It was time to leave Dharamsala this past Tuesday, March 2nd and although I have been in Delhi for two days now it still has not quite sunken in that my life for the past month in this small Himalayan village has come to an end. So, let me not dwell on a whole mish mash of feelings but instead write about the greatest Holiday / Festival known to mankind – Holi ! Holi was this past Monday, March 1st. Holi is one of the major festivals of India and is celebrated with enthusiasm and gaiety on the full moon day in the month of Phalgun which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar. Holi festival may be celebrated with various names and people of different states might be following different traditions. But, what makes Holi so unique and special is the spirit of it which remains the same throughout the country and even across the globe, wherever it is celebrated. Typically it is celebrated with the throwing of colors on one another to celebrate a time of new beginnings. There is good food, drink, music and dancing and much love and laughter to go around for everyone. Can anyone think of a better celebration? Needless to say, since we had a grand Holi celebration with my girls and the wonderful staff at homebase in Dharamsala, I felt it had the added significance of a personal ‘going away’ celebration. I do not have pictures to post just yet but let’s just say there was plenty ‘o color this day and I was wearing much of it! Water is also involved so yes, one can imagine when buckets of colored water are thrown on your already colored body it has a profound way of settling into your skin and hair. It took a Hair Salon in Delhi yesterday to finally remove the last bit of green from my hair by coloring it. I suppose I could have left it in and waited for St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner. Words can not explain what an enjoyable day that was spent in the most festive of ways with a group of incredible people who will forever be with me. The next morning I packed my belongings that now was cluttering over three beds (I did not have roommates for the past ten days and that was just blissful), donated my alternative food survival kit (a stash of Ramen noodles, potato chips, cashews and half eaten Cadbury bar) to my sweet daughters I was sadly leaving behind and almost pathologically hugged everyone around me until Anil said, “it’s time”. Sarah promptly trapped me in the kitchen and body blocked me from leaving and Anil smiled as if he knew the feeling and just as I was released my backpack (yes, the one holding my passport!) had gone missing. Again, Anil to the rescue and he spotted it hidden (not so well) under the staircase. Final hugs, be strong, hold back all tears, last hug to Anil and rush into the back seat of the Jeep without too much thinking. The last thing I saw was Anil’s large hand up against the back window in a final salute of “so long” …. not “goodbye” …. yes, that’s right, i think to myself and then mutter in a whisper “until we meet again”! This is the thought I cling on to as I watch the now familiar countryside speed by me on the 45 minute ride to Kangra Airport. That sunny afternoon, the day after the happiest Festival of Colors, Holi, I departed and left a piece of my heart in the mountainous village known as Dharamsala.

The work week went well with no unusual developments. We painted a few new murals inside the one room cement classroom which put smiles on the children’s faces when they came to school the next day. We will finish the murals this coming week. My volunteer buddy, sweet Melissa left us this past Thursday, along with 3 other wonderful women from our original team. It was sad to say goodbye but with plenty of hugs, good wishes and tears to go around we are forever bonded from these past three weeks. Melissa is a very sweet, loving young lady who happens to be musically gifted with a beautiful voice which she graced us with these past days. She is my little songbird and I look forward to following her success in the future.
Friday I managed the Daycare by myself as I will all this coming week, my last week. Then the weekend cometh and three of my daughters and I headed to McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala) for some continental food. We dined on pizza, ravioli, canneloni, and momos (steamed dumplings). What a feast it was and I actually had a lovely cup of coffee too, which is so rare in tea country.

Saturday, three of us went on a hike to a beautiful mountainside waterfall. The days have been perfectly sunny and in the 70s but the altitude does get to me when I am hiking and I end up trailing behind the girls. They, so sweetly stop and wait for me every so often with their smiling faces and kind words. We made it to the waterfall and promptly sat on a large, flat rock that fit all three of us and there we basked in the sun and the sparse spray of the falls. Then I suddenly had the impulse to take off my shoes, roll up my pants and wade in the crystal clear, but ice cold water. The snow is really melting this time of year on the mountain top, but one can not help but notice it is not a very strong waterfall especially when a whole community depends on it to deliver their water supply. I quietly say a prayer that there will be more rain for this area and we all smile, take pictures and prepare to head down to the town for some lunch.

We had a long, lingering lunch on the rooftop of a restaurant. We basked in the beautiful sun as we gabbed and gossiped, ate and drank. It truly was a wonderful morning followed by a spectacularly lazy afternoon. We headed back to home base for dinner with the rest on Saturday night. After dinner, a few of us went outside on the terrace with our blankets and star gazed up at the perfectly black sky shining with its bright stars and constellations. Again, we laughed and shared life stories only to be occassionally interrupted to wish upon a shooting star.

Sunday, Sarah, Ettie and I (my other Sarah fell sick this weekend) left home base at 8:30am to go meet our guides and horses for a horse trek adventure up the mountains of this grand Himalaya range. By 9am I was in the saddle of JUMBO, a 10 year old white mountain horse, a little stouter than I am used to but he is very strong and that is very important to me. It didn’t take me long to get my horseback riding groove on and a great big smile on my face.

This horse riding trek was like no other I have ever been on in my life. We rode up narrow stone paths winding around the mountain, at times ‘hair pin’ turns with the mountain side to our left and a sheer drop off a cliff to our right.

We climbed higher and higher, stopped for a 15 minute break and let the horses feed a bit on some green shubbery and off we continued up. I could feel the temperature drop when we were in the shade but the sun, oh my, we were definitely getting closer to the sun. We reached the melting snow patches in the mountains and where enough had melted into a substantial puddle, the horses bent down to drink. We traveled up the mountain from 9am until 12:30pm where we finally hopped off and by foot traveled another 5 minutes up to a perfect lunch spot. I have never been so close to heaven. Words even fail me as I try to recapture the view, the feeling, the sounds, the smell – just miraculous.

We had a picnic of cheese, crackers, nuts and fruits which we washed down with water and gatorade and just soaked in the magnificent surroundngs atop the world!

Around 1:30pm we began the trek down the mountain …. hmmm….would this be tricky? We had to walk our horses down the steepest part for about 1/2 an hour and then we were in the saddle again. Down, down, down we went until we reached our starting point at around 4pm where I gave a big thank you to dear Jumbo and a ‘good boy’ pat on head. But sadly, my two amigas on this horse riding trek have returned ill with what seems to be a combination of altitude sickness and sun exposure. Me? Guess I am just a cowgirl at heart from way back. It was a great day and I couldn’t be happier. Though I must confess to suffering a bit from that ‘ol horseback riding soreness … ladies, you know the kind? … ahhh, but it is nothing a couple of Advil and good night’s sleep will not remedy.

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