Last month I took my fashion hat off to co-chaperone a ten day trip of 30 Manav Sadhna children to the Himalayas along with my friend Tejshri, a MS volunteer of Gujarati descent, born and bred in Texas. I thought it might be stressful, stepping away from the research and studio work for so long- but this unexpected otherworldly experience is the first thing that has ever pulled my headspace away from my work. All of us were transported in some way throughout the duration of this adventure.
The Manav Sadhna kids have not traveled much before. They were very excited and I was excited for them- however I had no idea what it could mean to travel a long way up and down windy mountain roads through various means of transportation over the course of 10 days, with 30 children whose life experiences have moulded them into significantly stronger individuals than myself
The first two days were spent in Rishikesh/Hardiwar seeing Hindu temples and other various spiritual experiences (Gangaji aartis, river dips, ashrams and such). The Himalayas are supposed to be very spiritual. At first I didn’t think I would feel it. After all, I’m not Hindu- Although I was curious to learn about the religion. There are so many amazing stories full of philosophy and beautiful life lessons in Hinduism. My personal spiritual background is solely monotheistic, as such I had a little trouble connecting with the idea of so many energies each with a separate divine power. Did they come together to form one? Or are they all really separate, with their multitude of connections and reincarnations? I asked a lot of questions throughout the tours. The trip felt like a mini “birthright” for the kids, and to me it was a such a valuable learning experience.
Rishikesh Gangaji Aarti above, Haridwar Gangaji Aarti below
Aarti defined: "Hindu religious ritual of worship, a part of puja, in which light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more deities." In this event, the prayers were to Mother Ganges.
Above: Bharat Mata Mandir
Below: Vishnu Devi Temple
As time went on, the reality of being surrounded by a vastly different culture and language at all hours settled in (there is no alone time with 30 Indian children and the other Indian chaperones. They don’t do that here, it’s not a thing like in the US) It was a constant attempt at translations in my head, when I'm not even close to fluent in Hindi (yet). I speak just enough to bond with the kids on merit, but no Gujarati at all which is their primary language. Teju is American but her Gujarati roots are strong, so she was able to translate the language as well as whatever cultural bits were lost on me- which created some challenges for her with regards to constantly communicating between both sides. However, I would randomly have really beautiful moments with the kids where we could understand each other in Hindi, and they would even teach me! I helped them with their English as well.
Our nights in Rishikesh were spent in the Parmarth Niketan Yoga Ashram. We were happy, however severely lacking in sleep due to the somewhat unnecessary early mornings imposed on us (5:30, 3:30, when the kids don’t get in bed until 12 at the earliest), but still happy. It was our little space for our little four hour nights, after being on rickety sleeper buses for two nights in a row. We were tired, but feeling adventurous and ready for the mountainous ascent up the Himalayas to Uttarkashi on the third day.