These mountains have become a home to me.
It always stuns me how a place becomes a home. It’s unexpected and sudden; one day it feels foreign, the next I realize I love the curve of the mountains, the way the morning sunlight filters through the pines. The people I’ve met and the places I go are equally what makes this home. It’s terribly ironic that realization often occurs right before I leave, but if that’s the way it is, so be it.
The other day Anna and I decided we’d walk to Dharamshala Animal Rescue which Google maps warned would take 2 hours but we disregarded.”We’re not your average walkers…” We walked almost directly down the mountain. “There’s no money anywhere,” a frustrated English guy muttered as we passed him in Lower Dharamshala. We weren’t looking for an ATM but so many people are ~ since the old currency has become illegal the banks and ATMs haven’t been able to compensate for the amount of people switching or taking out cash. We continued on our merry way, finding ourselves in a totally different world than atop the mountain in Mcleod Ganj. The streets were more dusty, the homes and shops more haphazard in an incredibly touching way, as if they felt more real somehow and there. We were outside of the bubble of Mcleod Ganj, which is one of my favorite places in the world yet it is touristy, with more guest houses than homes. At the bottom of the mountain we could see people going about their daily lives without the facade of tourism. I didn’t notice a single Inji (foreigner) walking the streets.
A couple of hours later and we still hadn’t reached DAR ~ we were becoming exhausted and were walking uphill again. A car passed, and I heard someone say something. Hopefully I said “yes,” and the car stopped. A middle-aged Indian couple peered out at us as we walked up. “Going up?” The man asked, kindly, and we explained where we were headed. The woman spoke in Hindi and, embarrassed, told her I can’t speak the language. We got into their car and began driving upwards.
We stopped at an enormous home a few minutes later, and the woman got out. “Come,” she told us, “You are our guests.” We tried to get into the gate but it was locked. The man explained that their son was getting married and this was the Minster’s house ~ they wanted to give him an invitation. We stood on tiptoe to look through the gate and saw that the house was under construction. “Black money,” the man told us, and shook his head. Black money is apparently one of the reasons the currency was changed, so that extremely rich people couldn’t continue to build up money which didn’t match their income. I don’t truly understand it, but that’s the gist.
We got back into the car and they drove us to DAR. When we got out we offered them a bag of cookies we’d picked up on the way (they were meant for my homestay sister but I’ll just get her more later) ~ the woman laughed and accepted them.
We walked the wrong way for about 15 minutes before asking directions. We were told that DAR was directly downhill from where we’d been dropped off. We laughed and headed back, finally making it to DAR.
Dogs were everywhere. Some without hair, some with casts, others with previously broken legs. The manager, Kamlesh, invited us in and answered our questions. They take in injured and sick dogs and help them become healthy again, often performing surgeries. One dog had just come out of surgery ~ she had bitten a firework meant as a pig trap. It was desperately sad.
The people we met at DAR were intensely motivated and involved. Kamlesh explained that DAR works with the local community to spay and neuter, and also to heal the animals. If there are people and places like this, it is truly a wonderful world.
Yesterday Anna and I hiked Triund again, this time with Louise, our friend from Denmark. It was lovely to hike it slower this time, spending long minutes staring out over the mountains. We went about a mile higher than we did last time, reaching Snow Line ~ from there we could see the entire, endless expanse of the Himalayas.
I met a dog at Triund who led us up ~ we named him Manjushree because he seemed majestic and was incredibly intelligent. Each step of the way to Snow Line he led us, sometimes taking us off the path (our exhausted minds didn’t realize until we were too far off) but we ended up making it to Snow Line. I bought a pack of Parle-Gs (biscuits) at the small shack-cafe up there, and fed them to him one-by-one. It felt as if I was paying him for his service of leading us up. When we walked down, he followed us, sometimes dashing ahead and waiting. When we walked down from Triund he went his own way.