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Photo by Caleb Brooks

Dharamsala Homestays

Meat. The intoxicating scent of fried mutton and chicken momos wafted through the narrow streets of Mcleodganj, a proverbial North Star to guide the iron- and vitamin B12-deficient members of the India cohort to the promised land of milk and honey and protein. (There were copious amounts of vegetable momos for our herbivorous comrades.) This, of course, was a most welcome surprise, and it was the first of many we encountered during our weeklong sojourn in the city of Dharamshala.

We spent a week immersing ourselves in Mcleodganj and living with the Tibetan refugee community, a culturally distinct ethnic group that resides in a picturesque neighborhood several kilometers above central Dharamshala. Our first homestay experience allowed us to interact with and learn from a welcoming community whilst being surrounded by the beautiful Himalayas.

Participants Pia and Anna took a lengthy stroll around the city on the first night of our stay with their humorous and relatable homestay sister, who teaches English to Thai children and helps her mother at their roadside shop.

Dani and Sydney listened to their homestay mother’s stories of religious and cultural persecution and were inspired by her strength and persistence.

Fernando and Tejas found deep meaning in the smallest of interactions with their amala, whether it was a simple word of hello in the morning or a half-Hindi half-English conversation over a pot of momos during dinner. The duo watched her hands in awe as she meticulously knit wool winter hats, in addition to observing amala’s continuous afternoon mantras.

Sijbren and Max enjoyed playing with and celebrating the birthday of their 4-year-old homestay sister and received an insider’s tour of the family’s neighborhood from their brother, who returned home from boarding school on the cohort’s final evening in Mcleodganj. Their father, who is the director of a Tibetan NGO advocating nonviolent communication, offered wise new perspectives on the political and cultural situation affecting the community, in addition to teaching his momo-wrapping techniques.

In between hearing from Tibetan freedom fighters and spending time with homestay families, the BYI cohort found time to complete an eight mile, six-hour-long hike. The journey took the group up a steep dirt road and along a winding mountain path, which ultimately lead to a dramatic waterfall and striking views of the mountain range. With fresh air in BYI’s lungs and sore quads the next morning, the group felt accomplished and renewed.