Sunday, January 26, 2014

Part Two of Sailaja's -                     

                                                            Our 2013 India Trip

Dharamshala is a city in Kangra district. It is the district headquarters. It was formerly known as Bhagsu. The Dalai Lama’s residence in McLeod Ganj and the headquarters of Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) are in Dharamshala. We visited Dalai Lama’s residence, the Tibetan museum, Bhagsu waterfalls, and from there we visited Sidhabari a 16 km distance from Dharmasala where Chinmaya Ashram was built and where His Holiness Swami Chinmayananda was laid to rest.  It was a beautiful building, they installed Swamiji’s statue in sitting pose on the samadhi , it feels as if he is looking directly at the Himalayan Mountain range.  We also visited Kangra museum and the Kangra Fort along with International Cricket stadium.

Next day, we started towards Dalhousie.  It is a hill station which was a summer retreat in the times of British Raj. Located on the western edge of the Dhauladhar mountain range of the Himalayas, it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Dalhousie is situated between 6,000 and 9,000 feet (2,700 m) above sea level.  It is the place for defense cantonment and quite a few international residential schools.  24 km from Dalhousie is a place called Khajjiar popularly known as “mini Swiss”. The hill station is surrounded by green meadows and dense forests. It is about 6,500 feet (2,000 m) above sea level in the foothills of the Dhauladhar ranges of the Western Himalayas and snowy peaks can be seen in the distance. It has a rare combination of three ecosystems: lake, pasture and forest, all in one place.  Many Hindi movies were shot in this beautiful location.

The next day we started early to reach Amritsar.  The important places to visit in Amritsar are the famous Golden Temple, Wagha Border and Jalianwala Bagh.  It takes at least half a day to completely see the Golden Temple.  One must stay, the volunteers are well organized, the people are well behaved and everybody stood in line while Bhajan music is going on, and the lines moved quite quickly and efficiently.  Even during afternoon, non rush hour, the crowd is huge.

From there, we went to see Jalianwala bagh, which is quite nearby.  We took a rickshaw.  It is a very nice place, maintained like a park and picnic spot.  I was quite disappointed about it, since the spirit of sacrifice of the lost souls in the massacre, the cruelty of the British-Brigadier general Dyer in that area was not represented well.  People visiting would not be able to imagine the incident that took place there.  The well where in the people jumped into, was well protected and covered, so people cannot really stand there pay homage.

The next stop was the Wagha border where daily military security forces of India and Pakistan jointly change guards and at sunset, both national flags are lowered jointly.  The flags are folded and the ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. The ceremony is very patriotic. Huge crowds on each side cheer and sing patriotic songs and dance, before the actual ceremony starts.  The bugles, the crisp steps of the Jawans are worth to watch. 

The next day we started to pay a quick stop at Chandigarh.  It was the first planned city in India post independence in 1947 and is known internationally for its architecture and urban design. It serves as the capital of both Punjab and Haryana.  The three important places we could visit are the Zakir Hussein Rose garden, Sukhna lake and the Rock garden, which covers 18 acres of rock sculptures, designed by just one person named Nek Chand Saini.  In his spare time, Chand began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani, choosing a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake for his work. The garden is very imaginative, creative and very artistic.  Worth seeing!! Wish we could spend more time.  

In general, Himachal Pradesh is not very clean and with the recent rains, the roads and structures were quite damaged.  We felt that Shimla is the place to visit and enjoy, but people live there has a very hard life, since the climate is very harsh and conditions are very hard.  One thing we noticed in HP is most of the houses on the hill side are facing towards east and all the windows are facing east to get maximum sunlight and warmth.

Another interesting feature we found in Dalhousie was that there are no attached restrooms to any restaurants or public places.  The restrooms are built at the end of the street and they are used by everyone.  In a way, that is a good feature, but since it is used by all kinds of people, we were very hesitant to use them.  The good part is the wonderful scenery, the pine and deodar forests and the snow capped Himalayas! You can never get enough of it!
Sailaja Somayajula

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