In this guest post, Alexis Donkin writes about an experience of many travellers — “finding home in an unexpected place”. She compares India and Scotland and almost makes me feel like I was there with her. Scroll down to read her full bio and get links to her website and her writing, including her books.
Sitting on top of the Shivalik range, with Everest in sight, it was easy to forget time. The mist wrapped around me, biting through my windbreaker and wool sweater layers. Masala chai was my last defense against the cold, in a small glass cup that nearly burned off my fingerprints. I can’t stop smiling. I inhale the smell of lush forest, wet earth, alkaline rock, and stale incense. This place feels like home.
I have only been to two places on the planet that felt like home. The first was the highlands of Scotland, a desolate place of mist, heather, and sharp lines. The second was the Himalayan foothills. I discovered them over a decade apart from one another, and other than the mountains and mist, there was little connection between them.
Yes, they were not American. They were definitely different from any place where my family lived. Scotland was a place of clans, long memory, and personal genetic connection. I could wear my clan’s tartan and see my face in those of highlanders. But India? Uttarakhand? There was nothing that connected my body or family history to the place. It was purely soul connection, and one that was completely unexpected.
It was unexpected because India was hard for me. I struggled in the cities, especially Delhi, seeing beggars, lepers, and scavengers. I struggled seeing the slums, while a few feet away Ferraris raced down the boulevards. As an introvert, I felt overwhelmed by the dense life around me – the wash of colors, smells, and noise was paralyzing. For every hour in the city, I needed eight to recuperate, alone in my room. I remember crying, huddled in my bed, wishing it would be over. It was too much. I struggled to explain the anguish I felt living in a place that not only used multiple different languages, and had a different culture, but was so counter to my personal sensibilities.
And then there was Uttarakhand – a northern state, full of green and peace. There were the Shivaliks, where every second was sheer relief and profound peace. I found myself singing, smiling as I walked through the forest or the tiny mountain village overlooking the valley below. At night there was the fire pit and a sky full of stars. In the morning, there was chai and a wicker chair overlooking lush mountain gardens. Cats paroled the bed and breakfast, along with monkeys, who occasionally sneaked into the kitchen to steal sacks of potatoes. There was no getting the smell of smoke from my clothes, or removing the holy Hindu thread from my wrist.
I cannot say I was ever at ease in India. Yet for the few weeks I stayed in the mountains, I found a secret path home, for which I will always be grateful.
Alexis Donkin lives in Southern California with her family and real life familiar. She has lived many places and studied many things. She paints, sings, and dances when she’s not writing or speaking. Be sure to connect with her and check out her books at AlexisDonkin.com.