I reached a point in life where I felt stagnant on planet earth. I needed a trip. For months I had been researching a destination that would rattle my cage. For my day and night job I’m a chef so I needed a location that had outstanding food and culture. I also sought a big dose of comfort zone removal. My web browser history was ripe with Japan, Vietnam, Thailand and possibly Tibet if I allowed the mountains to trump the demands of my palate. I knew I was going to Asia, I just didn’t know where.
On a random night in February, I was sitting on my Herman Miller chair in my skivvies eating pistachios. I received a whim that said, “Type in Himalayan Retreats.” I'm a champion at following whims so I acquiesced to the impulse like a pro. I googled the words of my whim, then I picked a pistachio shell from my belly button. That’s when I found Himalayan Writing Retreat’s webpage. I clicked on it and was immediately drawn to the seven day writing retreat in the Kumaon region of North India. The photo’s on the page spoke to me. They said, “This is it.” Then I said to myself, “I’m going to India!”
I sent an inquiry email to Chetan Mahajan and he quickly replied with answers to all my questions. He also completely hooked me up with tips on entry visas and he set up all my train travel tickets. He also referred tour guides, hotels and restaurants in Delhi. After a few back and forth emails Chetan and I jumped on the phone to talk logistics. During that call I asked him the proper pronunciation of his name. He said, “Looks like cheatin’ sounds like Satan.” That was an appropriate response considering his phone number ends with the numbers 666. I thought, “Wow, I guess I’m going to meet Satan and see what all the hubbub is about with this place called Hell." After that phone call I booked my flight from Los Angeles to Delhi.
Corny Taj Mahal Photo.
Six weeks later I was on a train from Delhi to the tiny railway station of Kathgodam. Three hours after that I was in a remote village sharing a house with seven other writers. I was in great company and surrounded by smart, creative and relaxed people. The retreat was hosted by Chetan, Mariam and Dr. Vandita Dubey. Each morning we started with a full breakfast. After the A.M. chowfest we did a meditation routine then dropped into the sessions. The structured part of the curriculum lasted until about noon. Then we ate a fantastic lunch. All the meals were amazing! After lunch I was free to do whatever I wanted. Some days I wrote, other days we went on scenic hikes as a group and I played guitar everyday. On one of my afternoons I received a crash course in Indian cooking from a fella named Vikram. So glad I did that! And some days I did nothing, which is considered an artform in this region.
What did I value most about the retreat and my time with Himalayan Writing Retreat? I connected the dots with my writing voice to what inspires me. This is something that I’ll need to keep close as I move deeper into my writing process. That may seem like a no-brainer or possibly a dot that you have already connected with your writing. So my point is this. By putting myself in this environment and allowing me to be taken on a ride with the folks at Himalayan Writing Retreat something profound came up. The simple truth of the matter is when I went to India my attitude and my writing blossomed. So If you’re reading this in your skivvies pulling pistachios shells from the abyss of your belly hole then yeah, go to Hell and meet Satan. He’ll show you a slice of heaven and put you in situations beyond your wildest imagination. You can’t know what the experience will kick up in you. However, I do know that when you go there with an open mind, you'll return with an unearthed soul...
Note from Organizers:
1. We are in no way responsible for James' choice of garments, food, or photography poses.
2. Based on the feedback from various HWR participants we have reduced the sessions further. All sessions are optional, so participants are free to maximize their writing time.
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