|Himalayas by On The Go Tours, Creative Common Licence|
We started our adventure at the Khali Estate, a historic colonial property that is now a mountain lodge. It offers the basic creature comforts and the grounds and architecture are beautiful. It was a great place to acclimate to the thinner mountain air and start shedding our western technology as there is no television and life is peaceful and simple.
|Khali Estate by AniGupta, Creative Common Licence|
The best part of the adventure began, however, when our guide took us on our first day of walking the ancient stone and dirt trails of the Himalayan foothills and we ended up in a small hillside village. We not only stayed the night, we were able to stay another day and participate in many of the village activities. This is where I shed my first layer of stress and it has thankfully never returned.
|Himalayan foothills by Dey, Creative Common Licence|
We visited many small villages, all with a unique flavour and different nuances to the traditional customs of this region. All, though, had a much simpler way of life than what we were used to and we came to appreciate this as a blessing, not as a hardship as we initially felt. Most of these small hillside villages consist of only three to ten families and the sense of community is extremely tight knit. These people are interdependent on one another for food, basic comfort, weather survival, and protection from predators, especially at night. They have no money and very few material possessions, at least compared to western standards. However, I believe them to be among the richest of all people in many other ways. They understand what's truly important in life as they are so richly connected to one another. They also have a deep connection to their beautiful land. They are incredibly in tune with Mother Nature, especially as they grow, collect, and store their own food.
|Nepali House by MinutesAlone, Creative Common Licence|
Most of the villagers live in drafty structures with a dirt floor and very simple cooking utensils and beds, yet they seem to be smiling all the time. Blankets, warm clothing, ample food, simple shelter, and the comfort of one another seemed to all that was needed to make them truly happy and fulfilled. They seemed to draw energy from each other bringing to mind that old expression that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. They rejoice in simple things that many westerners take for granted.
The villagers are super friendly and completely unpretentious. They work in a cooperative and harmonious way, each contributing to the best of their ability. They plant rice, hay, and numerous vegetables and fruits on terraced farm plots along the hillsides. They welcomed our help in farming and cooking activities, and even though it was technically work, we had so much fun doing so it was one of the highlights of our trip. Some villagers knew a bit of broken English but mostly we communicated with an ad hoc sign language system and gestures. The facial expressions of these people were so sweet it was infectious. I know the warmth of these people was an immensely important part of my overall transformation.
|Chai tea by gautamnguitar, Creative Common Licence|
Many of the villages we visited had built special accommodations for western guests, but whenever possible, we tried to stay inside the homes of the villagers. We were honored when they allowed us to do so and we tried our best to follow their customs to make them more comfortable with us. The vegetarian dahls and curries they served with rice were delicious and it was all made with seasonal fresh ingredients grown on a nearby farm plot you easily walk to. They don't have or need a term for "organic" because everything is grown in an organic way! Chai tea is important for setting the stage for social actitivies and each village has its own style of chai that they serve piping hot.
I took along journals to record the daily events but increasingly I found myself writing more about how my attitudes and feelings were changing. Sometimes I would get totally lost in my writing. Somehow putting pen to paper helped me immerse myself in this different and wonderful culture, a way of life that has remained largely unchanged for literally centuries. Writing down how I was feeling helped me experience it more fully.
The scenery is so dramatic in the Himalayas, I would sometimes become conscious of my breathing pattern changing as we lingered at various panoramic viewpoints to soak it all in. While I took many pictures, I have to say that none of them truly captured the immensity of the Himalayan landscape. It's something you have to experience first-hand to really understand. The snow-capped mountaintops are so enormously tall, they seem to reach halfway to heaven. As you fill your peripheral vision with their majestic presence, it is a humbling experience that you know in an instance you'll never forget. Even when I close my eyes now and envision that landscape, my breathing pattern changes.
|Himalaya at night by Stephen A. Wolfe, Creative Common Licence|
One of the best parts of the trip had to be experiencing true darkness at night without all the light pollution we have in the western world. There were so many stars in the sky, you could actually see the Milky Way. Some stars were vividly bright and sparkling but the fainter stars are so numerous they almost looked like a velvet carpet stretching across the arc of the sky. I never realized before this trip how common shooting stars are because most are so faint that you'd never see them under the city lights, even when driving "in the country." Here, you could easily see several shooting stars an hour!
|Serpent eagles by sfitzgerald86, Creative Common Licence|
As we walked along the ancient stone and dirt pathways between villages, we were immersed in the natural world with all five senses being continually fed. By the end of the trip, I truly believe my sense of smell had become ten times more sensitive and my hearing much more acute. I was becoming part of nature, not just a passive observer. The wildlife we encountered was absolutely amazing. Serpent eagles and vultures were often seen soaring overhead. Occasionally, we'd spot the ever-elusive leopard cats and this was always a great heart thumping thrill. Our guides informed us that leopards are quite common in this region but they are masters at going undetected. During our rare glimpses into their world, I was amazing at how similar their behaviours were to our domestic felines at home. Of course, we always loved seeing the barking deer, mountain goats, wild pigs, rabbits, and monkeys as we passed through the forests. However, the land animal that probably tickled my fancy the most were the porcupines, a creature I've only rarely seen before.
If you are looking for a true adventure, then you should consider Himalayan village walks on your next vacation. Even if you only have one week to spare, with the right guide you can visit by foot some of the villages near the Binsar Wildlife Sanctuary in northern India. Just a few days trekking through the majestic landscape and visiting the traditional villages along the way will be enough for you to discover that the true riches on this planet aren't found in a bank account, real estate, or a financial portfolio. This is what I learned in this magical region of the world.
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About author: Shakti Himalaya – Himalayan Tour and travel