Training For Enlightenment

by Jill Sockman

Every time I leave the guest house here in Dharamsala, it’s a climb up 166 stairs. If I go to a yoga class down the hill, that’s another 103. Most restaurants offer rooftop seating, so that’s another 30+ stairs each meal out. I suppose we go out a minimum of three times per day, so that’s a bare minimum of 500 stairs up and 500 stairs down each day. It’s no wonder then that you don’t see loads of husky Tibetans roaming the streets. At altitude, I feel like I’m in training for some enlightenment event: step by step, no end in sight, one foot in front of the other. Just. Keep. Going.

Trudging up the steps you can always smell the garbage that is strewn along from top to bottom mixed with the sweet, ever-present scent of incense. There are always dirty, friendly stray dogs along the way; yesterday there was a huge bull munching some garbage, waiting for us at the very top; this morning there were several goats a-roaming and a mongoose a-slinking. And always hawks circling overhead, content in their lot to ride the thermals, gliding round and round. About halfway up the hill on the other side from our guesthouse is a school for Tibetan children. If we time our outings just right, we get to see these adorable, smiling kids arriving or leaving, singing morning songs or shouting at noon recess. Even here, the home of the Dalai Lama, it is never quiet. The only peace you might find is on the inside, and that task is not any easier even here in the sacred Himalayan foothills. It is perhaps even more difficult as India has a way of breaking you down, cracking you open, revealing to you both the light and the darkness that live inside.

We are just past the halfway mark of the trip, and finally our feet are beneath us– ish. India is India: crazy, noisy, chaotic, beautiful, unmanageable, incomprehensible. It is nearly impossible to plan anything, and for certain when you do, something or everything will change. Most everyone has had at least a moment of stomach upset and most of us are dragging with a ubiquitous congestion and cough that most travellers here carry. But, relatively speaking, everyone is healthy. We’ve starred in countless family photos, been asked “What is your country?!?!?!” more times than we can count, have eaten amazing curries for $1 each, jumped into impromptu street kirtans, washed our feet in the Ganges, travelled all seven of us with five tickets on the night train, and made new friends all along the way.

We will be here a couple more days and then another crazy travel night back to Delhi and on to Agra. The adventure continues. Step by step, the journey unfolding.