From samosas to healing waters, India bridges the divide between food, spirit, and modern and traditional culture.

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India is known all over the world for its spirituality, spicy foods, and slums. But to truly understand Indian culture, one must experience the savory snacks, sacred rivers, and Tibetan Buddhists firsthand. Although this isn’t possible for everyone, this photo essay by Glimpse writer Emily Strasser takes us pretty close to being there.

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We Wish You Good Health

1. An Indian snack and sweet shop in Pragpur, Northern India rather ironically wishes its customers good health. While not exactly healthy, the sugar-packed sweets - made with pistachios, coconut, ground chickpeas, or condensed milk - are delicious. If you’re craving something salty, you can try a samosa (back left) - a fried pastry shell stuffed with spiced potatoes, peas, onions, and other vegetables - or pakora - cauliflower, eggplant, or other vegetables, curried and fried.

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Tibetan prayer

2. Tibetan prayer stones located along the kora, or circumambulation path, around the Dalai Lama’s temple in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala. The stones are carved with Buddhist mantras, written in Sanskrit.

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Monks

3.Monks at Sherab Ling Monastery outside of Bir, perform the cham dance. This ritual dance is usually performed by Buddhist monks around Tibetan New Year's, or Losar, and depicts the vanquishing of malignant spirits.

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Tibetan prayer

4. This large figure, depicting a Tibetan Buddhist wrathful deity, is wheeled around by monks performing the cham. The wrathful deities are actually benevolent forces who protect the Buddhist doctrine and symbolize the effort to overcome negative forces.

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Tibetan prayer

5. Ani Kalsang, a young Buddhist nun from the Indian Himalayan region of Spiti, gives herself a closer shave while the barber looks on. Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns shave their heads when they are ordained, and are required to keep them shaved as long as they keep their vows.

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Tibetan prayer

6. Pilgrims travel from all over India to swim in the healing waters of the Ganges in Varanasi. Ghats, like Kedar Ghat pictured here, are places for ritual bathing or cremation that line the riverbank in Varanasi. Each ghat is associated with a certain deity, mythological deed, or temple. This picture was taken in the morning, the most spiritually auspicious time of day, when the ghats are crowded with men, women, and children bathing.

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Tibetan prayer

7. In India, the remote Himalayan region of Spiti is geographically part of the Tibetan Plateau, the largest, highest land formation on earth. The small village of Chicham sits at around 14,000 feet, nestled in this breath-taking landscape. Despite the dry, harsh climate, farmers have learned over centuries to coax crops such as barley and peas from the earth.

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Tibetan prayer

8. Tibetan prayer flags fly outside of Key Gompa (a monastery) in Spiti. The Tibetan word for "prayer flags" is lung-ta, meaning "wind-horse." As the flags move in the breeze, they release their prayers to be carried by the wind.

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Tibetan prayer

9. Lobsang takes a break from working in the fields. Lobsang and his wife Wangmo live with their two children in the beautiful Zanskar valley of Ladakh. Like Spiti, Ladakh is part of the Tibetan plateau.

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Tibetan prayer

10. Bhutti (right) and her older sister Tsering (left) share a laugh beside Tsering’s fields. As Tsering painstakingly irrigated her crops, Bhutti took a nap in the grass. Tsering threatened to wake her with a well-aimed splash.

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Tibetan prayer

11. A white stupa (right), dominates the view of the old market of Padum, now largely crumbling and abandoned. With increasing numbers of trekkers coming to Zanskar every summer, the new town center is now dominated by guesthouses.

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Wangmo and Lobsang

12. Wangmo and Lobsang grin for a photo. Lobsang, dressed to go into the nearby town of Padum, wears Western pants and a sweater, while Wangmo wears a traditional Ladakhi goncha.