The view from outside my room
Village life in India.
For the past 3 months I have been living in a small Indian village, perched on the mountainside. March to December it is host to a dozen restaurants, numerous tourist shops, same-day laundry services, general stores, guest houses, massage parlours, yoga studios.
In the cold winter, the only inhabitants left are the local families who run the guest houses adjacent to their own. Less than 10 years ago, when tourists first made their way up the mountain, the only option was to knock on someone's door and depend on their kindness for room and board. Rather quickly, locals took advantage of the opportunity to extend their houses with extra rooms (some with common bathrooms for all) to accommodate the tourists and make money without leaving the premises.
Dharamkot, as it's called, is one kilometre up the mountain from the slightly larger village, of McLeod Ganj. Home to the Dalai Lama, which is slightly more developed with too many restaurants and shops to count and drivable roads...although they are extremely narrow and force pedestrians to jump out of the way as cars try to squeeze through...it remains more accessible than Dharamkot's 1 un-drivable pathway.
Having arrived here
The guest house
With neelam's husband out front
mid winter, I was lucky enough to secure a spot in a popular guest house with a shared kitchen. It wasn't just a luxury, but a necessity since no restaurants were open at that time. And walking down the mountain in the cold weather and possibly snow-covered streets, for food 3 times a day was out of the question.
Many guests spend a few months every year in Dharamkot, returning to Neelam's house because of her loving nature, peaceful spirit and contagious happiness.
With nowhere else to go other than my daily classes, I spent a lot of time with Neelam and her 2 teenage daughters. They shared their meals with me, their experiences with all the past western visitors and their infectious laughter.
I was fascinated over the months to watch the routine of their daily lives. Neelam walks the girls down the mountain to the public bus they take to school (10 kilometres further down the mountain in the bigger town of Dharamsala). She then comes back to do her chores of gardening, house cleaning, cooking lunch for her and her husband, shooing away the wild monkeys that eat her garlic and cilantro and managing the 8 rooms
belonging to the guest house. Sometimes her husband assists her in hanging the laundry, or collecting the milk from the neighbors cow. But mostly he chills, strolling back and forth in front of the house or on the roof, inadvertently acting as a sort of security man for his property. Neelam walks back down the mountain in the afternoon to meet her daughters at the bus and walk them back up...part of the road is surrounded by forest and aggressive monkeys, so she is uncomfortable with the 14 and 16 year old girls walking alone. She then feeds them a snack and proceeds with her daily duties. Most days that includes sewing clothes for her daughters and herself or teaching sewing to the local women of the village on her 2 machines.
On Saturdays the girls help Neelam with her duties and on Sundays the 3 of them walk to a nearby temple for puja...a Hindu fire offering ritual.
The family's preference is to eat chapati for lunch and rice with dinner. That varies amongst families. Some eat chapati and rice with every meal. It means Neelam cooks chapatis every afternoon. Not long after I arrived, she agreed to make
a few extra for me in exchange for my buying the ingredients...flour. So I eat fresh, homemade chapatis everyday with my own home cooked dhal or vegetables. Occasionally I put peanut butter on my last chapati and eat it for desert. Which her daughters find extremely strange...chapati is to be eaten with dhal or vegetables, not as a peanut butter sandwich!!
Whenever Neelam makes something different like parantha or Indian pancakes, she treats me to a taste. Always inviting me to join her family for meals, if I don't want to cook for myself. If I ever spend the day at my teacher's clinic or simply opt to relax for lunch at a restaurant and not cook, Neelam makes me chapatis for dinner instead. She takes our arrangement to heart and makes sure I eat chapatis daily!
Watching her devotion to her family and to all her guests as well as the returned respect she receives from her daughters, is inspiring.
Their lives don't vary much and are exceptionally simple. Neelam spends almost all her time either inside or in front of her house, which looks out over the village. And her daughters split their time only between school,
homework and household chores. I rarely see them playing with friends, unless cousins come to visit.
None of them have climbed the mountain they look at daily...the one I have reached the top of 6 times so far in my trips here.
But each of them has constant smiles on their faces. Even though they are bombarded with "rich" tourists coming and going, throwing their money around in restaurants and shops that none of them ever stepped foot in, I never once saw them yearn for a different life. I of course don't know what goes on in the privacy of their humble 2 room home, but living close-by for so long, I am sure that the closeness of the family and the happiness they all exude is real.
It's been beautiful to watch, although it also makes me grateful for the opportunities I have to explore the world. Compared to staying isolated in a small village and then again restricted to the confines of a piece of land, it seems as though I really get around! Watching how happy someone can be with such simplicity is amazing to me. Any chance I'll ever be satisfied with that???
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