiny blue dot in the middle of the picture is Chantale's hat.  Dorje is standing next to her.

From Rizong Monastery, Dorje took us to a place that I can only describe as a teeny, weeny, itsy, bitsy village in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  The ride to the village took us through more of the spectacular landscape of Ladakh.  For Dorje, this is every day scenery.  For me, it's special and so my eyes don't leave it unless they have to.

Road Trip Back to Leh. Rizong Monastery.


Like yesterday, today was another day of destinations unknown meaning we had no clue where we were going until we got there.  Typically, I have the day's itinerary fully mapped out in my head....bit of a control freak.  So, I've had to let go a bit and in many ways, it's been fun traveling without a clue as our day is filled with surprises.  So far, they have all been good! 

Road Trip Back to Leh. Temple Unknown.


Dorje was waiting for us as we opened the front gates to the Moonland Hotel.  Today is another road trip day and by the end, we would be back in Leh.  That meant, we would essentially be driving back on the Srinagar-Leh Highway.  When asked, Dorje indicated we would be seeing....get ready for it....more monasteries today! I'm guessing we missed a few yesterday.

With the Monks and Nuns at Lamayuru.


We woke up with the chickens this morning.  Okay, maybe not that early but it was early.  6a to be exact.  Last night, we had agreed to get up early and head back to Lamayuru.   On our visit there yesterday afternoon, we bumped into the yogi who invited us to come back today for meditation services.  Of course, we jumped at the opportunity.  Not to mention that the temples were closed to visitors yesterday as we had arrived too late so it was a good chance to see a few today as well.  That was the plan for this morning.

Monday, June 26, 2017

First Views of Lamayuru Monastery.


It was about 5:30p when we left our hotel to head out to check out Lamayuru Monastery.  I had tried to Google for the monastery visiting hours but the speed of the link was so slow (too many people using it), I could not pull up the information which I just found on line.

On The Road to Lamayuru. Lunch and Alchi Monastery.


Our next destination unknown on today's roadtrip to Lamayuru was the small village of Alchi where we had lunch.  It's also home to a monastery by the same name.  More of pretty Ladakh scenery along the way.  This has been such a refreshing change of view from the chaotic and congested cities we've spend the past two weeks in.

On The Road to Lamayuru. Basgo Monastery.


Leaving Phyang Monastery behind, we continued our road trip.  At this point, I realize that the itinerary that I had gotten from Stanzin was not as detailed as I ordinarily would expect to receive.  Lucky for him, I am a go with the flow kind of girl who has a very open mind about travel.  Whatever place we were going to next was in the hands of Dorje, our driver.  Even if he had told me the name of the place, I would not have had a clue about what it was as I only researched the main destination points so I knew about Lamayuru but nothing between Leh and Lamayuru. 

On The Road to Lamayuru. Phyang Monastery.


It was an early wake up call this morning.  When I was reviewing the itinerary, I knew we would be seeing Lamayuru Monastery today but for some reason, I never checked to see its distance from Leh so I didn't realize that it was not in easy driving distance of Leh.  We would actually spend the night in Lamayuru village.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Greetings from Leh!


We're finally in Ladakh and for the past few hours, I have enjoyed some wonderful cool air and the girls are discovering a very different side of India.  I had told them to (virtually) close their eyes when they left Delhi and then to open them when we arrived into Leh.  They will feel like they traveled to another country....it's that different here.  I don't think they believed me at first but they do now!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back in Delhi.


Hard to believe that our visit to the Taj Mahal is over.  Although we had seen it twice at sunset and once at sunrise, all from the vantage point of the Yamuna River, nothing compared to seeing it upclose as we did this morning.  I always say it's a place that you have to visit in your lifetime.  For me, I've been lucky to see it twice and maybe fate will bring me back yet another time.

The One And Only.


I don't know that any of the three of us slept well last night.  I know I was too excited for today because I was up before the alarm went off and it went off early....like 3:30a early.  Saeed and Dinesh would be picking us up at 4:14a.  I had told the girls we wanted to be the first in line to get into the Taj Mahal and there was no objection.  So we hustled and by the time we closed the front door of the Aman Homestay behind us,  Saeed was there waiting.  Dinesh was parked nearby.