“The journey itself is my home.”
365 days of homestays, high altitude cycling, and beautiful landscapes throughout India.
Delhi is a harsh place where poverty and wealth are seen in such extremes living side by side. The rickshaw drivers are considered some of the poorest people, often times not even making enough to eat though they risk their life and health daily as they pedal people around this very chaotic city.
I was able to visit the lotus temple, a Baha’i temple located in Delhi.
One of my first “local” experiences was cutting grass for a few days with these ladies near Manali. During the fall they frantically collect as much as they can in order to feed their cows throughout the snowy winter. Every evening they invited me back for tea and food in their homes after we were finished working.
And of course, the beautiful mountainous landscapes are what made cycling up and down worth it.
Spiti valley was one of my favorite places in all of Asia. Cut off for eight months every year due to snowfall, these people are self-sufficient farmers who work hard during the summer, then stay indoors and hang out with their community during the cold winter. Many of these villages were close to or above 4,000m, and in some areas, makeshift “dhabas” or small tea stalls are set up during the summer as no one can permanently live in such high altitude areas.
My first of many homestays took place in Spiti where I spent a few days hanging out in a very small village with all of the children.
These dried cow patties are very important throughout the region for fuel as there is no wood for fires. During the summer the women collect and dry them and then store them in order to have enough for the whole winter.
I then stayed with four ladies who taught me to make ghee (a special purified butter that is very prevalent here) before they dressed up in their traditional outfits for a photo shoot.
I stayed in a slum for one night with a group of construction workers who lived in makeshift shacks at the side of the road.
Many times as I cycled throughout the mountains I would have to pull over to let a large group of sheep and goats pass. During the summer they are brought up to higher pastures to graze, and then must be escorted down again in the fall.
Just after exiting the foothills of the Himalayas I was invited into what would be my most memorable homestay in India. I lived for two weeks in a farming village which had never seen a westerner, and was adopted into two different families who fed me like a queen and taught me about their ways of life. I will never forget the hospitality and generosity these women showed me.
Though gramma didn’t speak a word of English, she helped teach me some Hindi and always gave me a huge hug when I came back home.
The family dressed me up for a wedding we all attended which ended up being an amazing cultural experience as the ceremony and concept of an arranged marriage is so different than what I grew up with.
I befriended the two Nepali children whose parents worked in their fields as well.
Richikesh, a very tourist town situated on the Ganges is especially famous for its yoga, Babajis, and daily puja. I spent a week feeding the monkeys and living in an Ashram where I was to discover just how inflexible I had become.
My favorite small dhaba which served rice, dal, veggies, and chapati for forty cents had the cutest dishwasher of all.
Arriving in the “real India” (meaning no longer Ladakh) proved to be a shock as the men were hostile and the landscapes very plain and flat. The one exciting part was the busy roads which were full of ox, horses, and fully loaded bikes.
My last homestay in India began when an older Sikh man with a bright orange turban saved me from four men who had been chasing me on their motorbikes for over an hour. I then spent a few days relaxing on his enormous farm while the small children in the village showed me around.
As they were rice farmers I got a tour of how it’s grown and collected during my stay.
Here is a beautiful baby girl who was the servant’s child at the wealthy Sikh family’s house. Unfortunately because of the despicable caste system the family kept telling me to put “it” down because she was “dirty.” Of course I did the opposite, and spent most of my three days there carrying her around. Though I never saw her smile, cry, or really move at all during my stay, on my last morning she came and found me and straight away reached her arms up to me because she wanted to be held.