Trek & Talk

TREK: roam, ramble, tromp, traipse, hike, jaunt, plod, pilgrimage, wander, take a long journey, or explore. TALK: chat, converse, chatter, catch up, share stories, communicate, address, utter, express…

Each day we find a new path to walk or a village to visit. Our treks through the tea zigzag up and down hillsides and can be as wide as a dirt road or narrower than your hips. Since Mountaintop Clinic (MTC) is situated at the very top of and overlooking the massive Glendale Tea Estate which encompasses thousands of acres, we can literally see hundreds of pathways through the immense carpet of green. Each day we watch teams of workers out clipping tea — so many that the estates build cottages up here in the hills to house their workers and families, complete with schools.

On the other side of the mountain is the Bengorm Tea Estate, and beyond that another, and another. The entire mountain is carved into plantations with swaths of forest breaking up the cultivated tracts of land.

There is a stark difference here between the manicured tea, trimmed neatly every few weeks with box cutters, compared to the forest which is a veritable jungle of cypress, agave, eucalyptus, wild ashwagandha, groves of lantana, silver oak trees, Indian sage, neem trees, and giant champaka magnolia trees. It is home to indigenous bears, panthers, leopards, elephants, wild dogs which look like foxes, and even boars (we saw one today!). It’s for this reason we are not allowed to leave the retreat on foot after 5:30 pm and until well after sunrise, as that’s when the wild things are about. Just a couple nights ago, several bears were outside the electric fence not far from Molly and Tiffany’s room, and even though there was no way for them to get in, apparently they caused quite a ruckus! In the morning the doctor said they made a visit because they could smell the mangoes in the kitchen that were for our breakfast!

Anyway, back to the walks. Clearly we are not walking in the dark, but when it’s bright and sunny, most of us head out for a jaunt at some point in our day in between our therapies, so we buddy up with folks who have similar break times, and off we go.

There’s the loop that begins at the bottom of the MTC driveway and goes through the forest and wraps around the mountain top (fine in daylight hours). Most of us have done that one a few times now, as it was the first guided walk Dr. Sundara took us on, pointing out all of the indigenous plants and their medicinal properties and uses. Point to a plant, and the doctor can tell you its name, its family, what it is used for, and anything else you might want to know–just fascinating! Mary Beth asks about the little blue beehives we see, and the doctor goes off on a tale about all the various mountain honeys and shares that our breakfast gooseberries (Amla or Amalaki), are soaked in a local white honey. 

One of the days we walk with the doctor, he takes us to visit a family that cares for Lakshmi, one of the well- loved mama cows that gives us all of the milk for our retreat. The milk is used in chai, it is made into ghee, which is used both for cooking our chapatis and other tasty meals, and it is the base for numerous herbal preparations, including the herbalized ghee we drink, and even in some enemas folks are being given. We all thank her for her wonderful milk which is the base for so much of the medicine here. 

We meet tea cutters, old men hanging out on temple railings, and a woman carrying a huge bag of tea on her head while talking on her cell phone! And these two old ladies just could not smile enough when we asked them about their bag of tea–they wanted us to reach in and smell the leaves. Here’s Mary Beth taking a scoop:

A little closer to home, there’s a short walk to an ancient olive tree with a small shrine under it. We are told it is wonderful for anyone to go and sit under, especially women, and particularly to support the root chakra. One day Karin, Val, and I go here to sit and chant “LAM” under the tree. It is a sacred place.

The doctor guides us on another trek where we get to walk through the tea and down a set of steps over 250 years old and left over from the time of Britain’s occupation here. Yes, they are as steep as they look!

One of my favorite walks is through the little tribal village of Hullical, which is full of smiling people, puppies, kittens, and brightly painted houses lining a little patio-like street just for foot travel. Every time we stroll here we are asked in for tea, or where we are from. Often we ask if we can take their photo, and then some ask if they can take our picture, and we all laugh. The people are so dear and sweet, and they are genuinely curious about us and interested in our fascination with them!

Karin and I keep remarking how we have a perma smile each time we visit this village. I’ll do a story in pictures of this town in a separate post–it is so sweet.

One day, Karin and I wander off the beaten path and end up walking through a little row of houses and feel like we’re in someone’s back yard. Imagine a stranger walking through your yard in the US? It would feel like such a violation of your privacy… but here, people see you and want you to come in for tea. So we are wandering along, and in the distance is a young woman, maybe 18 or so, hanging laundry in the sun, sees us and smiles. We ask if it’s okay to be walking there, and she beckons us to come, and when we get to her, she is so intrigued by us, that she asks if she can take a photo of us. Karin and I sit on a rock, and pose. Then we do a selfie with her, and I ask her name: “Jyoti,” she says. We bow to each other, say thank you, and continue our hike, looking back and waving at Jyoti as we climb the path out of the village.

Today a dozen of us walked 5 miles with Dr. Sundara through the tea, a village, the forest, the winding road, and then finally back into the tea and up the MTC driveway.

The gently setting sun warmed our faces and backs, and except for the forest where we had to go single file and silently, we walked and talked, our little pockets of conversation like the path, up and down, around, and through. It feels so good to walk on this ground, like my feet have been here for lifetimes. The red dirt has become a part of my sneakers and socks, and the people–they are just so beautiful and don’t even know it. I look out over the mountains each morning and wonder where I will roam today?

With love and worn out from both walking and talking,

~ Katie ~

2 thoughts on “Trek & Talk”

  1. I eagerly await your posts and as I read, I am drawn into the spaces that you describe, my senses wanting to be there and experience it all first hand.❤️

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