October brought some more meetings, a cousin's engagement, a trip to Dharmsala, Diwali, and some Fulbright visitors from Udaipur.
This quick, pre-Diwali getaway to Dharamsala consisted of some much needed fresh (and cooler) air, a surprise addition we met on the bus, momos galore, Tibetan history, and successfully getting the song 'Oxford Comma' by Vampire Weekend stuck in everyone's heads. We did, after all, climb to Dharamsala. We just didn't meet the highest Lama. Okay, no more 'Oxford Comma' jokes.
Dharamsala is located in the Kangra Valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Its suburb, McLeod Ganj (also known as 'Little Lhasa' or 'Dhasa'), is where the Dalai Lama and several Tibetans live in exile. We took a 12 hour bus from Delhi to Dharamsala and happened to sit next to a fellow American with whom I share a close mutual friend (Hi Annie!). We did some trekking, had an incredibly interesting Airbnb experience (somehow my first experience with Airbnb, despite working in tech for the last four years) and learned about the rich, and sadly politicized Tibetan culture and history. Check out a brief overview timeline of Tibet's history, curated by The Tibet Museum in McLeod Ganj.
Ah, Diwali. I felt like I was celebrating Diwali a little bit every day in October. I bought some lights to hang up around the flat and evening walks to the market consisted of a completely new energy, with temporary vendors selling clay diyas -oil lamps-, rangoli - traditional floor art- kits and just general excitement.
And all of the lights!
Every year during Christmas time, my father would drive us around various Des Moines area neighborhoods and we would marvel at Christmas light decorations (sometimes productions) in the snow. I attempted to recreate this tradition for myself when I moved to Los Angeles, but it just wasn't as magical without the snow. Slightly more magical in San Francisco, but still not the same. However, while walking around my new Delhi neighborhood and seeing all of the Diwali lights hanging off of the balconies, I couldn't help but think back to those trips in the backseat of our family car. The only difference was that I wasn't freezing (I was sweating, actually), and there were no nativity scenes or other large decorations. Just lights to celebrate the festival of light.
We also hosted a small gathering for fellow Fulbrighters on Chhoti Diwali - Little Diwali - the day before Diwali in which we decorated diyas, played cards (a Diwali tradition), ate and chatted.
I spent actual Diwali with my Maasi, where we had a traditional puja - prayer ritual - and entertained a few guests.
I did miss being at home with my parents for Diwali, but witnessing all of the lights and hearing echoes of other simultaneous pujas was an incredibly special way to celebrate my favorite holiday. Even the (illegal) fireworks were a welcome addition, something I actively avoid during the Fourth of July.