In case you have been dying to know since last week’s blog, I’ll tell you now–we did not meet the Dalai Lama. Despite this setback, we ended up having a great time in the mountains of Dharamsala. First of all, the place we stayed at was beautiful, and even came with a lovely dog named Sasha. (My favorite resident, of course). It was also approximately 30° F cooler than it would be in the desert of Jaipur, and located at the foothills of the majestic Himalayas.
During the week we had various workshops to attend related to themes of women’s empowerment, organized by our host organization, Jagori. On our first day there we visited a village where a workshop on women’s reproductive health was being conducted. The doctor there told the women about natural remedies they could find around them, and encouraged them to always take care of themselves when they had any health problems.
Though driving anywhere in this area took quite some time, I loved being in the mountains again driving up and down the winding roads. Our driver for the week, who expertly navigated around any ditches/cows/yaks/goats/people/buses that entered our path, also kindly stopped for pictures every time a particularly magnificent view of the mountains was visible. We were all so happy to be out of the desert for a week, it was difficult going back.
Unfortunately, we also had a lot of work to do while in Dharamsala. Though I had already finished mine over the weekend, most of my classmates still had to finish their research papers that were due on Tuesday. Various other responsibilities also popped up for most of us that week, making it more difficult to relax in such calm place than I would’ve liked.
On Tuesday morning we attended another workshop, this time meant to teach adolescent girls about gender issues. This was my favorite excursion of the week, and I was incredibly impressed by how these issues were tackled. At the introductory meeting, they were told told to say two nice things about themselves. For some of the girls this was difficult, and exercise served as a jumping off point for further conversation.
They were also instructed to write stories about boys and girls in small groups, and the leader used their stories to teach them lessons about gender. She told them about the importance of working together, asked them to think about why girls are meant to act the way they do, and instilled in them their right to refuse marriage. Next, reminiscent of what might happen in one of my gender studies classes, they were instructed to walk like girls, and then like boys, and perform other similarly gendered activities. This was fascinating and very relatable to watch, and also allowed the instructor to talk about where these norms might come from. As someone who studies these topics in an academic setting, it was intriguing to see such a complex issue be taught to young girls in such a thoughtful yet understandable manner.
Before our next workshop on Wednesday, we visited a beautiful temple in Dharamsala. It was wonderfully peaceful and decorated with ornate artwork and the vibrant colors of Tibet. Later that morning we attended another workshop which was similar to the one we attended on Monday. We learned more about natural remedies for common ailments, and heard about specific health problems facing the women in these villages. After this workshop we went to a more commercial part of town where there was plenty of shopping. As we were parking, it began raining fairly hard (for just about the first time since I’ve been here). I immediately had the urge to jump out the window and run through the rain, but settled on inhaling the smell of wet pavement instead.
On Thursday we attended a workshop about the Women’s Courts that Jagori organizes. These courts are run by women who act as lawyers and counselors to women who are victims of domestic abuse. Though not funded by the state, they are able to help women obtain the rights they are entitled to once the case has been settled. It was inspiring hearing these women talk, especially knowing the danger they face doing this precarious job.
One of my favorite parts of the trip was the communication we were able to have with the other women staying at Jagori. There was a group of feminist activists from around the world, mainly from Africa and the United States, who there were for a yoga retreat. We got to talk to them about the work they do and their specific perspectives, and I felt honored to even be around such inspiring women.
On our last day in the mountains we met with two groups of women in villages, and then relaxed by a refreshingly cool mountain stream. This was a great break before we went back to our rooms to finish our work that evening. Before we headed to the train station on Saturday, we visited a popular waterfall and the Dalai Lama’s temple, enjoying being tourists for an afternoon. Later that evening we got on an overnight train back to Jaipur. When we arrived in the morning, we were hit by an impenetrable wave of heat and were quickly thrown back into city life. Stay tuned to see if I survive this week’s heat wave.
Until next time,
A city slicker re-introduced to nature