I’m living in a place called Sonapani. Before I left, I was telling people that I was going to the foothills of the Himalayas to live in a small village called Sonapani. “Oh, don’t feel bad that you’ve never heard of this town before,” I would tell people who were familiar with India’s geography, but were stumped by the name. “It’s a village of about 80 people and so rural, it gets electricity about 60% of the time.” I laughed at myself when we arrived to this place that I had painted a picture for so many people.
Sonapani is a resort for tourists, mainly from Delhi, but tourists, nonetheless. It is managed by a wonderful man named Ashish with is young family, and every year they welcome UW students to live here for the duration of the program. To draw a more accurate picture, there are about 12 cabins, 3 beds and a bathroom in each, and a dinning hall that sits on a hill that has the most spectacular view of the Himalaya mountain range. On a clear day, I can see the Himalayas from my bed. Sonapani is a magical haven – I feel like I’m in some sort of rehab facility. I mean, I’ve never been to rehab, but I imagine that it is something like this. There are thousands of different wildflowers in between our cabins, giving the eye waves of yellow and pink and purple and green and white and orange and red. The paths of rock and sand are comprised of mica, so everything sparkles as you walk. On Diwali and my birthday, I dotted my cheeks with the sparkles from the path, and no one could tell that I had put dirt all over my face. And when I walk through Sonapani, I breathe out butterflies. Butterflies are as common here as seagulls are at the beach, and they flutter and dance in front of me as I walk. At night, the sky is clear and crisp; I think that I can see every star that was ever formed. Every night, I find myself stopped in my tracks and gazing up. For some reason, seeing these stars reminds me to take deeper breaths. And, of course, there is the clairvoyant spectacle of the Himalayas. I wake up every morning, walk the sparkle path up to the dining hall, passing the flowers and my butterfly friends, and sip my warm chai while taking in the arresting sight of the Himalayas. I still can’t believe they are there.
On the morning of our arrival, after experiencing what I might claim as my closest encounter with hell (a.k.a. the Delhi overnight train), a two hour jeep ride up the narrow roads that hug the mountain, and a 2 km hike with our luggage piled on packhorses, we arrived to Sonapani. After spending five days in horn happy Delhi, I was taken aback with how peaceful this new place was. I was welcomed with chai, and as I sat down to take in the view of the mountains, Keith, our coordinator, gracefully said, “This is your home.” We all commented on how good the chai tasted, and Keith replied, “Here, Sonapani revolves around chai.” To which Rebecca, our professor, corrected, “Life revolves around chai.” My heart grew happy from that moment forward.