1. The buffaloes bathe more than the people do
No, I don’t bathe everyday. And I am proud of it. You are lucky if you see me pouring a bucket over my head once every week. This would horrify most of my friends and family and most of the AIF team, but I very quickly realized once I moved to APV that bathing daily is unnecessary and a phenomenon that we don’t really question in the West. As is having to wear different clothes every single day. Again, you are lucky if you see me change my salwar kameez once a week. At APV, the real work is the inner cleansing, rather than maintaining the mask of outer appearances. However, I am keen to see how an interview would go in the West in ripped clothes filled with the scent of the Himalayas, unshampooed hair seeping in their natural oils, and the free attitude of a girl who is happy to be her Junglee self.
2. Traditional Drumming and Trance Dances
Any gathering of Garhwali villagers that involves the hypnotic drone of traditional drums will result in the following: A woman screaming, her eyes rolling upwards, unleashing her long braid into a wild mane, and the whirling dervish of a trance dance in which the devata (diety) enters her body. In the time of the main festivals such as Navaratri, you can witness 30-40 women dancing freer than any Westerner would ever dare, with an abandon that signifies a release from all social norms into the realm of the paranormal. Being a dancer myself and seeing this primal form of freedom of expression without care for social norms is a high in itself.
3. Goats that prefer human transportation
Yeah. They ride on motorbikes. They frequent buses. And they sit with you in the backseat. I have to say, they make better companions than most humans do, and in the winter you get the added plus of a warm heater by your shins on a frigidly cold bus.
I have come to love all of the creatures that frequent my life here in Garhwal, whether it is spiders as large as a baseball resting near me as I sleep or leopards with their guttural roars outside our kitchen. Being around nature in every aspect of my life has taught me to let go of my fears and live in accord with nature rather than in hierarchy with it.
4. An altered sense of time
I never know what day it is. Sometimes I forget the month. I live in a realm of seasons, moon cycles and the shifting of the sun as it rises and sets. Living in a rural agriculture setting puts me in touch with time that is in tune with something that feels more eternal. When you are surrounded by the Himalayas and dense jungles, time seems a distant memory. It has been a lot of fun for me to go back and forth between busy Delhi life and the deeper, slower metronome of giant mountain-scapes. The ancient mystics say time is an illusion. And being here, it’s easy to agree with them.
I always say Yes to giant blocks of Gur (cane sugar) combined with hand pounded rice flour, slowly cooked in a giant drum over a brilliant flame burning through freshly chopped wood. Arsa is a traditional favorite here in Garhwal and my God am I going to miss it’s earthy rich flavours.
Every wedding you go to in Garhwal, there is the mendhi night, the coming of the Bharaat, and one night specially dedicated to the making of this sweet heavenly donut. The women gather together to pound the rice with giant pestles larger than their frames into dents created in the earth. When it gets dark, the men sit by the flame as the bubbling pot of arsa is stirred for hours into the night….
6. Life as an inside outsider
Suffice to say that I tower over most Garhwalis. It’s pretty obvious that I am not from around here, but after 10 months of total immersion, it gives me great pleasure to announce that many villagers don’t realize that I am not from Garhwal, and are shocked when I tell them I am from America. When I first came to Garhwal, I was the videshi; then slowly I changed my story to say that I was from Himanchal (where my family is from and where I spent the first few years of my life). Now, it doesn’t really matter. I find all these labels utterly exhausting and separative. In my heart, I feel like a true pahari and a fully integrated member of the family I call APV. At APV the children sing a song call Pangea, written by Anand Dwivedi: “We are all one people, we are one humanity. The whole earth is one, we are one Pangea.”
7. Epic Storms
The weather changes as much as my moods here in Garhwal. Bright sunshine turns into huge hail balls smacking your forehead. Clear mountains disappear as dense fogs hide the entire valley. I am constantly in awe of the grandness of the weather patterns here. I feel small. Pretty minute really when I see a huge cloud heading towards me about to swallow me whole.
And forget technology. Living here, you have to be pretty unattached to any modern amenities once the frequent storms roll in. In fact, it’s taken me 8 tries to write this blog post. I can’t count the amount of fried computer batteries and modems we have gone through here. All in all, it is SO worth it when you look outside and you are literally floating on mountain peaks above the clouds.
8. The Chula – our lifeline
My biggest concern about returning back to the U.S.? How am I going to cook without an open flame???!!! No fire puffed chapatis? Only gas and electric stoves? Ugh. To me, that seems revolting right now. The taste of flame charred bhuji (vegetables), daal, and rotis is incredible. As is sitting in front of our chula in the winter time, 6-10 people vying for the heat of the flame as we share stories, laughs and advice.
Our chula has taught me several things:
1. Each type of tree has its own purpose in lighting and sustaining the fire.
2. You must respect and be patient with the fire otherwise it will not light.
3. You will get burned. Accept that and move on.
4. Despite the perils, the taste is unbeatable.
9. Carrying things on my head
I’ve stood on my head several times in sirsasana (headstand). Being a practitioner of yoga, I thought I had a decent understanding of balance and weight. But wow. Nothing is more amazing than seeing a village budi (old woman) carry 30-50 kilos of water, wood, supplies on her head like it’s nothing. And of course, whatever I see I have to try. Let me tell you, it is not easy to walk, find the perfect balance point and exchange small talk with everyone you pass as you carry a giant load on your head – oh and be utterly graceful at the same time. It is an art form I am happy to say that I have tried my head at.
10. Urine and Stinging Nettles are a cure for EVERYTHING
There is no picture to depict this one. I’ll let you use your imagination.
A common dialogue here at APV:
“Anandji, I cut my finger.” “Put urine on it.”
“Anandji, my eyes are really hurting.” “Place a dropper-full of urine in each eye.”
“Anandji, I twisted my ankle running down the path.” “Take some kandaali (nettles) and hit the area with them until some of the thorns penetrate the area. It will hurt. A lot. Probably for the whole day. Repeat 3 times.”
My analysis: IT WORKS!!!