Yesterday, we drove over 400 kilometers from Marchula to Agora. The drive transected some essential realities of modern India – the realities of eking out a livelihood in rural India as seen in Uttar Pradesh (a small state home to 250 million people), the spiritual power of Haridwar and Rishikesh as portals to the Ganges, the buzz of development and growth, and the generosity of Hindu society. For those who paid attention, there was so much to see, as there has been on all of our drives. The journey was also different, though, as it led us closer and closer to home.

As we’ve reflected in the past, Agora really is home for CCS in India. It’s where we’re taken care of the best, where we have the most freedom to roam, where people know us intimately, and the one place each of the dozen or so trips to India for CCS students has stopped. Despite how remote it is and how different the culture can be, trip participants immediately seem to feel more comfortable here. And I, for one, as the trip leader, feel a sense of relief at getting here – and not just because it means the long journey to get here is over.

Every time of day here feels interesting and relevant and fun – the meals, the hikes, the fishing, the play, all of it. But the mornings in Agora and the Assi Ganga feel the most personal. They nurture and awaken each person uniquely.

Local women use the early morning light to make their way out from the village in search of the essentials – wood for fires, grass for animals, ferns and other forage for food, and manure for fertilizer. Sitting near any path, the energy of these women in the mornings is humbling. There’s a natural pace and a personal joy it seems in taking part in this timeless ritual of collection – this morning, one woman prayed to a holy tree on the far side of the village while others chatted quietly, not wanting to disturb the morning vibe. To an observer, they are at once part of a collective, a living group on its way to provide, and so clearly individuals.

Children use the morning to play and prepare for the day. It’s the loudest time in the heart of the village – cold showers eliciting cries or screams, the sound of games, the teasing of elders and peers. For those of us who find energy in interacting with young people, it’s a rejuvenating time. You can sense the energy of this community’s future waxing into something special.

Men from Agora use it for so many different purposes. The neighbor just above the lodge where we’re staying uses it to travel each day to Uttarkashi for a parantha and newspaper. The mule guys use to to start their journeys out in search of sand for cement or to carry the goods for trekking groups. The carpenter heads out to work on his current project. The blacksmith starts his fire, preparing for a day of work. And some men just chill, their goal for that day to rest. The mornings showcase the variety of “jobs” the men here have. Unlike the women, each day can be substantially different depending on the time of year or the work at hand. It’s a good window into the significant difference between our Western way of connecting identity to occupation and the Indian way of just being a man, able to draw meaning from so many different jobs.

And, for us, it’s different for each traveler. For me, it was a quiet time to wake before the group and do some work. For Peyton, it was time to engage in conversation with me and Mr. Pausic about the end of his time at CCS and the blog post he’s working on. For Blake, it was time to observe and write tirelessly in his journal. For Milly, it was a time to connect with her parents and do some journaling. For Kean, a time to sit and think. And for the rest, a time to keep sleeping and recover from the journey. That’s the flow of the mornings while we’re here – a time for each of us to do what we need or want independently, unlike the rest of the time when we’re more or less operating as a group.

This morning, the strongest thought in my mind was about maps and meaning. I read the final paragraph of The Road last night and found myself creating a parallel metaphor to the one Cormac depicts in the skin of brook trout as maps of humanity. The terraces, the thick jungle, the paths up and down and around the river and the mountains, they all feel like a map. A map that connects out from and then back into Agora, home. We are so lucky to have a physical place that provides the feeling that Agora does. The feeling of being at home in the jungle, high up in the mountains, on the edge of our own lives. It’s hard not to feel drawn out, on the way to something beautiful. Knowing that home will be waiting.

“Once there were brook trouts in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

-Cormac McCarthy

8 responses to “Morning in Agora”

  1. haley Avatar

    Thank you for this!!!

  2. Bett Alter Avatar
    Bett Alter

    That’s a beautiful reflection on Agora and on true education – what magic happens there will reveal itself in the lives of these travelers for years to come. Thank you, Aaron- we read this from California and wish you could also be here.

  3. Mollie Avatar

    Good Morning from Urbanna, where in my routine for the past few weeks, I make coffee and head out to the porch to look out over my garden, think about my projects for the day, listen to the woodpeckers, cardinals, osprey, dogs barking and neighbors heading off to work. That reminds me I need to check on the nest of baby bunnies in the garden! It’s like those mornings on the mountainside where Agora is perched, but flatter. You capture in your words where I long to be, but remind me what the magic of Agora really is, community-home.

    Namaste to all my friends in the village, especially Suman’s mom and grandmother, Uncle, Sarita, Manita, and Divindri, my host family. I hope my favorite little guy isn’t too big and that Suman’s kids are as silly as he can be.

    Welcome home, Christchurch! Thank you, Aaron. This was a beautiful morning read.

  4. Jeb Byers Avatar
    Jeb Byers

    One sweeeeeet piece of writing. And then those gorgeous lines from Cormac McCarthy. Wow.

  5. Pedro Rodríguez Avatar
    Pedro Rodríguez

    What a journey and what an experience!! Reading this blog makes me wish to come back to India. Love from Spain

  6. Teresa Hinton Avatar
    Teresa Hinton

    A very moving post!

  7. A Showalter Avatar

    This post made me miss the India trip so much, Aaron! Thank you for reminding me of not just the scenery of that amazing place, but the feeling of it. While Agora is a peaceful place, it is not decadent or lazy. There is human activity everywhere; some of it is focused and industrious, some of it is simply carrying out the daily tasks of eating, building fires, bathing, making knives, washing clothes. And the soundtrack is footsteps on a path, tinkling bells on the animals, water trickling or sloshing, wood burning, quiet conversations, sipping tea. And unlike in our individualistic west, most of those everyday experiences are shared. I think that accounts for the sense of well-being that one often feels while there.

    And your reference to Cormac McCarthy of course hit me as his gorgeous writing always does. In a strange twist, Ms. Wilbanks pointed me to his obituary that just appeared in the NY Times this afternoon. He passed away today at age 89. Grateful for writers and thinkers who can help us experience life with deeper appreciation for moments large and small. Maybe it’s time for that brook trout tattoo after all?

  8. JEB Byers Avatar
    JEB Byers

    PS–Aaron, Happy Birthday. I know it’s right around now. Glad you are having it in Agora among friends and family. Cormac McCarthy passed today, but his words will live forever among his fans. Be well.

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