Some people have their churches, some have temples, some have mosques. Others have yoga, they have music, they have nature, or a number of other ways to fill their hearts with love, (aka religion). There's this outlet we all need in order to tap into our spirituality, yet an inner temple that houses the Goddess within. Being surrounded again by these Himalayas, in Dharmasala, where the Dalai Lama resides is just that external essence of love, religion, spirituality...whatever you may call it. I am truly blessed. It took approximately twenty-two hours by two buses and one train to move from the desert heat of Rajastan to the cool Himalayan foothills of Himachal Pradesh. Just like last time I was here, seeing the Himalayas again for the first time, took my breath away. These mountains are majestic and inspire every essence of my being. It has been fun rediscovering this Tibetan town and being in the Buddhist presence of the Dalai Lama. I'm reminded of three years ago when I shared this experience with my dear friends, Dick and Annette, remembering the gentle aromas of spirituality, the power of the Himalayas, and, well, the delicious momos!! It was quite a shock to the system to transition from the heat we have been experiencing for the past several months to the cold Himalayan climate. The town is filled with yak wool scarves, leggings, and other garments for sale, there are coffee and tea houses lining the streets with comfortable floor pillows, colorful lighting, and anything playing on the speakers from Bob Marley to Eric Clapton to the sound of Tibetan flutes or the Dalai Lama's prayer, "Om mani padme hum". It's cozy and quiet here, with Tibetans flags strewn across the green rolling hills in the foreground and the snow-capped peaks in the background.
In these travels, I've been shuffling through ideas for a tattoo, something that could stamp this incredible experience and something to symbolize what trips such as these do for the soul. Hannah and I stumbled upon a tattoo shop, and I decided to pop my head in and meet the artist. With all my tattoos, a spirit-to-spirit connection was a must, as well as an artful collaboration, so organically stumbling into this (very clean, hygienic) shop felt completely aligned with what my soul was looking for. The artist is a Tibetan man, who studied traditional Tibetan tanka painting under his father, as it's common for families to pass this artistry down generation to generation. After years of tanka painting, he became bored and wanted to dive deeper into his artistry, which was when he decided to become a tattoo artist. I loved his story, I loved his spirit. I told him my ideas and he shared his, so he told me to come back the next day around noon and he would have some ideas drawn up for me.
The next morning, I woke up early and arrived to my yoga class early enough to sit and meditate. It was fun studying under one of the yoga instructors I studied under last time I was here, but he assumed I had three more years experience (instead of three months minimal practice) so he certainly challenged my body, overexerting me into Hanumanasana and challenging me to be less fearful of Vrischikasana, which I have been trying to master since I studied under him years ago. After a strenuous, yet meditative, yoga practice I took my stroll to the tattoo studio, only about twenty minutes down the windy, forested road. Arriving to his studio, he had a couple of ideas sketched up for me and I fell in love with one of his designs. He carved the stencil while I discussed the symbolism in tattoos with his office partner and mentally prepared myself. The artist placed the stencil on my forearm and it was the perfect fit. I was happy when Hannah walked in, minutes before the needle touched my skin, to confirm my excitement on the placement and design. The tattoo took only a couple of hours to complete, sometimes with my fingers pressed into chin mudra, eyes closed, breathing Reiki into my body. I love this tattoo and all that it represents to me. It's about traveling the world, putting yourself into the unknown, being vulnerable enough for growth to happen.
After my "new life partner" was pressed onto my forearm, the next best thing was to walk to the Dalai Lama's residency. We walked through the sacred temples, spun the Tibetan prayer wheels, meditated over the lit candles, and admired the mandalas, Buddhas, and the sacredness of the place. I love that place so much! As if the Dalai Lama wasn't enough to take me to my sacred place, I had another journey in mind...stomping my feet up those Himalayas! Last time I was in Dharmasala I was unable to trek up close enough, so as was thrilled to plan a day-hike up a trail called, "Truind". It's approximately ten miles, and the trail itself was much more challenging than Kilimanjaro (excusing the altitude sickness and the bitter cold conditions), but the views at the top were remarkable. We climbed scraggly rocks up a steep slope, crossing small patches of snow and mud, but for the cool temperatures, the exercise certainly kept us warm. Reaching the summit was absolutely breath-taking, with other hikers also breathless (partially from the steep climb, mostly from those incredible mountains). We rested for a while near other travelers who were playing music and completely setting the mood for this beautiful setting. The hippie in my was overjoyed - music, mountains, hiking!! What more could I need to take me to my sacred place?!
The rest of our time in Dharamsala involved visiting hot springs and temple not far from town, fighting a terrible food-born illness, recovering with ginger and mint teas, practicing variations of Hatha and Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, and writing this blog for you, of course! We are now off to Jammu and Kashmire for some more Himalayan Mountain Adventures!!