There’s something magical about waking up to the tallest mountain range in the world peeking out from behind clouds. Every morning I stepped out of my room and was met with a brand new version of the Himalayas. Some days, the clouds hung high above the peaks, showing off Nanda Devi in all its snow-capped glory. Other days, the mountains were hidden behind fog and I had to squint to make out the hills barely a mile away. On the last morning, I woke to clouds settled into valleys, and it struck me that I was quite literally above the clouds. Every morning brought something a little different, and every morning brought something just a little more beautiful.
After standing outside my room, entranced by the mountains for 10 to 15 minutes, my homestay mom, Shushila-ji, would beckon me into the kitchen for morning chai. We sat together as she expertly kneaded chapati dough, laughing every time I offered to help. She eventually relented and Dani and I learned how to make our own roti.
As we ate breakfast, cross legged on the stone floor, the family kitten would leap into my lap and settle himself between my legs. I’ve never considered myself a cat person before this past week, but I may have to change my stance after falling in love with Mao. As my homestay brother Vikrant explained to me, the cat doesn’t really have a name, but they call him Mao since that’s the sound cats make. This conversation occurred after a very confusing 5 minutes where I tried to ask Shushila-ji why both her cat and the neighbors cat was named Mao. Since her English skills are limited, and my Hindi skills are equally non-existent, that conversation got us nowhere. Luckily Vikrant was there to save the day.
In an attempt to practice rolling my R’s, I would repeat the Pahari word for cat (brrow) over and over as I stroked Mao. This always elicited chuckles from my family, and by the end of the week I was cemented as the crazy cat lady.
On my last morning in Majkhali, after staring at the Himalayas and drinking my cup of chai, Shushila-Ji ducked into her bedroom and returned with Mao in hand. She plopped him into my arms while repeating “brrow” in a playful tone. I laughed with her, and was struck by just how quickly I had fallen into a little morning routine. Wake up; mountains; chai; Mao; repeat. It took less than a week for Majkhali to feel like home, even when nothing was the same.
And so with my mind full of mountains, my stomach full of chai, and my arms full of Mao, my final morning in Majkhali drew to a close. I set down the cat, waved goodbye to my family, and turned away from the mountains. As Neerav told us to do, I think I may have left a little bit of my soul there.