In the porch of my guesthouse, I watch greens mountains of pines and hear the Beas river in its valley. I hear Hebrew spoken near and far. Signs in the Israeli language can be found in many shops of town. Falafel, schnitzel and hummus are ubiquitous in Old Manali’s restaurants. I walk outside and see a house–or is it a temple?– with the image of a man, probably a Rabbi. I wonder if I am in India or in Israel.
Many Israelis in their early twenties, as soon as they finish army service, come to India for rest. “Shalom,” I greet them all. Together, we have lunch and dinner to the raspy yet beautiful sounds of Hebrew. One day, before sunset, I go out for a walk alone, on jeans and flip-flops. At the top of a hill, I run into an Israeli couple, and they smile at me, inviting us all for conversation. They think I’m from some country in Europe that they may have visited before. We look at a mountain and a street, full of sheep, and greet villagers who recite Hindu mantras on beads. Together, we talk about Israel and Brazil, and delve into our countries’ culture, life, and history. Manali becomes my doorway to the Middle East. Still, Indian culture is very alive here.
The wooden structure and pyramidal shape Hadimba Temple celebrates Hinduism. As I enter, a white man with dreads—rastafari—accompanies me. We smell sandalwood incense and hear the devoted voices of men and women who chant. Six women in their fifties, sitting cross-legged, sing together Sanskrit prayers on Parvati, Shiva and Saraswati. The man with dreadlocks sits on the floor for meditation or prayer. I take the sweet rice and sugar that are served to me and watch the dozens of school children who came for a field trip, full of reverence in their eyes. They have with them school guides, and enjoy that precious time of the end of summer before school starts. Those field trips and excursions of childhood come to mind, and the memory of Wizard of Oz in a small theater in fourth grade comes to mind. Escapades are a child’s fondest memories.
After visiting Hadimba Temple, I stroll in a park with giant deodars. An Indian couple holds hands and pushes each other on a swing set, speaking a language I don’t understand. From their gestures, I can tell they are recently married. Love’s gestures are universally comprehensible. I reminisce the times and feelings of laying on the grass in the parks of New York. I sit and watch the romantic side of Indian life and Himachali culture. Peace is visible in children’s smiles and can found under the shade of trees in a cool summer afternoon. In their traditional wear, silver jewelry and hats, these children remind me of the free-spirited gypsies, in the best sense of the word. In Himachal Pradesh, I find it easy to appreciate this beautiful side life.
As I prepare to leave towards Spiti, I feel grateful that I can be here, sitting for a long time at a restaurant near the park, reflecting that people from far-away lands, with different cultures and languages, can understand each other with a smile.