1st Step: Arrive
The Himalayas. Most people associate India with a senses-overload of colour, aroma, people and festivity; undeniably that association is widely and wonderfully accurate, as I later discover. However landing at Kangra Airport, Dharamshala, in the second most northerly state, in our little 2×2 propeller plane, and being greeted with the high, bright, warm sun, clear blue sky and crisp fresh air, with those breathtaking grey-blue, silver-speckled mountains as a backdrop… It felt like freedom wrapped in a blanket.
I took a deep breath in, and exhaled the cobwebs of the international fight: the logistics; the sleepover in New Delhi Airport; getting the SIM card & cash and the intense hour conversation I just had with the Israeli women I was sitting next to. On the tarmac, I meet fellow yogis, Jacinta, Jana and Katrina, Australian, German and Malaysian respectively, also en route to the same Yoga course, to spend the next month learning about yoga and ourselves and being challenged on everything we thought we knew. The airport was just one big room; Tarmac to taxi in all of ten minutes. The first glimpse of the state Himachal Pradesh, other than the mountains was a softer version of that, ‘more typical’ India. We rally raced through the vibrant hustle and bustle of towns and villages, amusingly attempting and mostly failing to communicate with our driver while keeping a check on our shadow to make sure bags were still strapped to the roof. The setting of the Dhauladhar mountain range was ever present throughout. Flashing us between buildings and treating us to the full reveal whenever we got-out-the-other-side of each town. The towns seemed mildly chaotic but organised, with everyone easily going about their day-to-day’s, amidst the sprinkling of wandering cattle and torrents of bee-like mopeds.
My worries about travelling here had all evaporated by the time we arrived at the Hotel, just a short walk up the road from a village called Dadh. Surrounded by lush fields, baby animals, and a trickling river, my mind caught up to my new environment. I had arrived. The first step, Check.
2nd Step: Mini Explore
We had the best part of a day to acclimatise and explore before officially starting, so a couple of us got on the local bus for 20 rupees each for the 45min trip into Dharamsala. After a wander around we got a second bus for 15 rupees, which took us uphill along a gentle rollercoaster of switchbacks, to the home of the Dali Lama, McLeod Ganj. Here we enjoyed crispy street samosas, explored temples, wandered through prayer flagged strewn woods, investigated the local Tibetan butter tea, which was let me say ‘interesting’, and gorged on wonderful momos (Tibetan dumplings).
- View of McLeod Ganj from the Dali Lama Main Temple
The buses to get there were also ‘interesting’. You have a driver and a conductor, normal so far, but the bus doesn’t ‘stop’, per say, the conductor shouts out the window as it approaches, you indicate you want to get on by waving an arm, the conductor blows his whistle and the bus comes to a halt. All of this happens in a about 5 seconds, as the bus approaches hurtling round a corner at 40mph on a narrow road with people walking along the sides (there are no footpaths) with dogs, cows, chickens, children, the odd cyclist, the aforementioned mopeds, with cars and taxis all thrown in for good measure, on what would be described as a ‘country lane’ here in the UK.
On the bus, as expected, you are now a sardine, and I don’t mean London tube trips sardine, where you generally get a 1cm of space and as soon as someone touches you, you make an nth degree adjustment, or you elbow them back. Here, you basically sit on each other or stand with full body contact with complete strangers, as standard. A bench designed for 3 people, can actually get 5 women and a child on to it. For the bus to Dharamsala, I was next to a kind-eyed, slight, older man, who was also sitting next to an elderly gentleman with a cane by the window. We were close by English standards until another rather rotund man with a large moustache indicated he was to sit next to me on the aisle. I became completely door wedged between two men in their 50s, while everyone else on the bus stared at all of us with that just bearable curiosity that is typical of India. I tried some very small smiles to some of the kinder faces and got no responses. If only I had known about the legendary Indian head wiggle before I had arrived.
It was also about 26°C (it was -10°C at home so it easily felt like 35°C), and my knees and shoulders were covered respectably, so all in all, I was, shall we say, uncomfortable. I was just happy that everyone was delightful polite when moving around and getting up and off the bus with men standing up and giving their seats dutifully for all women. Amazingly, at one point, the bus stopped for a good 10mins, as it was break-time for the driver and conductor. Both leave us all where we were, go and complete some errands, pick up some vegetables, have a cigarette and hop back on!
The road signs on this little trip were entertainingly philosophical. No simple, “slow down” etc. They were, “Safety is not expensive, it is priceless”, “Safety first is safety always”, and my favourite, “Every accident is an act of negligence”. It really does make you think, (as you drive off a verge deep in thought) particularly for older locals I am sure, as these signs are in English. There were also signs everywhere warning against ‘public displays of smoking’ which while standing underneath said sign, some young man, knowingly or not, surely was. Unsurprising, most people seem to do whatever they want and generally just get on with life. However more locally in the countryside village of Dadh, everyone seemed incredibly overly curious, watching you with hawk eyes. But as discovered most are either pleasantly shocked or overwhelming delighted when you say Namaste as you pass.
3rd Step: Start
After the Dali Lama’s main temple and a circular holy walk (See my guide on McLeod Ganj and Bagsu) we got back to the hotel a little late after a rather delayed bus journey, and went straight into our wonderful Opening Ceremony! We were very lucky that one of the local priests chose to come and be a part of the ritual as it was the first course at this new location. I had so much love for everyone at Siddhi Yoga International and all my instant new friends taking this journey together! I felt a lot of gratitude to be there, even if I did have moments of “what am I doing?!” I felt like I was watching myself from a 3rd person viewpoint, in disbelief. However, through every change and life-altering moment, there is always uncertainty, and I was excited for all the learning that was to come. I tried desperately to trust in my will to get me there and the natural forward movement of life. The future will write itself I told myself, I didn’t need a plan for after this. I chose to focus directly on what was in front of my eyes.