Our Tibetan Buddhist meditation retreat was incredible. Every day included hours of teaching, guided meditation, tea drinking, book reading, and reflection on life. One of the best parts was the discussion groups, which was the only hour we were allowed to talk during the day. Inside these groups were people from all over the globe, and sitting down and discussing life philosophy with them was a pleasure. The teachings were mind-blowing and the guided meditation stilled the mind beyond what I thought was possible. The retreat was the highlight of the trip so far for me.
Our hike to Khareri lake was one for the books, to say the least. This hike was by far the most ruthless day the team had experienced in India. Khareri lake is located in the mountains above Dharamsala in the deep thick forests of northern India. This lake is a 1,100 meter climb to its position and it’s quite a mission to accomplish, for the weather changes up and down the mountain. It’s truly a beautiful experience, but tasking, and the unestablished nature of some of the walk ways lead you to staying aware of each step you take. This day was a challenge, but rewarding, and the team tackled the day and made for a solid achievement to conclude our stay in Dharamsala. It was an incredible hike in all its glory, and the nature was the best part, and that is why Khareri lake is one for the books.
I wasn’t really sure how I would feel going into the Mcleod Ganj (Dharamsala) home stay. It would be the only home stay where I would be staying by myself, and I was a little nervous that I could only rely on myself to communicate and have an enjoyable time with the family. As it turns out, I should not have bothered to be worried about my home stay experience and the family. The family, consisting of my home stay mother, or Amala, her daughter named Kunsang, and Kunsang’s cousin, proved to be extremely kind and hospitable. They truly welcomed me into their family, and we spent much of the days together. We would wake up, eat breakfast, and walk into town together at the beginning of each day, and walk back home, eat dinner, and fall asleep together at the end of the day. I would also make random and unannounced visits to their roadside jewelry shop throughout the day, just to see how they were doing. Kunsang, who spoke excellent English, proved to be a joy to spend time with, due to her bubbly and playful personality, and we quickly bonded and became fast friends. My Amala was an extremely kind person and an incredible cook, whipping up fantastic meals for both breakfast and dinner. She also noticed that I had a cold early on into the home stay and quickly provided me with seeds (endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself) to help me get rid of the cold. Overall, my home stay experience was incredible, and perhaps my favorite home stay experience so far. It showed me why home stay experiences are so important, and proved that totally different people can form an incredibly strong bond in such a short period of time.
The last week has been the highlight of my time in India all because of my Tibetan home stay in Mcleod Ganj. I stayed with a sweet woman named Chimi and her wild yet lovely little girl, Tseyoung. The two are currently living with Chimi’s younger sister and her husband. The family all grew up in Bhutan, but Tibetans do not have nearly as many opportunities there as they do in India, so Chimi decided it was best to send Tseyoung to live with her sister in Mcleod Ganj, to receive the best education possible. Chimi later joined her daughter here after a few years, hoping to find better employment and to be with Tseyoung. The grandmother also staying in Mcleod Ganj with us because Chimi’s younger sister was pregnant and she came to help during delivery time.
Each day I would spend most of my time with little Tseyoung, whether it be dancing and singing, her styling my hair, watching cartoons, brushing our teeth together, or making up silly games. She was a big ball of energy tucked inside a tiny little body, never failing to make me smile.
At dinner time around 8:30, the whole family sat together on the floor to enjoy the delicious home-cooked meals. We had traditional Tibetan food, Bhutanese food, and of course some Indian food—all of which were something new to rave about each night. I always enjoyed sitting down with everyone after a long day and having time to learn all about the family and their lives in exile. The grandmother was born along the way to India as her parents fled from Tibet. The younger sister works in a Tibetan school and dedicates much time to helping her people. Her husband is in the Tibetan army. My host mom is raising her daughter in the customary Tibetan manner, keeping the traditions alive. I have learned so much about Tibetan culture and how they make due in exile. It has been such an enlightening experience and has left me with a better understanding of Tibet and its people, sparking a light in many of us to join the fight for the freedom of their homeland. This home stay will remain in my heart and mind forever.
Bonus: On my final day, the younger sister went into labor and I have just found out she had a baby boy—just the icing on top of the perfect week!
My home stay experience in McLeod Ganj left a huge impression on me. It was one thing to hear the stories of the Tibetan people, but to live in a home where you can see the day to day impact of their situation was something else. They completely welcomed me with open arms and made me apart of their family for the week. I helped with breakfast and got to walk my home stay sister to school each morning. But more importantly I got to hear all their stories. My home stay mother had just returned from a 14 day peace march the day before I arrived and spoke very passionately about her hope to see the 11th Panchen Lama one day. Every family member was very involved for the fight for a free Tibet. I feel very honored to have heard their stories and am now leaving India with the responsibility to spread their message.