When the storms of the world rage around me and my spirit is weary, it is the foothills of the Himalayas – the mother of all mountains – that beckons.
Here in this reflective world of tea plantations and mountain walks, temple bells and sacred chants, hilltop monasteries and ancient marketplaces, I discover sanctuary. My destination is always Kangra Valley, known as the Valley of the Goddesses, nestled in the mountain province of Himachal Pradesh in Northern India.
I first arrived in Kangra Valley in the Fall of 2012. A friend of mine in India had invited me to visit this area of breathtaking, peaceful beauty. I arrived at a fortuitous time: His Holiness the Dalai Lama was offering a rare public talk from in his mountain top abode in nearby Dharamasala (“Little Lhasa,” now home to exiled Tibetans).
I sat in the open air courtyard at his temple with hundreds of devotees on thick Tibetan rugs, gazing up at the monkeys clambering on the rafters while claret-robed monks distributed large hunks of bread and Tibetan tea to all of us. No one went hungry. The ritual sounds of cymbal, horn and throaty chanting filled the air, celebrating this deeply sacred moment with His Holiness, who sat on a chair of heavy brocade, reading from a leather bound book of ancient text.
“How we love him,” remarked the young Tibetan next to me. Indeed, there was a sense of such collective love for this wonderful spiritual leader, who refers to himself as a “simple monk” and offers his teachings cloaked in the poignant instruction, “be kind.”
Later, I would find myself at a nunnery founded by global teacher Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, the first Western born woman to be inducted into Tibetan Buddhism. She led us into her private offices and shared with us her extraordinary journey—one in which she had been determined to seek enlightenment in a woman’s body and lived in absolute seclusion in a tiny cave in the high Himalayas for 12 long years.
I was struck by her fierce intelligence, wisdom and spirited presence and can’t wait to return to her nunnery where, amidst the brilliant thangka paintings of female deities, I can wrap myself in a shawl of palpable feminine energy.
My Himalayan home, nestled in Kangra Valley, is TARA (an acronynm for Training and Research Academy), considered one of the first feminist centers in India and today also a healing retreat with its stone cottages, organic gardens, jasmine-fragranced pathways, and warm Himalayan hospitality. It is here that the Jagori Grameen (“women awaken”) movement first began, an initiative seeking to empower Himalayan women and girls under the wise leadership of its founder, Abha Bhaiya.
Here, I find sanctuary. Here, my weary spirit is nourished as I awaken to the dawn chorus of singing birds, the villagers preparing for their day, the bullock carts being driven to town, and sacred chants from the nearby temples wafting into the Himalayan skies.
The mother of all mountains beckons.
Amber Chandis a visionary coach, global storyteller and creative entrepreneur whose mission is to inspire, support and encourage people to live from a place of enlivened authenticity and fearless imagination as we face the potent challenges of our world today. She is the author of a book, Dear Beloved: Sacred Messages to the World and has been described as a “perfect global messenger with her words of courage, resilience and hope” (Gail Straub). Amber lives in the bucolic Berkshires of Massachusetts and will be returning to India in February 2019 for her next retreat for women: Valley of the Goddesses: A Retreat in the Foothills of the Himalayas. To learn more, visit: http://amberchand.com/journeys/india/