Friday, November 04, 2005

Activity Week -- Final Chapter

We got lots of exercise during our week in the village. Every time we needed to go down to the school, it was via the same steep path we had initially climbed. Granted, it was much easier without the mega packs, but it still took a solid half hour to hike back in the evenings.

But we also had more enjoyable forms of physical exertion. On Thursday, we took the day off from our constructing and farming and went on a day hike to a nearby temple of importance to the village. The hike was greeted with much trepidation by my weenie kids, partly because the villagers enjoyed regaling them with tales of what an arduous journey it was. But we set off boldly somewhere in the vicinity of 8am (promptness not being anyone’s strong suit) and it turned out to be a great hike.

The temple is located on the top of the next ridge over from the valley in which Dwarghar is located. So we basically had to trek out of the valley and up to the top of the next mountain over. Wow, sounds impressive when you say it like that. Anyways, it actually only took us about 2 hours to reach the temple and while it was a steady incline, we weren’t scrambling or using grappling hooks or anything. At one point, we passed a cluster of small farms and a few children ran out to feed us fresh sweet peas, fortifying us for the rest of our trek.

The view was stunning, the weather was warm but with a cool breeze, and I actually found myself enjoying the hike. Surprising, I know. I think my enjoyment partly stemmed from the fact that, since I was in charge of motivating the kids, I couldn’t give in to my own negative attitude about hiking. And it made a big difference.

The temple itself was a small, pretty stone building, surrounded by a stone wall and shaded by a number of trees which produced a strange, bitter (yet edible) fruit. The view from the ridge was astounding—a Himalayan panorama on all sides, mountains, valleys, villages. Just stunning. We all kicked off our shoes, ate tuna and cheese sandwiches, and dozed in the sunlight for a few hours before heading back down. The hike down was actually more difficult than up because the path was covered in loose rocks that made descent a bit treacherous. But we all returned sun-burnt and happy.

Our other main chance for physical activity came each evening when the villagers would gather in the square before the temple to dance. And dance. And dance. Several men would drum and the men and women would sing to accompany their dancing and round and round they’d go. They were all terribly excited to have us join in and if I sat too long, some insistent village girl would appear in front of me, grabbing my hand, and dragging me back out. The dancing wasn’t – for the most part – wild or crazy, but it was steady. Often it involved linking arms in a big circle and stepping clockwise, then counter-clockwise, then front then back, in a never ended sea of human movement. It was very different from any other dancing I’ve seen.

On our last night, there were several special performances, including one by our kids. They had spent their free time over the last couple days choreographing a dance routine they could perform for the villagers. It was a smash success. Then the villagers reciprocated by acting out (dancing out?) several stories from the Hindu religion. Hindu tradition has it that if you take on the character of a god in dance, you might become possessed by that god. So as the villagers whirled and spun, the dance got more and more intense and wild until it was clear that these people were no longer fully in control of themselves. They danced with small braziers in their hands and when the coals spilled out onto the ground, they danced over them without even flinching. This display seriously frightened several of the kids and we left before too long but I thought the whole thing was fascinating.

The next morning we broke camp and headed home. By that point, I’d developed bronchitis and was ready for a rest. But my kids are already talking about making a trip back in early December for a local festival and I might be willing to go along, if asked.


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