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A Pottery Retreat in Dharamkot

When was the last time you created something with your bare hands? Digital creations via keyboards aside, there’s something very fulfilling about making things from scratch, be it with clay, paints, wood, or embroidery. Working with wet terracotta clay, especially, feels amazing — the texture, coolness, and memories of childhood are therapeutic and gratifying, to say the least.

I just got back from a five-day pottery retreat at the Dharamkot Studio. Started by a group of friends who wanted to create a community art space in Dharamkot, it was a perfect escape from city life, summer heat, and work-induced stress. When life presents too many questions with no clear answers, it’s nice to get off the internet for a bit and focus on using your hands to create things.

Making pots with clay… and breaking them too

Learning the basics of pottery against the backdrop of the Himalayas is what my dreams have been made of for a while. Andretta village and artists’ colony in Palampur has long been associated with pottery courses and retreats of this kind, but they tend to be expensive, for longer durations, and cater to more serious potters. I wanted to learn pottery for fun — an activity to unwind, spark my creative side, and use my hands. Dharamkot Studio felt better suited for my needs.

Located near the Dhamma Sikhara and Tushita meditation centres, the studio is perched on a hill offering stunning panoramic views of the Dauladhar mountains. They offer rooms to stay, a basic cafeteria, and a wonderful group of pottery instructors who are patient, creative, and encouraging. I got to play with clay, learn about various tools and pottery techniques, understand the clay preparation and firing/glazing process, and experiment with wheel-throwing and hand-building. I made cups, bowls, vases, and other miscellaneous items — spending a large part of my days at the studio interspersed with quiet walks through the woods.

I couldn’t bring home all that I created, so in the interest of recycling clay, the cups and bowls I was leaving behind had to be broken into bits. Watching what I’d made turn back into nothing was an interesting experience, as was witnessing vases and bowls collapse on the wheel because I sculpted them too thin. There’s so much to learn from pottery — most of all, humility.

Places to eat in Dharamkot and McLeodganj

The Dharamkot studio is within walking distance of all the popular cafes and the starting point of the Triund trek. Being the second home of most Israeli tourists in India, most cafes offer Israeli dishes. My favourite was Moonlight Cafe, followed by Morgan’s Place and Trek ‘n’ Dine. There are tonnes of similar hole-in-the-wall restaurants that are worth exploring on longer visits.

The McLeodganj market is a ten-minute auto ride away and worth a visit for shopping (I bought three pairs of colourful woollen socks and a beautiful meditation cushion), eateries (Tibet Kitchen and Kalimpong are great), Buddhist bookshops, and the Dalai Lama Temple.

Breathing in and breathing out

One of the unexpected joys of doing the pottery retreat in Dharamkot was that the studio is located right next to the Dhamma Sikhara Vipassana centre. Having done multiple courses already, I was able to do daily group meditation sittings at the centre. The ‘group’ was just a Tibetan Buddhist monk and me on most days, but it was much-needed at a time when I was trying to grapple with some disappointments. Vipassana may not be for everyone, but I’m constantly amazed at how much this meditation technique has influenced my life and helped me deal with situations better, time and again.

There are numerous mental health benefits to pursuing hobbies that entail using one’s hands. Apart from the joy of learning a new skill, they’re also known to help relieve stress, engage small muscle groups, provide a creative outlet, and improve one’s mood. Even daily activities like washing dishes, cooking, and gardening can be beneficial for practising mindfulness. I hope this post inspires you to carve out some time today to do something with your hands!

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