I was told I was to accompany Sandeepan’s husband later that day to some accommodation outside of Shimla. It seemed like an instruction rather than a request.
I was in Northern India and had connected with a family who ran an NGO which helped with the education and empowerment of women and remote villages. They ran volunteering programmes and were thinking of offering the volunteers somewhere to relax for a few days before or after their assignments, and wanted me to take some pictures and let them know what I thought of it.
With nothing else to do and keen to help someone out, I figured why not, and so that day I found myself in a car with 4 men heading away from Shimla to a remote mountain village. Recent newspaper headlines of gang rape in North India flashed into my head as we climbed up the tight, twisty mountain roads, the city becoming a speck in the distance. The road was full of lorries, people and cows but as we climbed higher and higher, the chaos thinned out and soon it was just our solitary car.
The men were talking amongst themselves in Hindi, while I sat in the back staring out the window at the trees and the disappearing city, wondering what I’d got myself into. I’d met this guy’s wife and kids, and had been to their home, so it had to be OK, right?
After some time we came to a junction, and the car turned left onto a track that headed away from the main road. The dust kicked up behind us in a cloud as we bumped around on the uneven surface, and I craned my neck, scanning the horizon for some kind of life.
We eventually pulled up at a collection of buildings, trees full of green leaves littering the spaces between them; a contrast to the chalky coloured walls that were peppered lightly with brown dust and the dry, rocky earth underfoot. Someone had scrawled ‘NO SOMEKING’ in paint on one of the walls, and I smiled to myself at the spelling. Drips ran from the bottom of each letter, like something out of a horror movie, only the paint was white, not red.
As I got out the car, I watched the other men disappear into some of the buildings, leaving just Guvinder and I. The place seemed empty and abandoned, and I half expected to see a tumbleweed roll past.
‘I have some business to attend to. We have to meet someone and eat some food,’ he told me.
We walked over to an outside seating area, shaded from the sun by a canopy of sweet smelling flowers wrapped around a wooden frame. A striking-looking man with jet black hair sat, one foot resting on the opposite knee and his arms over the back of the chair. He was wearing a crisp white shirt and sand-coloured trousers, and the whole picture reminded me of a scene in a mafia film where someone met with the big boss before getting shot by a henchman hiding in the background. I glanced around, but I couldn’t see anyone in the shadows.
The two men greeted each other, and I was introduced with a polite, but brief exchange of pleasantries. They then settled into what I can only assume was business talk, while a teenage boy came out with a variety of deep fried battered vegetables and masala chai on an extremely ornate tray.
Lots of laughing and shaking hands signalled the end of their meeting (rather than a man with a gun, thankfully) and I was led to an empty accommodation block. As we moved through the corridors and rooms it reminded me of a Travelodge in the UK; pretty basic, but nice enough and does the job. I took photos and we chatted about the rooms, and I relaxed a little.
After a while we got to a room with a small lounge area, and Guvinder waved his hand in the direction of the sofa. ‘Please, sit.’
I sat, and within seconds the teenage boy from earlier suddenly appeared with two colourful china cups filled with masala chai on the same ornate tea tray. I didn’t know whether to be more curious about how he appeared from nowhere, or concerned about what might be in the drink.
‘I will give you some spiritual healing. Here, now. A short session to find out what your chakra is like.’ Again, more of an instruction than a offer.
I checked my gut feeling. Guvinder had told me about his journey with spiritualism earlier that morning, and I didn’t feel unsafe. So in the sense of adventure, I decide to go with the flow (noting an escape route, just in case).
I sat cross legged facing a window which gave a panoramic view of the mountains. It was late afternoon, and the low sun made the layers of mountains hazy.
I was told to remove my outer layers of clothing, and I must have pulled a face. ‘Do not worry. Relax. At no point will you be with no clothes on. It lets the energy flow.’
Go with it Tara, you said you wanted to travel and experience new things.
So I sat there in my underwear, feeling a little uneasy. Mainly though, I was just curious. Guvinder started chanting and moving around me, waving his arms in the air and then placing his hands on various parts of my body- head, arms, legs, stomach. I could feel the energy transfer, and the chanting was soothing; at no point did it feel inappropriate.
Apparently my energy was blocked; an imbalance in my root chakra, the red chakra. This is the base chakra that provides the foundation on which one builds their life. If this is blocked, you don’t feel at home…anywhere.
It didn’t surprise me; I’d just got divorced, quit my job and set off around the world. ‘This will help you release some of the blockages,’ he told me, ‘but you should pay close attention to yourself.’
I don’t know how long it lasted, but all too soon it was over and I was back fully clothed, drinking one last cup of chai. I was to take 40 days to process it, and not to talk about what goes on during the healing until those days were up.
Shortly after, we began the trip back to the city. My head rested against the window as I watched the sun set behind the mountains, a wave of tiredness suddenly washing over me.
As I lay in bed that night, I let out a deep breath as I stared at the ceiling.
What a bizarre day.