Travelling

I have always loved travelling.  Recently, however, my wanderlust has been particularly strong.  Since 2009, my international travels have included the Bahamas, India twice (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Dharamsala, and Bir), Scotland (Edinburgh, Loch Lomond), the Netherlands, Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona),  Italy, France, England (London, Rye, Kent, Wadhurst), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and the Dominican Republic.  In less than 2 weeks I graduate, and two days afterwards I will be off again- starting in London and then most likely heading to Greece (Mykonos or Kos), Morocco (Fez), and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Whew.  Considering I’ve done all that while being a full-time student and also holding jobs, that’s not too shabby.

Edinburgh

Climbing the mountain by Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Most people want to travel, I don’t think I’m any different in that respect.  The difference is that with me it’s a borderline compulsion.  I find a way to do it even if it means not buying groceries or textbooks or selling half my possessions on Ebay.

Why?  Good question.  I have had many conversations with many people about why I have a constant need to travel.  I think a large part of it is that I feel as though I am a citizen of the world, not any one place.  I don’t necessarily identify with any one culture, though there are some that I prefer to immerse myself in over others.  I love to see how humans in different locations have built unique societies and have such diverse ways of life- I find it astonishing that one species can develop such different cultures based on their geographic locations.  I also love seeing the natural world and all it has to offer.

Is there a deeper reason for my waywardness?  Some say I’m running from something, others think I’m chasing it.  I honestly don’t know.  I’ve always wanted to travel and the only thing holding me back was lack of means.  My mum will tell you that as soon as I got a job and had a car, I was never home.  I don’t often feel a pull to any specific place, it’s more that I’m constantly fighting some sort of force that’s trying to pick me up and bring me somewhere, anywhere.

Regardless of whether or not I’m fleeing or chasing, I still find travelling extremely neccessary.  I think it’s important to be aware of other cultures, other people’s perceptions of the world, and just the phenomenal gift that is life.  Think about it, though: self-awareness.  What a concept.  We are all a part of something greater, there is some sort of force that holds us here.  Self-awareness isn’t just awareness of your own being, but also everyone else’s and how we’re all intertwined.  There’s a sense of unity that I find when I’m outside of my comfort zone, whether it’s sitting in an airport for 15 hours watching all the people in transit or whether it’s walking ancient ruins that were build thousands of years ago by humans just like us.  It makes me realise that deep down, we are all struggling with the same human issues and enjoying the same human pleasures- some things transcend culture and geography.

So maybe I am running from something.  Maybe I am chasing something that I’ll never find.  Regardless, I’m enjoying the trip!

Bir

More about India!  This is a followup to my first post about Dharamsala.  Less Hangover-esque shenanigans, more monks and motorcycles.

After I woke up for the second time on New Year’s Day, I asked the coordinator exactly what was in store for me.  It was like a terrible rendition of “Who’s On First.”

Me (groggily): “So, where am I volunteering today?”

Him: “Beer.”

Me: “Oh god, no more beer.”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “No, we drank beer last night…shouldn’t I be in orientation or something?”

Him (insistently): “No, beer!”

Me: “…”

Him: “We are going to beer.”

Me: “Wait…spell that?”

Him: “B-I-R.”

Me:  “Bir….is it a place?”

Him: “Yes, we will leave in one hour!”

The view from the home I stayed in

So, we piled into a taxi with one other girl who had just arrived from the US and four volunteers who had been visiting Dharamsala for the weekend and began our trip through the gorgeous Kangra valley.  It was about 2.5 hours of winding mountains and valleys with fields of rice and tea and small towns every so often.  We took the first day to recover from all of the travelling and get oriented with the small town.  Bir is a Tibetan colony so although it is in India, most of the locals are Tibetan.  Their primary language is Tibetan (much to the dismay of two girls who had been learning Hindi) and their culture is a bit more westernized than most of India.  The Tibetans are mostly businessmen that own shops in the center of town and the Indians tend to do the labor, such as building and making clay.  They seem to coexist very well, but there’s a very clear divide between the cultures that I found somewhat unnerving.

Nyingma

Nyingma

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

On the second day, we began to teach the monks.  We taught at two monasteries, Nyingma and Chok ling.  We had been told that we would be assisting teachers who were already following programs, but in reality we were introduced to about 20 incredibly polite but slightly confused boys between the ages of 6 and 17.  Many of the boys at Nyingma already spoke decent English, so it was very challenging to find new things to teach them.  I taught the more advanced group- by the end of my time there, they were beginning to understand how to arrange sentences into a cohesive story.

Tea Garden

Tea Garden

Bir is a very small town, so you see the same people every day.  I continuously ran into the same guys that I had spent New Years’ with, and nearly every night we went out driving, drinking, and dancing.  It’s funny because in the US, when someone asks you out for a drink you usually go to a bar.  In Bir, you literally go out for a drink- you go buy a bottle of something and sit on a mountain and drink.  I much prefer this, to be perfectly honest.  Sometimes we ordered food from a nearby Indian restaurant and they brought it out to us while we danced under the stars with music pumping from a car.  It was a bit chilly, so sometimes a bonfire was involved as well.  Sometimes the other volunteers and I would go for tea at the tea garden down the road.  It was beautiful- I can only imagine what it would be like in the summer.

Chok Ling

Chok Ling

One experience that I particularly enjoyed was going to morning prayer.  We went to our two monasteries as well as another one, also called Chok Ling.  The monks were very accommodating- they rolled out mats for us and brought us tea while we sat and listened to their chants.  It was wonderfully meditative, and they used some really interesting instruments.

 

Sunset in Bir

Sunset

Another thing I learned to love (in about four seconds) was motorcycles.  Drunk me had made particularly good friends with a local named Jigme on my first evening and he had promised me a ride.  Sober me did not remember this, but Jigme did and after my first day of volunteering he was waiting to whisk me off through the jungle.  We went for rides every day, sometimes to temples and sometimes just up in the mountains to watch the stunning sunsets.  In the evenings, we went to Chauntra, the next town over, where some of the other guys I had met my first evening lived.  They taught me to play a popular game called Shok, which is similar to Parcheesi but played with shells and coins and no board.  We unintentionally adopted the most adorable puppy, who accompanied us on our late-night dance parties in the mountains.

It’s strange how a culture so different from ours still has so many similarities- going out for dinner and drinking liquor in fields is also a favorite pastime in the small town that I grew up with.  We also like to hang around and play games at people’s houses, or just pile into cars and drive somewhere.  I think the main difference is how people treat each other.  Everyone in Bir was always friendly to everyone else, especially to travellers.  I don’t think new people would be welcomed nearly as quickly back home.  The Tibetans are also extremely lackadaisical about their business- one day I needed photocopies, and the machine at the shop I usually went to was broken.  Rather than just tell me so, the shopkeeper walked me down the street to his competitor and had him make me the copies.  Something like this would never happen in the US- but it’s like the idea of competition just doesn’t exist.  In any town there are always at least four stores selling the exact same things, but nobody tries to undercut each other or take business.  There’s just a really strong sense of community, which I really loved.

More photos from Bir

Tashi Delek

When I was in Bir, I learned a common greeting: “Tashi Delek.”  It does not translate to “hello” or “good day-”  it means “good luck.”  I think that wishing “good luck” to someone is a wonderful way of saying hello, but it did make me think about the concept of “luck.”

Someone once told me that I have great luck.  I thought about it, and it seemed true enough.  However, I also have had absolutely terrible luck.  This sort of begs the question- what is luck?  It’s perception.  There are people who have had more incredible things happen to them than I have, but there are also people who have had more terrible things happen to them than I have.  If I were to tally it up, I’d say I come out nearly exactly in the middle- and yet I consider myself one of the luckiest people on the planet.

A major factor of how “lucky” you are is your perception.  If you are optimistic, you will automatically be more lucky simply because you focus on the positive.  If you are pessimistic, you will remember the negative and naturally feel much less lucky.  Luck is sort of a logical impossibility really, because there is no real reason why one person should attract any more positive events than another.  A far better alternative to “luck” is the idea of karma.  If you don’t believe in the power of positive thinking or buy the idea that good actions done bring good results, that’s fine- the science there is pretty shady too.  But if you ask me, anything that gets people to do good or think positively is a good thing.

It’s too easy to blame things on “bad luck.”  It’s a way of escaping responsibility.  Sure, sometimes things really just don’t go your way- that’s life.  But you can always control your perception of it.  Though it’s extremely unlikely that thinking positively will cause you to randomly find a fifty-dollar bill on the street, at the very least it will cause you to feel better about little things that happen to you.  Thinking good thoughts can cause small occurrences like running into an old friend seem exponentially better, and can also make bad things seem much less tragic.

Whether you believe in luck, karma, the flying spaghetti monster, whatever- you can make luck just by altering your perception of the smallest things.   People I regularly converse with always think I have the most amazing life- and that’s true, but only because I perceive it that way.  You can too!

Tashi Delek, friends =)

New Year’s in Dharamsala

It’s Friday and to be honest, I am exhausted from preparing for my impending recital and dealing with more responsibilities at work.  Today I am going to write a little bit about something fun and exciting: my trip to India!  I figure it’s about time since I’ve been back in the US for a month now.

This is the plane that took me from Delhi to Dharamsala. Cute, right?

So after about two days of travelling, I arrived in New Delhi.  Immigration gave me a really difficult time (probably because I look like a hobo) so I didn’t get through until about 3.30 AM.  The car to take me to my hotel was long gone, so I camped out in the airport for about eight hours (nothing compared to my fifteen hours in Lisbon last summer) until my flight to Dharamsala.  While I was in the airport, several people came and struck up conversations with me with very polite English- one lady even plopped her (adorable) toddler in my lap while she went off to the ladies’ room without even saying a word.  On the plane to Kangra, I sat next to a monk who was one of the Dalai Lama’s closest followers.  Definitely a great start to my adventure!

 

Those cars are about four inches from the side of a cliff with no guardrail. Everyone folds in their side mirrors and squeezes by with about 2 cm of space.Not kidding.

I arrived in the tiny Kangra airport in Dharamsala (one plane lands at a time and there are no gates- you just walk on the runway) and saw a cab driver who spoke no English, but he had a paper with my name on it so I figured it was as good an idea as any to just let him take me wherever I was supposed to be- at this point, it was still not clear where my volunteering position was.  So I hopped in his cab and braced myself for a ridiculous ride- not only are roads in India rarely maintained, but the idea of staying in one lane is fairly foreign to them.

So after about half an hour in the taxi, I got out and blindly followed some very friendly people into a house (dodging monkeys, water being splashed from balconies, and a cow on the way).  I had no clue where I was and there was no one who knew what to do with me, so I figured taking a nap was as good an idea as any, since I hadn’t had any sleep in three days other than a bit of wine-induced dozing on the flight over.

Spinning Tibetan prayer wheels in the Dalai Lama's monastery

 

I woke up to a well-dressed Tibetan man coming into the room- finally, someone who knew what was going on!  He walked me around Dharamsala- he took me to the Dalai Lama’s monastery and out for a traditional Tibetan dinner.  He asked what I wanted to do in the evening- I was still exhausted, but I figured I’d be damned if I went to bed early on New Year’s and told him I would absolutely be going out.

New Year's in town- just like Times Square, right?

So, I slept for about an hour before we went out again.  We sat in a tea-house for awhile, and when we left it was getting late.  The streets were mobbed, but only with men- women don’t really go out in the evenings in small towns like this.  Some other girls who had already been volunteering later told me that they had to go home long before midnight because the men were just too raucous.  Luckily, the coordinator had a few of his friends visiting, and I wasn’t bothered much since I was surrounded by them.  We went to a restaurant and drank lots of Kingfisher and listened to drunk guys singing folk songs, then we walked around town and met up with his friends.  Around midnight, we went to the roof of the restaurant and counted down, kissing everyone when the clock struck- apparently, some traditions are the same in many different cultures.  To be honest, the rest of the evening is a bit hazy from the combination of alcohol twice as strong as I expected, very high altitude, and sleep deprivation- but I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to go!

View from the house that I stayed in my first night

…That’s a lie.  I woke up with a splitting headache wearing jeans that were drenched (apparently we went to a lake), with a (fully clothed, don’t worry) new friend in my bed who seemed to think we were married, and having entirely forgotten where I was.  So I ate some curry, brushed my teeth, went back to sleep, and woke up an hour later- THEN I was refreshed and ready to go.

Construction on the main street

We left for Bir, the Tibetan settlement where I ended up spending most of my time, later that day.  The rest of the trip was (for the most part) much more of a spiritual life-changing experience than this first rather wild and irresponsible evening that I will write about later.

Was this part of my adventure entirely irresponsible, wild, and potentially dangerous?  Yes.  Yes it was.  But you’re only young once, and sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind!

For lots more photos of Dharamsala, check out my facebook photo album!