When I travel, the heightened sensations, new experiences and adventure are there - but the depth of cultivated community is not. It takes time to nurture community, a luxury most do not usually have when traveling. Though I have a long length of this trip, I have been bouncing around, never somewhere for more than four nights in a new place - this makes it difficult to be a part of a community.
Returning to Thailand was different. After a month in Vietnam with my share of adventure and travel fatigue, stepping off the plane into Bangkok: familiar smells, sounds and language — I felt I was home. I breathed a sigh of relief.
When we made it to Chiang Mai, my old stomping ground, we (Anna, Alicia and I) spent the majority of our time in Chiang Mai with my community. Kru Toi, my host teacher, welcomed us into her home our first night there and managed to get us tickets to the infamous lantern festival for Loy Krathong at Maejo University.
As always, pictures do no justice to the feeling of magic as hundreds of lanterns light up the sky in the same moment. The idea behind the holiday is to let go of the bad of the year, and get ready for new and better things. It was perfectly timed as I adjusted to an end to solo travel and travel with friends; with a tough few months behind me and a whole future ahead of me.
The next portion of my community in Thailand is two young women, Bouquet and Paranee. They were both student teachers alongside me when I taught in Sansai. These two have my heart, and are the main reason I continue to return to Chiang Mai over and over again (although, the food, Kru Patchy & Kru Toi are close seconds). It was an honor to be able to introduce them to Anna and Alicia, who for years had seen pictures and heard stories. We adventured to some of my favorite places, climbing up limestone waterfalls, dancing the night away and walking around Chiang Mai University. (And of course, I took everyone to Pai for a few days, my favorite little town in the world - mostly because I love the feeling of riding the motorbike).
I was struck by how easy it was for me to reconnect with Bouquet, Paranee, and Kru Patchy and Kru Toi as well. I have built lasting friendships all over the world, each of varying degrees. We do not talk often throughout the years we are apart, but when we reconnect it as though no time has passed. Being back in Thailand for ten days was a brief, but helpful reminder that home is wherever my relationships are. Though I have no idea when I’ll be back to Thailand, I know that I will connect to my community again when I am there, and hope to someday host them as kindly and open-heartedly as they’ve hosted me for the past four years.
Though I am in no rush to return to Massachusetts, I know that I have also built an incredible community there that I look forward to nurturing and growing when I return. —And Thailand will always remain another home for me. It was a great trip back.
Paranee & Jessye @ Chiang Mai University — and the whole gang before our overnight bus
Summits - Real and Imagined (India)
Though my previous experience in Southern India was wrought with illness and a fair amount of harassment, I decided to give India another chance - and I’m very glad that I did. This part of the trip was organized by Anna and Alicia, as they had been wanting to come here for quite some time. We ended up first in the Northern mountains of Dharmsala, toward the bottom of the Himalayan mountains. After one too many overnight busses for my taste, we arrived to the small village of Bhagsu within Dharmsala.
We arrived at 6am and the sun was no where close to rising. Our taxi dropped us off at the bottom of a hill and gestured in the direction of the dark hill and said he thought our hostel was somewhere up there. Nervous, exhausted and in good spirits, with a phone flashlight in hand the three of us began the trek up the steep incline. We knew the name of the hostel, but beyond that did not have much information. After a few fearful stops due to terrifying street dogs, followed by a few wrong steps, and following a herd of donkeys to protect us from the dogs, we eventually found the hostel. No one was around and a sign told us to sit on the rooftop until reception arrived later in the morning.
The next day, with a paper map not drawn to scale, we headed out to explore some treks on our own. I had previously done some trekking in Vietnam in the mountains and rice paddies of Sapa, and the three of us had done a tough hike up to Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai, but nothing had prepared me for the Himalayan hikes we did over the past few days.
The views took my breath away, as did the altitude.
We climbed up stairs, past rivers, through small towns, and on paths that weren’t really paths but somehow got us close to where we needed to be. The views were mesmerizing and I wish I could transfer what I have seen into photos. My legs ached and I had to take many breaks, but I did not give up. Never in my life did I imagine I would be able to do this. 13 miles of a variety of terrains later, we took a death-defying taxi ride back to our Bhagsu village and devoured a proper Indian meal.
The next major hike we did was up to a specific summit, Triund, where we had planned on camping out overnight, but the frigid wind and cold temperatures had us decide to brave the steep decline back to our village that same day instead.
Hiking up to Triund was one of the most intense physical challenges (if not the most) I’ve ever put myself through. There was a mix of anger at myself, for how difficult it was, as well as pride when I eventually reached the summit after five miles of steep incline and mostly stairs the entire way. At the top, the snow capped mountains and clouds surrounded me and I let myself cry. Tears, for pride of making it to the top even when I thought my legs would not keep going, and sadness for how little I had believed in my ability to ever reach such summits. But, I did it. I look forward to continual summits in my future, real and imagined. Now, I know that I can, there is no turning back.
New Group, New Place:
After Dharmsala, we went to Kasol, further into the Himalayan mountains. The cold there made Dharmsala seem like a cool fall day in comparison to winters. We hiked alongside snow mountains and even hiked in a little snow ourselves. Looking out your window, walking down the street or hiking, the views were absolutely breathtaking and I continued to challenge myself to new summits. Without heat in most places, it was a constant struggle to find somewhere warm to sit, and we took many trips to the local sulfur hot baths to warm up.
One of the mornings in Bhagsu, Anna and I trekked to an early morning meditation class in the village of Dharmkot. I was prepared for an hour of silence in which I would try to harness the power to control a stream of my thoughts, or at the very least try to just focus on my breathing.
We sat in a room full of mostly foreigners, with some Indian locals, on cushions. Silence was the law once stepping onto the grounds. After awhile in silence, a women came to the front to guide the meditation. She explained that today’s meditation would be themed, and she would guide us through.
The topic of today’s meditation was “forgiveness”
More tears. Not entirely sadness, but a deep gratefulness for the opportunity to be here and to focus on a topic that was so poignant to what I was internally working on. Forgiveness of myself, and forgiveness of those who have hurt me as well.
As we were guided through a powerful meditation on forgiveness - of ourselves and others - I found myself letting go of anger, and checking in with myself in a deeper way than journaling or self-meditative thought usually gives me. Forgive yourself, she said, as you have suffered enough already.
That same day, we visited the temple of the Dalai Lama, where he was exiled to out of Tibet. Though he is currently traveling around, Dharmsala is his home and it was fascinating to enter the temple where he worships and is home. The Dalai Lama’s words around opening our hearts to forgiveness and using compassion echoed throughout my head over the next few days.
May we all reduce suffering by practicing radical forgiveness.
I hope that everyone who celebrates had a lovely Thanksgiving. I missed my family dearly and wished to be home, but did have a veggie pizza and some Oreos, while sitting by a heater up in the Himalayas so...I celebrated.
Yesterday, Anna and I said goodbye to Alicia (who headed stateside) and flew to Bangalore, where I am currently writing this blog. Tonight we take an overnight train to Hampi - then back to Bangalore to fly to a new country on the 30th! Sri Lanka! :-)
Thank you for reading, thankful for all of you - near and far!
Bouquet & Jessye - silly as always
Kasol - Tosh point
Climbing around Kasol
Top of Triund
Being grateful for every moment of this journey - even when I want to give up. Thank you for reading.