A Sikh temple in Himachal Pradesh that I visited with my host family from Khaniyara village.

The family I stayed with in Khaniyara village visiting a Sikh temple in the state of Punjab.

One of the women from my women’s group frying chappatis for breakfast during my stay in Khaniyara village.

Picnicking with friends from upper Dharamsala.

My host mother cooking dinner on a picnic to a nearby town.

My homestay apartment in upper Dharamsala.

Saying goodbye to India…for now

The final two weeks of my trip were a whirlwind of activity as I tried to finish my research, do some last minute sight-seeing, and say goodbye to friends. As I had hoped, staying in upper Dharamsala made it much easier to work on my Departmental Honors research. I met some Tibetan women through my host mother and made other contacts on my own. I found myself running from one restaurant or caf to another and drinking six to seven cups of tea a day because that was the easiest way to initiate conversations without arranging formal interviews. On my second day in upper Dharamsala, I went on a picnic with my host mom and some of her friends to a nearby town. I expected it to be a low-key affair with some sandwiches and chips, but I definitely underestimated the event. We left home in the morning, loaded down with backpacks filled with cookware, meat, vegetables, bread, firewood, blankets, and thermoses of hot tea. When we chose a clearing for our picnic, we made a fire and then cooked and ate all day long. I felt like our short hike had taken us from India to Tibet, and the experience reminded me that the women who now live and cook in apartments in upper Dharamsala were raised as nomads and herders in the mountains of Tibet.

Some mornings during my week in upper Dharamsala, I woke up early to go to the temple with my host mom, after which she would buy warm Tibetan bread at a stand outside the temple, and we would sit in a nearby coffee shop to eat it and drink some tea. A couple days the weather was especially bad, and we stayed home instead, wrapping up in blankets and drinking hot water to compensate for the lack of central heating. Most of upper Dharamsala lost power on those days, transforming ordinary cafs into candlelit diners and making me reluctant to brave the weather to meet people. All in all, though, it was a very enjoyable and productive week. On Saturday, I spent the day with a young Tibetan woman who I met through a mutual friend earlier in the week. She took me to Dolma Ling Nunnery, where her cousin lives, and we ate lunch with some of the nuns there. After that, we went to see His Holiness the Karmapa, the highest lama of the Kagyu Buddhist sect. We brought white cloths used for blessings, and the Karmapa placed the cloths over our necks, along with a necklace made of red string. After seeing the Karmapa, we stayed in the monastery there for a short while to visit a monk who my friend knows from her village in Tibet.

Saturday evening, I re-immersed myself in Indian culture as I moved to Khaniyara village for my last week in India. When I arrived, it was dark and cold, so I sat by the fire stove to stay warm. The family made tea and cooked dinner, and shortly after we all went to bed. The next morning, we had hot tea in bed before going into the kitchen for breakfast. In the kitchen, we all sat on mats on the floor, surrounding a small gas burner for cooking and warmth. While the women were cutting up vegetables, I tried to roll out the dough for chapati, a staple Indian food that resembles a tortilla, but I wasn’t very efficient at the task. The women were busy with household chores all morning and most of the afternoon. They told me we were going to visit a Gurudwara, a holy place for people of the Sikh religion, later that day, and though I wasn’t sure exactly where it was, they said it was far.

In the late afternoon, we left Khaniyara in a taxi owned by one of the family members, and I learned then that we were going to Punjab, a state that borders Himachal Pradesh, where Dharamsala is located. The taxi had five seats, but we managed to fit ten people inside, along with some bags and blankets. Late that night, we reached our destination, which was a free hostel for pilgrims to the nearby Gurudwara. It was run by Nihang Singhs (similar to monks) who served us dinner and hot tea. We all slept in one open room on a row of mats on the floor. The next day, we walked to the Gurudwara, stayed for some time, and ate a late breakfast there. Like the Hindu temples I have visited in the past, the Gurudwara served food at no cost, and we sat to eat with many other visitors on the floor of a large room. After that, we drove back into Himachal Pradesh and stopped for a while at another Gurudwara there. We reached Khaniyara that evening, very tired from the trip.

I spent the rest of the week in the village, making one trip back to upper Dharamsala to tie up loose ends for my project and say some final goodbyes. I hope my goodbyes will be temporary, and I’m already trying to think of an excuse to visit again before too long. It amazes me how quickly strangers become friends here. I know I will miss the place and the people who have made me feel so at home on the other side of the world.

Me at Kangra Fort, a nearby landmark.