Solo trips are generally spiritual in nature – you may or may not agree but most people take solo trips in the pursuit of self and its discovery, looking for that oasis of solitude and relaxed calm that takes them away from the white noise in their current world. I too expected my first proper solo trip to be something on those lines but didn’t expect that I would land up in a Buddhist monastery- a vipasana centre and stay there for a week in total silence!
First of all, to explain my “first proper solo trip” definition – It’s not that I hadn’t done solo trips before. I had spent a weekend alone on the banks of river Ganges in Rishikesh at a rafting camp but then I knew the camp owner who was my friend and I sort of had the “familiarity safety net”. This time, I was going on a trip where I didn’t know the place, the best way to reach, where to stay -nothing – I absolutely knew nothing. All I knew was that I had surfed the net a week before and found a vipasana centre in Dharamkot, Himachal Pradesh which looked inviting and was free for Indians. Good enough for me. I quickly bought a bus ticket from Delhi to Dharamsala and hopped on to the bus with my tiny rucksack.
The Delhi to Dharamsala bus journey took about 11 hours and I reached the Dharamshala bus stand at 7 a.m. next day. Back then, the bus stand was a shady one piece structure with a concrete building and some windows for ticket transactions. Most of the travellers in the bus were local people from the area who quickly made their way home. After 30 minutes, there was only me and a guy left standing wondering what to do next. Once the crowd cleared, I saw a couple of local auto rickshaw fellows who asked me if I wanted to go to Dharamkot. Immediately, I felt a sense of relief that the destination was known (and perhaps popular with tourists) and felt a sense of panic about traveling in an auto all the way up the mountain. I am going to die today. So much so for the solo trip – I mumbled to myself. The auto wala looked at me and tried to pacify with his “don’t worry madam, you will be safe.”
It was everything but safe. There were no roads from there on. Just flattened muddy track used by local vehicles. But the auto wala was no novice either. In 30 minutes and after swinging like a pendulum I reached the Tushita Meditation Centre.
It was the most beautiful ‘little’ monastery I had ever seen. Perched on the slide of a hill, the little monastery was more of a cluster of little buildings. It was quiet, other than the calls of the monkeys and I walked in upon being beckoned by a Monk. The reception room was bustling with people and I was the only Indian around. Everyone looked at me smilingly but curiously with the kind of look – “You are an Indian, why do u need vipasana – aren’t you the nirvana generation already?” I quickly gave them my dazzling thousand watt smile and got some smiles back with a couple of quick hellos.
True to the booking terms on the website, the course was free for Indians because the centre was built on ‘Indian’ land. I anyway paid the course fee like other attendees voluntarily. I guess the place was giving me the ‘be nice’ vibes already. The Monk at the reception asked me to deposit my phone and any other gadgets – no phones, no ipods nothing. But how will I call home I asked? You will be fine, the Monk replied smilingly. Okay!
Now the thing that you aren’t ready for. Once you have deposited everything, you aren’t allowed to speak or communicate till you’ve completed the course at the centre. Speaking & communicating? – aren’t the same- there is a huge difference between the two. When we speak, we converse and exchange words; when we communicate, we use our eyes and other gestures such as smiles etc. Both were not to happen at this course – strictly not allowed, other than the lunch breaks and Q&A session with the Monks. As a person who talks a million words per minute, I was already dying but thought a week should be okay.
From next day, we began our meditation sessions at 6.30 a.m. all through till 7 p.m. Different Monks and Nuns would teach us various kinds of meditations – some light and some soul destroying. My first two days were terrible – waking up at 4.00 a.m. to have a bath in a basic “bathroom” with ice-cold water and then attending the sessions. It was killing me and I almost ended up talking to the dog at the meditation centre. The Monk disallowed that too and the dog used to walk away. Depression. I would also attack the Monk in the 30 minutes Q&A because I had “decided” that it was my “speaking” time. The Monk would just smile.
Day three onwards, I began to slide in. It was falling into place and staying silent no longer bothered me. As the Monk explained, when you speak, you are negotiating your space. When you are silent, you don’t have to negotiate your space with anyone. You are in your space. The truth in these words sinks in slowly into you and you love being quiet. I spent the rest of my days wandering around the centre, the hills, helping Monks with their daily tasks, at with a sense of innate calm and peace. I would chat with the people during lunch (mostly answering questions about India) and battle it out with the Monks on the Buddhist philosophy of being neutral versus passion in life – I am all for mountain moving faith & passion. It was the best discussion of my life and neither side came to an agreement. That was fine too.
As the course came to an end, I was handed over my phone – which I didn’t want. There were billion calls and none seemed important to me. I kept the phone in my pocket after making one call home and took my auto to the bus, which finally took me home. As a carry – away, I still spend 10 minutes meditating daily and it takes me back to the monastery and its calm.
I will end this post with my Buddhist chant and hope that one day, you too will visit Tushita and open yourself to this amazing experience:
‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo
Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’
The Tushita website for reference is: http://tushita.info/ (some pictures from their website as I wasn’t carrying a camera)
Keep smiling & traveling!