October 20, 2006

Asola Wildlife Sanctuary of Delhi

Just a few minutes south of the hustle and bustle of Greater Kailash II in south New Delhi lies the amazing Asola Wildlife Sanctuary. We started walking and came upon a few lookout towers, cows laying in the grass, camels with bells on their necks, peahens and finally on the return, some blackbuck and spotted deer. What used to be a barren pit mine is now filled with trees and brush. During our 2 hour hike, we only saw 3 other people.

Our one suggestion is that a few "this way to exit" signs would have been appreciated!

October 17, 2006

Jalianwala Bagh Memorial and Amritsar Golden Temple (Sikh)

Jalianwala Bagh Memorial - This is where British General Dyer shot 2000 unarmed Indians staging a peaceful protest (as seen in the movie Gandhi)

Amritsar (“Tank of Nectar”) Golden Temple (Sikh) aka HARI Mandir (Temple of God)

Guru Nanak (1469-1539) founded Sikhism as a "synthesis of the best" of Hinduism and Islam. After depositing our shoes and washing our feet, we entered the vast rectangular complex with the golden temple sitting on a (67 square foot) platform in the middle of the sacred "tank" (Amrit Sar) and approached by a (20.9 x 19.6 foot) causeway. Construction of the Golden temple began in Jan 1589 and was completed in 1601. The Adi Grantha (Holy Scripture) was installed in 1604. The central dome and upper half of the walls are covered with gold-leafed copper sheets. About 50,000 meals per day are served from the community kitchen.

We walked (clockwise) around lthe tank and stopped to quietly enjoy the atmosphere. We entered the golden temple (all are welcome) which was as spectacular as advertised. The temple was also beautiful at twilight and as the spotlights were turned on.

Important highlight for tourists - Pristine, western toilets!

October 16, 2006

Dharamasala, McLeod Ganj, Norbulinka Institute (Tibetan Buddhist)

Our destination today was Dharamasala to visit the residence of the Dalai Lama (leader of Tibetan Buddhists).

We passed by the Palampur tea estates and stopped at a stand by the side of the road. This area was not set up for tourists as in Coimbature. We admired a few tea and chicory plants before buying a small quantity of tea (which turned out to taste like mowed grass and was promptly given away).

We then visited the Chamunda Mata temple devoted to the Hindu Goddess Chamundi Devi. The approach to the temple was spotless, with rows of stores each with neat piles of offerings. We witnessed an aggressive monkey who grabbed a bag of edible offerings from a woman. The monkey scattered the goods and a group of monkeys pounced on the food. The temple itself was located on a river making it very peaceful.

We made a quick stop at the Chinmaya mission where Kris's aunt and mother have spent time in retreats.

Finally, we reached the residence of the Dalai Lama (exiled from Tibet in 1960) and temple which are actually in McLeod Ganj (770 meters). There was a group of noisy teenagers who somewhat spoiled the ambience and many of the statues in the temple were covered. I did enjoy spinning the prayer wheels and absorbing the good fortune they have to offer.

We had a pleasant lunch and terrific views from the upstairs terrace of a restaurant in town.

Our last stop for the day was Norbulinka Institute – dedicated for preservation of Tibetan culture. The shop contained beautiful crafts but were too expensive in our opinion. The cafĂ© had nice tea and cake. The real highlight was the Losel Doll museum. It was surprisingly informative and we recommend it highly.

October 15, 2006

Baijnath Temple (Hindu)

In the evening, we visited the ancient Baijnath Shiva Temple which was built ~ 800AD. We met two cute giggling 7 year-old girls (Sukpreeth in red, Puja in blue) who said "hello" proudly in English, wrote their names for us in Hindi, and requested (and of course received) our prasad (a sweet given by priests with their blessing).

Taragarh Palace Hotel

Kris and I took an overnight train with his uncle, aunt, and cousin from the old Delhi train station to Chakki Bank in Himachal Pradesh . We travelled about 3 hours to reach the Taragarh Palace Hotel in the Kangra Valley.

The Taragarh Palace was built in the 1930s as a summer resort and is now run as a hotel by the royal family of Jammu and Kashmir. The walls were adorned with many historical family pictures, the grounds were beautifully manicured, and the facilities were very nice. Every time we went to the dining hall, we passed a tiger picture (printed on waterproof melamine) by the same artist from whom we bought two paintings in Ranthambore.