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Being a non-Buddhist on a Buddhist pilgrimage

We frequently get asked:

“Do I need to be a Buddhist to go on your pilgrimage?”

 

In fact, the majority of people who join us on pilgrimage are not Buddhists but people looking to experience India in a different way, those with a keen interest to learn about both Tibetan and Indian culture with the ease of your trip being lead by two knowledgeable and personable guides.

 

We are not your average package holiday, nor a religious trek, but a cultural tour somewhere in between. Buddhism is practiced by 99% of Tibetans and therefore plays a crucial part in their daily life. Tibetan Buddhism has a rich and fascinating history, both highly intellectual & mystical. The architecture is mind blowing, colourful and ornate. The food is healthy, simple and delicious. The people are unbelievably generous, have a great sense of humour and are rich in tradition. This world we live in has so much to teach us, our learning is never done.

 

“Pilgrimage” is traditionally defined as “a journey to a place of particular interest or significance”. In modern literature, it is said to mean, “life viewed as a journey”.

Through this pilgrimage, we hope to offer you new experiences. From these experiences, we have the opportunity to grow, live more compassionately, enjoy daily life and embrace its simplicities.

 

Walking In The Steps Of The Masters

Written by Janet Grist

Imagine having access to extraordinary Tibetan Buddhist masters, beautiful and sacred sites and hidden meditation caves where yogis years spend years at a time, all in the company of a highly accomplished Lama with excellent English, Karma Lhundup Rinpoche.

Soon after his birth in the remote former Tibetan kingdom of Mustang, Karma’s mother opened a sealed earthen jar of traditional “birth beer” and a blazing fire came out of the jar. This was taken to mean that the child could be a reincarnation of a powerful Yogi.

Led by Judy Arpana, a well-known spiritual consultant from Lismore and Karma Rinpoche, their annual October Pilgrimage to Northern India is an amazing opportunity to step into another world, discover fascinating aspects of Tibetan culture and medicine and deepen your spiritual understanding with a small group of like-minded people.

This 18-day trip begins in New Delhi, following five days in Dharamsala – the home of the Dalai Lama, a visit to the revered English-born nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s nunnery near Bir, and three days at the sacred lake of Tso Pema. Karma and Judy have been leading pilgrimages in this area for 20 years and are deeply involved with the people and places in this part of India. While in Australia giving teachings, Karma Rinpoche explained that this tour was unique because of the access it offered to Tibetan Buddhist masters, both male and female.

 “Especially those who have done many years of retreat in the cave, and we get teachings from them (I do the translation) and we also arrange things like a lecture with the personal physician to His Holiness The Dalai Lama about traditional Tibetan healing.

 “It’s not just for Buddhists. Tibetan culture, how we live and our cuisine, it’s another approach to life, so at the end you end up having more options. It’s good to have options, isn’t it?,” he laughed. 

With a maximum of 12 members, personal attention is assured.

 “We travel like a family, for example in the beginning we shake hands and at the end at the airport we all hug,” Karma chuckled. 

 He said a trip to India was a life-changing experience.

 “When you come to countries like India and Nepal you are very privileged and realise that you are living in some sort of a God realm in Australia. Until then, here no matter how much we have we always have complaints, some feeling of lack, although there is no lack in reality,” he smiled.

Little Lhasa – An Inspirational Experience

Written by Janet Grist

As our four-wheel drive taxi meanders along the narrow, winding road in the Himalayan foothills, ahead of us appear not one, but three delicate rainbows – a highly auspicious sign, according to the Tibetan Lama on board.

Our group, led by Judy Arpana and Karma Lhundhup Rinpoche, is approaching McLeod Ganj, a suburb of Dharamsala in the Kangra district of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The Tibetan government in exile’s headquarters are located here, along with the residence of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It’s a welcoming place for Tibetan refugees, and where those who manage to survive the treacherous and arduous escape from Chinese rule come to receive the blessing of the Dalai Lama and learn skills such as rug making, weaving and Buddhist statue making.

It’s also a haven for those who wish to experience the Tibetan culture and for pilgrims wanting to pay homage to one of the most popular spiritual leaders on the planet.

Over the next four days we immerse ourselves in all things Tibetan. There is much to see and we visit the Tibetan Children’s Village and School – a huge complex of many hectares, with live-in accommodation for more than 1700 students. Our hearts melt when we pop in on the toddlers sleeping in their bright painted cots. We were told many desperate Tibetans resort to using people smugglers to help their children escape from their homeland, so they may come here. They are taught in their own language about their unique culture, enjoy freedom to practise Buddhism and live with other Tibetans.

Small family-run Tibetan restaurants serve traditional specialties such as momos – steamed dumplings filled with vegetables, chicken or buffalo topped with tomato chilli relish, thukpa – a vegetable noodle soup, toasted barley porridge, delicious pancakes and, of course, yak-butter tea. It’s not unusual to become part of a political discussion with young Tibetans in a coffee shop – film nights and debating nights are also held regularly.

We make time to visit the community-owned Khawa Karpo Tibet Cultural Centre where skilled craftspeople demonstrate rug-making and weaving. For just over $200 (including postage home) we purchase stunning Tibetan rugs to remind us of our visit.

Each morning at 7am we join the many Tibetans who make their way to the Dalai Lama’s complex to circumambulate his residence. Along the way they chant mantras and colourful Om Mani Padme Hung carved stones line the way. At the halfway point, prayers are offered along with a rousing chorus of the Tibetan national anthem. It’s very moving to see the devotion and spirit of these people who have had to flee their country. They make us welcome and smile broadly as we join them in their morning ritual.

The streets of McLeod Ganj are filled with stalls offering a huge selection of Tibetan and Himalayan handicrafts. The locally made shawls are popular, along with jewellery and such oddities as yak bone carvings.

Other ‘must see’ places include the Norbulingka Institute, which also houses the Dalai Lama’s Summer Palace. It includes a beautifully designed shop full of statues, clothing and handicrafts fashioned by Tibetans working in the complex. There is also an excellent cafe set among the Japanese-style gardens.

The Tibet Museum is also worth a look: it is a potent reminder of the disturbing events since the Chinese invasion including personal photos and stories of tremendous endurance under terrible circumstances.

But ultimately, visiting McLeod Ganj is an inspirational experience because of the strong presence of the resilient Tibetans and their undying optimism and devotion to their spiritual leader and their homeland.