Diwali and McLeod Ganj

A week and a half ago was Diwali, the largest festival of the year in India. To commemorate Ram’s lamp-lit return to Ayodhya twenty days after defeating the demon Ravan and rescuing his wife Sita in the Ramayana, lights are placed outside houses and shops. Our neighborhood of Lajpat Nagar was bedecked with twinkling lights. People also light diyas, tiny candle-lit lamps, to commemorate Ram’s return.

It should be said that for many people, Diwali is as much a commercial holiday as it is a religious one. The market was buzzing with activity and discounts in the weeks before. In this way, Diwali reminds me of Christmas in the United States.

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Fireworks are a big part of Diwali. I have never seen so many little children setting off mortars. Brandon and I went over to Malviya Nagar to set off some fireworks with other Fulbright scholars, stopping at our neighborhood fireworks store first. The Delhi air was intensely polluted the next day.

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To celebrate this year’s Diwali, Brandon and I decided to opt for a taste of home for dinner. Here’s to you, KFC Rock Box, you seamless combination of fried chicken sandwich, fried chicken pieces, fries, and Pepsi.

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The weekend after was a visit to the Himalayan town of McLeod Ganj, where both the Dalai Lama’s and Tibetan government-in-exile are located. It was a weekend of fresh air, Western-style breakfasts in cozy cafes, bookstores crammed with tomes on Buddhism, and short treks from one mountain village to another (Dharamkot, Bhagsu, and Naddi). McLeod Ganj hosts an interesting mix of Western tourists, Indian tourists, the refugee Tibetan community, and the native Himacheli community. Highlights included the Tibet Museum, the Dalai Lama Temple Complex, an Israeli-owned bookstore with window-side table looking out on the Himalayas, and trying Tibetan tea, which strongly tastes of butter.

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