Shanti Stupa, Leh
Shanti Stupa, Leh - Getting There
Advantages of a bad sense of direction
This was my second full day in Leh, and I was ready to brave the altitude. You can read about my lazy day in the beautiful Himalayan town – shopping, markets and the marvelous Peace Guesthouse, in my post: Leh, Hub of the Ladakhi Desert.
That morning, then, I was all ready to climb up to the majestic palace I have seen from my sojourn into the old market the day before, but alas. Given the opportunity to mix north and south, east and west, I rarely fail. Quite a predicament for a world traveler🙁… Typically, I assumed I was heading towards the palace (southeast) but ended up watching it from the stupa on the other side of town (northwest)…
When I realized no palace was showing up on the horizon, people told me it was still worth my time to keep going. There was another tourist attraction at the end of the road: the Shanti Stupa. I went with the flow…
The road I was on, known as the “Israeli road” , was packed with multiple agencies catering for Israeli traveling needs, as well as all-Israeli cofee houses, restuarants and guesthouses. Small dirt roads diverged from the main unpaved street leading to more guetshouses deeper in the hills.
Everywhere sellers were asking me how I was doing today, dazzling my eyes with their colorful merchandise. I told everybody I was coming back, and kept moving.[You are invited to read my posts about “The Israeli Phenomenon in India” regarding the dispropotional presence of Isarelis in the traveler scene in India.]
Harbinger of nice things to come
On the way to the stupa there was a herald of what was in store futher on: a beautiful wheel of dharma by the side of the road (see explanation below):
Wheel of Dharma, Leh
Reaching the stupa, like many other auspicious Buddhist sites, entailed a major climb with multiple steps, but I already did my day of altitude resting, so I was up for the challenge.
At the climb’s starting point I met an Israeli family – older parents with young adult children. The mother started “running” uphill, putting my pace to shame. However, she burned herself fast and soon gave up altogether and walked back down, as I kept trudging along, one step at a time. Once I reached the top, I met the father, who had reached the top before me.
Flags over Leh. Shanti stupa
The Buddha Temples
It’s one thing I like about India’s temples. They usually come in clusters; you hardly ever have just one structure stand-alone.
I reached the first small temple with a gilded Buddha, and sat down to meditate/rest. It worked. I needed the respite, but also succeeded to get a little blissful.
This is from the older temple:
Following are pictures from the bigger meditation hall with yet a bigger gilded Buddha. It was much more spacious, in the spirit of letting the visitor get a feel for our place in this vast Universe.
Circumambulating the Shanti Stupa, Leh
Once you get up those stairs, you are expected to circumambulate the stupa. It must be clockwise, meditative and silent.
The holy ritual and not so holy disruptions
In principle, this walking meditation should have been a very rewarding experience, since there was so much to see and absorb. Unfortunately, a group of young locals disregarded the rules, and made the experience less than optimal. They were busy taking each other’s photos, screaming to each other, completely ignoring the energy of the place. I was wondering if this was intentional, or just typical youth behavior.
The stupa is modern, and was constructed by Japanese and Ladakhi Buddhists. The initiative originated in Japan.
Gazelles and the Wheel of Dharma
Gazelles in Buddhism are usually represented in pairs. They symbolize the first lesson given by the Buddha in the deer park at Sarnath. The relaxed attitude of deer conveys the meditative qualities of Buddhism. The Wheel of Dharma was set in motion by the Buddha at his first sermon at Sarnath near Benares (now Varanasi) in the deer park. For this reason, the Wheel of Dharma is often represented between two gazelles.
“This ‘turning of the wheel’ signifies a great and revolutionary change with universal consequences, brought about by an exceptional human being.”
Siddhartha Gautama could have chosen to become a wheel-turning king, but instead became the spiritual counterpart to such a king, a wheel turning sage, i.e. a Buddha.
In his explanation of the term “turning the wheel of Dhamma”, Buddhaghosa explains that the “wheel” which the Buddha turned was primarily to be understood as wisdom, knowledge, and insight.
I already got my first shock with Buddhism at Tushita Meditation Center when I was investigating the beautiful murals on the walls in the central Gompa. We could not take photos in there, though – our cellphones were confiscated when we committed to the 10-day retreat.
Nonetheless, I understood, or thought I understood, the naked women scenes to precede Buddha’s enlightenment. Yet here there were pictures which combined traditional Buddha images, including in the famous lotus position, with half-naked women surrounding him in admiring positions.
There is just so much more to know, and Buddhism is too vast of a topic for me to become knowledgeable about. A Britannica article explains a belief in “the Pure Land” or Sukhavati – a blissful paradise that in most accounts is a place where only men can dwell. I must say that this does not sound very different from the 72-virgin Muslim Jannah (heaven).
I’d like to hear from readers with more knowledge about this topic (use the Comments section please.)
The Shanti Stupa in Leh was actually my first introduction to Tibetan Buddhist demonology. The next day I saw more of this at the Mangyal Tsemo Monastery, and then I discovered a home version in the course of my family stay at Likir village.
After an exhilirating day at the Shanti Stupa, I needed to take care of my earthly needs.
Back on the “Israeli Road”, I stopped at two places:
One was an all-Israel hangout, where I sat by myself on a deserted rooftop off-hour and had Chinese noodle and veggie soup. Further down that road, I stopped again in a place I simply could not resist, where I splurged with momos and a cup of chai in unstructured shanti atsmosphere:
Shanti at the Zula, israeli Road, Leh
Encouraged by my enterprise at the Shanti Stupa, the next day I was ready for a further challenge: Leh’s Palace and the Mangyal Tsemo Monastery climb.
For more about Leh, see my posts: Leh – Hub of the Ladhaki Desert , Mangyal Tsemo Monatery, Leh – Demons, Flags and Flute and Leh Revisited – Life Galore and Salt in Your Tea.
These and other posts about the Himalaya are published on the page: The Indian Himalaya – Glimpse of the Infinite under the general section of Traveling India within the even larger section: Incredible India, which also includes the following sections: The Israeli Phenomenon in India and Point your Finger at Polluter – Who Cleans India
More posts about the Himalaya and about other regions of India are in preparation. Keep updated.
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