Sleeping With Giants

“We sit together the mountain and me until only the mountain remains”  – Li Po

Here we are at 13 thousand feet and we have just finished the fifth day of our trek.  Surrounded by giants we can unload our backs and unload our hearts.  We have no noise of the rushing cars and cares of the city up here in the cold clear air.  All that we have here are is the sound of the river and the fog that is slowly wrapping its self around us.  If we could see it the glow of the sun on the mountains slowly fades from its brilliant white through the warm colours to end in a purple magenta barely being sliced only by the highest rocks.

The mountains usually are the last thing in the valley to go to bed but tonight our camp is still ringing with the sound of clinking pots, ringing bells and ripping sound as people unzip their tents on their way to dinner.  Such sounds have been our symphony accompanying us through the whole trek.  It is a very nice distraction from the yelling and honking horns of India.  Here we sit with ourselves and the mountains, maybe the occasional pack animal that decided the grass is better right in between our tents.  Dinner with the mountains always tastes fantastic. Maybe because the food is just better, maybe it is the company, maybe it is the thin air.  Most likely though it is that we are all hungry after a long day of hiking.  When we finish eating the world is dark, all of the dzo and the horses have gone to bed.  It becomes just us our light and the ever inspiring presence of the mountains reaching up to catch the stars.  Laughing the stars just tumble and scatter out of the way of the massive peaks.  Ever the same this game of tag is played all throughout the night without interruption.  Our tents however look like the stars that have been caught.  Glowing beacons in the otherwise dark night, lanterns guiding us to our beds.

Early in the morning these gentle giants bend down with glowing faces to greet us.  White snowy peaks with grey stone beards the constant presence all around us.  With frost on our boots we climb out of our warm cocoon to see the first rays of the sun light fire to the world.

The snow reflects the light and we bask in the rosy glow of the morning.  Breath stolen away by their majesty we walk to breakfast rubbing sleep out of our eyes and the frost out of our bones. As we eat breakfast the day fully blooms right around us.  The world warms and brings activity and energy to all around.  We pack up our things and head off along the small stream towards the next night spent with the kindly keepers of the valley.

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Walking Club

While Walking Club began during our time at Rato Monastery, it was not until Dharamsala that I joined the club in the evenings. Then upon arrival in Gangtok, Sikkim, we thought that in preparation of our Himalayan Trek, Walking Club should meet twice a day for hour-ish long walks at 7:00am and again at 5:00pm. While the group would vary in size, it usually consisted of Luisa, Sarah, Grace, Lisa, Aleisha, Erin, and myself.

 

Rato Walking Club

Dharamsala Walking Club

From our hotel at the top of the hill we would walk around a loop, sometimes stopping at a local monastery to circumambulate the prayer hall or wander through soccer fields and backyards. We were always exploring new places and finding ourselves in new areas of town. We’d walk our usual loop but because it was quite short we would often add other loops and explore other paths. One morning we found ourselves lost in a field full of prayer flags and other times we would do our best to keep clear of stray dogs and loitering high school students. On days we wanted to go on a longer walk we would walk up the hill to a different monastery and spin the numerous prayer wheels before heading back down towards home.

Depending on the time of day we would sometimes find ourselves and the valley below covered in fog which we fondly named the Gangtok Fog Monster. The Fog Monster would fill the valley in the morning and would begin to disappear as we made our way back to the hotel, revealing the city in the hills below. One morning the Fog Monster was particularly large and reduced our visibility significantly but allowed for one of the best jumping photos of the year as we sliced through the Fog Monster.

 

The best jumping photo ever…

 

On our final morning of Walking Club we awoke to a downfall and contemplated going out but decided in the end to brave the weather. It was raining harder than it had during our time in Gangtok and after completing our single loop we were all completely soaked so we ended our walk early and headed back to the hotel for hot tea and breakfast.

Walking Club was a great time to relax and forget about school work for an hour or two. We also thought it would help us prepare for our Himalayan trek but walking around at 5,000 ft is a little different than 16,000 ft although it was nice to break in our hiking boots and test out new rain gear.

Annin

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Darjeeling

I signed up to write my blog on Darjeeling mostly because I had seen the movie, The Darjeeling Limited, and really enjoyed watching it. Contrary to the title of the movie though, there is no mention of the city of Darjeeling. The movie actually chronicles three brothers traveling on a too nice of a train for India to a destination that is not Darjeeling. So as you can see, my knowledge of Darjeeling was very limited. The only reason why Darjeeling sounded familiar to me was because of the aforementioned movie as well as the little boxes of Darjeeling tea that you might encounter in a grocery store.

We only spent a few days in Darjeeling but were able to get a little taste of the city. The city of Darjeeling reminded me a little of McLeod Ganj since it was a little city in the mountains. At the same time, Darjeeling was nothing like Dharamsala; it was much less developed, busy, and was predominately Nepalese. Coming from Salt Lake City, being among the mountains again was a nice break from the chaos of the bigger cities of India. Darjeeling was a lot quieter and much cooler in temperature than other parts of India.

During our stay in Darjeeling, we were lucky to be able to visit the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological park, which housed probably one of the cutest animals ever. The red panda. The red panda is a small arboreal mammal that is native to the eastern Himalayas and southeastern China. So while the red panda mainly eats bamboo like the giant panda, I think red pandas are much cooler and cuter than those silly white and black chubby guys.

Selina

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Spring Break in India

For my spring break on Pac Rim, I went to the biggest Ultimate Frisbee tournament in India, the Fly Baba 2012, which was held in the middle of our allotted time. I was invited to play for team Dishqiya from Hyderabad by a former Pac Rimmer from the 2008-2009 trip who met up with our group briefly while we were in Hampi. The tournament was held from March 23rd to the 25th in Kodaikanal, a small hill station in the very south of India, on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kristi and I flew to the Madurai airport from Delhi on March 21st and took a four hour car ride to Kodaikanal. We spent the 22nd getting to know our way around the hill station and meeting up with the Hyderabad team. Kodaikanal’s main attraction is a star-shaped lake, around which the town is situated. It is small, quiet, and peaceful, or at least it was until all the Ultimate players arrived.

I learned a lot about Indian Ultimate at the tournament. It is still a very new sport in India and the skill level is not quite what it is in America, but Indian teams more than make up for it in spirit. Spirit of the game is very a key concept in Ultimate – having fun is more important than winning, and I’m proud to say that Dishqiya won the spirit award for the whole tournament. After every game, we would form a big circle and elect an MVP from the other team, and then put a lungi (the traditional Indian male skirt) on them and ask them to dance.

The Fly Baba tournament started in 1999 with just 5 teams attending. 13 years later, it is the biggest tournament in India with a full 20 teams of all skill levels. Hyderabad ultimate brought two teams to play, one of more experienced players and the other with newer players who had never played in a tournament. I played with the less experienced team and helped them get familiar with the more advanced concepts of the game. I have played with the University of Puget Sound team for two years, and while I wasn’t playing at the level I am used to, it was very rewarding to help newer players and watch them grow over the course of the tournament. I am very thankful that I was able to play with Dishqiya and make many new friends.

Signing off from India…

A view of the lake in Kodaikanal

 

Here I am, playing for Dishqiya in purple

 

Dishqiya circling up at one of the final games

Allen

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The Highway from Hell

For spring break this year Pac Rim was once again scattered to places far and wide within India. For my free time I chose to travel with Connie, Veronica and Rachael to Mumbai and Goa. Upon arrival in Mumbai the first thing we did, naturally, was go shopping. After an hour-long taxi into the city we went to Anokhi, a shop many Pac Rimmers have favored since we toured their block-printing museum in Jaipur. Unsatisfied with the small store we ended up at, we committed to another two hour taxi to the other side of the city to find a bigger store, and then a second hour long taxi back to our hotel. We returned tired, shopped out, and I personally felt I did not want to ride in a car for a long time.

As fate would have it, our overnight train tickets to Goa had been waitlisted for a month, and as the date rapidly approached we still had not been confirmed for seats. We decided the best course of action would be to rent a van and a driver and take the 12-hour trip to Goa by car. Our hostel arranged everything, and as we brought our bags out to set out on our trip, we were dismayed to see not a van, but a small 5-seater car waiting for us. We were a bit uneasy, but the driver tied three of our four huge backpacks to the roof and we piled in. The following 12 hours were possibly the most stressful of my life.

We began our journey by driving through the slums of Mumbai, characterized by foul smells and slow traffic. We were excited to leave the city, however, once our driver was free of the heavy traffic of Mumbai, he decided to weave in and out of cars and bikes liberally, switching gears at rapid pace and making us all a little bit nervous. After three hours of mildly unnerving driving we stopped to get gas and use the restroom. Three of us returned to the car, and he began to pull away as Veronica grabbed for the door. We had to yell at him to make him stop, and we were all a bit peeved. I spent the next several hours in the front seat since, while there was space to move from side to side, there was no legroom, and I had the shortest legs. I was thus given a front row seat to the crazy driving that ensued. If, like me, you are unaware what the drive from Mumbai to Goa is like, it involves going up and down large hills (maybe mountains? I wasn’t sure) which involves many switchbacks turns. Our driver proceeded to take these turns at breakneck speeds, switching sides of the road and aggressively passing any and all other vehicles. We were getting a bit scared, and then thankfully we stopped for lunch.

We had a very uninteresting meal in a room that was thankfully air-conditioned (the car had A/C, but we only attempted it once to sad results). Our driver sat across the room and halfway through our meal he sent his leftovers over. We were a bit confused, but figured he was being nice. What actually happened was he had had his meal charged to us. Very nice indeed. We made a mental note to deduct his meal from the overall fare and hopped back into the car. The driving continued at the same speed, still weaving in and out of cars and taking turns marked for 20 km/hr at around 80. We asked a few times to slow down, telling the driver some of us were sick, but to no avail. As we neared our destination, we turned a corner and all of a sudden the road was unfinished. We proceeded to speed over unpaved roads off and on for the next hour, all the while being jerked from side to side. Luckily this was on the tail end of the journey, and within hours we saw signs for our destination. Unfortunately, this wasn’t quite the end. Like most taxi drivers in India, our driver preferred to pull over and ask people for directions rather than using his phone to call our hostel. He asked at least five different people where we were headed, all the while we continued to tell him we had the number of the hostel, which was small and likely unknown to anyone who didn’t live close by. Finally he gave in and called, and we pulled up safe and sound to the guesthouse. After a brief argument over how much we actually owed him (additional tolls and meals had upset the balance) he drove off to make the return drive to Mumbai.

I’m happy to say that the rest of our stay in Goa was relatively uneventful, and I’m still amazed that we made it there intact, and that the bags stayed tied to the roof. We had a great time hanging out on the beach and eating non-Indian food. We even had real hamburgers! Overall, it was a fun week, and while the trip down was far from fun, it is a story I’ll be telling for quite a while.

Jessica

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