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The beginning of my love affair with Nepal and India...

DEAR DIARY,

10TH OF JUNE

I'm in a van heading back to Kathmandu with the Rustic Pathways India crew. We've been at staff training for the past few days, at a beautiful camp between Pokhara and Kathmandu that we got to by rafting down some white water rapids. (Except for the last 500m where we had to walk along the riverside because there were 2 dead bulls floating in the water, and we'd rather not get a crazy disease just before working in India and running summer programs for the next 2 months).




It was a special staff training. The team is an incredible group of 16 people coming together from Tibet, Nepal, India, Australia and America. Rustic Pathways is such an incredible company to work with. I don't know anywhere else in the world where I could work with a selected group of experienced and positive minded individuals like I met at this training. I get to work with happy, supportive, compassionate people from all of those cultures. It's a minority of people that can speak positively about all cultures across the globe. I can easily say, I am one of those people that can. Cross cultural staff training is an amazing way to learn about and understand how different countries work and why. It helps us to understand decisions we make and understand one another better so that we can unify all together as a team cohesively. It's a life skill that I am truly blessed to have developed.



Right now it's raining and the road is narrow. The road we are driving along is full of twists and turns. There are also plenty of landslides along the side of this road as a result of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. To one side of us are lush green steep mountains. I've heard people say it's one of the sketchiest roads in the world. You would imagine it would be a single lane but somehow two lanes squish side by side. There is some crazy driving here too, with trucks overtaking around the bends when another car is less than 500m ahead on the overtaking side.


Prior to staff training I spent some time exploring Kathmandu and Pokhara. Pokhara was a beautiful serene spot, 8 hours drive from Kathmandu. I spent 4 days doing lots of yoga, meeting new people, eating good food and checking out the World Peace Pagoda via Kayak. I jumped into a small kayak I found on the side of the lakeside and paddled over the other side of the lake to hike up to the very top of this little island (in the scorching 36 degree heat).





I got side tracked that day by local Tibetan artisans on the way to the lake and found myself doing the hike at the hottest part of the day at 1pm because of that. It was nice to have a little bit of solo adventure time before having constant company for the next 3 months. I got half way up the steep climb and suddenly heard a rumble of thunder. I quickly checked my google maps and it appeared that a storm was about to hit that moment. I got my brisk hike on and started walking much faster. I'd Kayaked over to this island and already walked about 2km up the mountain in the sweaty humid heat. I wasn't turning back just yet. I saw a german family close to the top who told me I had ten minutes to go, and I did. The view was beautiful from the top! But my visit was brief, as I could see black clouds quickly approaching the mountain peak that I was on. I turned around and started to make my way down the mountain. I was basically running. Because I knew I still had to get back in my kayak and get back. It was the only way back to the mainland, and I'd already hired the kayak.



I made my way back down the mountain in under 15 minutes and saw the same German family on the way down, who were very surprised I was already on my way back down. They were getting a boat back so didn't need to worry. I reached the waters edge, jumped in my kayak and started paddling as fast as I could. I could see droplets of water on the lake from the other side. The storm was coming. The wind was picking up. I was paddling as hard as I could, but the wind was pulling me in the opposite direction. And it was pulling me towards, a small island with a concrete wall around it. Starting to feel slight concern about this situation, I waved out to some Nepalese men ahead in a row boat who started to make their way over. I managed to manoeuvre the kayak towards a safer side of the island (so I was away from being pushed by the wind into the concrete wall) and the row boat came to help me. They pulled my kayak into their boat and helped me back to shore. I was absolutely drenched. Nepal's monsoon season had hit. And funnily for me, it was as I was in a kayak by myself in the middle of the lake. It was a very fun day!


I really enjoyed Pokhara! Kathmandu was also quite the adventure. I met an Australian couple on the bus back to Kathmandu who I went to two temples with. Boudhanath and Pashupatinath. Boudhanath being one of the biggest buddhist temples in the world and Pashupatinath is a UNESCO world heritage listed and a very sacred temple for hinduism. I saw cremations happening on the sides of the river, and the energy there was very strong. My visit to Nepal was brief, being only two weeks but i know I will be back! It was a little teaser and I know I'll be back to get up to the top of those mountains. Until then, Namaste Nepal.



 

11TH OF JUNE



Yesterday we flew from Kathmandu into the hot and crazy New Delhi, in India! It was a scorching 39 degrees celsius (109 Fahrenheit) and we hustled through the crowds to make our way from the airport to the train station. We sat on the ground of the old Delhi train station, stares coming from all directions. The curious minds of the local people were probably wondering what 3 white people were doing travelling with 3 Indian women and a Tibetan woman. Hustlers would come past trying to sell us some of the most random things. Much to Beth's (my co-leader) surprise, she thought someone was trying to sell her condoms.


Even though Delhi was a crazy rat race of a city, people were very considerate. Michael (my other co-leader) was on crutches with a broken ankle but people regularly offered us seats and help. After what seemed like a very long 90 minutes sitting in the scorching heat, they finally opened up the doors to the train and we were off to begin our 18 hour overnight train up to McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala. It lies at the base of the Himalayas and is the home to his holiness, the Dalai Lama.





12TH OF JUNE


Wow what a day. We woke up in the overnight train to Divya (my country manager) laughing and saying, "Guys, wake up...We're in Kashmir. We are in the wrong state and have missed two stops". We overslept because we thought we arrived at our stop at 5am, but it was actually 3am - when we were supposed to disembark the train. We quickly collected our backpacks and things and got off the train into no-man's land. Well not exactly no-man's land because at first all we could see was men. Everywhere. It made sense when Divya (my country manager) explained to me that there were 8 males to 1 female in India. That made a lot of sense. Then the train left and there were maybe 6 men inside the station along with us. 2 white women, 1 white man, 2 Indian women and 1 Tibetan woman.



A policeman approached Divya and questioned her: "What are you doing here? You shouldn't be at this stop." Divya knew this was a problem and called our driver to come and get us - luckily he was only an hour away. The reason the policeman was so concerned was because the station was only 4 hours away from the Pakistan border. The particular area of the border where Pakistan and India is having conflict over land and there are current military standoffs. So Divya called our driver (after addressing the first priority - where is the chai?). We waited by the police until the driver came and then we jumped in the car with our driver, Sutchin, for the next 4 hours. It was a Sunday and as we drove through Dharamsala and onto McLeod Ganj, the road was filled with cars and people everywhere on the sides of the road. Suddenly we saw that cars were being ushered to the sides of the steep, narrow road. Our driver sweet talked some security who were closing off one of the roads and was able to get us through towards where we were staying. We wondered why all the roads were closed off.



We drove up a little further and then a man with a walking talkie pulled us to the side of the road and said something quickly in Tibetan to Wang mo (our Tibetan friend). She turned to us and said, "The Dalai Lama is coming" with excitement in her voice. Straight after she said that, we saw a beige sedan drive past with the Dalai Lama in the passenger seat, sweetly smiling at us and giving us a warm and welcoming wave. How incredible! Having the Dalai Lama greet us as we entered into McLeod Ganj. This is his home, a spiritual meeting place for people all over the world and a safe, peaceful place for Tibetans to call home. It was very special.





'Everything that happened that day had happened for a reason'




For the next two months, we’ll be working in this region of the Himalayas (in the North of India). Each group of students we have in our care, will come for two weeks and be involved in English conversational classes at LHA. (LHA is a centre for Tibetans in exile in India, because of the situation in Tibet. Some of the LHA students are refugees, some are monks, Regardless of what background they come from, all Tibetans have equal opportunities at LHA). The Rustic Pathways students would also be hearing talks with Tibetan political prisoners, monks, and the Dalai Lama’s translator of 16 years. Throughout the program I will be running an engaging yoga/meditation course for the students with a variety of vinyasa, yin, partner yoga, laughter yoga, yoga nidra and walking meditations. We will also stay in a small local village in Indian/Nepali homestay and work on building toilets for the local slum area of that village. This is a project that Rustic has been continuing for the last 8 years. This small village has a diverse socioeconomic status, so we will be working within those areas of the village where help is needed most for healthy washrooms.




In amongst the community engagement projects, there's a mixture of Bollywood dance, Tibetan cooking and hiking days. I’m closely working with two incredible co-leaders,. Michael & Beth. Beth has just spent the last 3 years living out of a backpack in West Africa with the Peace Corps. Michael lives in Austria and has spent the last 3 years working around South East Asia with Rustic Pathways. Wang mo (our Tibetan local staff member) is a refugee and knows the heart and soul of Tibet. I have been learning so much and her story has had me close to tears many times. She is a beautiful soul. Kritti (our local Indian staff member) is also our other local gem, who is very intellectual and can speak up to 4 languages fluently (Hindi, Nepali, Gaddi and English). I feel so very blessed for this opportunity to work here with such incredible people. And I can’t wait to see what unfolds in the rest of this Indian summer (monsoon) season.



'It is just the beginning of something very magical'

Love from Lauren

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