Mornings begin early at Himalayan Inter College. Mr. Rautella’s whistle cuts through the stillness at exactly 5:00 AM sharp (5:30 on Sundays so students can, you know, “sleep in”). Soon after you can hear evidence of the hostel students sluggishly beginning their morning routine. A door creaks as the younger students head for the bathroom, through the caged enclosure placed around their outdoor corridor to prevent any leopards from entering while they sleep. There is no snooze button in the Himalaya. A second whistle soon after calls the children out to the courtyard where they do their morning exercise routine, a mixture of jogging and stretching, all in the cover of darkness.
As honored guests, there is no set wake up for Dublin students. The promise of picturesque sunrises against impossibly high peaks seems to be the main driving force in rousting them from bed. Our second day of early morning yoga was slightly less well-attended, most likely due to the lingering soreness from our first session with Mamta. Those who braved another go of it were treated to a series of standing poses and a particularly popular move that involved curling up in a ball and rolling back-and-forth along the length of their spines. The closing “ohm” chant felt far more meditative and relaxing without the neighbor’s dog barking viciously as had been the case the day before.
After a round of tea, the first of many throughout the day, we head up to the dining hall for a delicious breakfast, aspects of which are vaguely familiar, but always with an Indian twist. Perhaps corn flakes with warm milk will become all the rage when we return to Dublin. Hostel students eat quickly and spend the morning studying. Despite the early wake-up, school assembly only begins at 9:15, largely to accommodate the 900 day students coming from a variety of distances, no doubt after finishing various chores at their homes. The school has outgrown its main courtyard such that the upper school and lower school assemble in two different locations. After sampling both, it came as no surprise that Dublin students prefer the latter. Despite the close bonds they are forging with the older HIC students, the allure of little kids singing and reciting various poems and formal greetings is just too great.
The little line up by age, standing initially as they recite musical prayers in both Hindi and English, followed by the national anthem. Then, the lower school teachers transform into nursery rhyme DJ’s, queuing up a string high-achieving students to present their finest work, usually solo. No lulls. No stumbles. Just poise beyond their years. Every performance begins with “Good morning friends. How are you? (Fine)…I am also fine. Thank you…” Dublin students were given the opportunity to lead a few songs of their own. “Head, Shoulder, Knees and Toes” started off well, but began its inevitable breakdown as the tempo increased. The crowd favorite was unquestionably the “Hokey Pokey.” The surge of giggles every time the chorus came around might best be described by that moment when Dorothy first encounters the Munchkins of Oz.
HIC students eventually head to their classes and we are left to choose how best to spend the day. Some of us have rejoined more classes, others have frequented the Naari meeting space, learning new knitting techniques from some of the day student mothers. Mr. Hungerford even received a personalized tour of the school’s water system. One recent afternoon featured a great collaborative session in the music room, where both groups had the chance to lead the other in song. Mr. Nemitz has laid the challenge of writing a new Himalayan-themed verse of “This Land is Your Land” before we leave Chaukori.
After school, the sea of day students heads out to the buses and the campus clears out surprisingly quickly. The hostel students rush back to their dorms and quickly shed their sweaters, wool jackets, and ties in favor of more casual attire. It is during the less structured moments that follow that the true connections between our two worlds seem to form. Hostel students have led us on a number of walks and adventures to fill the late afternoon. Mysteriously, they always end up much longer than advertised, almost as if the HIC students are taking artificially long rout routes to extend the time with their curious guests. One afternoon saw the group traipsing through an actively burning hillside, en route to a hilltop Hindu temple.
Every adventure ends the same way, with tea back at school, served at a time when Dublin students would usually be heading to Lehmann for dinner. Instead, dinner comes fashionably late, anywhere from 7:45 to 8:30). On Tuesday, the group returned back from a long walk to find the main assembly platform transformed into a dance floor, complete with festive curtains on three sides and huge speakers. Surprise dance party! The dorms emptied as everyone (including all 15 Dubliners) hit the dance floor to an eclectic mix of local Kumaoni tunes, Indian pop, and even a Shakira tune thrown in for good measure. As the music blared out across the foothills, students shared moves and laughs, much to their teachers’ delight. Thomas Meiklejohn’s breakdancing achieved instant legendary status, and the energy of others like Faith Lewis and Alex Antonellis did well to keep pace with the frantic energy of the HIC students. In later discussing some cultural differences, Ali Weis, who showed impressive stamina by dancing for nearly two hours straight, was overheard saying “Well, we have dances (in the US)…but they are terrible.”
And now here we are on Thursday morning, preparing for the next stage in our journey, a four-hour minibus ride through the windiest roads yet on the way to Munsiari and our homestays in the neighboring hamlet of Sarmoli. The internet there is even less reliable than in Chaukori and can often be out of service for days on end, so this may be our last dispatch for a bit. Just know that there will be more songs, dance, laughs, and with any luck, some jaw-dropping views of the high Himalaya.