The weather here is near perfect, warm during the day, cool at night. I finally roll out the yoga mat I’ve been carrying around throughout India and practice in the late afternoon on our balcony as the sun slips behind the hills. Gerard is still writing, with the end in sight…he says. Only a handful of western tourists come here…some to study Buddhism, some to study Hindi and one even, all the way from Australia, to edit her manuscript for publication. Others, like us, come for the uniqueness of the place. Chris, a retired business management consultant from San Francisco, still young, is now living here practicing Buddhism and hiking around the hills. A Belgian, in his early 50s, has spent most of his adult life traveling, much of it in India as a seeker. He now admits the time has come to establish a base but is not sure where that is…too many choices. Another traveler from Switzerland has been on the road for fifteen years, ninety percent of this spent in India, returning home only three times. Like the Belgian, he’s on a spiritual quest which takes him to many holy places. Over the years, we’ve met quite a few unusual travelers in this town.
For three years Sapna fed us at her small restaurant, but now she’s moved out of town. She and her husband built a house several kilometers away and she stays home while her husband works as a stone cutter. They proudly showed us their new house, simple and unfinished. There’s still a lot of work to be done, the bare brick walls have not been plastered, the dirt floor covered with linoleum, and a temporary kitchen. She admits it’s lonely to be at home and outside town while her children are at school and husband at work, with only a cow and dog for company; but it’s a home of her own.
A Tibetan Ayurvedic doctor was recommended to us because we were ‘old’. His dispensary is decorated with Tibetan prayer flags and literally piles of plastic bags, spilling out of cupboards, full of powders in various shades of cream, brown and black. How he can tell them apart? I asked his wife. She shrugged, of course he knows. Using his wife as translator, he diagnosed us from a combination of our urine, pulse and tongue and confirmed the imbalance in our humors or energies. For each of us, he wrapped up four little bags of different powders to be taken throughout the day for a week. For the consultation and medicine he charged us a grand total of 200 rupees ($3) each.
Our peaceful hideaway town nearly disappeared during the three-day Punjabi springtime festival, Baisakhi. It’s enthusiastically celebrated here by both Hindus and Sikhs while the Buddhists stand back. Sikhs arrive in van loads to stay at the local gurudwara, draped with green and purple lights. Hindu sadhus came up from nearby Mandi and sleep on the street. While merchants of cheap plastic paraphernalia, kitchenware, sandals, blankets…set up tables covered by plastic awnings alongside the lake. Fireworks explode in the middle of the day, shooting sprays of sparkling color into the sunshine. Clear plastic balloons flash with multi colored lights at the press of a switch. As in Varanasi, with the increased availability of electricity, Indians have taken colored lighting to an extreme only matched in Vegas.
During Baishaki, the local gods that live in the temple are brought out and paraded around town with loud drumming and chanting. Townspeople who have the right resources, including a separate empty room, can request hosting one of the gods for the night. The temple priest grants their wish by a simple process of throwing rice. The thrown pieces of rice are counted; if the number is odd, the request is granted, This year, a local taxi driver we know had been granted the privilege of hosting. To pay back to the community for the honor, he provided a free langar, and invited us. After eating, we visited the god in his room, made a donation and received prashad from a young priest sitting there. I felt privileged to participate in such an ancient local ritual.