Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter Wonderland

“I look morning to night; I am never done looking.” Mary Oliver

“Oh the places you will go…” Dr. Seuss

These past two months I have been exploring the nooks and crannies of my new home, the hills, deserts and coasts of India –the land of contrasts. This cannot be contained in a picture, a passing thought, or a summation of events, but instead in stories that are now woven into my heart through thick woolen threads…vibrant, sandy, subdued, tender, sweaty, frayed, gorgeous threads.

Chapter One: Christmas in the Hills

Nan and I moved into a new home over break. The house is tucked under the high school girls’ dorm under large expansive trees with branches that are dotted with monkeys. After a few buckets of paint, some new pillows and familiar faces hung on our wall, our spacious two-story began to feel like a place to dwell. (It’s now proven true as we are both sprawled on the floor next to our bukhari –wood stove, listening to folk music and writing beautiful words to our friends and family).

This cement structure became a home Christmas eve day…Kate, Nan and I began baking early in the morning. We alternated using bowls, ingredients, and cookie sheets to make all our favorites: Peanut Blossoms, Truffles, Sugar Cookies, and Mexican Wedding Cakes. Flour was sprinkled everywhere and left a trail to our porch when we took a lunch break outside. Facing the sun, we raised our juice glasses full of wine to toast friends and Christmas celebrations that were warmer than any that us Midwesterners have ever experienced!

Soon, lefse-making became the main attraction in our busy kitchen. Steve had lugged a backpack full of potatoes to make lefse that would last a lifetime, or just a day. After boiling and mashing, the rolling began. Soon, experts arrived who’ve been trained to make paper-thin lefse. Glued to the stove, Tammy and Steve rolled and flipped on two tawa pans (frying pans that are made specifically for making chipatis). Despite our constant taste-testing with cinnamon and sugar that melted into dripping butter, the pile of this Norwegian potato flatbread continued to get higher.

We sent the sweet smell soaring up, up and away to the rest of the hill-dwellers as an invitation to come and mingle among rosy-cheeked friends, melt-in-your mouth cookies, and mulled apple cider. The house was full of delicious conversation, cheery laughter and ridiculous banter between friends. When we left for a midnight service, I did not care about the red and green sprinkles dotting the floor, the powdered sugar that was caked on our dinning room table, or the red wax dripped on our mantle. The windows were foggy and the fire was still glowing as we left to celebrate Immanuel, God with us.

Before Christmas a group of us went on many day hikes around our neck of the further explore the hills! This shot is taken on the way to Sulfur Springs with prayer flags as the backdrop.

Lovely ladies in our Christmas saris for the staff banquet (Me, Nicole, Kate). At this event, I braved a unique opportunity to play my tuba in a sari for a little "tuba Christmas" fun!!

The snow-capped Himalyas were a breath-taking scene on crisp evenings.

All you need is a sack of potatoes, one ring-leader, and a rotating group of rollers...this is lefse making India style!! (Steve, Nan, Me).

Many hooligans that were still wandering the hills came to Nan and my place for a bit of Christmas cheer :) Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house all the creatures were stirring...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

walking makes the world bigger

this semester has been pressing forward at a quick pace. papers are piling, leaves are falling, activities are announced every minute, and monsoon has ceased. much has changed in this place since i first rode the bus on a winding path up the hill. i am glad for the changes: for the crispness of air and cool breezes, for red leaves shaped like tear-drops that have fallen to the ground and are now spotted with holes, and for the advent of trekking in the Himalayas. monsoon has left the land changed, and i am changed with it.

i began my trek to Pindari Glacier about a week ago with eighteen eleventh graders and four adults. we boarded the sleeper train in the evening with our plump backpacks and hiking boots already on. the compartments had just enough wiggle room for all our belongings to be stuffed under the vinyl cots that hung in a stack of three like bunk-beds. i claimed the middle bed, snuggled into my fleece-lined wool hat and closed my eyes, wishing i could put a lid on the ammonia stench from the nearby bathroom as easily as i let my heavy eyelids shut out the flickering lights.

in the morning i awoke, partially rested, chilly, and groggy. we made it to our first destination...only to get in jeeps and go for another day of travel to our first campsite. being smooshed while traveling goes without saying in India, so it came as no surprise that seven of us would fit into a jeep with all of our gear. this was fine, as long as i could grab a few moments of shut-eye, but every time my driver saw me nod off, he tapped my hand and said with irritation: "no sleeping". i was a bit peeved as i looked around the rest of the jeep and saw everyone else drooling with closed eyes. since my hindi only reaches the basics in social interactions, i didn't know how to respond, except to blink regularly and keep my eyes open!

eight hours later, we were stuck on the gravel road that ascended to our stopping point for the night. instead of trying to push the stubborn mule of a jeep, we got out there and walked the rest of the way to our campsite. little did we know, this was just the beginning of a steady incline that would be on our hiking horizon. with a headache and itchy eyes, i climbed the hill and collapsed on flat ground. Loharkhet, home for the first night!

for the next six days we would be trekking through the Himalayas with hopes of greeting Pindari Glacier before we turned around to come home. Pindari Glacier is in the Kumaon region of the Himalayas and just southeast of Nanda Devi, the highest peak in India. we faced a 90km roundtrip journey to the glacier and back. the way was straight up from Loharkhet, but well worth the climb for the view of the snow-capped mountains.

we trekked further and further into the valley stopping at villages for rest in the evenings and fantastic food cooked by our traveling man named Friday. my favorite camping spot was the second night in Dhakuri, with a magnificent view and a sunset to cap of the evening. bundled in warm clothes we rested our tired toes and listened to the jingling of bells all night long. our mules found our camping ground to be the perfect pasture and grazed under the moon serenading us with their locator bells (it was "serenading" until two in the morning, when it was more like "torturing" a tired traveler, keeping us just out of reach of deep sleep!).

the next day we woke to golden sunshine and blue skies as we prepared for our longest day of 19km to the next village of Dwali. thankfully, this day was less straight up and more up, up, up, and down...repeatedly. the sound of a rushing glacier river accompanied us this day after we passed the first village. the water was turquoise liquid crystal rolling over rocks of khaki sandpaper. i tripped many times because i was so caught up in its beauty.

the second nights' rest was even more welcomed than the first. after crossing the river over a rickety wooden bridge, we climbed our final ascent to what seemed like our own private fortress. we camped six inches from cliff all around on just enough flat ground to give us ease of mind that we wouldn't roll off while we were sleeping. the mountains were hugging us as we stuffed ourselves in more layers and mummy bags.

this was the day we had all been waiting for...a steady, but not steep uphill trek to our last campsite before the glacier. the promised-land was before us, with waterfalls flowing like milk and snowy streams melting down the hillside like honey. we eagerly climbed, and stopped more frequently because the altitude and the views took our breath away. fall was in full season in the first third of the climb, slippery leaves tumbled below our feet. wild raspberries were still hanging on as the tall trees shrunk to short shrubs in the second third. the land grew barren and the mountains enveloped us as we finished the final leg of our day.

above the tree-line, we curved around bend after bend after bend, until at last, we reached our final campsite, the most welcoming of them all, nestled below beaming white mountains that caused our hearts to bow at the sight of their greatness. with chapped lips, wind-burned cheeks, and tingly fingers, we cheered for each group as they arrived and sipped hot chai. we made it to Pindari!

of all the highlights that this place held, Babaji, a holy-man that has chosen to live at the base of the glacier during most of the year, was at the top of the list. his glowing smile, bobbling personality, and floppy side-bun greeted us that evening. after he performed pooja, we sat in a cramped room, huddling for warmth, seeking his wisdom. he had much to say that i shall share another time, it would be too contrite to only mention his words briefly. warmed by his presence, we ran down the pasture tripping over frozen mule poop, with the moon as our flashlight, to our frigid tents. this was the only night when i was truly COLD!

chai greeted us in our tents the next morning, and spilled on our sleeping mats. it was Kate's birthday morning...what a day to reach the foot of the glacier! we were blinded by whiteness all around! the sun was hidden at first, but then poured forth silver light, sending rays of warmth to our chilled bodies. our final hike was short, but slow because it took so long for our lungs to fill. finally, there it was...Pindari Glacier hung between the ridge we stood on and the towering mountains above. it looked like brittle marshmallows stacked one on top of the other, reflecting the blue sky as it silently melted hidden to our naked eye. we squinted as Kutty told us about glaciers, the peaks, the flowing streams below and the heights that we had reached. with much exhilaration, we baked in the sunshine in silence, then, shed our thermal layers as we made the long journey home.

that is where i sit now. i have been back for a few days and continue to revel in the sights that my eyes have beheld. there is too much left out of what has been penned, but so it goes. life spins on here. we are in the final stretch at school, only three weeks left of classes and then finals begin. winter break is just a step away. and heart and my mind are still walking the long path next to the winding river, through colorful villages, by the nearness of the snow-capped mountains. i cannot remember his name, but i remember his written words: "walking makes the world bigger." there is much that has changed since i've been here and walking has made all the difference.

quarter break in rishikesh

though i have been back for over a month now, just wanted to post a few pictures of my ridiculously relaxing rishikesh adventures! together with students and staff, we spent a long weekend at a tented beach camp on the holy ganga river. our days were full of white-water rafting, repelling, rock-climbing, day hikes and mountain biking. our afternoons and evenings were full of swimming, lounging, napping, reading, volleyball, soaking up sunshine and sitting around a campfire. we were pampered like royalty and ate delicious meals on the white-sand beaches as we laughed, told stories and watched the moon rise. it's a rough life!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009


there is a beautiful storm rumbling outside right now. the night is black with flickers of lightning. the breeze is pushing a white curtain just above my computer in a gentle sway like a mother calming her child. i can hear doors shutting and girls chattering outside their rooms as they sneak through the halls in their flip flops during study hall. the rain is gathering in the gutters, on the flat land outside, and on tile floors in our dormitory. the puddles remind me of abundance, of refreshment and being utterly drenched.

monsoon truly demands our full attention in mussoorie. while i hear this year has much less rainfall than seasons past, we have still seen patches of gray days with piles of rain pooling into ponds and rushing down hillsides. on one such grey day, i was strolling into town with friends for dinner at the tavern. after two fat drops fell on my nose and shoulder, the skies opened up. i felt like an ant under a faucet. we scurried inside to buy a much needed "woodstock umbrella", which comes in all colors and has a curved diameter as wide as the streets of the bazaar! after this, we all fell into line and sloshed down the slopes spinning our colorful waterproof tops. i decided not to look down as much as possible in order to avoid the questions...what happened to all the monkey and donkey dung? why is the water that is washing my chacos the color of butterscotch pudding?

as i was distracting myself from these questions and the constant foot-bath, two young indian women hopped under my umbrella, and clung onto my elbows. suddenly, they stopped squealing in hindi and started talking in brief english, asking where i was from and what i was doing in mussoorie. i soon learned that apart from needing an umbrella to make it dry to their next destination in the bazaar, they wanted to talk to all the tourists from the states. our conversation ended with more squealing in hindi and batting their eyes at the blondest male in our group who was behind me. we made it only partially drenched to our destination and enjoyed the shelter from the rain, good food and good company.

more than wetness, brown water, and giggling interactions, monsoon has brought refreshment to the land, green ferns that cover the entire hillside and glimpses of divine beauty in creation. i sat on the top of a hill the other day and beheld the view: layers of greens and blues and purples in shades that outnumbered my imagination. i gazed at the green ferns that sprout on the path, on the trunks and limbs of trees, and curl around the wild orchids. in the distance, the clouds towered above the foothills and created the facade of never-ending mountains ascending above. right in front of my face, the clouds drifted like thin layers of gauze and hung in the sky like white cotton candy that had just been spun in the valley.

i drifted there as well, the weight of my body and mind as light as the clouds. i lingered there, the sights of my soul as full as my view. i drank deeply like the land in monsoon that is refreshed by the rains. God's presence pours out in all creation and "my cup overflows."

Thursday, August 27, 2009