Welcoming His Holiness Dalai Lama

Tibetan Residents of Mcleod Ganj, HP, India Line the Street Awaiting Return of HH Dalai Lama in October  2010

While he has now given up his role as the political head of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama 
continues to  travel internationally several times annually to give Buddhist teachings in addition to secular speeches on ethics and mind science.

Tibetans mark his return from each of these journeys with a show of devotion. They consider HH Dalai Lama to be a manifestation of the Buddhist compassion deity Chenrezig, and offer prayers, khata (prayer scarves), incense, and many other traditional emblems.

Tibetan Women in Traditional Dress Offer Khata Prayer Scarves as a Sign of Devotion While Awaiting Return of HH Dalai Lama to His Exile home in McleodGanj, HP, India

The community always knows the date, even the time almost down to the minute, when His Holiness will return back to his temple and residence complex. They begin to turn out that morning, often 4-6 hours ahead of him, to await the auspicious moment. Tibetans, along with long term expats and Buddhist students from around the world, and of course lucky tourists, line the streets along his 
return route and the entrance to his temple and residence complex and make offerings as they wait.
A Tibetan Child Plays Beside Older Family Members Offering Incense While Awaiting the Return of HH Dalai Lama to McleodGanj in June 2011
It is such a joy to hear the police sirens in advance of His Holiness' "motorcade" and know that he has arrived back again safely. The atmosphere of the entire town is noticeably different when "their god" (as he is sometimes referred to by local Indian media) is in residence. 

HH Dalai Lama is not actually considered to be a god. It is complicated, but the most simple As mentioned above, he is viewed in Tibetan Buddhism as an emanation, or manifestation, of the bodhisattva of compassion, known in Tibetan as Chenrezig (Sanskrit Avalokiteshvara). In his own words, he is nothing more than a "simple monk".
Special Banners Decorate the Tibetan Exile Capital of McleodGanj When He Returns from a State Visit
In This Instance, He Had Visited US President Barack Obama in February 2010

 All Images Copyright Tammy Winand and the Everyday Exile Project and may not be used in any way without her express written permission.

All images are available as prints and posters or upon request. 

Candle in the Dark

Buddhist Monk Lighting Butter Lamps in Phulbari Street, Boudha, Nepal
During May 2011, the Buddhist communities of greater Kathmandu, Nepal celebrated Vesak, the holy days of the Buddha Sakyamuni's birth, enlightenment, and attainment of Nirvana upon his physical death.

I came across this scene on my way back to my guesthouse near the Great Stupa pilgrimage site in Boudhanath one evening close to Vesak. Lighting butter lamps is one way Buddhists make offerings to show their devotion.

The women selling the butter lamps (for 5 Nepal rupees each) are from the Tamang ethnic group.

Sunbeams in Silence: What is Holy?

Sunbeams Illuminating Interior of Tibetan Buddhist Monastery
In winter 2010, I had the good fortune to be asked to go with a musician friend to shoot some video clips for her forthcoming DVD. We chose the small, quiet Tibetan settlement of Bir (aka Chautra) in Himachal, Pradesh, north India as our set.

Bir Settlement has one road, and at least four Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in various traditions. Late one afternoon, wandering the street before dinner, we decided to stop by a small Nyingma tradition monastery. The monk attendant pleasantly agreed to allow us to tour inside and gave me permission to shoot freely.

He took us around the room, and happily explained to the best of his ability what we were observing. My friend speaks fairly fluent Tibetan and is well versed in the culture, whereas, at the time, I understood only basic language and knew less about the religion and history.

As we completed the short tour and turned to leave in respectful silence, I noticed these brilliant sunbeams illuminating the interior. For me, it felt like a sacred and holy moment.

Image copyright Tammy Winand
Available as a poster up to 32 x 24" at Support for Tibet on Zazzle

Gilded Gods

Gilded Cherezig Statue at Tsuglakhang, the Main Temple of HH Dalai Lama in McleodGanj
Gilded Gods. It has a very poetic sound, doesn't it?
But to be fair, it's not entirely accurate.

Buddhism does not have a God, or gods, in the sense of a creator. The deities of Buddhism are (or were) living beings from different realms of Samsara. The historic Buddha, or Buddha Sakyamuni, was a man who became enlightened and taught how to transcend samsara, and is hence a supreme being. There are numerous other "deities" in Buddhism. (also recommended: Buddhas & Deities)

Statues of these deities are generally made from the finest materials an artist has available, and to the best of the artist's skill level, as a sign of respect and veneration. Hence the number of gilded (golden) ornate statues adorned with precious and semi-precious stone.
Buddha Sakyamuni Statue with Offerings at HH Dalai Lama Temple in McleodGanj
The Statue at Left is the Buddha Meditating Before He Attained Enlightenment
Maitreya, the "Future Buddha", in a Monastery in Boudha, Kathmandu, Nepal
Golden Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) Statue in HH Dalai Lama Temple, McleodGanj.
The Pink Light represents an Offering of Flame
Green Tara Statue at Pilgrimage Site in Tso Pema, HP, India
This article is intended as a photographic introduction to interest viewers in this fascinating topic, not as a comprehensive or scholarly study. 

All Images Copyright Tammy Winand

Cow Cleaning Service

Tibetan Buddhist Monk Dusting Off a Cow Which Had Rolled in Monsoon Mud Earlier in the Day

Cows are everywhere in the streets of India. It took some time for me to realize that the western concept of "sacred cows" is not quite accurate. 

While cows are indeed considered sacred, and the sale and consumption of beef is illegal in many parts of the country (including McleodGanj)...in fact, one often hears people talk more openly about consuming heroin than beef...the "sacredness" is more accurately the mere act of co-existence. 

Cows are left to wander freely. And wander they do. Usually into rubbish piles to dine on discarded scraps as well as cardboard and plastic, and into the streets to sleep. Which makes navigating the steep narrow streets of McleodGanj a true challenge.

Large Cow Resting in Temple Road, a Steep Winding Two-Way Main Road in McleodGanj

McleodGanj...My India

McleodGanj Looking Northeast at Triund and the Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas
This is, for the most part, and to date, "my" India. 

A short intro:
McleodGanj, a former British hill station since the early 19th century, is a mystical place in the Himalayan foothills. Also known as Upper Dharamsala (Dhasa, or Little Lhasa), it has been the home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Government, and thousands of Tibetan refugees since they fled the armed Chinese occupation of their homeland in Tibet beginning in 1959.

The community is an eclectic mix of Tibetan, Indian (local Gaddi tribes people, a strong Kashmiri influence, & a steadily increasing influx of visitors from the hotter plains of nearby Punjab), and western (as scores of expats and other travelers from every imaginable country live or pass through). (More on this HERE)
The TIPA Road Area of McleodGanj
Built on a series of ridges in the Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas, McleodGanj is a rapidly growing tourist hot-spot. Leaving town for a few months, on return one notices new shops, restaurants and hotels at seemingly every turn, despite the threat of severe earthquakes (the entire region was devastated in the 1905 Kangra quake) and frequent monsoon-related mini-landslides.

I first arrived in McleodGanj in late 2009, after an emotionally draining experience early during my first visit to India. By my second day there, I had regained a sense of calm and joy which had become increasingly rare. Within little more than a week, I had cancelled the rest of my India tour for that trip and declared this my second home. 

I will feature various aspects of life there many times in future photo posts.
But for now, I'll let the images speak for themselves in the rest of this introduction. 
Temple Road Viewed from Tsuglakhang, His Holiness Dalai Lama's Temple
Peaks Above McleodGanj on the Morning After a Winter Storm
Winter Snowfalls Vary from a Few Inches Most Years to Several Feet (January 2012 saw 2+  Ft Downtown)

The Challenge of Beggars in India

One of the most difficult obstacles any westerner will face in India is beggars. Before going any further, my best advice is, know the facts about begging, and then decide how you want to handle it.

Begging is a complicated situation. A google search for “beggars in India” leads to a wealth of articles on the topic. I particularly liked this piece from Go India, but I recommend you do your own advance research. 

Here are some basic things to know:

Despite appearances, not all beggars are poor. Some own expensive mobile phones, jewelry, even homes and cars. For them, begging is a lucrative job. I am personally aware of beggars in my Indian hometown whose daily income is more than double my daily budget.

Charities exist to help the poor. In my town, one charity offers free food, shelter, clothing and an education for the children. The local beggar camps refused to stay there unless they were paid 5000 rupees per month (an estimated $100 USD), to cover the income they would lose.

There are religious traditions of begging. A sadhu or Buddhist monk who has renounced worldly concerns must rely on the community for all of his basic needs. For the most part, it is safe to give small amounts to these men. 
Sadhus at Jagdish Mandir Hindu Temple in Udaipur, Rasjathan
On some festival days, it is customary for every citizen (according to the tradition of “dana”, or generosity) who is able to give a coin to every beggar he encounters. On these dates, beggars come from all over the surrounding area to participate.
Tibetan Refugee from Kham Region Giving Coins to Indian Monks in McleodGanj, Himachal Pradesh on Saga Dawa,  Buddhism's Most Holy Day
Many beggars are organized into gangs, with a leader who instructs them where to go (based on number of tourists/highest potential for earnings). They travel between various regions of India, often seasonally. I have seen one of these gang leaders go around at the end of a day with a tally book to record how much each of his people earned.

Many adult beggars are alcoholics or drug addicts. Some men force their wives and children to beg to support these habits.

Lepers and other handicapped persons, such as the blind, frequently resort to begging. 

You will encounter disheveled women dressed in rags carrying babies. They are very persistent, will follow you in the street and may even grab your arm or clothing. In the cities, they will beat on your car windows. Be aware that, on most occasions, the babies are rented on a daily basis, because people are more likely to give to a woman with a child out of sympathy.
Women in Rags with Babies Waiting for Tourists in McleodGanj, Himachal Pradesh
The children are particularly wily. Some of them speak multiple languages and have a range of pitiful tales to tell to evoke pity. They have learned how easy it is to make a living out of making others feel sorry for them.
Young beggar in McleodGanj, Himchal Pradesh Watching a Tibetan Tradeswoman
IF you decide to give anything, give small amounts. Be aware of the value of local currency. It is not wrong to give as little as 1 rupee, and never more than 10.

Avoid giving sweets to children. Avoid buying anything which can be resold (particularly milk, rice, and beans/dhal). Do not share your meal with urchins who approach you at outdoor cafes. These acts all perpetuate the beggar culture.

Some beggars are aggressive and annoying, very impersonal, just out to work their scams and make their money. Others seem eager to interact with all who pass and show what seems to be sincere gratitude. 

As a part time India resident (16 non-consecutive months over 2 years) who has discussed the issue repeatedly with other expats and locals, it's interesting to observe the different aspects of this complex situation and how both natives and tourists cope with it.

“Experts” recommend the best way to deal with begging is to ignore it. If you are going to be in India for a long time, I do recommend you try this. While the relative poverty and illness around you is disheartening, giving handouts to everyone with a sad story does nothing to help in the long run. They advise donating to established trusted local charities rather than to individuals.

In closing, to repeat, learn as much as you can about the reality, and act in a way that you feel is most beneficial.
All images copyright Tammy Winand

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Travel in India for the uninitiated will get you out of your comfort zone like nothing else will. You will be confronted with sights, sounds and smells which you have never before encountered. And many of them will not be pleasant. 
Different sets of travelers will have different experiences, based on many factors. But one thing which all should bear in mind is that India is a challenge, and a state of mind. 

India does not exist to suit you. If you want to embrace India, it is your duty to accept that this chaos is a way of life and way of thinking that you, the foreigner, must learn to live with in order to get to India’s blessings.

People will stare at you...

Boy at a Chai Walla (tea stall) in Mumbai
Sometimes they will look like they want to eat you alive. This can be very disconcerting. But generally, this is simply their way of expressing curiosity. Believe it or not, many (yes, even in major cities) have never met a westerner. All they have been exposed to is television and film portrayals of western society. No wonder they think we are oddities! 

Curious Boy in Rural Rajasthan 
 Some will approach you, ask what seem like inappropriate personal questions (again, this is an expression of curiosity), and ask for your photo. Be aware that agreeing can mean posing with every member of the family, multiple times! 
[Single women, be aware that men may try to touch you (they seem to think we don't mind...let them know clearly if you DO mind).]
This Young Mumbai Shopkeeper Called Out "Take my photo, Miss!"
Be curious back. Ask questions. 
Try to learn a bit of the language and culture. 
Learn the value of the currency and local going rates!
Don't be afraid to make stupid mistakes (this one is particularly difficult for me).
Rajasthani Men at Kumbhalgarh Fort, Rajasthan
And for goodness sake, keep your sense of humor! You're going to need it!

All images copyright Tammy Winand.

2012 Goals and Plans

Happy New Year! 2012 is going to be a great year, I can feel it!
I hope everyone will be healthy, happy and successful in whatever they choose to do this year.

What lies ahead for me and my photography in 2012?
For starters, I have a digital photography book app coming out at an as yet unspecified date in early 2012 which I am very excited about. I will of course announce more about that in the coming weeks.

I will be publishing 2 more photography books this year. I plan to have the first of them ready by the end of February, and the second by late May, just prior to my next travel adventure. In addition, I will be looking for magazine markets which might be interested in my work.

I'm getting very excited about my return to Nepal, tentatively scheduled for late May. I'll be spending time in my former home, Boudha (largely Tibetan area of greater Kathmandu), as well as venturing to new horizons in Pokhara. After Nepal, I have plans to spend time in both Ladakh and Sikkim, former Tibetan kingdoms, now states in north/northeast India.  I'll be doing my usual travel and street photography from there, with a focus on cultures and religion. I also have one specific new project in mind which will have to unfold once I'm there "on the ground".

I am hoping to grow the stock photography aspect of my business, which is still new to me.

In a more basic sense, my goal is to remain serious and committed to my photography, and to always be moving forward.

And now, because you just might be here to see my photography instead of hear me talk about it, my image choice for New Years 2012!
Fresh Snow on the Dhauladhar Range of the Himalayas, McleodGanj, HP, India