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Published: November 27th 2009
As an early combined Christmas present for Hero and me (spoilt!), Deb had booked us into the lovely “Chonor Guesthouse” for our first couple of nights (before transferring to more ‘modest’ accommodation :-). Each room had hand painted walls in various themes relating to Tibet - ours was “Birds of Tibet.” Such a beautiful place to stay, and especially appreciated after our sleep-deprived two days of travel to get here.
Had a trail of monkeys (red bummed macaques) jumping on to our balcony a couple of days ago (13th) on their way to somewhere else - so funny! They ranged from old through to a tiny little baby being carried by its mama. It was being hugged to the mama's chest when she was jumping from the branches but once onto the balcony it climbed over onto her back and clung on from there making a racket!
There is another type of monkey (langurs) here that we saw when we first hopped off the bus, and they are actually quite striking. Bigger than the other monkeys, but still very agile - jumping in great big leaps from tree to tree, with the branches heaving under their weight before springing back up once they have bounded onwards.
We've had mostly pretty perfect weather so far, albeit a little mountain cool - there's even snow up on the surrounding mountains! Mornings and evenings are especially chilly, but Hero is loving it and I am coping fine with my five-six (at one stage seven!) layers! It does warm up enough during the day to be quite lovely, so it isn't too bad yet. The night before last, however, it came over quite cloudy and then poured down solidly for the whole of yesterday. Made for a great cafe-hopping day :-)
Taking advantage of the nice weather prior to that we took a taxi down to the Norbulingka Institute at Kangra, which is about 15 km downhill from where we are staying, and is a place dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture: http://www.norbulingka.org/ It is very beautiful and really does feel like entering a refuge; a haven of peace and tranquillity. There is such incredible artistry, which is reflected in everything you see. At the institute we were able to see the inner workings of the artisans, as the workshops are open to the public. So we watched the Thangka painters, woodworkers, sculptors, appliqué workers, etc, all doing their thing - the intricate detailing is just so impressive.
After Norbulingka we went to Lha http://www.lhasocialwork.org/ which is a non-profit community social work organisation that provides support for Tibetan refugees - it's run by Tibetan refugees, so they know what's needed and how to help, and provide essential support and resources to help refugees transition and adjust - free language and computer courses, clothing, medical assistance, clean water, etc... Anyway, each weekday day at 4pm is a communication hour, where English speakers are welcome to drop in and chat with the Tibetans in order to enable them to practice their English. We made it just in time and am so glad that we did as it was a really enjoyable experience - I met and chatted with a lovely guy and we exchanged information about ourselves, where we come from and what we do/have done in the past. He described his experiences and the Tibetan situation in a very Buddhist way, from my understanding - straightforward and calm, relatively unemotional, yet he also described his hopes for the future of his country and people. It is impossible to imagine what they have been through.
At the end of the hour, which flew by, Deb met up with one of her recently-made friends, a Finnish woman, and the four of us went for a drink together before heading off to Lhamo’s Croissant, a cafe that shows free films each night at 6.30. We ordered dinner and settled in for the film, which was a CNN documentary called "Buddha's Warriors," about the increasing involvement of monks in the political sphere in both Tibet and Burma. Not a particularly deep or insightful documentary, but interesting nonetheless.
Today we went for a great hike up to a big waterfall - the water was FREEZING!!!! Hero's feet turned blue and then red within seconds. I wasn't as brave/stupid! Also went to a poetry reading / Tibetan activist discussion group. Was fantastic and inspiring.
Tomorrow is Deb's birthday so we'll do whatever she feels like, and it’s sure to be another fab day here. Just wandering the streets is lovely: the Tibetans are very much a religious people from what I have seen, and their Tibetan Buddhist philosophies radiate from within - I can't describe just how lovely, friendly, happy and peaceful people seem to be here, despite all of the terrible hardships they have endured, and still are enduring. There are monks and nuns everywhere, who are just gorgeous, and Hero has also had to be stopped on multiple occasions from baby snatching the tiny tot Tibetans - they really are so cute though, so I can't blame her!
Speaking of which, at some stage in the next couple of days we are also planning on visiting the Tibetan Children's Village, where orphans are cared for and educated - we'll take along the bag of stationery that we brought from London as a donation. Really looking forward to that, and Hero is super keen too, with her newfound cluckiness (for Tibetan kids only, she tells me!). We also plan to go to the conversation class again, and will probably catch another film. Apart from that we'll try to fit in a concert before we go, and perhaps a little shopping (from the women's collectives of course!). Then it will be time to move on, though we still have to plan where we are going next!
We have posted some photos up on flickr (another previously failed venture that we are trying to revive): http://www.flickr.com/photos/heroandkeira/collections/ - so far just Istanbul I think, but we'll post more ASAP.
We hope all is well with everyone and look forward to hearing from you!
All our love; take care. H&K.
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