Experiencing life in a Buddhist monastery had been on my “Top five things to do before getting married”. And just like the rest of the four things on that list, I managed to get this one done AFTER getting married. It is amazing how taking some time off work and having a companion to motivate you to do it changes your outlook towards life.
So last December, after a very touristy and boring trip to Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, we drove down to Rewalsar, a village 25km short of Mandi. This place has a couple of monasteries, a hindu temple and a Gurudwara where the Sikh pray — all around a small lake called Tso Pema.
I decided to stay put at one of the monasteries there. Luckily they had a room available that day. It was a clean room with two beds and nice and warm blankets…that’s it. There isn’t much you can expect when you are paying Rs250 per day.
The rooms, located at the Drikung Kagyu monastery which houses the Drikung Kagyu Lotus Mount Academy for Buddhist studies, are given to travellers and pilgrims. But the only flip side is there is no way to book the room in advance. Just drop in and hope you are lucky. If not, then don’t worry. There are other monasteries which have guest rooms, in addition to small budget hotels nearby.
The day I reached there was the last of an annual three-day special pooja (prayer ceremony) and so I joined the young monks inside the monastery while they were busy with their chanting.
A lady from the United States was also sitting there, and so I sat down next to her. She was dressed in the tradition maroon-orange attire which usually monks wear, so I asked her if she is a part of the monastery.
She told me she had come all the way to this remote Himachali village to teach English to the young monks.
Her name was Pamela, and she was quite interested to know if I had studied in Penn State. Her curiosity was not misplaced, as I was wearing a Penn State sweatshirt which my best friend (who had studied there) had gifted me.
Pamela told me how to identify who was the head priest and who were the apprentices — you just look at the floor cushions they were sitting on. All monks would be sitting on one cushion, while the senior ones would sit on two. Head priest would have the privilege of sitting on three. Isn’t that cool!
The prayer went on well into the evening, but I left early to take a walk around the lake. It is barely a kilometre long walk around Tso Pema, which literally means the Lotus lake.
Across the lake on a hill, facing this monastery is a huge and beautiful statue of Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) , the second Buddha according to Tibetan Buddhism.
The next day I walked up to the statue, which sits on top of another monastery and trust me, the statue as well as the view from that spot is breath-taking. The statue was completed in 2012 and is a piece of art… definitely enhancing the beauty of this town.
I intend to visit again during the monsoon this year. I am also planning to visit a monastery near Solan where I was told there are women monks studying and practicing Buddhism.