Shhh! No talking!

Temisgam Travel Blog

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On the bus ride to Temisgam
Ever since I arrived in India, I’ve been hearing people talk about Vipassana meditation. (If you’re curious, check out It’s a meditation technique that’s taught in 10-day silent retreats all over the world. I'd heard it was tough but worth it. I’d taken a 5-day silent meditation course in McLeod Ganj and loved it, so I figured I’d give this one a shot. Originally I wanted to take the course in McLeod Ganj, but 1) the course was waitlisted, and 2) Anita and I decided to go up to Leh. Lisa, a Canadian woman I’d met in McLeod Ganj, told me about a Vipassana course she was planning to take in Leh. The weird part about it was that it wasn’t listed on the Vipassana website.
The Leh bus stand
But I emailed the guy Lisa told me about, and according to him I was registered.

Turns out the center is four hours west of Leh, in a town called Temisgam. When I got on the bus to go there, thankfully there were a bunch of other Westerners, so I knew the Vipassana course was legit. Or at least if I was on a ride to nowhere I’d have company. The four-hour bus ride was beautiful, but also bone-crushingly scary. Lisa wasn’t on the bus when I got on in Leh, but about a half hour before we reached Temisgam, she got out of a jeep coming from the opposite direction and got on the bus. Thank goodness, because a short while later she asked the ticket collector if we were close to the Vipassana center. We were about to drive right past it! You’d think that the guy would’ve known where 15 white people wanted to get off, but, well… not.
On the way to Temisgam, we got a flat tire. This was my view from the bus while we waited for the ticket guy to change the tire.
  The walk from the bus stop up to the Vipassana center was insane -- we we were already at a high altitude, and the walk was long and uphill. Thankfully Lisa helped me with my bag. I’m not in the best shape of my life, but hopefully it was just the altitude, because yikes, I just could not deal. We finally got up there and registered. We learned that men and women would be separated the whole 10 days, there’d be no talking or eye contact, no exercising, and that we had to turn in all reading and writing material, cell phones, ipods, etc. Pretty intense right away.

I was shown to my “room," which was basically a mud brick hut with a tin roof and a dirt floor covered with a tarp. The mattress was a thin pad, and there were two pillows and a pile of blankets.
The view from the bus. Note the edge of the road -- no fence or barrier, just a sheer drop down.
There was no running water or electricity in the entire facility. The bathroom was down a dirt path, and it was literally a hole in a dirt floor, with a pile of dirt and shovel in the corner, to be used to cover up your business. The “shower” was a small room next door, also with a dirt floor. Since there was no running water, we had to sign up to get a bucket of hot water from the kitchen. Then we’d carry a bucket of hot water and a bucket of cold water up to the shower room; do a little mixing and voila, water ready for pouring over your head. Right away I was calculating how many bucket showers I’d have to take during my stay. Could I get away with showering every third day since no one would be near me anyway? Oy vey.

The daily schedule was as follows: Wake-up bell at 4:00am.
Be in meditation hall by 4:30, meditate until 6:30. Breakfast from 6:30-7:00, rest until 8:00. Meditate from 8:00-11:00. Lunch from 11:00-11:30. Rest until 1:00. Meditate from 1:00-3:30, then meditate in sleeping room until 5:00. “Dinner" -- really a light snack of something like fruit and crackers -- from 5:00-5:30. Rest until 7:00. Meditate from 7:00-9:00. Go to sleep, and get up at 4:00am and start all over again.

The point of Vipassana is to purify and sharpen the mind. For the first two days my mind wandered, big time. But on day 3 I nailed it for a solid hour. Oh, I almost forgot: On day 3 we were told that from now forward, there would be three one-hour meditation sessions per day wherein we were to try not to move at all. Itching, pain, etc. are not excuses to move.
That's the jeep Lisa was in
Definitely a challenge, but I did it on day 3 -- yeah!

There were a total of 17 students (4 women and 13 men), only one of whom was Indian. And he coughed all the time, one of those really irritating coughs that I couldn’t seem to ignore. One hour I counted how many times he coughed (32) instead of meditating. I felt like I was wasting my time -- if I’m not meditating, why be here? -- but I figured I might as well go talk to the teacher about it. He made a compelling argument for staying, one part of which was that the mind will find ways to avoid doing this work. If the Indian boy weren’t coughing, something else would be bothering me, like someone’s breathing, or the very noisy tin roof. This -- not being able to control circumstances around me -- will keep coming up in life, so this is an opportunity to find a way to deal with it.
The women's sleeping rooms -- mud brick walls with a tin roof.

Miraculously, the coughing stopped within hours of my conversation with the teacher. I’ll never know if it was just a coincidence or if someone said something to the Indian guy, but boy was I relieved. It started again on day 8, but it wasn’t even close to as frequent as before.

Finally on day 10 we were allowed to talk, but only to people of the same gender. I was so grateful for the human contact. And I’d been dying to make jokes all week. At every meal I sat with the three other women, and we didn’t say a word to or look at each other. I kept wanting to say, “Cat got your tongue?”

The next morning Lisa and I took the bus back to Leh, and we got a room back at the Dorje guest house. Looking back on the experience, I’m sooo glad I did it.
The opposite view
I found the lack of human contact difficult, but I get the point of it (i.e., to turn inward). The living conditions were, um, not good, but one of the early lessons of Vipassana is that everything is temporary -- so it wasn’t so tough to deal with it. Honestly I didn’t blink when I learned of the living conditions -- after living in Bhubaneswar with no a/c, sleeping in a tent in the Himalayas, and spending more than five months in India, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

Re-entry into regular society wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. Part of that is I think because I went back to Leh, vs. Delhi, Bhubaneswar, or even McLeod Ganj -- all much busier, louder, places than Leh. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to do a Vipassana course, and for it to have been in India. Definitely something I’ll never forget.

richardAmsterdam says:
super post .. one of the best I have read on travBud.
Thanxs, R
Posted on: Sep 23, 2008
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On the bus ride to Temisgam
On the bus ride to Temisgam
The Leh bus stand
The Leh bus stand
On the way to Temisgam, we got a f…
On the way to Temisgam, we got a …
The view from the bus.  Note the e…
The view from the bus. Note the …
Thats the jeep Lisa was in
That's the jeep Lisa was in
The womens sleeping rooms -- mud …
The women's sleeping rooms -- mud…
The opposite view
The opposite view
My room
My room
Looking up toward the meditation h…
Looking up toward the meditation …
The lower building is the teacher…
The lower building is the teacher…
The path (huh? what path?), cove…
The "path" (huh? what path?), cov…
photo by: debrasiegel