Travel Journal: India

By Mia Yeager

One of the favorite parts of the trip and my favorite part to talk about was our time in Dharamsala, a city tucked in the Kangra district in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.

After staying a night in Amritsar and seeing the Golden Temple and the border closing we all loaded into cars into what was the biggest test of my stomach. The four hour drive consisted of very sharp turns up mountains which could only be described by Haley as, “like a tilt a whirl.” We all were in awe of the beautiful scenery and a nearby monkey on the edge of a building when we arrived in a suburb near Dharamsala called McLeod Ganj. This is where both the Tibetan government in exile and His Holiness the Dalai Lama himself’s residence is located. We first took about an hour to do a scavenger hunt to get to know the town which consisted of asking for translations of English to Tibetan, buying postcards and stamps along and finding local stores. We then met inside the hotel where the chaperones would be staying at and welcomed one of our home stay members with cookies and cups of chai. Each of us was paired in twos, I was paired with Gracie and our home stay member we met was Chunni. Niasha and Caroline’s home stay was located right below ours and their amalah (mother in Tibetan) was working, so Chunni led us four through the dark and rain to the neighborhood.

When we arrived we met most of the family. Momo, who is 85, left Tibet with her family in 1959 and is the family’s paternal grandmother. Chunni is 26 and runs the house hold. Chunjo is 19 and is in her last year of school before she goes to university in India. Dayu is 10 and his favorite animal he said was “white mouse.” Cheunzum who is not pictured is a nurse that works the night shift at a local hospital. We also did not get to meet pallah (father) who is in the Tibetan military, because he was visiting a friend who was in the hospital in Delhi. We sat at dinner together enjoying De-Thuk (a traditional Tibetan soup) that Chunni made. Dayu got out an album showing us pictures of various past students they’ve had stay with them, military pictures of their pallah (father), him on and other pictures of their family. They insisted that we were tired and showed us our rooms, it happened to be New Years that night and I though about how I never would have guessed a year ago that this was how I would be spending my New Years.

We stayed in McLeod Ganj for two more days. One day we visited Buddhist Temple followed by listening to Ama Adhe, a well known elder of the town who helps incoming Tibetan immigrants get jobs and get adjusted to living in Dharmasala. She told us her story of her incarceration and escape from Tibet. The next day we visited the Tibetan Children’s Village that takes care of and educates orphaned Tibetan children in exile. We were able to see and meet the kids and color with them. Cheunzum, the boy I was coloring with was very fond of stickers and kept putting them all over my hands and arms. After a sad departure from the children, we hiked through the mountains, and we remained silent for most of the time passing through meditation areas. Through the hike, we accumulated a group of five stray dogs that just enjoyed our company and decided to come along with us. For the rest of the day we heard two speakers: one from Students for a Free Tibet and the other Lhasang Tsering.  Lhasang Tsering is a Poet/writer-activist who owns the local bookstore the Bookworm.  In his youth he gave up an opportunity to study medicine in the US, joined the armed Tibetan resistance force, who were then operating from Mustang, Nepal. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to learn more about the human rights and political situation in Tibet.

When we got home to our home stay that final night, Dayu had a friend over to finish their homework. Gracie and I were more than happy to help them with their English homework, a short composition with the prompt “My feelings.” Dayu wrote about how he was happy because his family takes care of him and that feeling is a funny word. He also wrote that he is sad when someone ‘fits’ him (which I changed to hits). After dinner we watched the Indian drama Momo likes, but she doesn’t speak Hindi so Chunni and Chunjo translated for her the entire time. This induced a lot of shouting from the drama that was happening in the show that Momo didn’t like. It was our last meal together because breakfast we were eating on the road with the group. Momo later handed us each a scroll and put Khatas around us. Khatas are a traditional ceremonial scarf that represent good luck and fortune. It’s hanging in my room around the scroll as a small memento of my stay in Dharamsala with what will always be my second family.

I learned the most about what matters in life, especially on a daily basis. I had to clutch my bag from Chunni all the way down a slippery hill because she insisted on taking my suitcase even though she was already carrying a flashlight and an umbrella for all of us to huddle over. In Jaipur we met a family that had been making Lac Bangles for seven generations. They welcomed us into their home and let us learn how to make them. They gave Lauren four for her birthday and each of us small jewelry boxes. While in Jaipur on a city walk these 12 year-old twins asked our tour guide if we would like to see their home to see the type of traditional limestone architecture he was talking about.  I’ll remember many things about India, but what sticks out to me the most was the kindness and generosity.

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The scroll and Khata in my room

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Dayu with the family dog Singh, both who are 10 years-old

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Our home stay family form left: Chunjo, myself, Dayu, Chunni, Gracie and Momo

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Cheunzum, very fond of stickers and putting them all over my arms and hands.