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!

Coffee: let’s settle this once and for all.

I used to be pretty addicted to coffee.  We’re talking 20-25 cups each day.  Within the last few years I’ve been a lot better, only having 2 cups before hitting the gym every morning and maybe one more during the day every so often.  This week, I totally slipped back into old habits.  Not terribly, but yesterday I drank about seven cups, the day before I had four, and the beginning of the week was rough too.  I didn’t feel jittery or any extremely negative effects, but it did make me wonder about caffeine.  There have been so many studies done that seem to contradict each other, but here’s a roundup of what I’ve found so you can decide for yourself.  These are mostly about coffee, but in many cases are applicable to any naturally occurring caffeine.

  • Studies suggest that it reduces risks of certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, liver disease, gout, diabetes, some cancers, gallstones, and Parkinson’s.
  • It dulls pain (hence my pre-workout coffee chugging)
  • Improved endurance for long-term activities (again, a great pre-gym beverage!)
  • Boosts energy and productivity (but you do usually “crash.”  This Harvard study recommends drinking small amounts of coffee during the day to avoid this.)
  • Can reduce risk of heart attacks
  • Laxative- this can be good or bad, I suppose.  This is specific to coffee, not necessarily other caffeine sources.
  • Diuretic- some say that in moderation, it doesn’t dry you out but personally I think I still get a bit drier.  Also specific to coffee.
  • Dependency- caffeine is pretty addictive.
  • Stomach problems- coffee is very acidic so upset stomachs are not uncommon and can lead to damaging of the stomach’s lining
  • Jitters
  • Sleep patterns change- this is pretty easy to control, though.  Often not drinking coffee in the afternoon is all it takes.
  • High cholesterol- Coffee increases LDL levels.  Paper filters can help reduce this effect, but using more eco-friendly French Presses do not.
  • Lower risk of cardiovascular disease- perhaps the raised cholesterol effect is slight so this outweighs it?
  • Can slow cognitive effects of aging- similar to how it slows Alzheimer’s, perhaps?
  • Increased metabolism
  • High blood pressure
  • Frequent urination (yeah, this is unfortunate)
  • Can increase cortisol, though you can build a tolerance
  • Can reduce harmful effects of alcohol, according to this MSNBC article– does only mention the damage to the liver though, not any terrible decisions you might have made as a result of being inebriated (sorry)
Obviously, this isn’t a comprehensive list by any means and not all of what I read was particularly scholarly- if you have more information, please let me know!  I realise that relying on a substance is a terrible, terrible thing.  But the way I see it, as long as I don’t wake up craving a cup and as long as I’m not dozy and useless without it, it’s a pretty innocuous indulgence.  I really do notice a big difference when I drink some before hitting the gym, as well.  My stamina is far better and I also feel that I get a more efficient workout.  Once in awhile needing a cup mid-day isn’t great since it means I didn’t sleep well the night before, but as long as I know I can crash later it’s not a huge issue.  Its effects like higher cholesterol, cortisol, and blood pressure can all be counteracted by exercise and maintaining low stress levels, so as far as I’m concerned we are in the clear, fellow coffee-drinkers!

Vices

We all have one.  Or two.  Or seven.  But that’s what makes us human- if we all followed our diets religiously, never touched alcohol, avoided trashy TV, and always went to bed on time, we would be perfect.  And so ridiculously boring.

Generally speaking, I am a very healthy person and I don’t often even feel the need to indulge.  But once in awhile, something gives.  On my 21st birthday, I drank an entire bottle of champagne- before I even went out.  The thing is, what some people consider indulgences are things that many others engage in really frequently.  If you live a truly healthy lifestyle, occasionally drinking a ridiculous amount of alcohol or eating way too much sugar is not going to kill you (well, don’t get too ridiculous).  In fact if you restrain yourself for awhile, you will enjoy your “splurge” that much more.  And even better than that is what happens afterwards: the hangover.  Yes, I said better.

After I do something that I really wanted to do even though I knew it was a bad decision, I realise how much worse it actually made me feel.  Yes, I really enjoyed that bar of chocolate- but now I feel bloated and oily, and I remember why I don’t really eat them.  Or yeah, drinking way too much was fun at the time, but this morning my head is pounding and I am never doing it again.  Obviously it will happen again, but at least in the meantime at least I don’t feel like I’m missing out.

If you indulge every so often, you’re much less likely to go absolutely nuts- indulging in a bit of chocolate on a miserable monday will make you feel like you’re not depriving yourself and it will satisfy you for awhile.  Even if you splurge every week, hey- that’s six days of healthiness you have that you didn’t before.  If you go a year without eating chocolate and then walk into the grocery store the day after Valentine’s- well, I would not want to be between you and the candy aisle.

The moral of the story?  Embrace the fact that you’re human and you’re allowed to throw your body out of whack every once in awhile.  Don’t be irritatingly perfect because you will be secretly miserable, and one day you will crack.  If you’re healthy 95% of the time, don’t feel guilty for wanting to do something irresponsible, unhealthy, or just plain stupid.  You’ll bounce back!  But just in case, here are some tips for warding off cravings:

  • Exercise– even just a bit of a walk.  Endorphins are powerful!
  • Get outside- fresh air does wonders.
  • Have a glass of water- you might just be thirsty.  Our bodies often confuse hunger and thirst.
  • Have a conversation- connect with someone, or even just go on Facebook for a minute or two.
  •  Play a stupid online game- sometimes that feels like indulging, too.
  •  Substitute- if you want something sweet, go for fruit or yogurt.  Or have a handful of nuts instead of chips.
  • Do anything to distract yourself- check your email, organise your desk.
  • Wait ten minutes- most cravings pass in five.
  • Laugh- lots of cravings are emotional rather than physical.  You might just need a mood boost!
  • Just do it already- if you still want a bag of Skittles after going crazy trying to distract yourself, eat a fun-sized one.  If you had a rough couple of weeks and want to party all night, drink and be merry.  You’ll enjoy it, and then life will move on.