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Words and places hold memories

Lockdown has brought home so many things, the restrictions on travel is one. Looking back at my travel journal and photos of my very first trip to India brought back happy memories, of travelling light for three months, with my cousin Alice and two other friends Becky and Sandra. We started off from Delhi, heading north to Manali and then Dharamshala, where Alice had taught in a Tibetan school before and where we were all welcomed like old friends.

Meeting the Dalai Lama

We had the chance and honour of meeting the Dalai Lama twice, once as tourists, where we were presented with a white scarf- a symbol of peace and the second time were the villagers had a private ceremony with his Holiness and where we were hidden at the back by the children who wanted us to see, we were spotted, but only greeted by a beaming smile!

A quote I have always found helpful, from the wise words the Dalai Lama has shared

Simple things

There are many stories from the trip and now being a mother myself, I don't know if I could have let my daughter travel with no regular contact (no mobile phones), little money or contacts as we did then. Each of us had a backpack, two changes of clothes, it was monsoon season, and we did not even have a waterproof coat! Equipped water filter pump, which we used to filter tap water to drink, we ate from street vendors, which we were advised not to, and travelled on local buses and trains, crowed in with chickens and animals being transported by the locals who were all incredibly friendly. Even once hitching a ride with passing trucks when our bus, which we were travelling back on the bumpy, dusty and steep road from Leh, a two day journey, broke down, we saw many vehicles at the bottom of the ravine! We were very lucky. I think since then the roads have been improved.

But I delighted in everything about India, the people, the food, the colours, textiles, clothing, craftmanship, the culture, the vastness and differing landscapes, and the spirituality, a very special place.

This journey was partially a seed of the inspiration behind the creation of the brand Alice & Astrid,

Namaste - We are one

All through our journey from the North to the South of India, from the Delhi, Manali, Leh, Jaipur, Goa we were welcomed by the words, Namaste (nah-mas-tay)

A beautiful greeting, it sums up so much in one word.

My soul honour's your soul.

I honour the place in you

where the entire universe resides.

I honour the light, love, truth,

beauty and peace within you

because it is also within me.

In sharing these things

we are united, we are the same

we are one.

Shanti Stupa in Leh – symbol of Peace and Unity

Shanti Stupa is situated at a height of 4,267 meters and is located around 5 kilometers from Leh. the stupa is built on a steep hill facing the Leh Palace. Tourists can reach Shanti Stupa in Leh by a drivable road or on foot. But when my cousin and I were there I am not sure this existed, or at least we didn't know about it, so we climbed the 500 steep steps to the hilltop, early one morning. I still recall the feeling of breathlessness as we climbed to the top. The air is thin because of the high altitude, I don't think we had fully acclimatised yet as I remember we both had to stop many times to catch our breath. On the way you can see many Buddhist pyramid built from stone around path.

It was a time before mobile phones and selfies, that sounds quite strange to think now. We only had a simple camera with us, so I am glad I have one photo, here I am sitting on the steps at the first level, which features the central relief of Dharmachakra with deer on each side.

sun and moon temple
Astrid Blake at the Shanit Stupa

Facts about the Shanti Stupa- 'it is a Buddhist white-domed stupa (chorten) on a hilltop in Chanspa, Leh district, Ladakh, in the north India. It was built in 1991 by Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura and part of the Peace Pagoda mission. The Shanti Stupa holds the relics of the Buddha at its base, enshrined by the 14th Dalai Lama. The stupa has become a tourist attraction not only due to its religious significance but also due to its location which provides panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.'

'The Shanti Stupa features the photograph of the current Dalai Lama with the relics of the Buddha at its base. The stupa is built as a two-level structure. The first level features the central relief of Dharmachakra with deer on each side. A central golden Buddha image sits on a platform depicting the "turning wheel of Dharma" (Dharmachakra). The second level has reliefs depicting the "birth" of Buddha, the death of Buddha (mahanirvana) and Buddha "defeating the devils" while meditating. Both levels feature a series of smaller meditating Buddha reliefs.

The Shanti Stupa was built to promote world peace and prosperity and to commemorate 2500 years of Buddhism. It is considered a symbol of the ties between the people of Japan and Ladakh'. reference from ' Wikipedia where you can find out more.

These experiences were an inspiration to me and I hope you have found inspiration here too. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

Astrid x


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