I’ve bragged a lot about me going to the Himalayas to light up a monastery that’s been there for over 2500 years. To be precise, the Phuktal monastery itself is only 500 years old, but the sacred cave that is the central part of Phuktal has been used as a meditation and spiritual point for over 2500 years.
International travellers, welcome to India, fellow Indians, welcome HOME!
This is my first time in India and I am ready for the heat and chaos of the country (luckily I’m headed to the north part of India, Jammu&Kashmir, hoping that it’d be less chaotic and colder). However, I’d get the chance to fully experience the disorganised life at New Delhi airport, where I can’t get inside of the departure hall until 3 hours before my flight. Because my next-morning flight doesn’t fall into this category, I have to find a place to sleep, which at the beginning seems impossible because there are just not places for sleeping-at-airports kind of travellers outside of the departures hall. Fortunately, a manager at Jet Airways understands the ridiculousness of my situation and secures a spot for me in a Visitors’ lounge without me paying the required 100 IDR for a 3-hours time. I feel things are getting better and I start to observe the Indian-style head shaking, which simply doesn’t make any sense. Can I use the bathroom? (a head shake) Is it a yes? (a head shake) I go, ok? (a head shake) Will you need to check my boarding pass, when I come back? (a head shake). Help! This trip will be interesting.
When I finally checked myself in the next morning and waited for my flight to Leh, I overheard a conversation of an Indian couple which made me smile: ‘Stop complaining!’ ‘It’s OK, it’s human nature.’ I like that, I’ll start using this Indian wisdom – they seemed to be perfectly at ease in their relationship!
Captain: Ladies and gentlemen, we will be lading shortly. Me: HOLY Crap, landing into this?
Flight into Leh is one of my most memorable flights – not only I saw the breathtaking Himalayan range out of the window, almost touching it, so near it I’d felt but Leh is also the highest airport (and the highest place, as a matter of fact) I’ve ever been to. Leh is the capital of the Ladakh region in Northern India and the kindness and bright smiles of Ladakhi people reminded me a lot of the Myanmar people, so I had a homey feeling immediately after I had stepped outside the plane. When I couldn’t find anyone from the GHE team among the crowd, a stranger kindly offered to call and find them for me – and I finally met the people I’ve been receiving so many emails from!
Hearty welcome to Mahabodhi meditation centre (and school)
The first days were relaxing – to get us all slowly acclimatised to the altitude. I started to get to know the other participants and their stories from countries far away. I met the whole GHE team, who turned up to be 50/50 Indian/Danish and found out that my buddy and roommate will be from Nepal and is called Sneh, which means ‘snow’ in Slovak (and in Danish too, btw). We were welcomed by the students from the Mahabodi school who prepared a cultural show for us, which we’d end up seeing twice actually and left with few tunes stuck in our heads.
I didn’t get the altitude sickness, although I felt the thinness of the air every time I’d climb the stair to our room. One morning some of us would get up to climb the nearby mountain and it scared me – the shortage of oxygen was insane, I almost felt like throwing up with each step up towards the lookout and I was very behind of everyone. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one feeling that way and that encouraged me. I just hoped that the trek to Phuktal won’t be steep all the way.
The E-base stands for the Education base at the Mahabodi
GHE established the E-base as its first project. It is a solar-powered house where the kids at the Mahabody school learn to experiment, be creative, try, fail & learn on mistakes to execute the practical project with the help of the GHE fellow. From what I’ve seen, the kids are smarter, more curious and self-confident than in my country. Having applied the knowledge into practice they are encouraged to think critically about solutions. The projects they’ve been working on had a conscious environmental impact, because the kids learn about the dangers of climate change and understand the need for practical solutions. I was astonished when I heard a perfect reasoning why we need to start using solar-powered boats so the pollution of the oceans would not increase.
Hit the road, Jack!
On the third day after our arrival, we headed for Kargil, from where we’d cycle for about 40km and and drive further to Rangdun. During those three days at Mahabodhi, the GHE team was pulling all its strings to get José’s luggage which hadn’t made it to Leh on time and it seriously looked like José will wear the same t-shirts and borrowed pants for the whole trip. Fortunately, Paras is friends with Indian army, High Commissioner of Ladakh and knows people who know people to open the locked gate of the military airport in Leh and get José’s bag to him just minutes after our scheduled departure. The time is relevant, we are in India. Important is that everyone was happy, José the most and the whole expedition could hit the road in two minibuses and two NDTV cars driving around us with only a slight delay (Danish time. In Indian time we were still perfectly on time).