Posted on March 16th, 2009
We were welcomed to the Himalayas, yet another one of India’s myriad regions and climates, by a thrown bucket of blue dye. Covered by this hooliganism that had somehow stolen through the cracked window of our car, thoughts of Delhi and Rajasthan, Kolkata and Kerala, were wiped from our minds, replaced by the snow-covered mountains that we enjoyed while our vehicle was given a preliminary hose-off.
The day, March 11th, was Holi (pronounced: holy). We had seen signs of the festival of colors before-pink powder on the ground, strange stains on the backs of kiosk patrons-but as we arrived in Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama, the holiday was in full force. This meant that roving groups of young men (perhaps intoxicated on some substance, perhaps merely happy) would throw bright powder at any who strayed too near.
Despite not knowing the actual religious significance of the Holi-Day, many of the guys in the group took to the streets (roving bands of “merry” young Indian men are one of the more disconcerting things we run into; they show an obnoxious and crude interest in Western women). For a short period of time, the only colored people that we saw were Western (another disconcerting element of India; how much of what we see is Indian, and how much is a show put on to verify the Western idea of what India is… we have no way of knowing), but we quickly found Indians willing to paint us various greens, blues, reds and yellows.
Feeling festive, we embarked on a short hike to a waterfall one town over. Strangely, the water seeped into the group as if it were a drain, disappearing. On our way back, several more groups added dye to our faces, making some of us look truly frightening.
It was a good day…
Early Thursday afternoon we arrived in the city of Dharamsala, which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas and also happens to be the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Since the Chinese invasion and subsequent takeover of Tibet in the mid-20th century, Dharamsala has served as home to countless Tibetan refugees. This city has proven to be infused with more Tibetan culture and cuisine than anything else, which is a nice change after over two months of eating almost all Indian food.
Yesterday our group took a pretty grueling trek up one of the nearby Himalayan mountains. It took us several hours of scrambling over rocks and using muscles in our legs that many of us did not know existed to finally reach the peak around lunchtime. Although many of us seriously considered turning back at various points along the way, the moment we crossed the last ridge and beheld a range of snow-capped peaks before us, we knew the hike was worth the effort. I truly cannot comprehend how thousands of Tibetan refugees have survived trekking through the Himalayas for months at a time in order to reach safety in India. I thought I might keel over and die after only a day of hiking, especially because I am not accustomed to the high altitude here (Altitude sickness is fun, by the way). After a small taste of trekking through the Himalayas, I feel as if I can more fully appreciate and admire the strength and persistence of the refugees who reside here in Dharamsala.