Sunday, June 9, 2013

Beautiful Souls

Greetings from McLeod Ganj, a small mountain town. The majority of this town is occupied by Tibetans who escaped Chinese rule by crossing through the Himalayas. Their story is truly inspiring. The scenery here is absolutely breathtaking. The view from our hotel encompasses small towns carved into the mountains, lush greenery, and even a snowy mountain in the distance. Who knew snow even existed in India? The market here is unlike any other place in India. The jewelery is all handmade with such precision and attention to detail. Silver and turquoise rings, necklaces, earrings, and statues fill the marketplace. More than just the physical aspects of McLeod Ganj, I am deeply drawn to it due to its people. Shop owners don't haggle you to enter their jobs. They don't even try to overcharge you because you are a foreigner. People on the streets smile, wave, and exchange kind words. Other tourists kindly greet you, ask about why you are in India, and share their stories with you. Even the dogs here are nice, and look fairly clean. In fact, one dog followed some of the girls into the restaurant we were eating at, and just sat and watched us as we ate; he was adorable. It almost doesn't feel like India anymore. The occasional cow dung on the streets, honking of horns, and smell of stale urine reminds me that I still am here, just in a colder, more relaxed town.

Today, I was lucky enough to attend Tong Len's hostel, a place where 83 students live, study, play, and learn. These children once lived in a nearby slum, and were taken to Tong Len to live a better life. A lot of their parents continue to beg on the streets, work labor jobs, or are no longer in the children's lives. The kids at Tong Len won't let any unfortunate circumstances stop them from achieve their dreams. Some girls, like my friend Renu, want to be singers when they grow up. The boys want to be futbol players. A lot of them even want to be lawyers, doctors, and engineers. I admire their determination and ability to look past the difficulties and obstacles they have faced, and continue to face. I've learned a lot from these kids today... probably more than I can even express in words. I can't even imagine growing up in a slum, and now growing up without my parents. These children are anywhere from 4-18 years old, but they all are so happy. They have so little, but seem happier than I can ever remember myself being. I think that says a lot. We, as Americans, tend to forget the bigger picture. We forget to put things in perspective. What does it take to make you happy? A new car? A good grade? A new boyfriend or girlfriend? For these kids, simply playing with them made them so happy. Giving them a hug, a kiss on the cheek, carrying the young children, and joking around with the older ones went such a long way. I'm absolutely exhausted from running around, playing soccer, playing tag, playing American Idol, getting henna done, playing dress-up, and playing hand games. My new friends, Renu (the next big popstar), Mumta (Cupid), Sahil (who's real name is Vishal, but he calls himself Sahil since I told him that is my favorite boy name), Rahul (the boy who wouldn't let go of my hand and cried when it was time for me to leave), and Mukesh (my husband... he gave me a ring, sang me a song, told me he loved me, and got my phone number) have changed my life. I really hope that I can go back to Tong Len some day and visit my friends again. They have the purest, most beautiful souls I have encountered. I can only hope that I can learn the key to true happiness that it seems that they have all found.

Until next time, Radhi

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