Taking it slow – Life in Jibhi

I never really understood what ‘slow travel’ or a ‘me time’ trip meant. Even though, I have also spent almost a month in one state; i did things that i wanted to do and have spent enough time for my ‘solo’ self.

My past travels have been to one destination for a long duration but I used to pack them up with places to see, stay, and venture out to a large extent. This time around, I chose a smaller unknown place ‘JIBHI’ (to many) and explore as and what came my way. Jibhi was pointed out to me by another amazing traveller and am glad I went for it.

How does one spend a day, a week or a life in one such small locale? I have often been asked this, what do you do by yourself?

You just be.

With my visit to Jibhi, – I understood deeply the meaning of travelling into a place and letting it lead you.  You feel the air, it is refreshing and pungent with life; you soak in the freshness of the soil; you listen to the sound of the flowing waters; you observe the  selfless life of the locals. You may do all that you do back home, but here you do it with your own choice.

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Out of city habits, I resorted to a routine but only to let Jibhi and its people choose the activities for me.

My days would begin early and I would choose to walk in one of the directions of the main road to cross the same homes, shops and people for the following week.

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My first day was met with eager looks, new face in the town murmurs and by day 4 these were exchanged with smiles, and good mornings. In retrospect, in three days I got to befriend more strangers than I have in a city over the last five years.

My days would be spent reading next to the river, or sitting on a rock at the guest house overseeing the river flow along with ‘chai’ and sidhu- a local delicacy.

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Guddu, the caretaker of the guesthouse I was put up at would enlighten me with the stories of the guest house, his dads work for the town and places I should discover every day. There was a new place on his map for me to walk to for each of the days and I would religiously follow them.

On one of my explorations to the nearby town of Chaini fort, I was over ambitious and decided to walk the whole stretch from Jibhi. While I managed to reach the fort encountering some very sweet elders and specially touched by dimple didi, who invited me over for some tea and apples.

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Dimple didi and moi

On my return from Chaini, I realised i was too tired and couldn’t walk all the way back to Jibhi. Guddu came to my rescue – he rode on his bike – found me and that is how I got my bike ride in the hills. These are a few encounters of what makes living in a place so wonderful.

While staying at this guest house – I also met Isha, a fellow traveller from Delhi and in a matter of those few days – found a friend, travel companion in my solo Jibhi adventures. Trekking to Raghupur or sitting on the bridge and talking aimlessly may not have been as fun or exciting without her.

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Isha and myself at Raghupur

During my wandering mornings, I landed up at the local school in Jibhi and as luck would have it, I made friends with two young girls and one of them happened to be my namesake. Visiting the school, chatting with children and just reminiscing my school days were something I hadn’t done in the longest time – it was like getting a glimpse of my growing up years.

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Days passed by, and Jibhi soon felt like this little hidden paradise that I did not want the world to find. I wanted to soak in its purity and innocence and protect it from becoming another commercial hub that people flocked to.

Meeting people who had left their city lives and settled here and opening Jibhi as an avenue for more than a pit stop to Shimla or for luxury stays was another insight. This was only possible because this place and its people open their doors to strangers.

On one of the days, the clouds decided to bless us with rains like never before. While everyone hustled into shade; I sat in my room balcony and decided to paint and watch the clouds and fog play hide and seek with tall pine wood trees. Spending an entire afternoon watching nature is the best therapy to open our senses.

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On my last day while I was walking by a group of ladies discussing Star plus and our Indian soaps, we got chatting about my life back home. I mentioned to them that I was leaving, and they reacted with the fact that they had gotten used to seeing me around walking, taking local buses, and chatting around.

It was then when it struck me that even though I did not recognise them all, I had become a part of a life of this small town in ways I can’t put in words, but are etched on my soul. May be I was one of the many faces they had encountered but they left an everlasting impression on me.

These are just a couple of reasons that helped me realise the joy of spending time in a place that can be “seen” in a day.

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Self Reflection:Smile Often

During my last trip to Himachal Pradesh, I kept wondering why I was always pulled back towards the mountains of our country.

What is it that gives me this sense of belonging, comfort, a true feeling of home away from home. I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the hilly regions , mountains whether for a week or a month.

I find myself relaxed, aware, and with a sense of peace that feels more like home than any other place.

While introspecting and observing my behaviour, I realised that I would lower my guard,  smile often and be more patient on my travels as compared to being in the city.

On my trip to Jibhi, it dawned on me that some of the most useful and powerful tools one possesses is their smile and sincerity – It is a way into people’s heart and lives.

I was able to befriend strangers, make awkward scenarios more comfortable and get elders to share their adventurous life stories.

I have often wondered how some photographers capture the essence and joy of people through their images; during this trip I discovered the same joys of sharing happiness and conversations from children to elders…

Sipping chai and chatting up with locals, sharing a meal with my hosts, and meeting travel companions on the way was all a part of openness and the idea of smiling at someone along the way. Not that this was new in my travels yet I found myself more open to strangers and meeting people.

I also realised that the warmth and love you are greeted with in our hills cannot be compared.Being a solo female traveller always raises a few questions, curious looks by locals but the smile and honesty soon lets you into their world and stories.

Soon they are a part of your story and not the other way around.

So with that thought …“Keep smiling because Life is a Beautiful thing and there is so much to smile about” – Marilyn Monroe.

P.s. Some of my favourite smiles from my travels.

 

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE – A DAY IN THE LIVES OF THE NUNS AT PIN VALLEY

All of us have days in our lives that we are grateful for – days that end up having a strong impact on us and in some way change something within us.  This was one such day in my life.

During my volunteering term with Ecosphere – Spiti Valley, I got a chance to visit the Pin Nunnery. Even though it has been over a year and half since this experience, it still holds a special place in my memories.

During my month long stint in Spiti, I visited many villages and monasteries, but this was my first experience in a nunnery.

I was more than excited to interact with the nuns and understand their lives.

On this particular day we had gone to install solar panels at the nunnery that would in turn generate electricity there for the very first time!

The roads to Pin Valley had opened only a day prior and I was so grateful that on my last day of the trip I was finally making it to Pin. Having seen a large part of Spiti, Pin still left me awestruck – the landscape and the view were beyond magnificent.

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There is a traditional family rule in Spiti, where the third child of each family is sent to either a nunnery or monastery depending on the gender of the child. I would be lying if I said I had not made prior assumptions or judged the lives of these children.

I thought to myself- What if they wanted to do something else with their lives? What if they did not believe in this institution or way of living? Why didn’t these children get the right to choose? I had so many unanswered questions in my mind.

On our arrival, the team started with a recce to understand the best place to install the panels so as to ensure full coverage. The new building was still coming up and sadly, a storm earlier that year had destroyed a large part of where they were currently taking shelter. Despite these circumstances, there was not a sign of remorse or complaint in any of their faces – they greeted us with genuine warmth and smiles.

As the day progressed, my impressions and understanding about them kept evolving.  The group of youngest nuns aged 9yrs onwards smiled and giggled as they saw us working. They ran around, spoke to each other, and made their set of impressions about us.

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Slowly, they opened up to us. They asked our names and discussed their lives and schedule at the nunnery. Two young ones came and chatted with me about my whereabouts, my camera, why I was there and where I “belonged”.

We spoke about their homes, since when had they been here and if they were happy or missed their families back home?

I was pleasantly surprised to hear about how happy they were here and how this was their ideal life. It seemed that nothing but gratitude, prayers and smiles were present in their daily lives.

Even though they had no electricity, just a couple of rooms to sleep, study and eat in, no real protection from the chilly cold and regular supply of water or food!

They were strangely satisfied- happy and infused with passion and an inexplicable zeal for life.

Studies, daily chores and prayers formed a large part of their day – but they were aware, smart and had a dream that they believed in.

Later, the elder nuns helped us with all the raw materials and the set up required for the installation. They served us a delicious meal and we all got back to work.

This day broke down a lot of my concepts – of how I perceived life to be for myself and others. It truly showed me simplicity and faith could be all that is needed to be happy. The choice of how to lead our lives is purely ours and how we deal with the consequences is also our decision.

Along with the installation of the solar panels, I was also documenting the work and making videos of this process for Ecosphere. This gave me a chance to interact with the nun in charge of the place. The love and appreciation she had for Ecosphere and for us working on the installation is not something I can describe in words. I was touched by her gratitude and the regard she had for each one of us with this initiative.

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As the day came to an end, we were almost done with the cabling and connections, I then had my “Swades” moment- seeing the switch being turned on and the bulb flickering to life.

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The build-up to the moment was deeply moving. The older nuns sat together in the rooms and conducted prayers. They chanted and finally, the moment we were waiting  for…THE LIGHT.

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Along with it, happiness and joy flooded the place. The smiles on each of their faces were priceless. That moment is etched in my heart forever.

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Following that, I ended my last day in Spiti Valley with a lovely dinner and some more time with the nuns.

I am forever thankful to the team at Ecosphere and all the others involved, for giving me a chance to be a part of this experience. I also feel an immense sense of gratitude for their efforts at providing solar power to so many parts of this region and adding a little light to all the lives around.

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AWAKE & ALIVE- A DAY IN SPITI VALLEY

I truly believe that we underestimate our lives.

My experience in Spiti was life changing. It was a place that opened me in a new way. It was a place where I believe I truly experienced different facets of life.

I remember that one day very distinctively. I think it is one of my MOST cherished days till now. That day, I felt alive and I truly LIVED to feel something beautiful.

It was towards the end of my stint in Spiti with Ecosphere.

It happened to be my first Sunday in Kaza, which meant that the Ecosphere office was technically shut and I had the day to myself. At the onset, it felt strange because I was unsure of what to do for the entire day. My fellow friends and travellers had left for a day trek that I had already been to before.

And so I went looking for Sunil (co-owner of Ecosphere) and one of the most interesting and humble human beings I have ever met. He is someone with whom you can have any discussion in the world and he will always have something interesting to share. I grilled him for some options of places around that I could explore. With his help I finally settled on Rangrik, a nearby village that I could hike up to.

I started my hike by early afternoon crossing Kaza. I reached the point from where I had been told that I could either walk through the main road crossing over a bridge, or explore some paddy fields, streams, rivers and do some climbing. The view from this point was mesmerizing. I obviously chose the latter and that was one of the best decisions I ever made.

(The view from the Bridge)

 I thought of that saying- ‘we need to enjoy our journey and not worry about the destination’.

This is exactly what I experienced that day.

I made my way through stone walkways, smaller streams, and wet paddy fields. I was in awe of the view and simply taken in by how beautiful our country and nature really is. The mountains, the streams, the lush green trees… it was all a dream.

(The bridge and the path I walked)

Whilst I walked alone, fell into the water, got up again, felt the joy of being alone; I experienced inner happiness, a joy that is beyond bliss, a sort of inner peace that we lose out in our daily hectic schedules.

I thought I had lost my sanity: I was smiling away, singing, and jumping around.

I was the only soul in the entire stretch.

I was ALIVE in a way that I had not yet experienced in my life.

I sat by the streams and soaked in the spectacular surroundings – the silence, the sound of water gushing… I gazed out into the distance and I could see Rangrik at the other extreme end of the mountains. It did not matter how and when I would get to where I had set out for because that present moment was perfect.

 

I spent some more time by the water and then decided to start the climb which would hopefully get me at least somewhere if not to Rangrik, before it got too late for me to able to trace my way back.

I chose a peak that I thought was the closest, but it was deceptive as all the peaks were actually way farther away than they appeared. I climbed in circles for a while, hoping that it would lead me to some place from where I could identify my way back.

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(From where I started my climb and the river bed in the background)

 I was lucky, it all ended very well. I reached an open green pasture of land from where I could see Rangrik Village at a far end and the road that would lead me back to Kaza.

(The pasture land and Rangrik village at the far end)

 I walked for a bit longer still absorbing the magnitude of this vast space, the mighty peaks and the silence they brought with them.

I finally hit the main road and made my way upwards back to Kaza. It was a slight climb and I wanted to make it back before it got too dark.

While I made this 7 km walk a lot of thoughts crossed my mind. Memories passed by. I had several conversations with myself and at the end I only had gratitude for this wonderful experience which left me humbled.

We occupy such a tiny place in this world, and yet we give importance to things and issues that are not even worth that much.

This day taught me many things. I know words won’t do justice to what I experienced and felt, but I have tried to share as best as possible. The joy is in the smallest of things which are around us, we just need to be open and let the love they hold flow through us.

(I couldn’t help but sing: I walk a lonely road, the only one I have ever known. Don’t know where it goes,  but its only me and I walk alone… )