In the Himalayas

Beatrice Miller

Brisk cold air surrounds my face, up 6,000 feet in the mountains of Mussoorie. On one narrow street our bus made its way through the city and out the other side. Traveling downhill on the stone road we entered Happy Valley, home to the Tibetan Homes Foundation.

Since many Tibetan families have been displaced or forced to abandon their culture, here in India they can seek refuge. Children are sent here to Happy Valley, and many other places in India, a place of freedom where they can live under the Indian flag. 

The Tibetan Homes Foundation is a home for over 1,000 students each year. I first saw the school from afar, as if it was hidden within the mountains. Its walls mint green, rising high into the skyline. The layout of the school still is dizzying, making a maze of corridors, spiraling staircases, and dormitories by the cliff side. 

First greeted by a beautiful Tibetan woman, head of sponsorship coordination for the foundation, Tersing Youdon. With a warm jacket on, she showed us the world she has come to know. She taught us how students are sent here by parents or family members who struggle to provide for their children, and as saddening as that may sound, it is the best opportunity they can provide for their children. Kids as young as six stay in themed houses, scattered around the campus. They move in each school year, at the start of March, and go to school next door at Happy Valley International School. 

What I will never forget from this trip is the fascinating campus. Tiered buildings overlook the most outstanding view. A 6,000 foot drop into a wide green valley, then more mountains in the distance surround the valley below. Squinting you can see the prayer flags hung on buildings far away, blowing in the wind.

The foundation was made to protect the essential Tibetan people and way of life. Tersing Youdon says it survives by the help of its sponsors who support the children and keep the school running. Each student goes to school for free for all twelve years. Since 2009 the attendance of children has dropped from 2,500 kids to around 1,000 students due to the Chinese Government increasing border security, preventing Tibetan families from crossing the border. Now the school is facing a growing problem and deep fear: their disappearance. It hurts to see the sadness Youdon expressed in her words. To each teacher and student this foundation is a core part of their life and a safe haven for them all. 

Logan Shaw

Today we had our first full day in Mussoorie, which is a town up in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range. We were supposed to go to Dharamshala but the weather was bad and our flight got canceled. We regrouped, pivoted and packed up and went to the Sri Ram Ashram, which has been our home base for the trip. After our few days stay, our teacher Shannon was able to get us to Mussoorie as an alternative for Dharamshala because they’re both Tibetan towns in the foothills of the Himalayas. We started out the day by visiting a Tibetan school. Everything here is built on a steep mountain so it makes the architecture and everything look really cool. The whole school was also on the mountain side and there were a bunch of different levels. There were also a lot of dogs all around the school lying about in the warm sun.

The best part was when we went up to the top of the mountain. We took a quick walk because the school was already high up, and when we got to the top you could see forever in every direction. We were in luck because the air was clear. From the top, we could see a bunch of mountains and we could see all the way to the snow capped parts of the mountain range in the far distance. It was really cool and the photographer with us, Shmuel, let us use his massive telephoto lens to look at the big mountains. I was worried that if we couldn’t visit Dharamshala, we wouldn’t be able to see the snowy mountains, but I was really happy because we were able to see them today. When you look through the camera lens you could see the mountains clearly and it was crazy just how big they were. It was also amazing how we were only at 6,000 feet and Everest is more than four times that tall. The whole scene was made even cooler because there were thousands of Tibetan prayer flags and a massive statue of Buddha. There were also a few fires on the mountains which made it feel more surreal. It almost made it look like there were a bunch of volcanoes that were about to erupt. On the bottom side of the mountain we were standing on, there was a school that we could see. The children looked like little ants crawling around and they even had a helicopter pad. I was told that it was a school for the children of diplomats and affluent business people. It was a beautiful day and I was grateful to spend a day amongst the Tibetan culture and the vast mountainside.

During our time in Mussoorie, the aspect I looked forward to the most was the food. At breakfast, I observed as they prepared the eggs in front of me. What surprised me was their use of egg whites for scrambled eggs instead of using the whole egg as I do at home. This intrigued me because I had never considered making eggs without the yolk. While surveying the breakfast offerings, I noticed tiny donuts displayed on the wall, which was charming. The breakfast fare was excellent and quite tasty.

For lunch, we visited a cafe called Little Llama Cafe, which featured a diverse menu. I opted for American cuisine and ordered chicken cheese fries. Additionally, I sampled a piece of barbecue tofu from my teacher, Chelsea’s Chinese bao meal. My peers also ordered momos, a Tibetan and Nepali-style dish consisting of steamed dumplings with various fillings, accompanied by a mildly spicy chili sauce. It’s safe to say that lunch was a huge highlight of the trip!

The final meal of the day was dinner, where curries were laid out on one side of the buffet and a pasta bar on the other. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Indian cuisine, I chose alfredo pasta with vegetables, which was delicious. The highlight of dinner was celebrating our tour guide Jagdish’s birthday. As we gathered around the table for a photo, he invited me to join him. Together, we blew out the candles and made the first cut of the cake. To my surprise, Jagdish then playfully smeared a bit of cake on my face after we cut it. In my opinion, dinner was the best meal of the day due to the festive birthday celebration.

Erik Howley

We woke up in our lovely hotel, overlooking the city of Dehradun, delighted to find the most marvelous breakfast we had encountered on this trip! To provide context, we had been fed very well, but came to appreciate a variety of dining options much more after having eaten lentils over rice for the past week. This breakfast ranged from hot Belgian waffles to Indian breakfast regulars, but the single item that made me jump with joy and feel like I was back home was good old American-style bacon. Just the day before, I had been fantasizing with my classmate, Logan, on the long and windy mountain road to Mussoorie, envisioning a heaping plate of buffet-style bacon. I’m very happy to say that this dream became a reality, and a smile dawned upon my face for the rest of the morning.

After our highly satisfying meal, we took our bus to Happy Valley, a Tibetan colony situated in the Himalayan foothills. We were greeted by our tour guides, who gifted our head teacher, Shannon, a scroll depicting the Dalai Lama. As we walked around the beautiful mountain campus, I noticed a similarity to the previous Tibetan school we had visited. The school seemed to be very enthusiastic about basketball, with the construction of five new basketball hoops and a freshly painted court in the main yard of the school.

After our tour, we were brought to the school’s Buddhist temple where the Dalai Lama stayed when first exiled from Tibet. As we took off our shoes and stepped inside, we were greeted by beautiful paintings depicting protector deities by the door. Stepping further inside, we could see a cardboard cutout of the Dalai Lama sitting in the chair where many years prior he had sat and taught.

Then we began our trek of a small mountain ridge to a vista point overlooking the surrounding mountain range. On the other hand, I was not equipped, being in my large platform shoes never meant for hiking the hilly Himalayas, but even still, I trekked on. With my feet aching and my breathing becoming heavier, I looked with extreme longing at the little tin shed mountain kiosks selling cold American Coca-Cola and potato chips. Although we could not stop, luckily I was cheered up when we came upon a husky dog with her pup, who would shake your hand as you passed, like a canine crossing guard granting us safe passage to the top. As we got nearer and nearer, we finally made it to the top, a flat platform high above the surrounding peaks. On top of this platform was a golden statue of Buddha with a tall pike hanging prayer flags down to lower areas. The view was incredible, looking over the vast expanse of the newest mountain range in the world. We could see from terraced rice paddies to the highest of snow-capped peaks. Also in view was a different boarding school that had just gone out to recess, so you could see all the little kids run around over a helipad track field. We were so high up that it was like watching ants run along an anthill. Finally, on top of the world, I decided what better way to celebrate than to go a little further down the path to one of those tin soda huts to grab myself a cold drink. As I walked back up to the peak, I cracked open my fresh soda and took in the view. I thought, what a great way to spend a day.