Monday, March 5, 2012

The Golden Temple!

Breakfasts at Anokhi's Garden Cafe have become much more regular these days. That Masala Coffee just keeps pulling us back. The staff at Anokhi have come to know us both by name name and have been very friendly.

While having breakfast the other day, Lorna, another student of Saraswathi's came and joined us. We had previously had a conversation about going with her to see some elephants in the wild at the Elephant conservatory. At breakfast she let us know that the trip to the conservatory would also be to a Tibetan monastery and village, which is near the Elephants. So, she gave us the meeting place and time, told us the cost and a few days later we were on our way.

We all met at the coconut stand. There were 16 of us in total, 13 taking two SUV's and another three in a separate car. After everyone was together, we packed into our rides and started along our way. First stop is the temple, but first...

Haha, yup.

Another crazy ride - weaving in and out of traffic, playing chicken with oncoming traffic as we try to pass vehicle after vehicle along the way. This time it was a nice, sunny day, clear sky and, with the windows rolled down, lots of fresh air. A bit easier to stay comfortable and relaxed. Still, at one point while going about 90 km/h, our driver cranks the wheel to the right to avoid a speed mound he must not have noticed, and our vehicle flies around the mound barely missing a merchant stand and some people at the side of the road. Our driver, Manju, was also particularly enthusiastic with his horn, honking it non-stop for near the entire ride.

About an hour or two into the ride we pass through Manju's village, where, with a huge smile on his face, he slows down, begins to endlessly honk his horn while waving and shouting to friends and family watching him from the road. A short while later - after some of the ladies in the car with us have a talk with Manju about his horn-use, we reach the edge of the Tibetan village.

The first thing we all notice is how much cleaner it is here. There is still garbage on the street, but far less - and never a pile of it at the side of the road. We pass a sign indicating "Golden Temple - This way" and follow. Then, in the distance, we spot the top of the temple. It towers above the buildings in the village and even the treetops surrounding it. It has an Asian-style tiered roof, with golden shingles. At the top of it is a gigantic golden circle, with life-size statues of men in various poses at the center. All of it plated in gold and shining in the light of the sun. An impressive sight to behold.

Our ride ends as we reach the temple gates and our driver lets us out. We huddle into a group and begin discussing a plan on what to do, where to go and when to meet etc. With our large group splitting up into several small groups and wandering throughout a village and a temple, we choose the best method of organization.... no plan, just wing it.

So we split up into smaller groups, Aaron and I stick with Lorna and the other ladies from our vehicle and begin exploring. The temple grounds are bigger than we expected. Inside are 2 or 3 smaller temples, as well as the main, large temple. We take a slow walk through the grounds, taking time to appreciate the amazingly detailed architecture and paintings, as well as the beautiful clean air and clear sky.

Eventually we head inside the main temple and stand in awe of three 60ft tall golden statues. In the center is a statue of Buddha, sitting in lotus. On either side of him are statues of the guru Padmasambhava and Buddha Amitayus (which are 58ft rather than 60). The temple is huge, with a 90ft ceiling at its center. Every inch of the temple is intricate architecture, all of it meticulously painted and detailed. Tourists are allowed to walk along the outer walls, as the greater portion of the temple is taken up by cushions and tables for praying and mantras.

After taking our time exploring we head out to see the temple gardens. They are quite impressive. At one end are various palm trees and bushes. At the other a large stone arrangement with water flowing through it, surrounded by various exotic plants growing along the rocks. Just as we are about to leave, a gong begins to sound. At first, every minute or so, slowly getting faster and faster.

Leaving the garden we reach the front of the temple and find the source of the gong sound, a monk on the temple steps. With every sound of the gong, more and more monks appear, joining a large group seated at the steps of the temple. Eventually the gong is sounded non-stop for a minute or so, and then silenced. At once all of the monks, at least 100 of them, stand and enter the temple to commence "Puja" or prayers.

After they've all been seated, drumming and horns sound as the one man leads the group into prayer. Eventually all 100 or so monks are sitting in lotus, chanting a mantra in a wonderfully deep tone. For at least 30 minutes we sit and watch, amazed at the ceremony. The massive drums being sounded, softly at first, then slowly louder until they are sounded at full, along with symbols and horns in the background. The sound of it was incredible. After a while we notice one of the monks flipping through his prayer cards as each card is read. 30 minutes in and he is about 1/8 of the way through the stack. With that, we decide to head out and finish our visit to the village with some shopping and lunch.

Eventually the time comes to move on to the elephants. After a little over an hour finding everyone and getting back together, we get back in the cars and head out to the Elephant Conservatory.

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