Moving back from USA to India – From Google California to a Himalayan Village

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This is the story of my husband, Gautam Dhar who speaks about a life changing experience when he left US after staying there for 13 ys and his job in Google and moved back to India. With a vision to travel, learn, teach and grow. It’s also features on his LinkedIn.

My Dream had become a story, and my spiritโ€™s longing cry. Perhaps these are the things that can never die. I continue to work Pro Bono for Chirag NGO, write and compose Music that I share on my website and YouTube channel, share my Running, Yoga and Travel snippets on my Instagram. Read below about my journey back from US to India and how it shaped my life.

My story is not extraordinary but it has granted me humility, dreams and courage that I found somewhere along the paths I took. I always had a desire to break away from the shackles of routine life and a quest to find that one thing that would truly put my heart at rest, or at least lead me to it. There was a silent roar within that nudged me to leave the highways and find a hidden trail. But the risk was too high. It had been 13 years since Iโ€™d stepped my foot in US as a starry eyed 18 year old with nothing on my back and a pocketful of dreams.

After College, 2 yrs of Non Profits and 5 years of corporate life in the worldโ€™s number 1 company, Google, something stirred within me. I had become conditioned to a life of security and comforts of Silicon Valley. I wanted to change the course of my life but I often wondered what would happen if I messed up and failed? A new adventure was simmering but the moment of reckoning wasnโ€™t there yet! I asked my friends, parents, strangers and everyone I ran into. โ€˜Why would you want to give it all up at the peak of your career in the world’s number 1 company?โ€™ This is what I heard, but I knew what my gut was telling me.

I just wasnโ€™t sure if I had it in me to answer that call from deep within. My parents stood by my side and backed my desire that had raged into a passion and was raring to nudge me over the top of my comfort zone into the unknown. And then it happened. I decided to do the unthinkable. In pursuit of a new horizon, I decided to walk away from my life in California and my dream job in Google. Even if I was alone in my decision that some called audacious and some called insane, I believed that the Universe was listening. My whole life flashed in front of me like a movie when I sat in that one way flight from San Francisco to India. Did I have any regrets? No. Did I have butterflies in my stomach? At least 10 thousand of them!

With no plans, routine and reminders, I was eager to have a go at this uncertain chapter of my life even if I didnโ€™t know what it would be like. While one part of me was set on roaming in Himalaya upon my return to India, another part of me was searching for a purpose that had pulled me back home at the risk of leaving everything behind. With no more daily reminders and meetings to keep, I was back to being a child of nature, a traveler without destination who couldnโ€™t wait to sip in the fresh mountain air and roam freely.

During one of my treks, destiny came knocking. I was introduced to a grassroots level organization, CHIRAG in a Himalayan village in Uttarakhand (India) where I could teach Music, Computers and English to children, while working with the local villagers on an array of projects from natural resource management, womenโ€™s livelihood, web design and working with the local youth. Back in college, I always had a fantasy about living out in the mountains and singing and playing guitar for children. And here was an opportunity offering me that dream. Nothing could ever replace that feeling. Sharing the village life with locals, sharing dreams with the children, and sharing narrow trails with Leopards and Jackals who roamed freely at night. This was truly an adventure for which I would trade my plush American life over and over again.

Itโ€™s quite strange how much we take for granted in our life that sometimes scarcity and adversity are the perfect ingredients to open new doors of learning and realizing the true meaning of our existence. From freeways of California, I was now treading the forest paths of a village in Indian Himalaya. It was quite surreal that just a few months ago I was cruising down Highway 101 in US and now I was treading forest paths of a mountain village hoping for a jeep to come by so I could hitchhike. Life had come full circle! Through the tiny window in my room, I would gaze into the night skies filled with a million stars and often spot a family of jackals crossing the fields. Their howling was the music of the night and I consider myself fortunate to be able to experience it.

Teaching Kids at CHIRAG

I can never forget the twinkle in the eyes of the children when they beheld my Guitar for the first time. Their youthful eyes were lit with awe and a longing to learn. Together, we sang songs that I wrote sitting under a tree somewhere. We weaved dreams that inspired them to transcend all barriers. Each day I lit small lamps of learning and love and in the evenings as I sipped tea on the balcony of my room overlooking the great Himalayan ranges, I would think about life and all had had unfolded in last few months.

Some of my lifeโ€™s greatest lessons and adventures happened in that 1 year that I spent in that mountain village. The first time I heard the sounds of Gautam dadda (dadda means brother in local dialect) in those school halls, children swaying to my music. It was nothing but pure magic. The majestic view of Mount Trishul from my silent balcony, Cheenu the cat who stole my milk often and long walks were my companions. And yes, there was my Guitar. Those moments will forever be etched in my heart.

When the Himalayan regions were struck with cloudbursts, floods and landslides that caused almost 6,000 deaths in 2013, my family grew worried sick. But together, with the villagers, we rode that tide to safety. Without electricity and running water for more than a week, I would collect rainwater in a bucket to bathe and wash. I would often chuckle at how much water we waste in the cities each day. I was no exception to that! The lessons learned during the time of floods cannot be articulated. Yes, there was no adrenaline rising nor was I climbing any summit, but the idea of simply stepping aside from a conventional life, leaving the highways and taking the road less traveled was an adventure that transformed my life. What gave meaning to it all was the opportunity to live as a villager, teach and learn, and the satisfaction of making a difference in the lives of people in an area where not many were willing to live without any financial returns. Without a care or foe, I felt truly free without invasion of Internet, smartphones and the glitter of city life.

After getting married and resettling in the city, one autumn, me and my wife retraced my steps back to that village school. And then it happened. The children saw me with the guitar, and their faces beamed and they screamed โ€œGautam daddaโ€! Faces, some familiar and some new but all full of wonder. We sang the same songs we used to sing together. I had forgotten my own lyrics, but they remembered each and every word to the very last note. I donโ€™t know whether it was us singing or echoes from those days ringing in my ears. The lamp was lit. And it still burns strong.

As CS Lewis said, โ€œSome journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.โ€ Gratitude is all I have for the Universe for giving me that opportunity. I reckon someone out there was listening after all. That one year in that remote Himalayan village left me with lessons and friends for life and if time were to turn back, I would do it again! For I realized that No matter how great the risk, If you dig it, do it, if you really dig it, do it twice. For the greatest gift is the wild spirit which shall die if tamed!

Every day, I receive emails from students, professionals and others who are as confused as I was on whether to make the life-changing decision of moving back to India, whether they are in US, UK or anywhere else. It’s a BIG decision and I do my best to guide them and show them their inner calling and passion. If my story inspires you and you’re in the same boat..drop me a note!


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4 Comments

  1. Reply

    Vikas

    May 31, 2021

    Mam, just read about your journey to mountains from corporate world…i missed it reading yesterday….
    It all sounded so known as if i was seeing myself…except the great courage you had to break free…my journey too has started albeit a bit slowly….may be through your website and experiences GOD Was saying that move ahead….thank you mam….ek mere jaise darte hue insaan ko thodi ummed bandhti hai , chahe door hi sahi jab koi charagon ki roshni dikhti h……….bas himmat si badha di aapne……thank yo so very much…Where is your Chirag ngo mam ..in which village and district…plz convey…i will come and take your blessings…though i am older than you…but you are…much ahead in this journey….
    .i intend to start an experiential stay and yogic unlearning programme in uttarkashi…at a poor farmers traditional hut and farm….where young people have an opportunity to unlearn their accumulated knowledge and past…moving in to the zone of nothingness……best wishes to you…and thank you again for being a ray of hope to me……plz do tell about Chirag…God willing I will come some day……may you always be satisfied…. regards and respect..

    • Reply

      Dr. Varuna Raina

      June 1, 2021

      Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚
      It is story of my husband who left his job in Google and worked in Chirag.It is school in Sitla village in Uttarakhand. And yes we are never too late to live our dreams.I am glad my posts helped you make that leap. Your plans seem interesting.Do let me know when you make that leap
      Best wishes
      Varuna

  2. Reply

    Animesh

    February 21, 2021

    The call of the Himalayas ….. Again and again the pull is universal for who have the connect with them…. Spellbound …. No words to say.,. Thank you and gratitude…๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป

    2
    • Reply

      Dr. Varuna Raina

      June 1, 2021

      Thanks a lot ๐Ÿ™‚
      Be blessed..

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