Namaste and Assalamu Aleikom:
I have just returned from my three week journey to Kashmir and India. I distinguish the two in deference to my Kashmiri family and friends that hold for an independent state. Hindus and Moslems, Kashmir and India, Family Compounds and a Hamlet….my trip was one of deep contrasts.
As always, I am profoundly and deeply changed by my experience. The themes for this trip emerged as Family and Commitment. As Westerners we experience our families as “Roots and Wings”….a foundation from which to launch into the world…a place that rarely includes more than our immediate members…and our elders are more and more being placed into other’s care. We even have a name for this: Empty Nest Syndrome. Indian and Kashmiri families do not comprehend this Western notion of “family.”
I had the privilege to be accepted into a Moslem family of over 30 members. We slept together, ate together, washed dishes & clothes, peeled vegetables, laughed, teared up, sang and danced together. I witnessed three days of wedding ritual and ceremony on the groom’s side….a contract between two families that binds their ancestory forever. I have never seen such devotion to welcoming a bride into the family. The women opened their arms, sang their ancient songs, and their hearts were unconditional in their love for Subeena….a new sister/aunt/cousin/child….and wife of Tahir.
The landscape of Kashmir is more beautiful than can be described. It is often referred to as “Heaven on Earth.” The mountains are dramatic…..filled with shepherds and gypsies and mosques that call everyone to prayer five times a day. It was stunning as I trekked past the 8th century Naranag temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
I then traveled to Dharamshala. This is my second visit to McLeod Ganj- the home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan government in exile. Like the Kashmiris….the Tibetans hold for an independent state….and a maintenance of their cultural history. Their commitment to independence is fierce with patience that comes from their loving and compassionate hearts.
I had the honor of being the first American EVER to be invited to live in the hamlet of Daloh…a 2 km walk up a mountain on a “goat trail”….to the home of my good friend, Aju…where there is only a “nature bathroom” and a sleeping mat on a roof to keep cool at night. Dinner is prepared in a separate kitchen over a fire….by three sisters and a mother that work harder than anyone I have ever witnessed. Every day….with no time off….year after year. And yet, at sundown we gather at a simple altar….in the cow field….and chant…calling in Durga, Kali, Saraswati, and Shiva….clapping with joy….the tears rolling down my face in the dark as I feel so privileged to be there under the Indian stars, wisps of incense and manure, shoulder to shoulder with my family….and a heart that is wide open to the offering to the gods and goddesses.
I feel that I am a seasoned India traveler….navigating this vast country filled with 1.2 billion beings. I don’t feel alone or unseen. I feel welcomed into the heart and generosity of it’s people…who have extended their hearts and homes to me….and included me as family. We share stories and secrets….and I depart…knowing that my return is eagerly awaited. They have no idea how eager I am to come home again. Their home. My home. India.
Nancy West McGuire