It was time to leave Delhi and go north to the Himalayas. Our next stop: Bir – a Tibetan colony 2.5 hours away from Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama lives.
There are two options to get there from Delhi: a 10-hour bus ride or a 1 hour and 40 minute flight to Dharamsala with a 2.5 hour drive to the village. We went with option 2 as our volunteer program was starting the next day and we wanted to be fresh for it.
As we landed, we could already feel the difference. The air surrounding us was cleaner, the fruit stands looked healthier and the people less stresses. Matt and I immediately knew we made the right decision about choosing the Bir program. This is exactly the type of town we love: narrow colorful streets, everything walking distance and faces getting familiar with each day.
We arrived to our homestay around 3pm on Sunday where we were greeted by a friendly Tibetan woman called Yeshi. She immediately showed us our rooms and offered a hot cup of lemon and ginger tea.
After getting settled we went downstairs for an early homemade dinner packed with veggies – I was very happy to see eggplants, squash and potatoes on the table. My body was already feeling the need to balance out all the chapatis and rice we’ve been eating since our arrival.
Matt went upstairs to explore the rest of the house. He came back excited: “Go check out the rooftop!” I went up to the top floor, opened the door and there it was: a charming mountain town ready to be explored. You can see all the monasteries, streets and houses with Tibetan flags on each roof, waving as the air blows to spread the blessings printed by hand in each of them, to reach all the corners of the world.
What a beautiful concept the flags are. Contrary to what I thought that these represented families marking their homes as Tibetan – it is really an act of hope to reveal blessings everywhere. No matter who you are, or where you are.
Along with the other four volunteers that came with us from Delhi (Laura, Madeleine, Jaimie and Linda – all from Australia), that night we met the volunteers that have been in Bir for a few weeks now. There’s Tom from New Zealand, Steph from Ireland, Dorothy from the US and Meg from Canada.
Dinner was at 5:30pm and by 8:30pm Matt and I were already in bed. It gets cold at night so as soon as we get into our sleeping bags it is the most appealing invitation to rest and stay warm.
The next morning we got up at 6:00am. From our bedroom we could see the Himalayas and the town getting ready for a new day. Matt did yoga and I went downstairs to make some coffee and write. This is becoming the early routine, before we head out to our volunteer placement.
We met Lhamo too – a charming Tibetan woman in her 30’s and our volunteer coordinator. She is Yeshi’s sister and together they run the homestay we all live in.
There’s also the father, a man I believe is in his 80’s that daily watches TV loudly in the room next to ours. We try to be polite with him – especially since we feel guilty telling an old man in his own house to turn the thing down – but it’s so loud we simply can’t accept the fact that we are in the beautiful mountains with action movies as the soundtrack. Matt brought it to Yeshi’s attention and she sweetly responded: “It’s always the same. I’ll tell him again.” We need to laugh at this and if it doesn’t get better, keep reminding the lovely man to be mindful of the roomies.
Lhamo gave us a short orientation in which she gave us important information. She shared with us a short history of Dharamsala and Bir along with a brief recounting of the Tibetan migration to India due to the persecution of the Chinese in the 1950s. Then she spoke about the different volunteer sites we’d be volunteering at.
After that, we all walked to the school where Matt and some of the other volunteers would teach English to Tibetan children. We left them there with the old volunteers to see how the lessons are run and continued our walk up to the mountain where there are two daycares for smaller kids and where I’m volunteering.
This will be our life for the next four weeks.
More lessons learned:
– Each color on the Tibetan flags represent an element. White is air, red is fire, green is water, yellow is earth, blue is wind. They also represent directions – north, south, east, west and center.
– I rolled chapatis the other day – it’s really hard to make them into a perfect circle! The volunteers that ate them could tell which ones were mine… Maybe I should start a rustic chapati business.
– The Hindi word for milk is “Dude”. It’s hilarious to hear the milk woman go from door to door yelling: “Dudeee”, as if they’re gossiping with their best friends.