Holy Health in the Himalayas

How could someone not like a place called Leh, Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India? That’s the full name of a single place, which should tell you something about its complicated history.

I got a unique glimpse into this corner of the world when I joined a cardiac screening camp to check the cardiovascular health of the local population.

Since the population includes Buddhist monks from the local monasteries in the Himalayan foothills, this fit with my plan to continue circumnavigating the globe to identify techniques of how people get closer to god.  Using some of my hard-earned frequent flyer miles, I hopped a one-way flight from LAX to Delhi first class on British Airways.


Ladakh is interesting in that it is still a war zone, though under cease fire.  Telecommunication is extremely limited; there’s a prohibition on roaming cell phones without Indian Army approval, and internet service is spotty. For the past month, the cables have been cut either by landslides between Leh and Srinagar, by Pakistani militants, or by HughesNet, depending on the rumor of the day. While I had hoped to get this post up earlier, the Dalai Lama needed internet while the Tibetan government was in exile in Leh, and the owner of the satellite connection offered it to His Holiness.

We were able to check the heart health of over 500 people, including the Dalai Lama’s Chief of Staff, on whom we performed an EKG/ECG (he’s fine):


The one-l lama,
He’s a priest.
The two-l llama,
He’s a beast.
And I will bet
A silk pajama
There isn’t any
Three-l lllama.*

Ogden Nash, Poem #1080, The Lama
*The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer. Pooh. [Footnote appended by Nash.]

There was also fun with Lama Races:

After the camp, a colleague and I were invited to visit the Nubra Valley with a local doctor, and stay at his home.  The valley was amazing in that it was Himalayan in scale, had rivers and glaciers, and sand dunes that were once part of the silk route.  We hooked up with some White Collar Hippies from Mumbai and toured the area, riding Bactrian camels and drinking butter tea at the local monastery.  When you think butter tea, think butter face, and that gives a sense of what it tasted like to me.

One of the Mumbai guys told me about having just completed a 10 day Vipassana meditation course, and was the fifth or sixth person to implore me to go check it our for myself.  On the way back from the road trip, I saw this sign and had to stop and check it out:


The Meditation Centre’s Vipassana course started the next day.  I had a decision to make – go see the Dalai Lama and miss the course, or start the course and miss the Dalai Lama. Fortunately, the conflict was resolved for me. The start date for the meditation course was delayed so that all the workers could go see His Holiness discuss the White Tara Long Life Empowerment ceremony.  And I got to see him as well.  If you ever wondered, this is how the Dalai Lama rolls:


While I didn’t get the opportunity for a one-on-one sit-down or to realize my dream of getting tonsured by him, I did get the benefit of listening to him speak for several hours with 40,000 of my close Ladakhi friends.


Next year he will be presiding over the Kalachakra ceremony, a 12-day initiation ceremony that is expected to bring 250,000 people from all over the world.  The Lamdon School in Leh has rooms for rent since the rest of the town is sold out.

I then made it to the Vipassana center, and was part of the inaugural class.  This meant that the facilities were not complete. It was rustic enough that we slept in Indian Army surplus tents, used dirt shovel flush toilets, evaded packs of wild dogs, got treated with many different antibiotics.

It was an experience that I’ll never forget. In fact, I was so worn afterwards that I came to Kashmir for relative peace and quiet.  Oh well, time to move on again.  Especially since my brother told me that Led Zeppelin wrote the song about Morocco, but Kashmir rhymed better.

3 responses to “Holy Health in the Himalayas”

  1. […] A few years ago I was in Leh, India, for a few months. When I received an invitation to a screening of Lady Ganga: Nilza’s Story, I watched the trailer and was drawn in at first by the scenery and the mountainside highway along which Nilza was traveling. Cut to a clinic, which was the same one where I had volunteered. […]

  2. […] on the camino to Santiago in Spain, in a group of international volunteers at the clinic in Ladakh, among the yogis in the rainforest of Trindade, with the Rainbow Family in Israel’s Negev […]

  3. […] Zeppelin – ‘Kashmir’. This song inspired me to visit the region where I spent time on a houseboat in Dal Lake. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that Led […]

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