We cross into the northern-most reaches of India to Ladakh and explore this seldom visited region, experiencing first hand its rich cultural and religious history. In the city of Leh, we find ourselves in one of the rare places where traditional Tibetan Buddhism is still practiced. Here, daily life is infused with symbols and rituals, chortens (reliquaries) are scattered across the landscape and colorful lungtas (Tibetan prayer flags) fly from rooftops and mountain passes. The Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum is found written on rocks and mani prayer walls line the streets.
As we acclimate to the elevation of the Tibetan Plateau, we visit monasteries, sharing tea with monks and conversing with local doctors and shamans. During our residency at the Shey Nunnery located below and in view of the former summer palace of the Ladakhi kings, and next to the school based on the vision of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, we spend the next ten days working side-by-side with the nuns to rebuild the facilities that were destroyed in the 2010 mudslide. We are fully immersed in their daily lives, traditions, and lifestyle--rising to their morning Pooja and being called to dinner each evening by the sound of conch shells. We eat with them, learn from them, work alongside them, sing songs and dance with them, and even celebrate the 4th of July. Beautiful, hard-working women, they are are welcoming while also very eager to soak up our culture.
After our service work is complete, we trek through the Himalayas alongside packhorses to nearly 18,000 feet. The snow-covered mountains rise to towering heights, and the region’s ancient name Dev Bhumi, which means Land of the Gods, is no misnomer.
Our adventure takes us to the fascinating capital, Delhi, and its colorful and rich marketplaces. From Delhi, we board an evening train to Varanasi—one of the holiest cities in India and Hinduism’s most important pilgrimage site. We spend time with the children of the Naz Orphanage where the focus is on communities and children stigmatized by society. We see the soul of India in the stirring fiery devotional ceremony of Aarti, on the banks of the Ganges River at sunset. A train ride to Agra culminates our adventure with a misty sunrise view of the heartbreakingly exquisite Taj Mahal before returning home.