‘Kathmandu, I think that’s where I’m really going to’

We got a taxi down to Kathmandu from the monastery and after I found a room I hung out with my new beautiful friend and her son. After a few beers we headed out to eat with some other friends we had met at the monastery. I don’t really think I drank a lot but suffered a hangover the next morning. Maybe a couple of months of not drinking impacted more than I realised! Anyway it was a great night and very interesting catching up with these guys in the ‘outside’ world even if I did break the fifth rule of Buddhism (that didn’t take long… although I have a confession to make. I had a beer with two crazy boys next door to the monastery just before leaving… I’m sure it doesn’t count though!)

My friends were heading in different directions the next day so I was on my own again. I wandered around the streets of Kathmandu and met an Indian guy who became my best friend and adopted son and showed me some temples. He told me that his wife and children lived near Delhi. He is 25 years old and his oldest child is 10 which means that he was 15 when he was born! His wife is 40 years old and was the wife of his brother who died so he needed to step up to the plate. I asked him how he felt about that and he said that he wasn’t happy at the time, however his wife and him understand each other now and he can’t do anything to change it anyway so he just accepts it. It’s not a bad attitude to have. Of course he had an agenda spending time with me. In Varanasi it was silk scarfs. In Kathmandu it is Buddhist paintings. He wanted to take me to his art school where I could buy a painting. I was very clear that I wouldn’t be buying anything however the hopeful remain hopeful until the end. I don’t think he could believe that I could resist the sales pitch when we got there. After almost 3 months of travelling I have become very proficient in saying ‘no thank you’ and not feeling any guilt! I did enjoy his company though and to hear his story and see photos of his wife and children.

Afterwards I was alone again and I felt it. It was weird being on my own as even though I’m travelling alone I have managed to have company a lot of the time especially in the monastery. I decided that I needed to change hotels as the one I was in was expensive (relative to India) but more so the room smelt of mould. So I ended up looking at a number of hotels in the vicinity and decided on one which was cheaper and had a nicer room. I ran into one of the crazy boys who had some problems getting out of the country – apparently they wouldn’t let him on the plane because there was a bite out of one of his passport pages! (A drunk friend bit it some time ago but it was never a problem before). We ended up having dinner together which was pretty cool. The next day I traipsed around the major tourist attractions with a young, beautiful American/Puerto Rico friend who I also met at the monastery. We hired a taxi driver for half the day and he took us around to the 3 major tourist sites and told us a bit about his life. He was an amazing man who had 4 children and 3 of them were at university, one in Sydney and one in Japan (I’m not sure about the others). He had worked for many years without a holiday to ensure that his children had a good education and could make a go of it in life. He is going to take his first holiday in 30 years and visit his daughter in Sydney in December. I was really excited for him.

The next couple of days I spent on my own but it was great. I did some more wandering and I thought a scooter would be a good idea so I can head farther afield. There was no clear advertising so I asked at travel agents/adventure tour places and this guy around the corner from my hotel said I could have his scooter for the day for free! I was a bit suspicious as I’ve always believed that you don’t get something for nothing but apparently I’m wrong. I collected the scooter and parked it in the hotel basement garage which had an incredibly steep driveway. Next morning I was ready to rock and roll. After getting help to start it as the battery was flat I attempted to ride up the driveway at full throttle however the scooter could not make it to the top! So there I was with the brakes on hard, with no way of getting up to the top. I had no option but to start screaming ‘help!’ and about 10 Nepalese men came running – I’m pretty sure that they thought I was being attacked – and pushed the scooter up the rest of the way. I was pretty shaken to be honest however once I settled down I thought it was incredibly funny and I rode off laughing while also being thankful that it didn’t end badly! Nepalese roads are definitely more chaotic and difficult to manage than Australian roads, however, I still don’t think that they are as bad as India. The Nepalese stop at lights and even sometimes stop at crossings which is unheard of in India! Negotiating very busy cross intersections is interesting as basically you just go when there is a small gap otherwise you would never get through. I think I mastered it pretty much.

I made it to both my destinations with no incidents – except for a rather large protest march in Patan Durbar Square as I was trying to leave which caused a major traffic jam and a huge storm with heavy rain in Bhaktapur Durbar Square – however I enjoyed the ride and managed not to end up under a truck! At Bhaktapur Durbar Square I agreed to have a guide as I liked the guy who approached me and it just felt right. It cost me $5 USD. Other than the history of the buildings (which sadly, I’m not that interested in unless it relates to now) he told me a lot about the damage done during the 2015 earthquake (which interested me much more) including the impact on his family. His uncle died in the quake and his second child had just been bought home from hospital after his birth and was being oiled when the quake hit. He was out and ran back to find his family trembling and crying under a bridge-like structure. It was a very frightening time for him and his family and they still haven’t been able to repair their home as the government gave very little (enough rupees to buy about 7 bags of cement) and they don’t have the money to do it themselves. He showed me where his room had been which was now unliveable. Regardless, he works at 3 jobs and sends his boys to school, which is expensive, to ensure that they have an education. I am amazed at how determined these people are to ensure that their children have a better standard of living than they have had. I loved hanging out with him and hearing his story.

As it was raining and I had no wet weather gear, my tour guide, and now friend, arranged to have a rain coat type of garment made up for me out of a roll of plastic. I looked like I was wearing a big see through garbage bag and it amused many on the road all the way back to Kathmandu. It made me laugh to see other people’s reactions to this white woman on a scooter in a plastic bag! It definitely gave them a laugh! On the ride back I ‘met’ lovely Nepalese people. On one bike, there was a mum and dad and young child of about 2 who responded to me waving at her by waving back and blowing kisses. It was very cute. When I asked another guy on a bike when we had stopped where Thamel was he led me home. I am amazed at how friendly and helpful Nepalese people are.

The next morning I got ready to leave Kathmandu for Nagarkot which is a quiet place in the mountains. My friend and her son from the monastery are meeting me there before they return home. I feel very lucky. I have once again, on this journey, experienced the company and the generosity of people, both tourists and locals. I continue to want to pinch myself to see that this is real as I am so amazed that I am travelling to these wonderful places. I am so grateful for everyone that I have met while in Nepal so far and I know some of those friendships will continue for years to come. I am becoming more confident in my travels and am enjoying every moment. My life is absofuckinglutely amazing and I feel very blessed.

It’s a monk’s life….

It’s really weird going from 6 weeks of courses about Tantric practice which focuses on pleasure and then after 3 days of travel hell (a word banned in Tantra!) being in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery for a 10 day intensive course on Buddhist practice which focuses on renunciation! Maybe it wasn’t the smartest idea however the timing worked out so well I could not but see it as a sign. I’ve always had an interest in Buddhism so why the hell (oops) not? They are both spiritual practices and have interesting perspectives on how to live life, be happy, and reach the ultimate spiritual high.

Some of the basic tenets are similar such as the belief in karma and reincarnation, however one major difference is that Hinduism (where Tantric schools originate from) believes in multiple gods – over 33 million – whereas Buddhism doesn’t believe there is a god. I actually never had that realisation before until it was mentioned in the first teaching session. I think I’m getting the karma thing and reincarnation sort of makes sense however it’s a little more difficult to get my head around than concepts of mindfulness and compassion! Attachment and the concept of impermanence and mistaken reality are also major tenets of Buddhism. The ‘deadly sins’ are killing, stealing, lying, sexual misconduct and alcohol (I felt that I could adhere to the first 4…well maybe the first 3! – sorta). It is a very intellectual philosophy and, apparently being more and more backed up by science, with some esoteric notions thrown in. Most of the logic makes sense to me on some level and will more than likely impact on my functioning in life, however I have no plans in becoming a Buddhist nun!

Around 140 people started the course, however, as would be expected there were a lot of dropouts. The diversity was wonderful. People from the age of 18 years old to over 70. People from all over the world from very different cultures, lifestyles and socioeconomic status. I met so many interesting and beautiful people who were there for different reasons. Some searching for life’s answers, others struggling with mental health issues and addiction looking for respite, and others just interested in learning more about the philosophical approach of Buddhism. I felt like I took something from the tantric course with me which made me arrive in Nepal with my heart open and full of love for the people around me…well most anyway. There were some people who challenged the whole concept of compassion and patience however, as Buddhism states, they are our best teachers! We had discussion groups for the first 5 days and in my group there was a lovely, intelligent, and incredibly insightful young Lebanese woman who was blown away by having the opportunity to interact peacefully with the 2 people from Israel in our group.

The whole experience was pretty intense. The schedule started at 6.45am for the first meditation session until around 8.30pm when the last meditation finishes with some teaching sessions, the discussion group and a couple of breaks (other than meals) in between. So much for having a rest! We were not supposed to play music or read anything other than spiritual books which I complied with. We were also not supposed to have internet access, although you could purchase internet at the cafe, however I chose not to. Not having the net was a challenge for the first few days however I got used to it after a while. We were also not supposed to kill, steal, lie, have sexual contact or use alcohol. I managed to adhere to these expectations as well – well…. except for the mosquito I killed in my room – supposedly it could have been my mother in another lifetime! Sorry ma.

Some people went for walks outside the monastery during the 10 days however I chose to stay within the grounds except when we visited the nunnery which was down the hill in the village. I think due to the intensity of the regime and not leaving the monastery for 8 days, walking out of those gates gave me a massive sense of freedom – part of me didn’t want to go back, however I managed to drag myself back in to finish what I started. Spending time in the nunnery and walking around the village gave me the respite I needed to face the next 2 1/2 days. While I was in the monastery I spent a lot of time during the breaks lying down on the floor in the Gompa (meditation hall) reading. As I was lying there on the 24 April the whole building shook. It appears that we had had an earthquake with a magnitude of around 4.7, however, it didn’t create a response from the monks and nuns as it is a common occurrence. It must have been frightening for those in Kathmandu as there was an earthquake 4 years ago almost to the day on 25 April 2015 which killed 9000 thousand people and demolished a lot of their city. Kathmandu is still recovering.

One requirement of the course was that everyday we uphold silence from after the last session at 8.30pm until after lunch the next day at around 12.30pm. The last 2 full days we had to maintain complete silence which was a little more difficult especially as we had got to know each other and wanted to chat. It was an interesting time of reflection for me. I looked at the way I think about, and react to others and recognised that those thoughts and feelings impact on my acceptance of others and my happiness. I think I already knew this however I noticed my intolerance becoming more intense as the week went on and I had no choice but to reflect on it! However, in my defence there were some people at this course who asked the most stupid questions (and sadly, always the same people including a tag team where the woman was at the front and her male partner was up the back). Even the nun (with the patience of a nun!) was getting annoyed. The problem of attachment was explained ad nauseam from day 1 however people still asked towards the end of the course ‘but attachment can be a good thing can’t it?’! Or on the last day the tag team wanted to know if Buddha was god because surely there needs to be a god (after numerous explanations about Buddhism not believing that there is a god)! The nun’s response was ‘you’ve been to these teachings for 10 days. If you need a god then you may need to go elsewhere’ (or words to that effect). During the silent days we didn’t have lessons or discussions and basically just meditated. We had around 5 hours sit down, cross legged, on cushions meditating and 3/4 walking meditation broken up over the day. I actually liked the walking meditation as it encouraged me to walk mindfully with my breathing and helped clear my head, but by the end of the second day I was well and truly over the sitting meditation! I actually didn’t have a problem with the silence surprisingly.

After the last couple of months experiences I feel even stronger in my view that people should be able to believe what they want to believe whether it is the ‘truth’ (whatever that means) or not. I have a friend with not the greatest eyesight and she saw a whale in the ocean. It wasn’t a whale, it was a boat, however the fact that from her perspective it was a whale gave her the thrill that seeing a whale gives you. So as far as I’m concerned, the joy she got from that should remain intact as if I hadn’t been there (yes, I did laugh at her and destroy her delusion), her ‘truth’ would have also remained intact. I think religion or spiritual belief is like that. If it is your truth and you get what you need from it to make this life more bearable, if not happy, why should anyone tell you to believe anything different? As stated before, no one has a monopoly on the truth despite them thinking that they do.

Although I was well and truly ready to leave the monastery, I left with new concepts to think about and some more reflections into my own life. Buddhism has a lot to offer and I respect the intellectualism of this philosophical approach, however, I’m not sure that from a religious perspective it is for me. I appreciated the experience and opportunity in relation to the discipline, the teachings and the people I met. After 10 days of intensity and restrictions it will be interesting to be in the ‘outside world’ and have a look around Kathmandu and Pokhara.

A Backpacker’s Journey

I am now in Nepal. My first real hiccup of the journey was having my flight cancelled (for the second time) from Delhi to Kathmandu. The airline is broke and is basically in receivership so it’s not that surprising however the flight from Delhi which I paid $100 for would now cost me over $500 so I decided to see what the train trip would be like. The train was full so I ended up having to negotiate a taxi and 3 buses. The first 2 buses were booked by a travel agent in Rishikesh however I had to wing the last bus from the Indian/Nepal border. So off I go in the taxi at 6.30pm to the bus station in Haridwar.. he initially goes to the train station and if it wasn’t for my questioning of what I do and how I do it, I wouldn’t have known it was not the bus station and would have been left a bit high and dry. But as it was, I picked up when he said train and when I questioned that he realised his mistake. So off we go to the actual bus station which was a dirt parking area with some snack shacks. The bus finally arrives (late of course!) and we pile in. While I was at the ‘bus stop’ I met a lovely young Danish couple who were also on their way to Kathmandu with the same itinerary. We were the only non-Indian people on the bus. I had the luxury of a sleeper which was 6’ by about 2’ by a 2’ roof sloping up to 3’ with a sliding door for privacy. It was basically a coffin! As I’m over 6’ and not a slight build it was rather cozy putting it mildly!

The bus arrived at our next destination, 14 hours later and 2 hours late, however, luckily, we had 1 1/2 hours to get to the next bus station and find the next bus. We got out of the bus at Lucknow and was literally swarmed by tuk tuk drivers. I was very tired as sleeping in a coffin is not easy and asked them to back off. I told them that they were like flies as I shooed them away while tackling my bag off one of them who had already decided that we were going with him. They thought it was very funny! One thing I love about Indian people in general is their great sense of humour. They make me laugh even though I was tired and grumpy. I ended up negotiating which tuk tuk could carry 3 passengers and 3 large backpacks and we were on our way. Once at the bus station (a real one this time) we attempted to find out where to catch the bus at the enquiry window. We were told a few times by different people in the enquiry window that there is no bus to Sonauli (which is on the border of India and Nepal). Both my new friends and I had bought our tickets independently so this was not possible. We persisted asking anyone who spoke any English until about half the bus terminal knew where we were going! I actually really believed that it would work out even if I was feeling a little stressed by it all and the lack of sleep and was considering what Plan B might be. Finally one of the very helpful Indian men talked to another enquiry window person and it was all worked out. We went to eat thinking that we had time but was hunted down soon after by another Indian man to let us know that our bus had arrived as it was actually earlier than we were told! Finally we were on our way again. This bus was a government public bus and once again we were the only non-Indian people on the bus (no chickens or goats though!).

After another long journey of 10 hours and 2 hours late (again) we arrived in Sonauli at 11pm. We had to walk about a kilometre with our luggage to the border. When we got there a Nepalese guy said that we needed to walk back a kilometre to get the Indian Immigration to exit stamp our passports so we walk back to find the office closed and no response to our banging on the doors. We walked back to the border again and they wanted to send us back to the Indian Immigration office and couldn’t understand that it was closed and would not let us pass without our Nepalese Visa which could only be distributed after getting the Indian Immigration stamp! By then I’d had enough! I have to say that my new found calm and confident composure was losing its grip! There are 2 border gates about 100 metres apart. One in India and one in Nepal. It was midnight and I was so tired due to travelling for almost 30 hours and little sleep for over 40 hours that I was very close to tears, however, instead I put my bag on the ground between the border gates and laid down in the dust telling them that I was sleeping there tonight! The Indian and Nepalese guys thought it was hysterical and I couldn’t help but laugh (at) myself even though I was tired and very frustrated! The Indian border guy finally decided to help us and we walked (yet again) to the Indian Immigration office. I don’t think he believed us that it was closed, however, there it was…closed. He hammered the doors until finally someone woke up and although very grumpy and telling us it was our fault for coming so late, stamped our bloody passports! Then off we go again to the Nepalese border to wake the Nepal Immigration guy who was very congenial and gave me my visa and stamp with very little effort. By then it was 2.30am! The other concern for me was that my Indian visa was about to expire and the Indian government is not friendly to tourists who do not leave India by the visa expiry date. As it was, my passport was exit stamped on the expiry date. Through this whole experience I am so grateful that I met the Danish couple as without them sharing this part of the journey I don’t know how I would have held it together on my own. Again, although the universe wasn’t overly helpful with the border crossing, it was definitely helpful with introducing me to these young people at this time.

My friends got a tuk tuk to the guest house that they had pre-booked and I was led to a guest house by a young Nepalese man who didn’t need to do a lot of convincing for me to follow him. The room was very average (putting it mildly) and I have no doubt I was charged much more than I should have been, however, I was so thankful to be in that rock hard bed! Everything had worked out well even if it looked like it wasn’t going to at times. To get to Kathmandu, all we had to do in the morning was to find the bus station as the guy from Nepal Immigration said that public buses to Kathmandu run every hour. Hallelujah! We are going to get there easily! So I get up in the morning and start to look for the bus stop. There was an area full of buses however as I walk around asking local and tourists about buses, they all tell me that ‘Nepal is on strike today so no buses’! This included private buses as well! I just couldn’t believe it! However I had some sleep (4 hours but enough to feel slightly refreshed) and felt basically philosophical about it (what more can one do?). I asked around and finally found a travel agent who had a bus leaving at 6pm arriving at Kathmandu at 5am…maybe? Depending on if Nepalese are as flexible around the notion of time as Indian people are. I was truly grateful even if it did mean another night of very little, if any, sleep!

I hung around the Nepalese border town which was dry, dusty, extremely hot and has more flies than I have seen in a very long time. There were no issues getting the bus and this time I was the only Anglo person which raised some interest. I sat at the back with a lovely Indian couple and their 2 1/2 year old child. It was pretty crowded and not overly comfortable and after another very long bus ride we arrived in Kathmandu at 6.30 the next morning. When we were getting closer to Kathmandu I was very aware of how alone I was and I did become a little anxious (also probably due to lack of sleep too) however I managed the anxiety by recognising that there is always an out even if it costs. I had booked into a Buddhist monastery course which started that day so I get to Kathmandu, have something to eat and then attempt to find a taxi to go to the monastery however no one seemed to know where I’m going and I didn’t have internet to show them. Finally a taxi driver who spoke English worked it out in relation to Kopan. What I didn’t know was that Kopan is a suburb of Kathmandu which is where he took me however he asked directions and we finally found the monastery. The taxi ride was interesting as the roads are absolutely atrocious and by far outdo Indian roads. The taxi drivers car was literally falling apart I dare say due to the conditions of the roads. Throughout the journey I thought that the taxi drivers horn was broken as he was not honking everything that moves, however, later realised that Nepalese drivers are more restrained than Indian drivers in the honking game. I arrived at the Kopan Tibetan Buddhist monastery at 8am and sat half asleep outside the administration office door waiting for the office to open at 9am. When registered I had a hot shower (first one in 3 days) and went to sleep until early afternoon. I had just travelled for 3 days with about 7 hours sleep and was totally exhausted. I feel so grateful to be here and am looking forward to 10 days of regaining my calmness after the last few days’ challenges.

What have I learnt from this experience? That it is very easy to be calm and feel at peace when everything is basically going well or even if there are small manageable hiccups – it’s a different story when things feel like they are totally falling apart. That being said, I still managed to laugh at myself and others while being very very pissed off and making inane threats of complaints to the government. Also that regardless of the hurdles, things can end up working out anyway – it’s just a longer (and more stressful) path but I managed to get out of India on time as to not overstay my visa and got to the Buddhist course on time as well. Again I was reminded that all you can do is do what you can to make it happen but just go with the flow when it doesn’t. I also believe that I am now a true blue, fully fledged, backpacker rather than a middle class jet setter carrying a backpack! The experience definitely challenged me however it was a good experience on a number of levels (on reflection, definitely not at the time!). However, would I do it again next time? Nah! I’ll be paying the $500 and getting the flight!

India…. Not goodbye, but au revoir.

So as I farewell Rishikesh I am feeling a little sentimental. I have spent 6 weeks here and it feels like a lifetime and this place almost feels like home. During this time I have completed 2 intensive 3 day courses and a 4 week course in tantric yoga, and, although I wanted to bail a number of times, I feel that I have a better understanding of myself and the energy and power that I have and have learnt a kick arse way of meditating (however, like many things tantric, it’s a secret). I have camped in the mountains with some amazing people absorbing the nature that I love so much. I have hired a scooter and rode to the highest peaks to temples on hair raising roads and been blessed. I have regularly swam in the auspicious magical Ganga. I have met, and heard the stories from, (and been photographed by!) some beautiful Indian people. I have hung out with other travellers and have also spent a lot of time in my own company. It has been 6 weeks of exploring this amazing spiritually charged place and myself within its context. I have had ups and downs, highs and lows, and times where I have not wanted to be here, however I feel a peaceful contentment in the knowledge that I completed what I came here to do and have seen and felt so much throughout the process.

The universe, as it does, is pushing its own agenda yet again! In the first few weeks in Rishikesh, I met a lovely woman with a beautiful soul who has since become a friend. She is involved in a project which is organising people to go into the villages in the mountains to help with organic planting and gardening, building infrastructure, supporting a viable economy, and teaching the children English and computer skills. The villages in the mountains are dying and young people are heading to the city with little or no education and getting very low paying jobs. I had lunch with her and the Indian guy who is heading up and financing this social enterprise and is passionate, yet very grounded, about maintaining India’s mountain villages which are struggling to survive. He explained what they are doing in more detail and although I am definitely interested in being involved, I still feel strongly that I need to continue this journey that I have embarked on. So if this is the way I need to go later, and the stars are so aligned, it will be here when I come back. I would love to do 6 to 12 months in some kind of humanitarian work in another country and the universe keeps putting it out there so maybe this is the direction for me to take down the track. I think giving, really giving, to a humanitarian cause has to be the most highest form of living that there is and I feel that the path I will take is becoming more clear.

One thing I have realised while I have been in Rishikesh is that with the recognition that I don’t need to continue in my current job and that I don’t even need that much incoming cash, the options that I have are huge! More than I have ever considered viable not that long ago. Obviously the lack of steady employment will impact on my life however I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives and that living only to make money, which, when you leave this earth is of no use to you anyway, is not the way I want to live. Ironically, I am fully aware that my working life and my ability to save has actually allowed me to have these options. It would be wonderful to pay off my home, and to even afford to continue living as I have, however, not at the expense of my sanity and my health which has been impacted on negatively in the last few years. It took me to fall down badly for the seeds of recognition to be sown and for me to heal through a more enlightened understanding of what is important, to come to realise that life is too short to be unhappy and that I need to move towards a long term change of lifestyle. I’m not really sure where I’m going after this journey, however, I am more than sure that it won’t be on the trajectory that I thought was my only option before. Maybe I will go back to my job, however, I will need to clearly see what the benefit to me is (other than the pay!) and what it is I actually contribute to humanity as a whole before this is even a consideration.

I am aware that I am only 2 months into this journey and that so much could become apparent to me as I move on, however I am grateful to the soul of India and the people I have met for the kindness, support and opportunity to explore this beautiful country, and myself, and to continue to discover what is important to me. I will miss India, however, I have no doubt that I will be back. I feel very blessed to be on this journey and look forward to the next chapter in Nepal which I’m sure will be another amazing, enlightening adventure!

What I have learnt in India.

1. I am a very capable solo traveller (so far!).

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff! Life is too short and it impacts on your experiences.

3. Language is important and the way you talk/think about yourself is powerful in determining the way you, and others, perceive you and who you become.

4. Begging is a business in India and by giving money, we support a business which excludes children from education as they make more money on the streets and exposes babies to heat/cold as to make them look more pathetic.

5. No one (at least in Varanasi and Rishikesh) goes without food as there are ashrams and ghats which have food for the poor.

6. India is going through a major cultural change which is slowly changing the face of India.

7. Be careful who befriends you and be aware of agendas (as with everywhere) if you do hang out with the locals.

8. Allowing yourself to be open to new people and experiences, while being discerning, brings lovely people and wonderful experiences into your life.

9. Change can be incremental (generally) so be patient and don’t expect fireworks.

10. Nothing is definite in India no matter how far you book ahead!

11. Limitations are generally a choice. Options in life can open up when your perspective of what is important to you changes and you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.

11. I still have a lot to learn!

Hari OM. 💜

Life in Rishikesh….the yoga capital of the world

I have been in Rishikesh for 3 weeks now. When I arrived I hadn’t booked any accommodation which is the first time ever that I have left it to the universe to sort it out. I would normally find this very stressful however I just knew that I would find somewhere to stay, even though it was the last day of a huge yoga festival. I ended up in a very clean room with a hot shower across the road (unbeknownst to me) from where the course I was going to attend is situated. There are cheaper places however this place suits me even if it did cost the huge amount of $18 a night. Pretty amazing stuff this universe thing! There are dozens of Ashrams and yoga schools in Rishikesh and a number of yoga teacher schools, so if your life evolves around yoga, this is the place to be. After having to slow down due to possibly broken toe and a cold, I did find it challenging however it was a great time to reflect and give myself some space to get used to where I was. It’s amazing how little one really needs in life. I managed to score a kettle (it was a swap situation with another traveller) so have been drinking heaps of tulsi tea (different varieties) and have not had coffee for some time now. Otherwise I just have what I bought with me. My room has a big outside shared area overlooking the Ganges where I hang out a lot reading.

I’ve worked out my favourite close by eating places most of which were the basic local Indian eating places and generally I spend around 200 rupees ($4) on my daily meals unless I splurge and have a big salad at Ramano’s Garden Cafe for 150 rupees ($3), which is absolutely necessary as Indian food is not very green, although I do love it. However I’m very happy to spend this exorbitant amount as it goes to the kids in the orphanage there where they live and are educated. I went to the touristy places to begin with, however, other than the prices being twice as much (sometimes more) I much preferred the food in the Indian cafes. In Rishikesh meat and alcohol are illegal which works well for me at the moment. I was told that it wasn’t that long ago that eggs were illegal too, however, you can get them now but it is not a common item on any of the menus. So I have become an alcohol and coffee free lacto vegetarian at this stage of my journey. I can’t see it lasting in some other countries that I will be visiting however it suits me fine at the moment and I’m sure I’m benefiting from it as well.

India is an interesting place. I had a conversation with an Indian university teacher who was visiting Rishikesh for Holi. As a sideline, Holi was outrageous! It is the Hindu festival of colours and they colour everyone in their wake! These people know how to party! Anyway, back to the story, this guy told me a bit about Indian culture. It appears that the culture is caught between the old traditions and the new world. He told me that marriages are still arranged generally and that for a love marriage to be approved by the parents, the boy needs to show that he is capable of making good money. The caste system still operates in many places in India which impacts on love marriages. He is in love with a woman who is in a higher caste than him, however, they can get married (and he could be educated) as the region he comes from no longer accepts the caste system. If they were in another region which adhered to the caste system he would not be educated and if he married his lover, he (and she) could be killed for defying the system. India is going through a state of cultural change which must create some amazingly wide generational gaps. It has been interesting talking to different people and having a small glimpse of their lives. One of the funniest things I saw in Varanasi was a Naga Baba (holy man), naked and painted white on his mobile phone! The old and the new!

While in Rishikesh, I have been attending a Tantric course which has as been interesting as the name suggests. It has been a mixture of theory, Hatha Yoga and meditations. I am completing week 2 of the 4 week course after doing the 3 day intensive course. I have felt some benefits from the course and feel that I am becoming more aware of my chakras and energies. I am very aware of my age amongst a class of young people who appear to be much more in touch with their spirituality and sexuality than I have ever been. I generally feel like an observer rather than a participant. Once the first weekly course started my daily routine was pretty set. Hatha Yoga class 2 hours at 8am. Breakfast, wondering around, going for a swim in the Ganges or just hanging reading. Something to eat mid afternoon and the 3 hour class at 4pm. Sometimes something to eat after but not always. Days off every now and then to wonder a bit further afield. It’s amazing how life falls into a pattern no matter where you are if you are there long enough. I feel like this is my home now. One needs to be occupied by a yoga course or suchlike as there isn’t a lot to do in Rishikesh otherwise and the place is overrun by western tourists however I totally get why travellers settle here for much longer. Racing from one country/region to another is a totally different experience. Staying in one place for a while is settling and we adapt easily to the different lifestyle. I think travelling alone when you are young is absolutely necessary and very different to travelling when you are older. It is easier to connect with others when you’re young and it is something one looks for. It also broadens your life in an amazing way. When you’re older you enjoy discovering your own strength and company once you manage the feeling of loneliness. Whereas I felt isolated to begin with on this journey, I now recognise the benefits and beauty of having space and time to absorb and reflect on life and to reevaluate what is important.

What the world needs now….

In the last few days I’ve been reminded about the power of language and how we use it to describe ourselves. I’m atrocious at using words like ‘failure’, ‘idiot‘, ‘stupid’, ‘annoying’ etc etc etc to describe myself. The impact is that I think others will see me like that and then get upset when they do! We are perverse human beings at times! (Or is this just me?). In a world full of hate, self hate or depreciation is not the answer. As Martin Luther says, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that’ and it is this truth which will change the current world dynamics if it is applied by all. But it is relevant for not only the external world, but also the internal world. While we feel darkness and hate towards others we are perpetuating it in the external world. While we feel darkness and hate towards ourselves, the effect is similar. What can we do to change the world? Feel love (not ego love, but pure non-competitive love) for ourselves and then allow this love to radiate to everyone else, no matter what religion, nationality and belief system they are a part of. Can you even imagine what that would be like if everyone practiced this open, accepting and giving way of interacting with others? Violence towards others because of differences would not exist and one would never feel the need to enforce their beliefs onto another human being. We are all on a journey. We may be taking different paths on this journey however no one has a monopoly on which path is the correct one. Live and let live is what I say! We currently live in a world where our own self hate and need to be right overwhelms our ability to accept differences and feel love and empathy. Anyway, getting back to my initial point, I realise that I am self deprecating as it protects me in an odd way from being rejected and hurt. It stops me from being open to others as I have already determined that they will see me like I see me. This is something I am going to work through and will be part of my journey. Habits are hard to break (especially a habit formed over more than 50 years!) however it is never too late to reflect, realign and change.

Rishikesh….the lungs of India

Rishikesh has been challenging on a number of levels. I initially found it more isolating than I did Varanasi. It is a place of contemplation. Having broken (?) my little toe on the first night and once again managing to contract yet another cold has slowed me down which is great on one hand however being occupied and busy walking definitely limits the sense of loneliness. For the first few days I spent a lot of time sitting on the steps of the Ganges, reading, with my feet in the water. It was interesting watching people going into the water and sometimes talking to them. They were mainly Indian people from other parts of india, mostly Delhi, coming to spend time near the Ganges. This river is so important to Indian people. They travel hundreds of kilometres to put their feet or whole bodies into the freezing water.

I started at the tantric yoga course a few days after my arrival which took up a lot of my time for three days as it went for around 8 hours a day. The course had lots of young people from all over the world. The teacher is probably one of the sexiest women I have ever seen. She is from Romania and is very in touch with her sexuality. At first, the sense of loneliness was amplified for me being in a room of people and not feeling a connection to them or the practice. I realised that I really do struggle to put myself out there when it comes to meeting people. I also realised that although I have done a lot of work on myself in the last couple of years I have very definite strong blockages in my body and my chakras which stop me from experiencing what others were experiencing. I think it’s partly because I’m Australian and, although spiritualism is accepted on some levels, we are a pragmatic bunch that don’t generally see outside of our lives which involve work, owning a home and fitting in with others. I also think that my history has a huge influence over my inability to open up to new things. I look at these young people who are so open to travelling and experiencing whatever they can. They don’t focus on working or owning anything other than the experiences they are having. When I was their age I had a family and massive responsibility (which I did not do so well) and my experiences were limited by the constraints of that situation and my total lack of confidence to do something different. Having children almost gave me an excuse not to live. So now I am trying to catch up on experiencing a different life which is a wonderful thing however has some complications due to my age and lack of experience and confidence. I have felt, at times, like going home and curling up in my bed in my little house and staying there for a very long time, however I recognise that I need to keep going on this journey. I think in some ways it is the most important and influential journey of my life and I am not going to achieve anything if I crawl back into the safety of my life at home.

The three day tantric yoga course was interesting. For the first two days I found it frustrating as I couldn’t experience what others were experiencing and felt like a failure. I also felt no connection with the people I was practicing with. On the third day I felt a strong connection with a few of the participants. There are two in particular. One young woman who lives not far from me in Australia and has a very similar study/work experience to me. Her ability to critically think and empathise amazed me and I’m looking forward to catching up with her when I return. Also a young man with a beautiful soul who is so different to me in so many ways however we connected for some reason. On the third day during the last meditation I also found my warrior women again. Throughout my life I have had to manage a lot of pain and have been completely depleted at times however I always managed to get back up again, to rise out of the flames of despair and to be the strong woman that I was meant to be. The last few years have been incredibly challenging and I realised that I completely lost sight of my warrior woman self and I have been frightened of so many things. I have found her again and she is beautiful and strong and determined. She is a part of me that I need to hold onto as her strength will give me the power I need to live my life fully. I will be attending the next stage of the course however if this is all I get out of it I have received much more than I expected.