Apparently this is becoming a series?
If you told my parents fifteen years ago that I’d one day grow up to be be a morning person, they would most likely laugh in your face. When I was little, waking me up was not so much a task as an endurance sport. Even if it took them an hour to cross the finish line, they always got an A for effort.
But in the past few years, things changed. I learned how to wake up early (my secret: just do it.) and learned to love and appreciate morning time.
Two days ago, we arrived in Amritsar, a beautiful city that houses the stunning Golden Temple and served as a stop-over in what turned out to be 40 hours of travel between Jaisalmer and Dharamsala. We arrived before sunrise and had only a few hours to see the city: after finding a hotel where we could buy time and breakfast (and COFFEE), we strapped on our packs and headed towards the temple. There’s something fun about seeing a city with a thirty pound pack on your back; hotels are nice and all, but it’s fun to feel like a true backpacker every once in a while, bus stations and dirtiness and uncertainty and everything.
We walked through Amritsar’s normally bustling streets just as the city was waking up, Sikh men cycling by with long beards and gorgeous turbans, children heading off to school, shopkeepers still setting up for the day. The city was completely different from others that we had visited so far (and the closest to Pakistan that I’ve ever been), and I was so happy to see it at this time: everything starting anew, no salesmen hawking their wares just yet, the morning light beautiful as always. I quickly realized that this was my new favorite time to see an unfamiliar place.
And then, yesterday morning — after arriving to beautiful Dharamsala and sleeping in a real bed for the first time in over 36 hours — I woke up energized and ready to explore my new surroundings. At 7 AM I laced up my boots, checked the weather (40 degrees and windy), piled on almost every layer of clothing in my pack, and set off. I spent over two hours walking through and around town, first to a small (and sadly no longer active) church 2 kilometers away and then through Dharamsala’s steep and winding streets. Everything was quiet, the air was crisp, and the fog was just lifting to reveal striking mountain views.
Seeing a new place with fresh eyes – fresh from a new day, fresh from new surroundings – is always so exciting. I quickly realized that I was falling in love with the town, built into the steep foothills of the Himalaya, with all its quirky shops and cafes and Free Tibet stickers everywhere. I mentioned in this post that I sometimes wonder what’s the best way to see a new city while traveling: how can I go about my day in order to walk away with an appreciation for my surroundings and an understanding of what the city?
I realized yesterday, though, that falling in love with a place is simple. Maybe like falling in love with a person? You open your eyes and realize where you are and a smile breaks out on your face and your heart starts to swell, bigger and bigger with each breathtaking mountain view and Tibetan monk and smiling child in a school uniform that you pass. And again, the morning made this even more perfect, more clear, more special to experience. Peaceful and new, I again saw shopkeepers opening their stalls, entertaining myself simply by looking at everything that the man at the convenience store sells and window-shopping the Tibetan handicrafts. Breathless from the steep roads and breathless from my excitement, I soaked it all in and relished my surroundings. With no schedule and nowhere to be, I could just stop for a few minutes and watch the sun slowly lifting above the mountains, or peer across the valley at the numerous small villages and homes, bright green pastures sticking out against the dark mountain trees. And all this before breakfast.
As I huffed and puffed my way back to the hotel, full of adrenaline (and street chai), I felt like I had made a new friend. Another new place soaked in. I felt like I had just seen something special, realized that the quiet of morning makes its observance that much more valuable. I felt alive and I felt grateful.
And I felt ready for banana pancakes. Which, by the way, may have just been the most perfect, fluffy, satisfying pancakes I’ve ever eaten. Situationally awesome and magically delicious.