Andretta is warm, too warm, unexpectedly warm at this time of the year – we are waiting for a storm which is refusing to come and relieve the heat. There is also a cloud cover which obscures the beautiful snowcapped Dhauladhar mountains that I was promised a view off. I would have been most disappointed by this turn of events, had it not been for the fact that I am here for at least three weeks and I am sure this will pass and my expectations surpassed.
Already I am in love with the little room I have in “The White House” at “The Mirage” where I am staying. A cozy, thoughtfully designed space with plenty of alcoves for me to keep my books and other things, a cute little dressing area adjoining the bathroom and a porch that is directly accessible from my room where I can sit and meditate or read or pet “Sweetie”, the Alsatian. Since the White house is a few steps away from the main house and there aren’t too many people right now, I also have the main sitting area and the little kitchenette all to myself - all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed, even though it’s only been 40 hours since I have been here.
My solo trip to Khajjiar (which I have written about separately), made me realize what a powerfully positive effect nature and solitude has on me. The last 16 months of the Walk of Hope have been a whirlwind of activity and some significant life changes. Almost everything is different for me after this period – the way I see myself, what I want for the future, my interests, my sources of security – almost everything, Now that the walk is over I need to move forward and I just didn’t feel ready for that without spending some time settling into these changes. In addition to all of this – while my body has gained in strength significantly, it’s also been a bit battered with irregular eating and periods of extreme activity interspersed with no activity and off late some of my regular test results weren’t great. All put together therefore, I wanted to go into retreat and in a very roundabout way, guided and aided by the Universe and my Guardian Angels settled on coming to Andretta and staying at The Mirage for three weeks.
The day I flew out of Delhi in the tiny (relatively) Spicejet aircraft to Gaggal airport my head was buzzing with questions and my heart burdened with trepidation. Why am I doing this trip I asked myself – is this just another escape and if it is where will this end, when will I get back to being productive? Will I really be able to settle into the routine I want for myself and even if I do it for 21 days will it have a lasting effect when I get back or will I slip into old ways and this will have been a futile exercise. I am spending so much money, when there is no inflow – will it be worth it or am I going to regret it. My mind and heart were full with all these and more when I reached my destination and all the while I was settling in.
I was lucky however to spend the evening with Dennis – the owner of the homestay who very kindly
shared his wine and his stories with me and some of the things he said brought a settling down. I am in awe of people like Dennis, like Hanut (owner of the homestay in Khajjiar); people who have chosen this life despite all other opportunities available to them. They only speak about how wonderful this life is and they don’t talk about the choices they have left behind to settle into this way of living. They speak about how life led them here without them having to do much but I know from experience that choosing a different way of life comes with its struggles. The joy of that life is worth all of the struggle and which is why they probably don’t speak about the challenges but there is definitely an effort that has gone in to choose and maintain this life. I hear that struggle when they speak about electricity or staff or provisions or medical care or corrupt tourism officials – all taken in stride. I think their courage to choose a live they love is inspiring and I see a kindness in them when interacting with their environment, a kindness that I think stems from the freedom they feel inside and therefore the freedom they allow outside.
And thus ended my first day in Andretta – a little pensive, a little anxious and full of questions but more settled in the choice of being here. One of the other highlights was introducing Dennis to the concept of sprouting daal – he was very excited to find out that those little dead things (as he called them) could actually come to life. While I only wanted to sprout the usual moong daal he took every daal out of his pantry and insisted we soak all the whole daals with the potential to sprout! A good choice since the sprout breakfast we had today was delicious with varied flavors.
My second day in Andretta started after a night of disturbed sleep – I was getting acclimatised to the spirit of the place and therefore woke up at various times of the night to various sensations and emotions and thoughts – that’s my romanticized version of my system adjusting to a new place, new sounds, new climate and new bed 😜. Nevertheless, I woke up to the sounds of a myriad birds and went for a walk. I ended up walking an hour where I found a small stream and lost my way back to the homestay – a few questions and some birdwatching later I was back and ready for breakfast. The food here is simple and delicious, they bake their own bread, make their own pesto and jams – there is lots of fruit and dahi and delicious daal, subzi, roti. I am also quite in love with the little vinaigrette and need to get the recipes for a list of things! We also had a delicious version of banoffee pie last night… all in all the food, the tea – both black and green – the meal timings – 9am, 1pm and 7.30pm are right down my alley. This truly feels like a home away from home right now. In addition, I love spending time with “Sweetie” the Alsatian who comes around checking up on me when am not hanging around the main house.
In the evening I went for another walk checking out Shobha Singh’s art gallery – I loved his portraits – so lifelike and beautiful. His studio was a delight to see – full of light, so colorful and full of character. I also visited Norah Jones’ home – she was the one who brought Andretta on the map and her home while quaint was a mystery to me – I could not figure what room could have been used for what and since it was bare I had no help figuring that out either. Last I went to the Andretta Pottery studio which was alive with activity and laughter from the potters both amateur and professional – young men and women both from India and abroad – working and creating together. Strangely enough while the gate of the Mirage and Andretta pottery are in front of each other I still managed to wander off in the wrong direction and had to retrace my steps. I surprised myself by walking 9 kilometers over the two hour walks – something I am used to with the Walk but did not expect to do.
It was interesting for me to observe my reaction to this situation though – my body is very quick to indicate stress in my system and yesterday my shoulders were stiff and heavy. Having done a few sessions of intuitive stretching with the amazing Usha Chengappa I now know that my shoulders contain my need for control. Evidently the uncertainly and the newness of the place activated my resistance to that change. I do have moments of uncertainty - will I be able to find and follow the nature walks I want to do, where should I plan my trips to and when, what will I do there alone, am going to be eating in cafes alone – what responses will I get etc. These seem so random and silly yet are bringing up a sense of insecurity within me. An insecurity that is easily dissolved the moment I get out and do things like the walk and exploration yesterday evening – yet it is interesting to observe this perhaps natural fear of the undiscovered.
I enjoy my time alone – coloring, walking, reading, meditating, just looking at nature. And yet, I have been maintaining a daily journal I update on Facebook and have messaged updates or spoken to a couple of friends. Does that really count as being alone? Or does this connection to social media and a few people fill the void adequately for me to do the rest in solitude? I have turned off all social media today to see whether I still enjoy my alone time and I must admit I have already succumbed to the temptation of checking things out ;) Honestly this may be normal – I am quite happy in my space and while I am in touch I am not necessarily craving that contact. It’s a pleasant distraction in between writing and reading as off now. Perhaps it’s OK? I will continue to observe and I do intend to spend a few days soon in complete solitude and silence with all devices off!
Though still disturbed I slept much better last night but could not get myself out of bed this morning till 8.30am – a combination of my body needing to catch up on sleep and the unexpected physical exertion of the last few days I think. And so I took it easy and will spend the day catching up on my writing and some thinking for future projects. I do intend to follow a trail this evening and I am sure I will find some magic as always 😊