I have been offline for a week due to the lack of cell service and inability to retrieve a SIM card while I was in India. Contrary to my expectations, not having that virtual connection to the world allowed me to have the most rewarding and insightful experience in the Doeguling Tibetan settlement in Mundgod and Goa.
We first arrived in Goa at night and spent a day there. The place we stayed at was called Calangute, which is known for its beach. It reminded me of Thailand and many other Southeast Asian beach tourist hotspots, the streets filled with bikini vendors and beaches filled with seaside bars and dubstep. It was all very familiar and I was loving the hot humidity after having spent a few weeks in the chilly Kathmandu.
Of course we were not here for holiday, we left for the Tibetan settlement after a day in Goa. The settlement is in the middle of what felt like a dessert. Hot and dry. As we rolled up by the settlement, prayer flags started appearing on houses left to right. Monasteries and monks gradually emerged on the streets. There were lots of cows and buffalos walking everywhere and it was very intriguing. I did not know what to expect of a Tibetan settlement. This was a big one. With a total of 9 camps, there is a main road that connects all the camps together along with two areas where the monasteries are located, Drepung and Ganden. I stayed in camp 5, a relatively small camp close to the busiest camp 3. My family lived right by the entrance and has a garden full of fruits and vegetables. My sister, Choenyi, was my age and we instantly became friends. The 3 days went by in a blur. My ama-la (mother) was the most amazing cook.
We had a feast every meal. During the day, I would explore the settlement and get to know the people in the settlement. We had the help of co-researchers, who were local Tibetan people our age, to help us navigate the community and gain access we otherwise would never have had. I am so grately to these co-researchers as they were the most patient and generous people, offering to pay every meal at every chance they get, helping us translate, and making sure we are safe. Everyone has been the most hospitable, making sure we are at home in this new community. My ama-la treated me as if I was one of her own, and I have never felt so loved and accepted. It was more than just out of obligation and the love was so genuine. I celebrated the 15th day of Losar with them and I got to put on traditional Tibetan costume (Chupa), and it was an amazing experience to be part of the celebration.
It was really sad for me to leave them. I had learned so much and experience so much emotion in the past week. It was truly an experience of a lifetime, and I am forever grateful to have been there.