The sun was setting upon the pavilion where the bride and groom sat bathed in the blessings of six Rinpoches. It was during that magical hour - the hour where everything and everyone the sun’s touched upon shimmers and gleams in their most radiant light - that I started weeping silently.
It was the most enchanting wedding I have witnessed. The bride was clad in an ornate orange sari while her groom, was dressed as if an Indian prince from Buddha’s time. Beside them, Raji was chanting lowly in that magnetic, lingering voice of hers. Six Rinpoches presided behind them, bestowing their blessings one by one upon a scroll. Katas and flowers showered upon them, followed by an auspicious light drizzle of rain as if a seal of approval from above.
This magical procession took place in Bir, a small Tibetan refuge village two hours from Dharamsala where the Tibetan government in exile is based. I was pleasantly surprised to find a short section on Bir in the Lonely Planet India as few people know about Bir, not even the Indians. You will find hardly any trace of India here – 80% of the population is Tibetan, monasteries, stupas and lamas are commonplace, while the main language spoken is Tibetan. The only two guesthouses here, Chokling Guesthouse and Deer Park, are largely occupied by students of Rinpoches and followers of the dharma.
The inaccessibility of Bir – the only modes of transport are a 50-minute near death-esque flight from Delhi to Dharamsala operated by Kingfisher (the service of which, by the way, is IMPECCABLE – the stewardess remembers the names of every single passenger and recites the contents of the packaged plane food with utmost patience and serenity) followed by a 2-hour drive, a straight 12-hour drive from Delhi, or an overnight train ride from the same – is probably how it managed to maintain its sheath of mystery and tranquility. Living at Chokling Guesthouse I wake up every morning to the deep, hollow sounds of Tibetan horns and monks chanting, which can go on for up to 24 hours nonstop during pujas (special worshipping ceremonies). It is as if time has stopped here. Mornings start early, followed by yoga on the terrace on a bright warm day, breakfast, pujas, lunch, more pujas, a romantic stroll on Ilu (or, “I Love You”) Road or a cup of coffee at “Buckstars” down the road, and dinner at 6pm.
On a nice day we did a day trip to Tso Pema (which literally translates to Lake Lotus (see note)), a 3-hour drive away from Bir. At Tso Pema you will experience an idyllic land reminiscent of the Chinese’s Peach Blossom myth. Small, stones houses are built surrounding an open grassland, goats roam free and the people an interesting mixture of Ladakhis (a people from a high altitude region in Northern Indian which boarders Pakistan and China), Tibetans and Indians. There is not that many “sights” per se – mainly Guru Rinpoche and Mandarava’s Cave and the Lake itself- but the spirituality is what I came for. Here your heart will flutter, like the prayer flags that paint the bright blue skies a red, green, white, yellow and cobalt.
Congratulations once again my dear friends. You have given me a peace and quiet which will sustain me for always as that “second language” world within me.
NOTE: It is said that the Guru Rinpoche was burned here by the King of Mandi after discovering that the princess had eloped with him. Guru Rinpoche had then emerged from the flames sitting on a lotus while turning the ashes around him into what is now Tso Pema.