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Archive for April, 2011

Himalayan Dreams

This last week I took an unexpected detour to Bangalore. My computer stopped working entirely and, although I seriously contemplated chucking out the whole thing and reverting back to the mighty pen and paper (can I get an Amen?), I decided to attempt a repair and give technology one last chance. So, as so many things here do, what was a promised one day repair turned into five…and so it goes.

But alas, with barely a pin-prick in my pocket book, I am finally back in the Rishi Valley with a working computer…that seems to have a brand new counterfeit operating system on it…but one that’s working, nonetheless. When it comes to all things computer-related in India, I’ve learned the fewer questions asked, the better. I’m pretty sure that licensing, like a traffic law, is taken merely as a suggested activity – but one that actually doesn’t apply to the majority of the population. I’m down.

So, this week I’m scrambling to finish up a bit of work, pack up, and then take off on my month-long adventure up north to the Himalayas. I can already taste the crisp, mountain air and see the jagged, peaks of snow – prayer flags strewn throughout the forested hillsides. Four weeks of blissful, cool-weather freedom, a bit of meandering on the hippie trail, mouth-watering Tibetan food, and a return to one of my favorite places in India.

My tickets are all booked and schedule set, but I’m currently in an overwhelming “just roll with it” mood, so I’m feeling like my plans have a pretty large degree of TBD associated with them…and it feels good. Really good. But, here’s what I’ve got so far:

Week 1: I take off the evening of the 30th and head to Delhi where I spend the night with friends, cook a delicious Sunday morning brunch, rest, and then hop on a night train – then bus, then another bus – towards Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj deep in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh. I’ll spend a week with a fellow friend of mine visiting his project site, get in some hiking, and re-explore the home of the Dali Lama and exiled Tibetan government.

Week 2-3: From Dharamsala, I’m headed slightly southeast to the town of Dehradun where I’ll be volunteering on the biodiversity farm at Navdanya – an NGO founded by my she-ro, Dr. Vandana Shiva. I have no idea what to expect, what I’ll be doing, or who will be there – but I’m sure some good ol’, hands-on learning is in store.

Week 4: After a few weeks of playing in the dirt, I’ll catch a bus north to a small village in the area known as Utarkashi to spend my final week visiting the home of my wonderful downstairs neighbors from RV. (My directions, by the way, go something along the lines of, “After half a day’s journey on the bus, someone will tell you where to get off. From there you cross over a river, go through a village, and then ask anyone you see where our home is.”) Along with deep conversations, freshly-brewed coffee, homemade bread, and as many mangos as I can stuff my face with – I was promised a trek to the source of the mighty Ganges river where it runs clean and pure straight from the mountain snow. From the mountains I’ll head back to Delhi by train, spend a few days visiting a friend of mine and her family, and then return to the valley by Sunday May 29th. Whew.

Naturally, I’ll be writing along the way and posting blogs when I can. I’m excited for the chance to travel, to explore, to breathe – to get out of the valley lowlands, move around, and stretch my legs.

I’ve been in need of some elevation in my life – perhaps many of you know the feeling. So up I go…

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The Good Rock

Life is pretty slow in the valley. Slower than usual. The kids and staff (except for about 10 of us) are all on summer holiday – escaping the heat of a rural Andhra, desert summer for the sanctuary of an air-conditioned city home.  Apparently the sudden reduction in population also means that the generator isn’t really worth turning on…so the long-lasting power cuts are always an extra treat.

Lately, I’ve been reminded on a daily basis how my body has clearly not evolved to withstand a tropical climate. I’ve totally succumbed to carrying an umbrella (I call it a parasol just to make life more interesting…) on my walk to and from work to protect my head from the sun and pretty much can’t make it through the day without a power nap to recharge myself from total exhaustion. Even my computer has decided that it doesn’t like to start working until after 10am when the humidity goes down and the dry heat turns up. Sometimes all I can do is lie on my bed, try not to move, and wait for the fan to turn back on…Jedi mind tricks, by the way, have not yet proven to be a successful tactic no matter how serious my focus. In summary: it’s hot.

The heat of the day, however, has made me look forward to the slightly cooler evenings and their fantastic sunsets. I don’t know if it’s all in my head, but I swear that the sun in India looks so much more dramatic than back home – like this giant ball of fire rising and setting in the hills, commanding worship, dancing, or the offering of a sacrificial goat.

One of my favorite places to go in the evening is this great sitting rock that overlooks the valley. The view is nice, the atmosphere peaceful, and the rock has a slight groove that I can nestle my back into just perfectly. But the reason I love going here the most is because if you sit quietly, you can hear the whole of the valley heading home at the end of the day. Shepherd’s yelling “ey!” to their sheep to guide them along the path, women calling back and forth to each other as they collect firewood in the hills, tractors heading back to the village, cows mooing, and birds chirping – even in the dead heat of summer you can see and hear life all around you.

The other day I attempted to take a movie of one such evening from my perch above the valley floor, although I’m not sure I truly did it justice. Better left to the imagination, perhaps…

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City Fix

I just returned from a fantastic week of traveling through not one, but two, of urban India’s bustling metros… a much needed city fix for this village girl. As beautiful and peaceful as the valley is, lately my senses have been aching for a brush with humanity – to be pushed, pulled, twisted, and turned by the other 1 billion people that live here. I needed to feel like I wasn’t alone. I needed stimulation. I needed India.

So, off to Delhi I flew…another nostalgic return to the India I first met not so long ago. I met up with the other five public health fellows for a one-day conference we had planned and then spent the next few days wandering the streets, taking in the smells, and catching up with friends – new and old. I explored a few markets, attended a lecture, tried out the brand new metro, and enjoyed the simple feelings of familiarity of a place and connection to people….millions of them. It was exactly what I needed.

After a few days in Delhi, I headed to the far east state of West Bengal to get a taste of Calcutta – a city that’s been on “my list” for a while. In a word? Love. Complex, deep, painful, raw, mysterious love. I only had two full days to see the city so it was a whirlwind full of first impressions that left me eager to explore even more. The nooks and crannies, back allies, and hidden markets give the city this rich, “old world” feel my mind could totally get lost in in the best of ways – I’m hopeful for a return visit.

Beyond the food, the culture, and the excitement a city brings – the highlight of my week was simply being surrounded by people. All kinds of people. I spent hours engaged in wonderful conversations with friends talking it all out, laughing through it, solving the problems of the world…or at least identifying them. I got to see their India and the people that have shaped that experience. I met a guy who grew up under a bridge but now served coffee, an old Rajasthani man on the metro who wanted to know my philosophies on God, and a kid that fell asleep on my arm on the plane.

Back home, when I need to breathe, to realign, and to regroup – I seek space, solitude, “alone-time”…because that’s what we do. In India, I’m realizing that when I’m off-balance I find my center through interaction, through connection, and by feeling like I’m a part of a whole. Here, being shoved, pushed, and bumped into by millions of other people on the crowded streets of a city gives me that same feeling of sitting by a river back home in the woods, listening to the water ripple over the rocks, without a person in sight – the feeling of being a part of it all, of being not so alone.

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