Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hibernating in Bir

Hi folks, sorry for the delay in contact. Less access and spotty internet service makes it hard to motivate to sit down and do an update! But here it is! After a beautiful, but pretty grueling 14 1/2 hour taxi ride on a mountainous, only partially paved road from Rishikesh we arrived in Bir. Which is a small town in the Dhauladhar mountain range in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Our intention was to stop here for a few days to visit folks from the work retreat we were originally supposed to be on and then move on to Dharamsala (a 3-4 hour bus ride West of here and home to the Dali Lama). But we love it here so much we never left!

Bir is a small town that is known for it's Tibetan communities, monasteries, spiritual teaching centers and amazing paragliding conditions; so as you can imagine, it draws a small but eclectic tourist crowd. It's snow capped jagged mountain peaks give way to magical forests and terraced farms, which descend into groomed tea plantations, fields of golden wheat and beautiful green pastures.

It is magnificent to weave your way down small paths through multiple villages passing beautiful homes and friendly people. You can watch oxen pulling plows, women carrying huge bundles of wood upon their backs, children in maroon robes playing football in the fields, prayer flags swaying in the wind, elderly folks circumambulating stupas, chanting mantras, while spinning their prayer wheels in their one hand and counting mala beads in the other.

At first glance (and even second and third), it appears to be the most peaceful place on earth. But western friends that have lived here for several years informed us that unfortunately, there is tension and discord among the various Tibetan refugee colonies that come from different regions in Tibet. In fact there are 3 separate Tibetan governmental bodies ruling the colonies within this small community. As well, there is said to be segregation between Indians and Tibetans which you can witness by noting the different job allocations.

Refugees commonly and understandably don't want to claim Indian citizenship because it would mean giving up their homeland status. This means they have to register every 6 months or 1 year depending on where they live, to stay in India. They also have to wait one year before they can apply to travel outside of India.

There are 2 large graphic posters in town with photos of Jamphel Yeshis self immolation (setting himself on fire) protesting Chinese rule in Tibet, which is a vivid reminder of the ongoing struggles and strife of the Tibetan peoples' plight.

Dave and I are leaving on an overnight bus for Delhi tomorrow and then fly to Nepal on the 22nd. It is hard to believe I have been here for 6 months already.

 No shame no gain when it comes to grooming for ticks. These first few photos are taken in Rishikesh.
Rhesus monkey that just stole a bag of food from an innocent bystander. These monkeys can be easily distinguished by the red fur on their bottoms and loins. They usually hang out in large groups and can be agressive.
A langur monkey waiting for a cookie from this brave man. They are much larger than the macaque monkeys and have a slightly pale whitish head and darker bodies. They are more gentle and respected by the Hindu religion so they are never harmed. 
This man was a remarkable artist creating minuscule drawings. The occupational therapist in me was intrigued by his amazing compensatory techniques with his limb malformations!  
This cow went a little crazy and recently gored a Brazilian women causing her to need stitches. He has hassled many people since. They can't kill cows in Hindu areas in India  no matter how much they are suffering or acting out  because they are considered holy. So my friend Dave spoke with a local man who is going to organize to relocate him to a facility so that it hopefully doesn't happen again. Strange how nobody took the effort to do this previously even after the traumatic event.
Beautiful Bir. The flag colors represent different elements in life and are sending prayers for health, harmony, merit and wishes for a long life to all sentient beings. 
The pilots we spoke to say they love paragliding here because of the wind conditions and laxity in rules about how high you can fly and where you can land. 
local traffic jam
And how can you go wrong in a town that has a local "Buckstars!" Gotta love it!
One of our new best friends. This kid is one of the most animated children I have ever met!!! Love her!

A long life ceremony,where disciples express appreciation and purify their relationship with their teachers. We were lucky to observe and participate in this at Chokling Monastery where we are staying. 
young monks
Rice being thrown, more like launched in a full on rice war at the end of the ceremony. 

Lunch break
Working in the tea fields.
Sherab Ling Monastery home to the teacher of the current Karmapa; A huge complex, which is about a 1 hour walk, unless you like to go off the beaten path like us, then it can take 3-4 hours!
Creating a sand mandala

Is it sacralige to say he reminded me of a little gangsta monk?

Prayer session inside the monastery. So awesome to listen to the deep chants with beating drums, horns,  and conch shells being blown. 

A festive community wrestling mach we came upon. Very entertaining and colorful! 
Another chanced meeting on one of our walks. A beautiful gathering of women with more colorful joy and and a generous offering of tea and orange cream filled cookies with happy faces on them.

Dave captured this beautiful photo on my camera.

Carved prayers on rocks outside our monastery

The temple at Chokling Monastery. We stay in the guest house behind here. 

Sisterhood in the forest. Helping each other secure their loads before descending down a steep trail.

This is Dave pre- happy peanut butter and ginger cookie dance in the rain. 
A pottery lesson at  Andretta Pottery school, run by Mini Singh, son of famous potter Gurcharan Singh in a local village about an hour away. Trust me, I can't take any credit for the peace, this was the work of the instructor... very Patrick Swayze like! 
This is an example of who you might meet when you are willing to go off the beaten path! 
too cute to leave out!

On to the next adventure! I will likely be out of touch again for a little while until I settle down some place in Nepal! Thanks again for your ongoing interest in following this journey. Love you and miss you all! Big hugs!!!!!!!!!! Jen


  1. Jen!!!! I tried to put in a comment a few months ago and had issues. I am just catching up on your life thru your old posts!!!!!!! Wow!!! Amazing!!!!!!!! You are amazing. I heard your laugh in the video with the kids dancing from the orphanage you returned to, and it made me smile (as always!). I am so glad to finally have stopped and read. I think I am actually officially following now so hopefully can write more comments in. It would be awesome to have a map that puts pins on all your stops so we can follow you geographically. Can you put that request in from me to your creative friend? :0) Miss you and so happy seeing you doing what you love!

  2. Thanks Jen for another round of great pictures. We love reading your posts. What an adventure!