We had time to get away from Varanasi for a bit to do some independent travel. I decided to trek the Himalayas with three other girls on my program, and I truly could not have asked for a greater group of individuals!
We visited Kalimpong and Darjeeling in West Bengal and fell in love with the breath-taking views and the need for wearing sweaters and socks, especially because we have been sweating in the heat so much in Banaras.
The tea there really is as wonderful as I could have imagined. We did visit the tea plantation, but the factory itself wasn’t very busy and we didn’t see anyone on the fields. However, in Darjeeling, we were confronted with protesters demanding “Gorkhaland.” Prior to visiting, I had never known that this was something the people of Darjeeling area wanted. It was interesting to hear their arguments for having their own state, and noticing how different Darjeeling seemed from the rest of India, ethnically and culturally – the people that live there are primarily Buddhist and look more Eastern Asian than Indian. We asked many of the shopkeepers what they thought about it and many of them were in support of separation, but they didn’t think it could be done in their lifetime. From there we visited Sikkim, which is a restricted state of India and up until the 1970s was still its own kingdom. We visited the capital, Gangtok. To get to the downtown from our hotel one had to walk 3 kilometers uphill – it was exhausting! The next day, we drove up into the mountains to Lake Tsomgo, which is 12,500 feet high and the farthest north a foreigner can go. India has a very large military presence beyond there because it borders Tibet, China and Nepal.
It was incredibly beautiful, peaceful, covered in prayer flags, and we had the opportunity to shameless ride yaks around the lake. From there we ventured to Dzongu, a remote village full of the only surviving Lepchen people in the world. Dzongu is quite literally heaven on Earth.
We stayed with an incredibly hospitable woman who showed us her organic garden and greenhouse, and we walked through the fields. Along the way, we would stop and feed goats and pet the cats that were frolicking all over the place. You could essentially see all of the summits of the Himalayas in the backyard of our homestay. It was absolutely glorious!
Things here have been continuously wonderful since we got back from our trip! I’m in love with my Katak dance course. We’ve been preparing for our performance and I’m so excited. Learning the art of mehndi has been absolutely delightful, and my teacher Udita is such an inspiring person – she is so patient and kind.
It’s been fun doing yoga and learning all the asans. We have class at 8:00 A.M. and it truly does give you loads more energy for the day. Hindi has been difficult, and I am not nearly as proficient in it as much as I would have liked to be at this point, but I am able to confidently read Hindi script and I take that as a sign of success. For my ICRP I am doing research on standards of beauty for women living in Varanasi, and for my internship I am doing ink portraits of ten “didis” (women staff who work in the kitchen and maintain campus). It’s all been so interesting and I’m thrilled to continue my adventures in Varanasi!