In the foothills of the Himalayas the town Dharamshala is the current home to the Dali Lama since being exiled from Tibet in 1959. The suburb of Mcleod Ganj is where the monastery known as Namgyal is located and currently houses about 200 Tibetan monks. I stayed in a hotel that was a 5 minute walk away. This area is one of the most visited places in the area and tourists from all over the world can be seen here, wandering the streets for Tibetan items, taking yoga classes, or class in Tibetan culture. The monastery itself is not that ornate, compared to some others in the area. Just the same, the feeling of spirituality is in the air as one makes the walk to spin the prayer wheels along with monks and visitors from all over. Devoted Buddhists prostrate themselves amid butter lamps and chanting monks.
About 2 hours away in Chauntra I visited a monastery known Dzongsar Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö College of Dialectics. A few of us with a private guide (who is monk of high ranking) had a tour of the main temple. As dusk fell monks outside were in “debate”. As part of their teaching, they take turns questioning each other about Buddhist teachings (sometimes one-on-one, other times in groups). This goes on for 3 hours every evening, as they yell questions to a seated student, engaging him to answer as they slap their hands and point at him.
Trekking is very popular here, and I hiked the most popular route to the destination of Triund. After a crazy taxi ride on a rocky dirt road switch-backing for 45 minutes I was soon hiking with my guide ($8 for 5 hours) by 8 a.m. By 10 a.m. and 3 miles later we were arriving at the destination with a gain of 3,000 ft. (he said I broke the tourist record! –most people take 4 hours). Along the way there are a couple snack shops with tea, and even at the top there is a small store with hot chai. Some people camp out here and the views are spectacular- with snow-capped peaks in the distance, cool clean air, and weather that can change in minutes. The hike back down took 1 hr 45 min and the rocky trail can be hard on the knees. The rhododendrons trees were in full bloom, and locals were picking the flowers to make herbal drinks. It was a great to reach the bottom without a fall, and then it was time for a massage.