It’s been a while since I last wrote, mostly due to the job I have at the University of Maryland. I’m a House Director for a fraternity, so have been assisting with their move-in for the past week, as well as training for the job itself. It’s going to be interesting to live with 30 guys, but I’m excited to get to know them all! : )
This past Friday, I went to a Happy Hour for the Public Policy graduate school with a few of my friends/co-workers who are in their Masters Program. By no means do I understand public policy, but I love a good happy hour. There, I met someone who, after hearing I traveled to India this summer, told me how much he had not liked India when he had lived there for a month as a student. He lived in Udaipur, which is in the same state as Jaipur, where Rahul lives. As you can probably tell by now (if you’ve been reading), I loved Jaipur. Even more than that, I LOVED India. When Rahul and I talked about this guy’s reaction to India, we discussed how India is a great country to visit, but not a country you can go in with expectations similar to those you have when traveling to European countries. Things are going to be different, but if you allow yourself to appreciate the differences, you might just fall in love, like I did.
One of the differences that is easy to love is Ladakh and the Himalayas. We stayed in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir for a week; most of the time in a guesthouse in Leh with spectacular views of the Himalayan range, but also overnight stays to Nubra Valley and Pangong Lake. Things you should know about Ladakh:
- The Himalayas are always visible and always surrounding you. Want a reminder of how small you are in the universe? The Himalayas are an instant reminder of the greatness of our universe.
- The summer months in Ladakh are the tourist months. I probably saw more foreigners in Ladakh than I did in Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi combined.
- Everything seems more relaxed in Ladakh. No one is trying to scam you, or follow you creepily with an auto, or anything like that. Everyone seems just relaxed.
- The locals have a bit of a different coloring, probably due to the fact that many of them are Tibetan refugees. Also, the proximity to the sun adds a ruddiness to their cheeks.
- A day of acclimation to the altitude has to be allowed. Warming: You WILL feel your heart beating ridiculously fast the first day. It’s normal. Just don’t go out for a jog in the first six hours you’re there.
- Instead of Hinduism being the most prominent religion, it’s Buddhism. Everywhere we went, there was not a lack of gompas, prayer wheels, prayer rocks, prayer flags, whether or not a monastery was near by.
Speaking of Buddhism, this was a part of the Himalayas that I found fascinating. I grew up around plenty of churches, but the Buddhist faith touched me in a way Christianity has not. The diligence Buddhist believers put into building these monasteries and other religious structures astounded me. We bought a book about Ladakh, which stated that
monasteries are to be built on the side of a mountain facing a body of water.All five monasteries we visited fulfilled this requirement, which just blew me away. It’s scary enough climbing the steps while visiting the monastery, but to imagine those who built the monastery sculpting in a mountainside puts things in perspective. The views surrounding most monasteries, especially Diskit, are breathtaking, reminding you of your presence in the world. Also, many of the monasteries feature a larger than life Buddha, which were usually my favorite part. The dedication Buddhists demonstrate to pray and show their devotion was another remarkable thing to me. No matter how many times a follower had taken off his or shoes or bowed his/her head while walking through the monastery, he/she consistently did so at the next available space.
I also took interest in the Eight Lucky Symbols of Buddhism; the Lotus, Endless Knot, Golden Fish, Victory Banner, Wheel of Dharma, Treasure Vase, Parasol, and Conch Shell. This was an interest I developed before I even went to India, but it was heightened by actually being around representations of these symbols. Prayer wheels and flags provide a sense of solace and peace when used. Prayers wheel bring luck and good fortune to those who turn them clockwise; I gifted one to my parents.
Even though I grew up in the Presbyterian church and am by definition a Christian, I believe it’s extremely important to have an understanding and appreciation of other religions and faiths to better understand one’s own. India was a great place for this understanding and appreciation to expand, and I found that to be one of the most beautiful facets of the country itself.