Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Road to Rishikesh/A Guru? Who Knew?!

I left Thailand with overwhelming sense of buyer's remorse having chosen India as my next destination. India was not the low-stress environment in which I imagined I'd be immersed in over my year abroad. But due to the time, energy and money expended on merely attaining my Indian Visa in Bangkok, my cheap lazy a$$ decided not to ruffle any more of the Universe's feathers and just go with it. Besides, wasn't acceptance one of the biggest lessons people walk away with from traveling solo through India?
(Maybe that's because if you didn't learn to accept commonplace situations like old men peeing in street garbage, you'd probably want to kill yourself.)
As I mentioned in a previous post, I was scared to be going on this journey alone. But someone up there (or something karmic) must have sensed my trepidation and sent me a 60 year old, Portuguese, seasoned India tour guide/traveler- Maria.
Maria just happened to be at my guest house in Bangkok and overheard my travel plans to India. As it turned out, we were leaving on the same day, same flight and had the exact same trajectory. I took this as a major sign/incredible gift from which I could not walk away. Maria's company put me at ease and proved to be especially helpful in navigating my first stop, Delhi (i.e. bargaining for the cheapest prices and making sure people didn't take advantage of me).
(Most likely an Indian in her last life, Maria is a shark when it comes to negotiating.)
If I thought the hustle and bustle of Bangkok was a shock after months of my peaceful island existence, it was nothing compared to the insanity of Delhi. It's an understatement to say that all of my sensory organs were mildly violated with the harsh sights, smells, tastes (actually I quite enjoyed the tastes) and sounds of the city.
(This truck's message, "Stop Horn Please Relax," surely fell on deaf ears.)
Thankfully I only spent two nights in Delhi before boarding an early morning train with Maria to Haridwar.
Haridwar is just a short 20km drive to what would be my final destination of Rishikesh. Rishikesh, known as the Gateway to the Himalayas and the World Capital for Yoga, is a holy city revolving its existence around the sacred Ganges River. Indian and Western tourists alike flock to this vegetarian-by-law city to cleanse their karma in the river, seek enlightenment through meditation/yoga/guru satsangs and to go white water rafting (obviously).
I was excited to get in touch with my "crunchier" granola side when I stepped off the train in Haridwar. As I breathed in the fresh[er] air of the Himalayas, I found myself awestruck with my first sight of the emerald green Ganges River.
The stress from my preceeding days in Delhi almost completely melted away when I arrived 40 minutes later in Rishikesh and was greeted by my beautiful friend from Koh Phangan, Anna.
Anna, my Rishikesh angel/yoga teacher extraordinaire, invited me to stay with her until I got settled. She was the perfect tour guide showing me the Rishikesh ropes and taking me to some of her favorite spots like the groovy 60s Cafe that plays only classic rock,
serves delicious food,
and boasts a spectacular view of the Ganges.
Anna also introduced me to the more spiritual side of Rishikesh by taking me to Guru Prem Baba's first satsang of the season.
(I know what you're thinking and NO, we didn't get special Press Passes. But we did get front row seats!)
These days, I mainly occupy my time in Rishikesh practicing Ashtanga Yoga with a world renowned teacher, exploring new cafes with friends and trying to convince myself not to eat every vegetarian delicacy in sight. I also manage to get out and about to peruse the shops on the other side of the Laxman Jhula bridge,
spend time meditating on the beach of the Ganges,
(I remember a time when I promised myself I wouldn't wear the typical Boho traveler outfits...whoops)
drink masala chai with real, live Brahman renunciates,
and attend the occasional sunset Puja.
And if I'm really lucky I can sometimes catch a glimpse of a Guru doing exactly the same things.
(Here's the Jamaican Guru, Mooji, out for an afternoon shopping trip/attempting his escape from 100 trailing disciples on his scooter. #w00t #gurusc00t).
Even the cows want a bit of the Guru scooter action...
Although I was scared to face the challenges of traveling through India, I've found the beauty in every day life here. And it's more often than not that I catch myself short of breath realizing that I've finally made it to the Himalayas, a place I've been dreaming of visiting for years. 
And because this post wouldn't be complete without a cheesy-yogi-gratitude moment, I'll briefly say that when I look back at all the twists and turns of the last few years, I wouldn't trade any of my past suffering or experiences that ultimately led me to this place of delight and appreciation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Woke Up

Aside from my infrequent blog posts, I've been known to write poetry when the inspiration strikes. However, one thing I'm not known for is sharing my poetry. But since everything I'm learning amidst my travels has been drenched in risk, I figured I could get a wee bit personal on the blog and share some of my deeper thoughts. Don't worry, I'm pretty sure the next blog post will be about bathrooms in India.

So here you go. Be kind...

"I Woke Up"

I closed my eyes in Chicago
I woke up in New York
On my matrimonial mattress
Laying next to a corpse

I stepped out with my left foot
Followed close by my right
Loaded up with my bullets
For my zombie love fight

Worthless aiming at death
My bullets went astray
Closed my eyes once again 
And woke up in Bombay 

Traveled on to a mountain
Chanted mantras at dawn
Climbed the peak, drank from fountains
Thought my troubles were gone

I feasted on fancies
Ditched my knife for a fork
Closed my eyes once again
But woke up in New York

Thought my vision was broken
Everything appeared black
After all of that lightness
I laid up on my back

Paralyzed in the City 
Was not part of my plan 
Closed my eyes once again
And woke up in Thailand

Started North in the mountains
Then went South to the Sea
Embraced life, bathed in beauty
My desires ran free

I wanted to wade in the gulf, it was deep
But my eyelids got heavy and I fell back asleep

And when my eyes opened,
I could sense in my belly
That life came full circle.
I awakened in Delhi.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fear and the Unexpected

For those of you that knew my travel plans prior to starting this journey, you may know that I intended to spend three months in Thailand learning Thai massage and island hopping. After touring the islands, I intended to move to Bali for the remaining 9 months of my journey and continue to grow my Shaklee nutrition business while learning to surf. I hoped that my massage training could come in handy when strapped for cash and I made myself a goal to learn to drive a motorbike because I've always wanted to look like a bad a$$ muthaf*cker. However, if you've been following this blog, you'll know that these plans changed shape more rapidly than Alan Cummings as Nightcrawler in X-Men 2.
I was lucky in the sense that I had no set time limit binding me to a specific schedule or direction. If I found a place I felt comfortable, I had the freedom to stay. Conversely, if I felt bad energy, I was free to leave. The first stop on my "island tour" was Koh Phangan, which is known to many travelers as a home base while traveling Southeast Asia. I was no exception to feeling the warm and inviting energy exuding from that island and before I could realize it, I was working daily as a masseuse,
living in a house,
and driving my motorbike between beaches,
yoga and parties.
(or yoga at parties).
I ditched my plans to travel further through Thailand and onto Indonesia because Koh Phangan became home to me.
Spending three months on Koh Phangan challenged me personally in ways I hadn't expected. As always, I found that the challenging moments provided the biggest mirror to my limitations and allowed the most opportunity for transformation. But I reached a point on the island where I felt like I'd received as much as I could digest for the moment, and I felt a new hunger to explore another place.
Not knowing what direction I wanted to go (literally and figuratively) my plans changed on a daily basis as to what area of the world I wanted to explore next. I still wanted to see Bali, but it didn't feel as urgent or practical anymore. Some of my yoga friends told me there was potential to earn money in India as a Thai masseuse and I bought what I'm pretty certain was the biggest impulse purchase of my life...a double entry 6 month Indian Tourist Visa.
In the blink of an eye, I realized I was leaving this
for THIS?!
The realization that I was leaving the easy life of Thailand to willingly travel alone through India instilled within me a sense of panic I hadn't felt in a very long time. India may be the hardest of the easiest places for a Westerner to travel alone. No, I won't be in the same risk category as if I was going to Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or any 'Stan for that matter (although I hear Any-Stan is lovely in the Springtime), but I'm still going to a place I know I'll need to keep my wits about me. But if there's anything I've learned in the last 5 months of traveling and living far outside my comfort zone, it's that things tend to work themselves out in the best and most unexpected ways.
I packed my bags and left the beautiful island I called home, trusting that I will return when the time is right. And without a second thought, I boarded a bus that looked like it was straight out of the Magic Mystery Tour and went to Bangkok.
With every intention to fly out of Bangkok one day later and go straight to Rishikesh, life (again) had other plans for me and I stayed in Bangkok an extra 5 days exploring the incredible malls,
and swimming pools with my new friend Jeffrey.
I'm leaving Thailand grateful for the memories and lessons I've learned here. Although I'm still scared about what the next part of my journey will look like, I trust that it will work out.
#Laa kawn. #Namaste. #Andallthatjazz.
Catch you on the Indian flipside...