June 2015 Archives

Resetting the Mood

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My bad moods can be turned around by drawing on my body. 

In this case, my crankiness stemmed from a frustrating visit to Pune where absolutely nothing seemed to work out as planned: our accommodation was creepy; the friend we were visiting had to work; the parks I wanted to visit were nonexistent or closed due to timings; the day was very hot. It all turned around when Tod connected the dots of my mosquito bites into an elephant.

1AC to Mumbai

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The overnight train from Bhuj to Mumbai was like a 16 hour movie. So many scenes out our window. We passed urban junctions full of commuters rushing for the open seating cars, rural pastures full of cows, people living with piles of garbage, derelict buildings crenelated with dish antennas.

Once we got to Mumbai, we switched to another train and enjoyed the constant flow of snack vendors running up and down the aisles. Chili pakora? Yes, thanks! Chai, sweets, tomato soup, sandwiches, phone chargers, bangle bracelets, toys...it was 3 hours of shopping opportunities. 

Hot Days in Gujarat

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Mandvi Beach Resort - hot, windy and dry like a desert with an ocean next door.

After hillhacks and trekking in the mountains, we decided to visit some friends in different places around India before heading to Bangalore. I'll say this was the least good part of the trip, but reviewing the photos and recalling the moments, it was never actually bad. I had expectations that weren't met so the period is framed by those expectations. 

Our short stay in Ahmedabad was hotel bound. It was just too hot to be outdoors much. I didn't get any sense of connection in Ahmedabad; no expansion of our social circle or feeling that we ought to return. I'd hoped to...I am not even sure. Meet some people? Do some sightseeing? Instead, we hung out with a friend who came over to the hotel with his portable WiFi. He also made sure we ate all the best Gujarati street foods - fried pav bhaji, butter buns with jam and cheese, ice cream and pineapple sandwiches with grated cheese on top. There's a famous dairy, Amal, in the city and everything is coated with cheese and butter. We also had some delicious Gujarati thali - basically a buffet that comes to your table in a flurry of service. The jaggery-sweetened curries and gravies were delicious. 

Another unmet expectation: fish. We took an overnight bus (which broke down somewhere outside Gandhidam so ended up being three buses) to Mandvi beach so that I could satisfy a seafood craving but Gujarat is so vegetarian that fish and meat never appeared on any menu. The beach resort where we stayed was quiet and lovely in its off season. It was relentlessly windy and hot so we enjoyed the comforts of our air conditioned luxury tent and took short walks on the beach. We played Mastermind, chess, and tried to film the WHD Dance. After constantly being with friends and groups, this was three days of time alone with Tod and it was delightful, even if there was no fish. 

Trekking the Himalayas

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I thought "trekking in the Himalayas" sounded pretty intense. "Let's go trekking" conjured pictures of mountain passes and fancy gear. But amongst my friends, at least, trekking is just a hike in the mountains.


Towards Triund
As we were finishing up hillhacks, Manuel and I decided we'd finally escape some of the event tasks and go for a trek up towards Triund, one of the local peaks. We took the scenic route up through Dharamkot and got as far as Magic View, about halfway. That was far enough for us. We had chai overlooking the beautiful view, chatting for over an hour about everything. It was a great friendship-cementing day. We returned to the venue several hours later to discover that the work we'd hoped to miss hadn't even begun. *sigh*


One of our friends in Rakkar is starting a local trekking business and took us as his first clients. It was a six hour hike through slate mines and steep forested hills that reminded me of where I grew up, with leaf-littered trails, large rocks and plenty of trees but much steeper and it felt like it we'd never reach the ridge. But we did (eventually) and then spent two nights in a shepherd's house made of mud and stone. I've never been in such a rustic setting, completely off the grid: no electricity, no phone service, no toilet, and the nearest potable water was a 20 minute walk down the hill. 

The owner of the land, Foja, grew up there with his parents and 11 siblings. He used to carry 20 liters of milk down the mountain every day to the valley. His nearest neighbors were on the next ridge over - more than an hour's walk. So remote. 

Despite that remoteness, we had two visitors while we were there. The first was a shepherd who was coming up the mountain to meet one of the other shepherds who was farther up. He stopped in to rest and we fed him, gave him some painkiller for his stiff neck, and let him nap next to the fire. Then he was on his way again, up up up. The next morning, we had an early visit from a man who walks up the mountain almost daily to harvest vegetables from the garden that grows wild in front of the house. Ironically, he sells them to Ghoomakhad where we are staying in the village! He was nice; we gave him some leftover bean curry to go with his chapati. He was grateful for that because as he explained, the bread is hard to chew when you have only a few teeth left. All these tough old men climbing up and down the mountain to tend the herds of goats and flocks of sheep like they did from when they were children. The youth have vanished into city jobs.

It is hard to describe what we did up there, exactly. There was nothing to do but sit and be in nature. I watched the sun slant across the valley, listened to birds, watched butterflies, and simply sat and observed the world around me. We cooked over a wood fire in a mud stove, had long and interesting conversations about local culture and all manner of things our guide and self-styled guru, and also picked flowers and offered chocolate to the local goddess (whose name means forehead in the local language).

Walking back down the mountain we traversed the tailing of the slate mine and knocked small pieces underfoot that sounded like bells tinkling. Getting back to a road with traffic from the slate mines - horses and trucks alike - seeing people again after two days...it was weird. Even coming back to such a small village as Rakkar seemed like a huge town after the quiet remoteness of the mountain.

It was a lovely trek and if you have a spare 2500 rupees per person per night, I suggest you contact Vishal at Ghoomakahd about doing it yourself.

Tink at hillhacks

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Hillhacks is challenging to write about. It's got a lot going on. The only common theme of everyone's experience is transformed perspectives. People come to Dharamsala, attend hillhacks, and go away changed. They quit their jobs. They leap into projects with new collaborators. They fall in love. They change careers. They take the first step towards new dreams. They deepen their philosophy. They explore and discover the world.

So let me relate my shift in perspective.

Everyone at hillhacks knows me as Tink. 

Tink isn't fully me. She's a persona, a character, the extroverted, happy version of me. I put her on like a costume and she melds into who I am and how I behave. If Tink were visible, you'd see her as a multicolor patchwork tail coat. David Huang, our photographer, joked about making an album of "all the faces of Tink." She is expressive.

I wear my Tink persona pretty much all the time while I'm at hillhacks. It's non-stop activity and Tink helps me keep up. I'm busy assisting with things, smiling and connecting with people, teaching hula hoops and juggling, running off to schools to teach, taking care of whatever needs doing, and usually falling asleep by 9 pm. 

One evening as my energy was flagging, I mentioned that I normally run on sugar. The three meals a day that we received at hillhacks were delicious and nutritious, but confusing my body. From that day Tink was given chocolate and cake by all of her friends. Even the cooks heard my wishes because at the next afternoon tea, biscuits appeared. 

Wow. That was extremely unsettling. People I've only just met listened to me, heard me, and cared enough go out of their way to keep me happy and fed.

Logically and looking from outside myself, I guess understand it. Tink loves people, gives hugs, enthuses over and praises everyone's efforts. Tink wants the atmosphere to be bright and cheerful and works hard to make things good. This attitude resonates with people. So my lack-of-sugar lament became something tangible that hillhackers could do in return. They showed their appreciation in blocks of Fruit & Nut. I'd be hustling through the venue and someone would hand me a treat or there would be Bhagsu cake brought back from town especially for me. I shared the bounty with whomever was nearby and I radiated extra happiness and warmth to everyone around me.

I think I know what it must be like to be a goddess receiving offerings. If that sounds a little crazy, well, I don't think that I actually am a goddess (not even in the "all women are goddesses within" sense) or that anyone worships me. But I have experienced the fulfilling satisfaction of receiving offerings. Devotees of Tink's good humour attended to me in a very specific way so that I could continue to care for them.

So what's the big deal here, the shift? I finally see that people treasure Tink and they want to show me their love & regard. I can (and must) make space for that to happen. I should not shrug off compliments and thanks with embarrassment, but acknowledge that what I do is something worthwhile and sometimes even wonderful for the people around me.  It's sort of like when you pause at the end of a performance to allow the audience to applaud. I didn't realise that it applies to personal stuff, too. I think this realisation might be a game-changer.

All that chocolate and loving support has also given me the incentive to "go for it" and dive into more of my social circus dreams - everything from learning new skills for myself, to writing a resource book, to founding a travelling circus school. These dreams are 100% achievable.

So thanks to all the brilliant hillhackers for the chocolate and for helping me to see myself from a new perspective. 

Hillhacks Gala Show

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Highlights from the Hillhacks Gala Show

One of the cool things we did at hillhacks was to create a Gala Show on June 6. 

At our venue, Shiv Shakti, we discovered a natural ampitheatre in the woods and created a wonderful stage. There was a crew clearing brush, we cleared rocks, dug out steps and broadened terraces. A massive group effort brought together the physical space for 90 minutes performances and an audience of 150 people. Two schools in our school outreach participated and the rest of our show was filled in with talented hillhackers.

WWIS Class 4/5 presenting The Maiden and the Boy Who Vanished

At Woodwhistlers International School in Nadi, upper Dharamsala, we introduced two folktales as plays. Class Three students performed The Caterpillar's Voice and the Class Four/Five students did The Maiden and the Boy Who Vanished. The project started with a workshop on creating character, then we read the plays, assigned the parts, and practiced. We did coaching on projection and discussions of costumes, props and sets.

WWIS Class 3 presenting The Caterpillar's Voice

The kids worked so hard - they are not all native English speakers and some are just learning to read English. Their teachers got them motivated, everyone memorised their parts and brought life to their characters.  On the day of the Gala Show, I was seeing their costumes for the first time and they were terrific! The makeup was brilliant - especially the bright face paint for all the animals in the Caterpillar's Voice.

Shanti Om presents Red Riding Hood

Our other school, Shanti Om, wrote their own play. It was a fractured fairy tale based on Red Riding Hood. They'd started doing this the previous year as a video project, but didn't complete it. There was an outline of the plot and all of the dialogue was improvised. It was such fun to watch it evolve as we visited the school for sessions with them. By the time it was presented it had acquired a narrator, sound effects, gags and jokes, a choreographed fight scene, and a Bollywood dance. This is one creative group of kids, let me tell you.

The rest of the show comprised dance, music, and singing. I MCed the show and did little bits of circus in between the acts. I also led the Hillhacks Song, sung to the tune of Daft Punk's Get Lucky:

We're up all night to make hacks
We're up all night to eat snacks
Watch out for monkey attacks
We're up all night 'cause we're hillhacks

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