Unforgettable Indian Moments

- eating momos (Tibetan dumplings) in Leh with chopsticks, while the entire 5-table restaurant nodded approvingly each time I stuffed my face with a whole dumpling. The only thing that disappointed them was that the foreigner didn't use enough chili sauce in her soy sauce.
- Alchi village, a village to the north of Leh with one of the oldest Buddhist monasteries in the world. My trip there coincided with the Ladakh festival, so I had the wonderful opportunity to watch old Ladakhi men dance and 70-year-old women get drunk off of cheong, the local wine.
- Hem Kund and Badrinath treks: I would do this 1000 times over. I'm not religious or spiritual in any sense, but going on these pilgrimage treks, surrounded by Sikhs and Hindus who were trekking 20 km on rough rocks barefoot, was an indescribable experience. The views were out of postcards, the weather was perfect, and my fellow trekkers were the most hospitable I've met in India. Because I was traveling alone, and single females always attract a certain level of attention in India, I was instantly befriended by a group of 7 Punjabi Sikhs whom I met on the bus. They paid for every single cup of chai, they helped to organize my stay at the gurdwaras (pilgrimage houses), and they made sure that every other Indian knew that the American was with them. The Sikh values lie in honesty, courage, compassion, generosity, patience, and humility in daily life, and my 7 protectors exemplified all these morals not only towards me, but towards others as well. I saw how they helped a young boy who was lost on the trail find his mother, how they carried older men's bags out of respect for elders, and how they bought biscuits for beggars who were freezing in the middle of the street. These 2 treks, and the short 5 days that I spent with my new Punjabi friends, are what has kept me in India so long (I should, according to the Original Plan, be in Nepal in the Annapurnas by now).
- watching Tibetan parents walk their kids to and from school in the rain in McLeod Ganj, one of the marijuana havens in India.
- Malai Kofta. So delicious with some steaming naan.
- Tibet Museum in McLeod Ganj.
- Rajesh Joshi and his family: the most gracious Indian host who invited me into his home and didn't mind that I overextended my stay.
- Evening aarti ceremony at Haridwar; quite amazing to watch colorful flowers illuminated by a single candle floating down the Ganges River at sunset.
- Shanti Kunj, an ashram that was a sanctuary in a busy city. When I wanted to escape the Indian chaos, I would just walk there and people-watch as people stared at me, stroll through the herbal garden, treat myself to nariel ladoos (coconut balls that melt in your mouth), and read my book in the meditation halls. Such a sanctuary.
- Gurdwara stays at Govind Ghat and Govind Dham. Amazing people, great atmosphere, the perfect community feel. Donations if you can, but not required. I was showered with smiles everywhere I turned, incessant questions about my marriage status and what I was doing in a Sikh gurdwara, and constant offers of chai (tea). The meals were free, and by the second day of my stay, I was making chapattis with the volunteers. I was given a mattress in a hall of 70 snoring Sikhs, but I felt more at ease than when I was given a guesthouse room with 70 cockroaches.
- Thermal baths in Vashist temple...the luxury of daily showers and hot water!
- Scenery on Kuari Pass trek.
- Actually growing to enjoy hand-washing my clothes and watching as they dry in the hot Indian sun.
- Receiving a gift from my Sikh friend, Simrun, whom I met on the Hem Kund trek. He gave me a colorful bracelet that had beads around it reading "Friend." It was one of those bracelets that only a 5-year-old would find beautiful. But because it came from him, and was unwarranted, I wear it daily. For anyone who knows me personally, this says a lot, as I never wear any type of ring, necklace, or bracelet. Ever. This is actually my first piece of jewelry, and it's bright red.

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