This is for my family, who are the only people who might care about what I do with my days. Feel free to click away immediately.
back in Delhi:
I’m living with an engineering student from Kerala, in the apartment connected to my friend’s classroom. Life here means working on the content and structure of the workshop from dawn to sleep. I cook dal and rice on the little gas burner in our kitchen, plus a kilo of potatoes that remind me of home. The Diwali festival means that fireworks crackle (or boom) in greatest intensity on the actual day, but happen every day, the numbers rise and fall depending on proximity to the official date. The city is full of their smoke, and decorated with flashy banners and many, many lights. Beautiful wrapped gifts are for sale, as well as special decorations and an overwhelming variety of sweets.
The 4 a.m. bell cracks me out of sleep and into the cool darkness to find my clothes. Ready but still mentally asleep, I flop back into bed until the prayer bell rings at 4:30 a.m.
Ashramites silently arrive through the dark, and settle onto the floor. With some cue that I miss, voices crinkle and strengthen into chants.
At 5 a.m., I collapse back into bed for thirty more minutes, and then make my way to the kitchen. Peeling and grating ginger gratefully, because it is easily explained and requires no interaction. I can stare blankly at the pieces shredding in my hands.
Breakfast is some porridge-like grain. Then sweeping — I cover my assigned section of the grounds with a broom fashioned from a bundle if wispy branches. Sweeping turns to gardening, pulling out stones and weeds, turning the soil in preparation for seeds. Chapatis, dal, rice, and vegetables for lunch, followed by rest and reading, as well as meeting with sisters to discuss ideas. More chanting that I do not understand but find peaceful. The rhythms of the evening match midday, and after the chanting has flowed into prayers at the shrine and the group is disintegrating into their respective rooms, I read the books the women have given me. By 9 p.m. at the absolute latest, I am sound asleep beneath my mosquito net, five alarms set to prevent my missing prayer in the morning.
first two weeks of October:
Have properly begun the more traditional travel movement. Half the time, I am inside some form of transportation, leaning out the window or reading. Otherwise, I am at an ashram or visiting a significant site. Simple hotels with bucket showers and peeling paint, washing my clothes by hand, and eating many a thali. Conversations happen daily with people who approach me, genuinely curious. Girls in the range of 10 to 13, especially.
until September 28th:
In Rishikesh, I linger, reading, in the stereotypical cafes found wherever hippie backpackers collect: low tables with cushions, other travelers slung back against the pillows and smoking, looking at the Ganges pouring by. I drink more mango juice than I should, in an attempt to recover from this hot and dusty town. The local foreigners seem lazier than the ones in McLeodganj. A little less direction and spirit, a little more willing to throw days into smoke. I’m trying to slip by unnoticed here, but I keep running into people I met up higher in the mountains.
In Amritsar, I lived barefoot and head-covered at the Golden Temple, eating with the pilgrims in the dining hall and sleeping on the floor of the dorm at night.
August 19th to September 16th:
For the last couple of weeks, I have been living in a room that is about four times the size of my previous one, with a kitchen space and a bathroom, for just a couple of dollars more. I have no idea what to do with all the extra space. It is definitely damp, though, with a mysterious leak that leaves a small puddle next to the door. I have an electrical hotplate largely comprised by a concrete cylinder, one pot, and an assortment of sporks. Over time, I have strung up prayer flags, added postcards with sayings from the Dalai Lama to the taped-up photos from home, and grown accustomed to the incessant drumming every night that filters down through the ceiling from the rooftop cafe. The electricity does not go off nearly as much in this building, a certain luxury, and most of my neighbors seem to be young long-termers as well.
In the mornings, I volunteer at a little place called Rogpa cafe, part of an effort to support Tibetan refugees here in McLeodganj. I mop, wash dishes, and attempt to make drinks and bake without creating an obnoxious amount of chaos. My boss (though she laughs and tells me not to call her that) is a short, young Tibetan woman who is very particular about order, and is cheerful. Once the morning rush is over, we bake. Everything is from scratch, even the brownies, which require the melting of chocolate and serious egg whipping. Sometimes we run out of ingredients, and I am sent out to fetch them. The money tucked into my apron pocket, I go to the market stalls to collect bananas or Tibetan bread (although somehow I have yet to choose the correct version of the bread, they are all so similar) — a confusing sight for the locals, probably.
My yoga class is in a gently crumbling, large room filled with natural light. Young people from various countries rest on faintly-shredded mats; the tall, lithe bearded teacher’s hands brush the ceiling when he reaches up during a pose. The class is two and a half hours long, and costs around two dollars.
The monsoon is almost over, but it still rains every day, from misty to downpour. Unfortunately still unable to find rain shoes, for some reason, so my feet are constantly soaked. The bottom six inches of my skirt are completely soaked right now. Yet, oddly, you get used to it.
McLeodganj is another name for Upper Dharamsala; the lower side is separated by a stretch of road. It is at about 3000 feet above sea level, and home to the Tibetan government in exile — which brings in an international focus. Hence, the mixture of languages adding to the Hindi and Tibetan. It truly is that small town of colorful buildings and prayer flags nestled into green mountains covered in mist.