Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Yoga Capital of the World – Rishikesh, India

My days in Rishikesh were shanti, shanti (chilled out) for the most part. I would wake up in the morning at around 745am and wander over to the yoga hall. In the short ten minute walk, I would encounter many cows, a few early rising monkeys, and babas stirring from their resting spots lining the road. The saffron clothed babas are wise old men who hang around sometimes offering blessings, some ask for “one rupee”, and some just beam wide toothless grins filled with love. Some of them are a little bit crazy like the one who muttered some nonsense then whacked me with his walking stick as I passed by. But generally they are highly respected as holy men who seem to smoke a lot of herb.

The village of Ram Joola is quiet and barely awake with only a few shopkeepers beginning to think about opening. The sun warms up the already toasty air and lays a blanket of gold over the land. Some are lighting incense performing their morning ritual of pooja at their humble shrines. I really enjoy the delicate mellowness that is characteristic of only this time of day. Later, the streets are bustling with padpad vendors, fruit carts, and locals sipping sweet spicy tea from the chai walla.

No matter what time of day, one must always be mindful where they step when in India. The sacred cows wander freely and leave droppings wherever they please. There are very lazy dogs sprawled in the most inconvenient of places. I had to scoop up one tired, seemingly deaf puppy from the middle of the road when a car threatened honking its horn impatiently. None the less, all the smells and sounds and commotion of the day was manageable perhaps due to my routine. Four hours of yoga and meditation a day will do that I guess.

After the morning session, I would usually make my way down to the juice shop. This is by far my best discovery in India. The staff are exceptional and over the weeks, I became quite fond of them and their ways. I think they liked me too, since I ended up bringing them more than a dozen new regular customers. The had a green smoothie but ofcourse, it needed to be adjusted so I invented my own version. It became so popular that we had to name it though most people just asked for the green juice Carmella always gets. I gave out the recipe many times but in case my friends forgot, here it is for reference.
Carmella’s Green Full Power Juice

First juice the following:

Carrot, cucumber, apple, lemon, grapes, maybe a beet if you are feeling feisty

Then add to blender with a bunch of spinach and fresh mint leaves

One can change it up a bit by adding a spoon on coconut flakes or come cocoa powder. More grapes makes it sweeter or you could add stevia or honey. I like to add wheatgrass and spirulina powder making it ultra full power.I would drink this concoction twice a day and I tell you, I have never felt better. It became something of a ritual and Ajay, my juice w

alla, would even let me push the produce through the juicer.  I get a little thrill out of juicing things and I think he was amused by my childlike fascination.

I moved guesthouses and learned that smaller is better. I much prefer more cozy spaces where my energy is not sue

pread so thin. I loved my new sunnier room and found it much more relaxing. The wind kicked up at night and the shutters rattled but that’s nothing I couldn’t MacGyver a fix for. Although there was no yoga sala or internet, I found the new place more comfortable and wished I had of found it sooner.

When I started the yoga, I had planned to stick to myself. I didn’t want to distract myself with new friends or social events. I had planned to focus primarily on my book especially since I was getting close to the deadline. Well, the social isolation lasted for about a week. Then I gently got pulled into friendships with some top quality people who I plan to know a long time. I found balance and was able to concentrate on my own progress whilst still maintaining a healthy connection with others.

We ate meals together, swam in the Ganga, and shared heartfelt moments of spiritual growth. I was blessed to meet an holy wise woman who gave me rare insights and encouragement about my path. She even helped fund my upcoming book with out a blink of an eye. It was this belief in my cause that really touch me at the deepest level.

I was blown away when magically it all came together in the final hours of my crowdfunding campaign. With only a few days left, I had not even made it to a quarter of what I needed to publish the book. I decided to make one last push and asked for help. I was dumbfounded by the response. People came out of the woodwork to support me and even those who I know couldn’t afford it, made a symbolic donation or offered services. A fellow BRC Ranger who I had never even met, stepped up and threw in $500 because he liked the idea. I was sitting in my yoga lecture and my phone beeped. I glanced at the message which informed me of a $1000 donation. I was so shocked I dropped my phone on the ground. Needless to say, I was overfunded by the end and am still somewhat amazed.

A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

These people certainly did change my world. And I plan to return the favor.

Grateful for affirmation.

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Trains vs Buses – Hardiwar, India

My last few days in Rishikesh were spent working on the book. I was so moved by everyone’s support I felt a renewed sense of purpose. I also felt a slight bit of pressure, now realizing that I had better put out something top-quality if I didn’t want to let everyone down. It is a fine are revising without losing the essence of who and where I was at that delicate point of my life. I was so glad to have found a copy editor in my new friend Sarah who agreed to assist me in the project.

I was really looking forward to learning to make gulab jamen but it turned out to be an empty promise. I stocked up on apple cakes to share with my friends as I said my goodbyes. I headed back across the ganga on the water taxi one last time before heading to the bus station. I met up with Lena and Triin then we climbed onto the local bus to Delhi. We made sure it would stop in Hardiwar where we could jump off and catch our train.

Everyone knows that train travel is far superior to buses in India. We were lucky enough to get a few of the last “tatkal” quota tickets on the otherwise completely sold out route. I still don’t understand how the railway ticketing works but somehow people seem to get to where they are going. Even if that means squishing seven onto a three person bench or standing for eight hours at a time. The more dangerous and less reliable buses are also very inconvenient if you happen to be suffering a case of Delhi Belly. At least the trains are equipped with private holes in the floor otherwise known as Indian squat toilets. On the bus, you just have to hold it and sometimes that like trying to stop a heat seeking missile searching the sun. I guess those embarrassing explosive plumbing problems are all part of the Indian initiation process.

Our bus had mechanical problems and although we also got stuck in a traffic jam, we still made it to the train station with a half hour to spare. Or so we thought. Lena was going to charge her phone with minutes but luckily she couldn’t or we would have surely missed the train. As we were walking down the platform trying to locate our sleeper car, the train lunged ahead suddenly. We all panicked and jumped on. We were confused and had to triple check that we were infact on the right train. Why was it leaving twenty minutes early? An early train? Expect the unexpected, I guess.

We all settled into the top bunks and hunkered down for the next eight hours. Lena slept right through it and Trinn battled for legroom with cheeky bottoms. I tried to read but couldn’t focus. I tried to sleep but couldn’t relax. I just laid there and thought. As if I haven’t been doing enough of that lately. India has been quite a trip but I was so relieved it was almost over. I guess I was proud of myself for sticking to it for almost five months but I really am wearing thin.

In those last days, I seemed to get unusually clumsy. A lot of the buildings have grey marble stairwells which paired with slippers, are a recipe for disaster. I remember thinking at the beginning of my time here how awful it would hurt to fall down those stairs. I avoided it for a good five months but then the inevitable came to pass. I sustained heavy bruising on my arms and backside but the most painful was my swollen sprained left thumb. I left India black and blue and bloody and scarred. Inside and out.

Grateful for travel partners.

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Full Moon Sun Rise in the Ganges – Rishikesh, India

We decided to wake up early this morning to watch the full moon set and the morning sunrise. We had planned to take a midnight dip in the Ganga river just as the moon reached its fullest at 12:48am. But we were discouraged from some locals who warned the police would throw us in jail so we postponed it a few hours. I hardly believed that the cops would trouble us too much even if we were discovered but I did remember how freezing the river was at the height of day. The prospect of venturing back home wet in the dead of night was not appealing.

So I set my alarm for 445am although it wasn’t necessary in the end. I didn’t sleep all night. I was busy thinking which seems to be happening a lot lately. I was advised to perform a sort of ritual in order to clear and reset my energy. Before I laid down, I completed the first part which meant writing all the feelings, emotions, people, memories, habits, and patterns I wanted to let go of. I ended up with eight pages and some of it was really heavy. Next I would burn the list to ashes which I would then release with love into the sacred ganga. Then I was to immerse myself allowing Her to flow through my chakras and carry away that which no longer serves me. Sounds hokey? Well, I didn’t really have much to lose by trying it and stood a lot to gain. Besides, I always say to try everything once, twice if you like it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined that the effects would only be amplified by the full moon. The moon and I have always been close. So I convinced a couple of girlfriends to join me on the adventure making us three. They met me more than halfway and together we made our way down to the river in the still darkness. When we reached the sandy shore, we found our favorite spot and perched ourselves up on the rocks. Lena and Amanda worked on their lists while I admired the mystical orange pregnant moon touch down on the horizon.

After reviewing my list and adding a few last minute regrets, I ceremoniously set the pages alight. I watched the flames consume my fears, negativity, and destructiveness. I understand the power of fire and experience a similar feeling when I watch the Sunday night temple blaze every year at Burning Man. When all my anguish and tears were reduced to light grey ashes, I gently sprinkled them into the fast flowing river.

Since it was early and barely light, I stripped down to my swimsuit. Usually this would be considered scandalous so I would be much more covered. But since the usual crowd of male spectators were probably still in their beds, I took advantage of the freedom. The wind was quite strong which made the air feel more chilly than it was but the river was still freezing comparatively. Just before I stepped in the water, I noticed my toe was bleeding pretty bad. I must have sliced it open on one of the jagged rocks and now it was really starting to throb. I shrugged it off reasoning that there must be something very auspicious about giving the holy ganga my blood as well.

I sucked it up and walked in with purpose, only stopping when the water reached my heart. At that point, I couldn’t help but gasp for air. I didn’t mean to but it was loud enough that the other girls raised their eye brows in concern. It was bloody cold! I tried to stop hyperventilating but it took me a good five minutes to regulate.

Finally, I bit the bullet and dunked my head right under submerging myself fully. For some odd reason, whenever I put my whole head under, the rest of me warms up considerably. That said, I only had the courage (thank you manipura) to do that a couple more times before I had enough. A good twenty minutes after I entered, I allowed myself to emerge, shivering like a leaf. I climbed into my giant lamb sweater and poured some hot ginger tea from my thermos. Lena sipped it and passed me the cup as we cuddled together. We giggled like school kids as we waited for Amanda to join us. We three dried off as best we could then practiced some solar gazing for a few minutes before heading back. I felt tired but my soul felt energized. I am not sure what exactly to expect from it all or how much I changed but we all agreed we felt much lighter.

Grateful for rituals.

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Dirty Delhi – Delhi, India

I was so glad to leave this major India city for last. Otherwise I may not have lasted this long. We got off the train and carefully made our way out to the cabs, rickshaws, and touts. It was not the best idea arriving at 10pm but I felt safer that I wasn’t alone. I was really glad Lena was a veteran and led us seamlessly to our prebooked guesthouse in backpacker laden Pahar Ganj. I know about the poverty but it didn’t stop me from feeling alarmed when I saw the hundreds of bodies lined up neatly along the sidewalks. Most slept on newspapers some had the luxury of a scrap of fabric but most laid on the cold hard fecal crusted cement. They were all homeless and their ages ranged from 5 to 105. I was devastated that they all seemed so resigned to sleeping in the streets. I know there was nowhere else for them to go but I tried to imagine their lives. It was easier to imagine their deaths.

We checked into our tiny room where the three of us would fit tightly into the double bed before heading out for the routine water hunt. I grabbed some yogurt hoping it would quell my sensitive tummy. I was impressed when the restaurant threw in a banana as well upon learning of my digestive difficulties. I made a mental note to revisit this place tomorrow as I always try to reward good behavior. I was pretty beat but didn’t sleep as deeply as I would have liked. I consoled myself everytime I would wake to some random hallway noise or clatter on the street below. Just one more day Carmella…one more day.

The girls left on errands while I wandered in and out of shops. I found a pretty wrap skirt for 120 rupees and decided it would fold up small enough to fit in my bag. I met up with Triin and we ate breakfast at the helpful joint we discovered the night before. Next we reunited with Lena and did some more last minute shopping. She introduced us to her favorite haunts one of them being a well stocked quality shoe store. We had stopped at the smoke shop and bought her friends back home some clove cigarettes and the shopkeeper tried to entice me into buying his favorite brand. He gave me one to sample for free so I walked away puffing on a too strong clove cigarette. The shoe shop keeper gestured for me to come in as I hovered on the street watching my friend shop. I politely refused showing him my cigarette. He looked confused and said it didn’t matter if I smoked in the store. I told him it mattered to me and I didn’t want to subject other people to the fumes.

At this point, the old man’s expressive face lit up. Recognizing that I understood the dangers of smoking, he offered me a deal. I listened skeptically as I know how *deals* work in India. I was flabbergasted as he gave me a free pair of shoes if I would promise to stop smoking for three months. This was so much like my free earring experience back in Arambol, I didn’t even hesitate on taking him up on it. I don’t usually prohibit anything because I have learned that is a sure way to giving it more power. No craving No aversion is what I learned in Vippassana meditation. Generally I don’t refuse offerings or gifts, within reason. But I don’t have more than a taste either. It’s a real exercise in will power and self control. Since I don’t even enjoy smoking anymore, it wasn’t hard for me to accept the offer from the wise owner of Vishal Foot Wear. I walked out with a new pair of strappy Jesus sandals and a happy set of lungs.

We went to dinner at Mount Everest (named appropriately as you have to climb a million stairs to get to this tranquil rooftop restaurant ) we all reminisced about our travels and shared revelations. I felt quite lucky to have these two lovely ladies with me on my last day in India. After indulging in an after dinner ice cream cone, I sat on the bed and watched Lena repack her bag for the last time. She was heading home to Germany and I felt a sharp twinge of envy. A part of me wished I was going home tomorrow too. 

Grateful for humanitarians.

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Leaving India

I woke up around eight and slung my bag over my shoulder. After a restless night, I was more than ready to head to the international airport. It had rained in the night which cooled things off considerably. Triin helped me to the metro station and sent me off with a big hug. I paid 85 rupees for the airport metro token and made my way to the platform. Just as I sat down the doors closed and we pitched forward on the track. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern clean car and the up to date technology onboard, indicating just where we were on our route.

A short half hour later, I arrived at the airport and checked in. After gliding though security and customs without a hitch, I spent my last rupees on breakfast. I ate some deliciously sloppy southern Indian dish and finished it with a brownie sundae from *gasp* McD’s. I haven’t patronized that place for years but I allow myself an ice cream once in a blue moon in emergency situations like this. And I was having a sugar shortage crisis. That and I needed to get rid of 85 rupees.

I boarded the plane and nestled into my window seat placed perfectly to observe the Himalayas as we flew past. As my seat belt clicked, I felt sudden elation. I wasn’t just leaving India…I was going to Nepal! I have been looking forward to this for a few months now and finally the day is here. I hadn’t planned on seeing Nepal at all this trip but then again, I hadn’t planned much. I didn’t expect I would have made it that long in India either. But all the signs pointed north to this lovely little piece of paradise, many of my fellow travelers called it.

Grateful for expedient exits.

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Into Nepal – Kathmandu, Nepal

After the short 1 ½ hour flight from Delhi to Kathmandu, I paid the $40 visa fee that would allow me a month. I will have to extend my visa by about ten days but that I can do later. After checking into my hotel, I went for a wander around. Thamel is the main tourist area and is packed with stores selling incense, trekking gear, elaborate pastries, and every kind of souveneir you can imagine. And probably some you couldn’t. Even though the sun was out, I was a tad chilly as I gazed into the shops from the crowded streets. I wrapped my scarf just a little bit tighter around my neck.

All through India, I was searching for this specific HEM brand coconut incense that Jen had introduced me to. I was in love with the way it scented the whole room like a tropical paradise and I was determined to get me some. Well, we all know how I feel about coconut. Anyway, after just five minutes walking in Kathmandu, I found a whole pack of six boxes for just 200 rupees. I was thrilled to bits. I still have to get my head around the currency difference. Even though Nepal and India both use rupees, Indias are 50 to the dollar and Nepals are 80.

When I located my first Nepalese supermarket I was delighted to spend the next half hour exploring. I ended up buying a snack of coconut flavored puffs which I devoured within minutes. They were sweet and tasty but I couldn’t imagine very healthy. I was impressed with all the health food and the wide variety of North American imports. Much more selection that I had seen in India which really surprised me. I reasoned that this was largely due to the concentration of tourists in this small section of Kathmandu. I probably won’t experience this further out in the smaller towns and suburbs where I plan to spend most of my time.

After a full day of meandering, I made my way back to Hotel Buddhaland. I did some writing and tried to catch up on some internet. I gave up after their “free computers” crashed on me thrice and the wifi refused to connect to my phone. I decided to try and polish off Shantaram which I am more than ¾ the way finished. I really don’t want to carry this brick around much longer. There is nothing like curling up in bed with a good book, right? Wrong. Not when you have to share the bed with uninvited visitors. Lo and behold, when I turned down my bedsheets, there I found a lovely assortment of black creepy crawlies. There were about a dozen of the bugs plowing around my white sheets. I inspected them closer but couldn’t work out if they were bitey or not. I decided not to chance it.

In bare feet and pajamas, I made my way down to the front desk and apologetically complained, as we Canadians tend to do. The night staff seemed slightly annoyed but moved me to a different room after hemming and hawing for a while. My new abode had a clean bed but a filthy bathroom that reeked of sewage. At this point, I chose my battle and sucked it up. It was late and I needed sleep.

Grateful for coconut incense.

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Running errands – Thamel Kathmandu, Nepal

Today I woke up a bit sore so I decided to treat myself to a spa day. A 2 hour massage, facial, and reflexology for less than $20. Not a bad deal. I prewarned my therapist about my battered body but he was still a mite rough. I took it with a stiff upper lip and told myself it was good for me. Thoroughly kneaded and moisturized, I drank up my tea and paid. I loved that the same dog was laying on the same stair sleeping all three times I passed him over the course of two days. That’s how chilled out the vibe was at Serentity Spa.

I went out in search of a SIM card for my phone so I could make local calls and receive emails. I was a bit startled to learn that prices ranged from 99 to 800 rupees all for the same product. No matter where I purchased it, I needed a passport photo for the application which I don’t have. I gave up my last wallet size snap at the airport for my visa. So I popped into a photo shop a bit off the main drag and the genial old man promised me 6 photos for 80 rupees if I wanted next day delivery. I agreed and jumped in the chair to pose.

There are an abundance of used bookstores around here so I checked how much they would give me for Shantaram. I made mental notes which stores offered the highest and which would let me trade for postcards rather than books. My hand is still really sore from writing 100 postcards with a sprained thumb. I was overly ambitious wanting to thank everyone who helped me publish my book but this month, the number cuts in half. This commitment should be easier to tackle and the end result probably more legible. So when you get your postcard, know that I wrote that sucker with blood sweat and tears. Because you’re worth it. (Imagine a cheezy double thumbs up and exaggerated wink) Ignore the fact that you can’t read it. It’s the thought that counts, right?

I felt a dribble of drool escape the corner of my mouth when I walked past the bakery. I decided I would allow myself one indulgence after 8pm when the sugary rolls of goodness went on sale for half price. I had several hours to decide between mocha swirls, chocolate cashew rolls, apple turnovers, cream filled donuts, cinnamon twists, and coconut braided sweet dough. I am sure I put on ten pounds just thinking about it.

I put off going back to the hotel for as long as possible but finally reluctantly strolled back. I was glad to be leaving the next day when I encountered some shady characters hovering outside some girlie bars. And just like that, my two days in the “big” city were over.

Grateful for half price pastries.

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