Chirag: Himalayan Hospitality

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Hospitality in this region absolutely amazes me. I have felt
incredibly welcomed in each and every home I have entered. No matter
how long the stay, I have always been offered juice or Chai. Just
yesterday ago, I tried the well-known Himalayan Rhododendron extract
juice, which potentially has medicinal properties. And, of course, I
will never forget the numerous cups of Chai I have indulged each day.
Today, especially, I felt the traditions of hospitality shine through
as I left the Chirag headquarters for a 5 hour ride to the Devaldar
area, Bageshwar district. Ganga-di, one of the area team managers, was
travelling with me in the car, and her sister lives along the way in a
relatively large town Almora. Her sister welcomed us, two familiar
faces and three strangers, into her home for a delicious breakfast of
puri (small, oiled pancake-like staple food), bhoondhi raitha (a
yogurt and chickpea-based sauce), and aloo (potatoes). As we ate, she
came around offering more and more food, always insisting that we take
one more scoop of aloo or one more puri. She would not take no for an
answer and would set it on our plates. According to Katha, an intern
from Germany who has been here for almost a full year, the best way to
show that you are full is to literally place your body between the
hostess and your plate!
As we left, Ganga-di’s sister did a traditional ritual called kum-kum.
She dipped her finger in a red paste and marked the spot between my
eyebrows. She then added three grains of rice to the spot, dotted it
with orange right below, and offered me a bit of a sweet paste. She
continued to do this for each guest as well as each family member who
was setting off on the road that day. Marking this area serves as
creating a third eye and signifies protection from all evils. I was
also told that these types of spiritual protective markings are always
done along the endocrine system, and in this case, it is right over
the pineal gland. Scientists are not entirely sure of the purpose of
this gland, but recent biomedical studies suggest it is linked to
regulating the body’s circadian rhythm. We then all gathered around
for a huge group picture before leaving for our various destinations.
Despite not being able to converse much with the family, I still felt
like I had been included in Ganga-di’s family within the short time
spent in their home.
Photo caption: The view of Almora with all its colorful homes.
More photos to come once I get steady internet connection: Chocolate
sweets from Almora, a small city that is known for them. The kum-kum
marking on my forehead. A traditional Kumaoni painting as a welcome
mat.
Written: Wednesday, June 27, 2012

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About Lucia Xiong

Current medical student at University of New Mexico. Former science teacher at Tse Yi Gai High School on Navajo Nation. Studied International Relations with a concentration in Global Health and Penn Class of 2013 graduate. CASI Chirag Intern summer of 2012.