Triund Trek: A Love/Hate Story

July 9th

Let me tell you about an incredibly fun/miserable thing I did. Is that even possible? Yes, apparently it is. So there’s this thing called hiking. I’m sure you have heard of it. You walk, for fun, up mountains, through forests, across rivers, etc etc. Why would anyone do this when naps are a thing? I don’t know, but for some reason everywhere I go I feel inticed to participate in this activity. 

So, prior to coming to India I had read about Triund Trek, which of course takes place in the mighty Himalayan mountains. “It will be fun” they said. “Anyone can do it” they said. 

I found a willing victim to participate with me and Sunday morning we were off bright and early! We took a taxi up to Guna Devi Temple, just beyond McLeod Ganj. We were told it would take 4 hours to go up, and 2-3 hours to get back down. I won’t say “sounds easy enough” because let’s get real, 4 hours of walking up a mountain sounds horrible to me. But, I was determined to make it to the top and have bragging rights of hiking the Himalayas. 


We were not even 20 minutes in when we needed our first break. We both had a hard time breathing due to the altitude. That plus my broken body made things difficult from the very beginning. I think we both started to realize this was going to be more difficult than we thought, and I was lowkey wondering if it would be acceptable to give up yet. I mean, we already had a nice view?

Guys, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult this hike was. In retrospect, the first 45 minutes was nothing compared to the rest. It began as a lush forest. It’s what I imagine the Pacific Northwest looks like, and Phi agreed. The trees were beautiful and the plants were so green! Then it got crazy. We reached a point where the trail disappeared at times. We climbed boulders, walked through rivers, scaled the edge of mountains, crossed paths with cows, horses, goats, and monkeys, and trekked through rain and mud, all up a steep incline. For over 3 and a half hours. We didn’t even know where the path was at some points and kind of just guessed. It’s a miracle we even made it to the top with my sense of direction, honestly. 




As you can imagine, I wore out very easily. Thankfully, Phi was awesome and let me take a break every 10 minutes. The hike was beautiful though, despite my misery. Every turn you made led you to a more incredible view. There were parts that we felt like we were straight out of Lord of the Rings, trekking to Mordor. We made some friends along the way. We crossed paths with a group of guys who were having their own personal photoshoot all the way up and we were cracking up watching them. We would get ahead of them, but then take a break and they would pass us, and so on. We wondered who would win our unofficial race (it was them by the way). 




I’m really thankful that I had Phi there, because she’s the only reason I kept going. I wanted to give up so bad. At one point, when I thought my legs wouldn’t carry me another step, I almost told her to continue and I would wait. Just as I was about to speak, she encouraged me to keep going, so I did. Neither of us knew how much longer we had left. It seemed no matter how far we climbed, the top was never in sight. We would ask people we passed how much longer, but got answers ranging anywhere between 4 more hours to 30 minutes (we got 30 minutes a lot and they were all liars). 

But, finally, we reached the top. We did it. We competed Triund Trek. 

And it was foggy so there was no incredible view. 


But no worries. We bought ourselves a drink and some snacks, found a spot on the grass to sit, and enjoyed a break. While we were buying our drink, we saw you could order food and we decided maggi (ramen) actually sounded amazing in the damp, cool weather. We headed back to the shop, found a spot inside, and posted up with our maggi until it was time to leave. We got there just in time too, because shortly after it started to pour, but we stayed nice and dry. As we were leaving, the sky cleared up a little and we were able to fit in a nice photo before the fog rolled back in. 





The hike back down was not so pleasant. In true monsoon-season-fashion, it was a downpour all the way down. Thankfully we had ponchos, so we stayed relatively dry, but the path became super slippery and dangerous. It was at this moment that we both started to question our decision to do this. 

We were supposed to be back at the bottom at 3 PM for our taxi. Due to the rain, we had to go super slow. At 5:30 we finally made it to our taxi. Phi was my encouragement getting up the mountain, and I became her encouragement going down. I could tell she was hurting, and miserable, and it was raining, and just not a great situation. 

So, 9.5 hours of walking up and down a mountain. I don’t know what I was thinking, but I’m glad I did it. Living with chronic pain and fatigue, there was a time that I thought I would never be able to do this, but here I am. Climbing Mt. Afadjato was a huge accomplishment for me last year, and I’m happy I can now add Triund to my list. 

I’ve been thinking about doing a hike when I get to Nepal, so I guess I’ve just gone crazy at this point. 
-Bri

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Dharamsala: Land of the Himalayas

July 3rd:

Finally, after an exciting, albeit exhausting weekend of travel, me and my group of teens made it to Dharamsala! We almost didn’t make it at all, actually. We left promptly at 8:30 AM and were met with the crazy Delhi traffic you always hear about and hope you never have to experience. We made it to the airport at 10:00, 40 minutes prior to our plane departing. I have never been so stressed out in my life. It would not have been I big deal if it were just me, but for the first time I was responsible for getting a group of volunteers to their final destination, after having already been delayed. I thought I was going to have a panic attack while we were standing in security because the man scanning bags kept casually getting up to walk around. I finally managed to flag down another employee and showed him our ticket (at this point we had about 20 minutes). They sped up a little but it was still frustratingly slow. Oh well, we made it to our plane just in time, and super bonus that my carry on actually fit in the overhead! 1 hour later we safely landed in Dharamsala.

The rest of the week is a bit of an exhausting blur. Jet lag got the best of me and I feel like I’m still adjusting to the time difference. Tuesday we had a great evening celebrating 4th of July. The staff cooked us a proper American dinner consisting of mashed potatoes, fried chicken, and corn on the cobb! They also brought us the most epic sparklers ever and we found great joy in lighting as much on fire as we could handle, all while singing our national anthem. Our groups from Australia and Canada watched on with support but also slight confusion.

Wednesday began the first day of placement for me! I spent the week with my teen volunteers working with children from a migrant community. The community consists of about 10 families who have traveled from Rajasthan for work. They live in what is essentially a tent community for the majority of the year, but do go back to their villages during holiday. The school takes place down the street at a temple where the children are grouped by age and learn English, math, and other basic skills (dance parties are also a frequent occurrence). Just within my first week, I’ve noticed something about India that I had never experienced: the value of education. The children here are incredibly eager to learn as much as they can. It’s such a stark contrast from the attitude I’ve seen back home, where school is sometimes seen as a nuisance. They are technically on holiday due to monsoon season, but look forward to coming to “CCS School” every day to learn from the volunteers. We were taken to their village on Friday and I cannot even begin to tell you how hospitable these families were to us. It’s quite amazing to see these people that have so little, but are content with what they have. They all invited us to see inside their homes and offered us tea and places to sit. The children loved showing us where they stay! When they leave, they literally pack up everything they own, tents and all, and move back to their village until it’s time to come back.


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This is Anil, my favorite little boy. He’s a bit of troublemaker at times, but gosh darn it he’s adorable and has a smile that will melt your heart.

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The cultural activities for the week did not disappoint! Tuesday we visited Jagori Rural Charitable Trust, a local NGO that works to empower women in India, and also educate the public on organic farming and reversing the damage we have done to Mother Earth. We had a lovely talk with the head of the organization and she educated us on the struggles women face in India. I think I left slightly more feminist than when I came in but I don’t hate it? I’m also a little obsessed with the compound they have set up. It’s filled with adorable homes, plants, and flowers! It’s impossible to not feel like you’re one with nature there.

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Wednesday we visited Norbulingka Institute, which is a Tibetan temple/cultural museum/Tibetan art center. I loved this place and wish I could have stayed for days. Not only did we learn a bit about Buddhism/Tibet’s culture, but we got to see the various art forms they practice there. Wood carving, wood painting, and thangka painting are just a few things they do there. The art work is so intricate and incredible, it’s truly something you have to see in person! Of course, we also got to visit the temple, and of course it was breathtaking.

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Thursday we had a special guest in the house. While I was in Delhi I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of traditional dance, taught by a guru who is a friend of Bela and Monu. Unfortunately, her name escapes me, but her and her granddaughter flew to Dharamsala to give us an in depth class about the dance style and the meaning behind it. At the end of the class we got to practice a short stretch routine that is used and holy cow my legs were actually sore for days. These women have an incredible amount of body strength and control to do these dances.



Friday was the day I had been looking forward to all week: a trip to Dalai Lama’s temple! As some of my family knows, I’m weirdly fascinated with the Dalai Lama and while I have accepted I probably will never see him in person, his temple will be sufficient for now. Quite literally tucked away in McLeod Ganj, his temple overlooks the Himalayas and as soon as you walk in you feel at peace. We got to see a couple different temple rooms, but they were all essentially the same. Also, I touched the Dalai Lama’s seat. I asked Neha 3 times if it was okay and she said yes…so I did it. I also spun a giant prayer wheel, along with all the smaller prayer wheels surrounding the temple, so I’m feeling pretty englightened, you know?

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So that’s it, folks! That’s my first week in Dharamsala. India has quickly captured my heart in a way that no other country has, and I’m very excited to explore more of the culture and the people here!

 

-B

 

Briana Takes on Asia

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Yes friends, you are reading correctly, it’s time for a NEW adventure!

Last year while I was in Ghana the idea of becoming a program specialist for Cross Cultural Solutions was planted into my head (thanks Kelly). Since August, I have stayed put and patiently waited for the opportunity to apply. That opportunity finally arrived in March and many emails, phone calls, and video chats later, I was offered a position with CCS as a program specialist for the next year!

I was given the very difficult task of choosing between going back to Ghana, or embarking on a journey to India. I had been contemplating this since my initial interview and, trust me, it was a tough pick. But, I did finally decide to try somewhere new and take on India!

Here’s the best part: I leave in one month.

Prep is already underway here, and so far it’s going well. Much like last year, I don’t feel nervous about this trip. I’m a little anxious having to pack up my life to go live abroad for the next year or longer, but I’m pushing through!

I’ll give more details on what I’ll be doing in a later post, but just know it’s going to be a very exciting year ahead of me. I’ll be traveling to multiple countries, all while giving back to the local communities and doing my thang as a PS.

So, here we go! Briana takes on Asia!
**Side note, after much deliberation, I have decided not to rename my blog, for those of you wondering. Ghana was the first place to steal my heart, so a yevu I will stay :)**