Though we have been in Nepal for only five days, there is already a kaleidoscope of images and sensations and impressions in my memory. Here are some:
Today being Shivaratri, a holiday celebrating the Hindu god of destruction, Shiva, people old and young all sported tika, red forehead markings, for the occasion. A white long-haired dog turned towards us and barked at us, the fur on its upper head stained red to match all the people we were passing.
We left our lodgings for the first time this trip to explore our wider surroundings on a scavenger hunt, and were charged to buy bangles. We bought red bangles, which were to be worn by married women, and green ones, which are worn during the festival of Tij. We also bought a red khada, a scarf worn in various ceremonies from births to funerals, to present to our Nepali teacher Deepa-ji, as a sign of respect.
A teenage boy at the stand we bought the bangles from wore red tika on his forehead, and a red off-brand OBEY cap backwards on his head.
Red powder was dabbed on various religious statuary we saw on the street—from stones carved with flowers or stars of David blending into the rest of the pavement to a four-sided statue depicting Buddha in four different significant positions—cosmic mudra, calling on the Earth as witness—a red fingerprint on each Buddha’s forehead.
On our first night, our instructors led a ceremony for us. We first gathered around a fire and took pinches of powdered incense. As we began our new journey into Nepal, we reflected on what we wished to leave behind, what no longer served us—distraction, clinging to impossible outcomes, fear for the future—and threw our incense into the fire as we were ready to let go. We then moved on to the second part of the ceremony, sitting in a circle around a bowl of water. We were each handed an orange flower, representing what we hoped to bring to the course and cultivate throughout it—compassion, presence, peace, curiosity–and placed it to float in the water.
Every day we eat various kinds of daal—lentils—and curried vegetables and chutneys, sometimes red, orange, or green in color but mostly yellow. We learned—or re-learned—how to eat with our hands, and now at each meal it’s practically the norm. We clean our hands carefully before each meal, then scoop up mouthfuls of bhaat (rice), curried peas and cauliflower, daal, and saag and push it into our mouths with our thumbs, afterwards remaining careful of contaminating other objects by touching them with our eating hand. It’s made me much more mindful of my food and how I eat, now that’s it’s unfamiliar again to me, and that I interact with the texture of my food much more intimately.
Yesterday we had a couple hours of free time, during which we all sat around on the grass–more brown than green, truly–writing letters to our future selves to be opened in three months, playing cards, messing around on the guitar, doing handstands, dancing, and just talking. I felt as aimless and bored as a child, left to make one’s own fun, a rare feeling lately and thus a precious one–the only aim to enjoy our time with each other.
There’s a beautiful view of the mountains from our hotel, which changes daily depending on the smog levels in the valley and the weather. There’s always a haze hiding most of the mountains, but some parts of the days we can see the snowy peaks emerge above it. This morning was especially beautiful—it had rained the night before, and a combination of fresh snow on the mountains making them appear in greater definition and the rain having washed the particulate matter out of the air made the view breathtaking. Layers of blue and white receding in the distance, and the fresh smell of after-rain damp in the cold morning air.
The color of the dudhchiyaa (black tea with milk) we drink every day before each meal.
Each night in the dining room under a huge bronze-covered dome there’s a fire that we all gather around for warmth. Right now behind me my peers are all sitting around the dying embers, laughing, talking, taking turns picking at Choochy’s ukelele.