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But of course one of the biggest draws to the region is Buddhism. Native to India, the religion migrated east with the Muslim invasions, but retains a strong toehold (aided by the influx of Buddhist refugees). The rotating scrolls serve the same purpose as the prayer wheels, and we saw people using them every time we passed a temple.

And speaking of temples, there are huge ones around McLeod Ganj, where the faithful meet to pray. The first time we went to the Tsuglagkhang temple, security was tight and we were not allowed to see much due to a conference taking place.

We had the opportunity to have an 'audience' with the Karmapa, apparently a controversial and important Buddhist leader. Regardless of his standing, we felt honored to receive his blessings (but were not honored with permission to take pictures).

When we returned a few days later, however, we were free to walk around the complex and observe the rituals and prayers.

Monks spend much of their time studying and minding the shrines around town, so we saw them behind every corner. Interesting to hear stories about how many of them are people who have come in for a pre-set amount of time (such as a year) to learn, study, and then return to the outside world.

But even monks like to have a little time off. We saw young monks wrapping up a cricket game, older monks keeping an eye on the pretty girls, and an even older monk out for a walk with a faithful companion.
Faces from the trip: Alea, Susan, and Breck spinning prayer wheels at the main temple in town, the Dalai Lama dressed up in a temple painting, and a many-headed goddess statue (that gets really big when you click on it).

One evening, as we were heading to dinner, we got caught up in a parade of monks, locals, and tourists. They were marching down the main road - holding candles, chanting, and - we thought - protesting China's continuing occupation of Tibet and oppression of the local culture. 

We found out later that they were actually calling on the Chinese government to halt the executions of 2 men found guilty of causing deaths in Tibetan protests last year. As it turns out, the men had been killed two days before the march took place, but the news was not confirmed until a week later.

Dharamsala - welcome - shopping - arts and crafts - buddhism - hiking - wrap up

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