Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Diwali Lights

This week I went to see the Diwali lights in Mahim with Heeru.  Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, celebrated in Autumn every year to signify the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.  The main festival night of Diwali is the new moon - the darkest night.  

Before Diwali people clean and decorate their homes and dress up in new clothes and light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their homes.  They pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and light fireworks.  Special food includes mithai (sweets) and an exchange of gifts.

Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace

On my last day in Bangalore, before heading off to the airport, I called at Tipu Sultan's Summer Palace (or what remains of it).

The palace was originally built by Kempe Gowda, the founder of Bangalore, but was extended by Tipu Sultan when he was the Emperor of Mysore.  The palace is made of teak and the arches are carved in the Islamic style.  There are balconies that look out each side onto gardens, and Tipu Sultan used to conduct the affairs to state from the upper balconies.  

Tipu was an enemy of the British East India Company and fought against them for many years.  He seems to have been a visionary leader, planing up the Lalbaug botanical gardens as well as building roads and public buildings and making numerous other improvements including a new money system.   Tipu eventually died defending his capital against the British (people in India regard him as a martyr).

Tipu is known as the Tiger of Mysore and when urged to flee and save himself in the 4th Mysore War against the British said "One day of life as a tiger is far better than thousand years of living as a jackal".   He refused to flee and therefore died.

In the palace was a photo of Tipu's Tiger - the original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  This was a toy/musical instrument of a tiger savaging a British soldier.  The man makes a wailing sound and the tiger growls.  The flap in the side folds down to reveal the keyboard of a small organ.

Next to the palace is a temple dedicated to the god Vishnu.  I went to visit that temple too.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Indus International School

I went to visit Indus for a PYP Evaluation visit and stayed right in the school.  It's an amazing haven of green with lovely school buildings and residences.  On my last night there I was able to join the Diwali fireworks.

Last day: Walking to the Nezer Gompa

On our last day in Ladakh we went on another walk.  Henri, a Frenchman who had been staying at Silver Cloud, gave us a map of walks he had done further up the valley.  His description of the walks inspired us to try to walk as far as the Nezer Gompa.  The day was sunny and bright and as far as possible we wanted to stay among greenery.  The first place we came to was a lovely Buddhist shrine.

Nezer Gompa itself was through a small village.  It was high up and on the way the pilgrims had piled up rocks.  There was a great view over the surrounding countryside.

On our last evening we sat on our balcony and watched the sun go down behind the mountains.  The Shanti Stupa can just be seen as a silhouette on the horizon.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Monasteries along the Indus

We decided to drive in the opposite direction from Leh, along the Indus to visit the monasteries there. The photo above is taken at the confluence of the Indus (on the left) and Zanskar  rivers (in the centre).  The landscape was bleak but spectacular.

The first monastery we stopped at was Likir which is one of the oldest and best maintained monasteries in Ladakh.  It is famous for the 75 foot tall statue of Buddha.  Likir means "Naga encircled" - it is believed that 2 serpent spirits protect the monastery.  Likir is a "Yellow Hat" monastery.

The monastery was built like a fort so that the local people could retreat to it as a sanctuary during war.  There are fields at the base, and above them are the monks' residences and then finally at the top are the temples and assembly hall.  Around 120 monks live in this monastery.

After Likir, we drove on to Alchi, where we eventually stopped for lunch in the garden of a lovely little restaurant right outside the monastery.  The village of Alchi is very green, in contrast to some of the other areas of Ladakh and is full of apricot trees and donkeys.  Alchi monastery is one of the most important Buddhist centres in Ladakh and is around a thousand years old so the influence of Tibetan culture is obvious.  There are various shrines and temples covered in amazing wall paintings with thousands of miniature pictures of the Buddha as well as huge clay models.

Our final stop of the day was at Phyang monastery.  At first we thought this monastery was closed/deserted, but eventually we met a monk who opened up various temples and let us in.  In fact the monastery is home to 100 monks and is building a lovely new temple at the back.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Tsemo Gompa and Leh Palace

We could see the Tsemo Gompa from our guesthouse so feeling ready for a challenge after 4 days in Ladakh we decided to hike up to it.  It was about 40 minutes uphill and it was pretty exhausting.  Right at the top of the mountain there were some stupas and prayer flags.  Our guesthouse is somewhere below in the valley (I tried to identify it but couldn't).

The view from the Tsemo Gompa was amazing - there was a little platform that you could walk on all around the outside of it.  In both photos you can see the Shanti Stupa over on the far hill.

From the Tsemo Gompa it was a downhill (but not easy!) walk to Leh Palace.  This is a nine-storey building dating from the 1550s.  It was built by the Buddhist kings of Ladakh and was once the world's highest building.  The palace's inward leaning walls are in the same architectural tradition as the otala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.

We once again walked down into Leh, did some shopping and had lunch.

Monasteries and Palaces on the Roof of the World

On our third day in Ladakh we felt ready to take a taxi out to some of the more remote regions in order to visit monasteries.  Our trip took us to Hemis and Thiksey Monasteries and Shey Palace.

Stakna Gompa
Hemis Monastery is the largest monastic institution in Ladakh and dates from 1630. This monastery has more than 200 branches throughout the Himalayas and more than 1,000 monks.

Hemis is situated in a craggy, red-rock canyon and is home to Ladakh's Drukpa Buddhists.  It has a superb central courtyard full of colourful timbers and tall masts with prayer flags.

After Hemis we drove to Thiksey Monastery.  Thiksey is on top of a large rocky outcrop and is comprised of layered, whitewashed Tibetan-style buildings.  It's one of Ladakh's biggest monasteries and includes a restaurant where we ate our lunch.  

The main gompa contains a prayer chamber with a 14 metre high Buddha in an ornately detailed headdress.  This temple was consecrated by the Dalai Lama.

Our final stop of the day was at Shey Palace.  This was once Ladakh's summer capital, though it is now abandoned.