Photographic progression


Here is a little experiment I did while in India. Every Saturday afternoon, around 3 or 4 pm, I took two photos of myself. One from the front. One from the side. During the Yoga Teacher Training, Saturday was our day off, so that day was likely to capture me in a more natural state than on days when I woke up at 5:45 am to do breathing and meditation exercises.

1 – Taken the day I got to Rishikesh. It was still cold then.
2 – After a week of class. I had just spent the day in the market, acquiring an orange jacket and third eye decoration. it was a very good day.
3 – After two weeks of classes. I had just spent the day hiking to a temple on top of a mountain and was feeling pretty darn good and happy.
4 – After three weeks of classes. I had just spent the day skinny-dipping in amazing waterfalls, climbing mountains and riding on the back of a scooter. I was feeling even better than the week prior.
5 – Training is over. This one was taken by the sacred Ganga River with friends.
6 – After returning from the Himalayas where I lost half my weight to a pit toilet.

I think it’s funny that I am progressively more scantily clad, tanner, smiley-er and look more rested until that last one, where I look positively crazy. I didn’t even put the side one for the last week. It just scared me too much. The moral of the story is that it takes a while to look rested and only a few days to lose it all, so beware of belly-bacteria.

That’s all for now.
XO . Mel.

Flight is booked, date is changed.

Oh, here it is … my first official PCT post. How exciting!
India is done. The only thing I have to do now is get my featherweight ducks in a row and get to the trail.

I have had the date of April 15th as a departure date in my head since the day I decided to walk the trail, but it seems that is not actually my departure date. I will be flying into LAX on the 17th of April. An old friend will pick me up and drive me to the trailhead from there. I will therefore start walking either on the 18th or 19th.

A few days off. Such a small thing, and yet, the decision to change my departure date will change my entire life. You think I exaggerate? By leaving on a different date, the set of people I will meet could be completely different or at least the timing of meeting the same people will be different, which means our interactions will be different and the experience or perception of such I will have will be different, so I will grow in a slightly different way than I would have if I had left on the 15th. So in the end, I will be a different person than I would have become had I left on the 15th. Oh, butterfly effect, how quickly complex you can make things for those who think too much about such things.

On the other hand, it will probably change nothing, because I was most likely always meant to leave a few days later. The universe likes to keep us on a need-to-know-basis, or maybe just me. It knows I like to be surprised and speculate about the what-ifs and rumble about it aimlessly on this site. Wasn’t it so much better when I was getting up at 5:45 everyday for a full day of yoga teacher training and I didn’t have any time for such nonsense? Don’t answer that.  I believe that everything is exactly as it should be, and I am exactly where I am meant to be, so I was always meant to leave later than the 15th and meet the people I am going to meet in the fashion I am going to meet them … and that is an encouraging thought (yes, Chuck, I did just quote Gandalf)

Let’s just hope that said encounters will be interesting enough so that I have actual stories to write instead of nonsensical philosophical speculations.

I’ll go do something productive now, like finish sewing my backpack.


Left over stories

Here are some that didn’t fit anywhere else. I will write them as they come.

Chotiwalla Restaurant

There is a restaurant down the street  called Chotiwalla. I think at some point it was one of those famous landmarks in Rishikesh because often people give directions starting with “From Chotiwalla …”. The food served is classic northern Indian, nothing fancy. Its real claim to fame is the very large, painted, live statue at the entrance. Here is the problem with Chotiwalla: Some years back, the man who owned and ran it very successfully died. Like in Indian fables, that man had two sons who did not get along. I hear there was quite a fight, but neither brother would let the other run the restaurant. Finally, since a reconciliation could not be reached, the restaurant was cut in two, straight down the middle, by a concrete wall.  The tables are the same, the decor is the same, the menu is the same, but there are two kitchens, two sets of waiters, two entrances, two Chotiwallas: the “Original Chotiwalla” and the other “Original Chotiwalla”. There are also now two live statues, and it seems to me that the fighting brothers must have hired twins because the live statues truly look identical. I walk by almost daily. There are these two Buddha-looking painted men in colourful clothes sitting on gliterry golden elevated thrones at the entrance of each half of the restaurant whose sole job is to peer luridly at western female foreigners, entice Indian visitors in for a meal, pose for Japanese cameras and ring loud bells whenever a customer enters their half. I am convinced that the bells are there primarily to piss off the sibling on the other side. I’ve eaten at the southern one (away from the Ganga) and was less than impressed with either the food or service. I’ve been meaning to take a photo of the Chotiwalla fat twins since I got here, but I have gotten so tired of their condescending stares that I refuse to lower myself to gratify their existence with a photo. Still, the whole situation cracks me up whenever I walk by, and I thought I’d share.

more stories to come … Ayurvedic massage awaits. I must go.

And the award for worst night ever goes to …

In the category of worst night ever, the nominees are:

1) November 2001 – Intense belly ache during an overnight flight from Yemen to Amsterdam, with a 6 hour layover in Abu Dhabi airport, voted second worst airport for a layover by some independent survey (for real, I’m not making this up. I don’t remember where the worst was, but I can’t imagine worse than Abu Dhabi). No place to lay down, rude people, metal seats and cold tile floor, all in a “mushroom” shaped building with dirty toilets, no foot, no water and armed guards at every corner. My God that sucked.

2) February 2004 – Somewhere in the Tunisian Sahara, staying with some “bedouins” who took Chuck and me to their shack in the desert. Because I’m a woman and didn’t want to sleep in a room with 15 sweaty, horny Tunisian men, Chuck and I ended up in the camel shack, with one blanket too small for the two of us, bugs crawling off the thatched walls and out of the sand onto us. No stomach ailment there, but very sore ass from riding a camel all day to get there. The shack stunk, we froze our asses off and the night went on and on and on. Somewhere around 3 am, Chuck and I found ourselves discussing in all seriousness if it would be worse to stay there or to try and cross the Sahara on foot to the nearest town, even though we had no idea where it might be.

3) March 2012 – Explosive liquid diarrhea in a “guest house” in the Indian Himalayas. The only toilet available was an Indian style pit toilet. It was too cold to go outside, especially since my shoes were soaked from trekking to that point in unforeseen snow. I was up all night burping rotten eggs and repainting the toilet. The room was filled with smoke because our guest house neighbors had a fire going in their room, but we couldn’t really leave the door open because one in my party was afraid “the bears would come into the room”. I was too sick to argue. I had to go every 15 to 30 minutes, which actually was manageable until another one of the 4 people in the room also got sick and that toilet had to be shared. The only redeeming 30 seconds of that night was when my sick friend, sometime after a particularly epic visit to our shared toilet, said to me very quietly and in a dignified voice “Your aim is terrible”. Laughter is always good medicine.

Who gets the award? I really don’t know.

I haven’t been able to keep much food in for a couple of days (actually, it’s almost a week now). The 10 hour drive each way to the Himalayas on narrow twisty bumpy roads also rates pretty far up in the suckometer, even though following the Ganga most of the way up afforded some pretty views. I would like to say the trip was worth it, either in time, effort or money. I never ever want to be one of those jaded people who cannot appreciate what is at hand because they are constantly comparing it to what they’ve seen before, but when one has flown over the Cascades in John Scurlock’s little plane, when was has in full good health sat at the top of Eldorado Peak, or slept on Baker, or partaken in any of the other Pacific Northwest activities I sometime take for granted … when all this, it’s hard to get impressed by some snowy peaks in the distance.

Well. I wanted to see the Himalayas, I saw them.

I am now back safely in Rishikesh. I feel “long” from all the weight I’ve lost. Even my tight yoga pants hang sadly over my butt. I was, however, able to keep a full bowl of fruit in this morning, then I met a lovely lady in the corridor who gave me some electrolytes, I slept a full night with only minor trips to the toilet. I’ll probably spend the rest of the day sleeping on the beach by the Sacred Ganga. I feel stronger by the minute already. All is well, all is well.

Actually, all is always well. Even on sucky nights, I would not want to trade my Bobcat life for anything else in the world. Even at the worst of it, I felt at peace with the ways of the world. Some days feel rough, others feel wonderful, but they’re still all part of the experience and I wouldn’t want to cheat myself by having only half of it.

Love to you all.
Ana, get that roast chicken ready. 🙂

Sat Chit Ananda

Sat Chit Ananda -> Beingness consciousness bliss

Now in the last stretch of the Yoga Teacher Training. I came to India very much feeling in line with my higher self. I mean, there is always corners to explore and growth to embrace, but overall I was feeling pretty damn blissful. What happened here was a little bit like meeting a map-maker and having him tell you that the road from point A to B goes through this town and that town that that other town, whereas you were pretty sure that you could just climb up through the woods and get there just the same. Last week I went through an oppressing feeling: Oh no, I’m not going through towns 1, 2 and 3, maybe I can’t get “there” (Sat Chit Ananda) by going through the woods.

But a couple of things happened.

1) Roast Chicken
We, the students and teachers of this yoga  teacher training, had a group sharing session. You know, one of those hippy moments when we sit cross-legged in a circle and share our inner-most feelings. I would have been appalled to even admit to doing this, much less to enjoying it, just a few years ago, but as things are, this version of the Bobcat wears a Om bracelet (interesting, I wrote a “home bracelet”), a bright patchworked orange shirt with Indian designs on big sleeves, she has some dread locks starting (they’re not staying) and has been known to chant to Shiva by the banks of Mother Ganga. Where was I going … oh yeah … So, we were in a sharing circle, and I was talking about how I am having quite a mental workout trying to fit and adjust the smorgesboard of new information within the framework of what I believe to be true from my own communications with my higher Self. Half way through my sharing speech, to my great dismay, came out the following sentence: “I just don’t want the path to enlightenment to involve never having roast chicken again! (Ahimsa – non-violence, a concern for the lives we take when we eat meat is one of the important tenants, though nothing is required in yoga, forcing oneself to an action would in itself violate non-violence – quite a quandary really) and also “I don’t want the path to enlightenment to involve getting at o-dark-thirty everyday!”. I even teared a little bit. That’s how strongly I felt about that. Then I had to giggle at the passion with which I was claiming back my sleep and meat. Don’t mess with my freedom of action (also known as Rule #7: don’t tell me what to do). Everyone was supportive of course, after they properly made fun of me, as they should. The seed was planted though. I have to do “it” my way. That is the only way I am going to do anything anyway, so why fight it.

2) To every monk, there is a path
Over a year ago, when I was living in the delightful Arthur house in Minnesota and engaging in accidental ice-swimming in the Mississippi, I randomly picked up a magazine called “EnlightenNext” edited and mostly written by Andrew Cohen. He is considered an enlightened man, one of the most supportive of the idea that human consciousness is ready for the next stage and that we are currently living out the end of the dark age of man, beyond which humanity becomes awake to its true nature. It’s a cool magazine. I read articles in there about where in the brain “God” lives and how quantum physics fits in with Chinese meridians. I like the western scientific approach in it. Religion isn’t for me. Rule #7 1/2, don’t tell me what to think. Andrew Cohen happens to be here in Rishikesh, so I went to see him talk. I had to endure an hour of chanting first, because God-forbid we would do *anything* without chanting first. The talk was simple and to the point. The gist of it is that the path is the goal. To become awakened, one only needs to be awake. Be present, realize that our perception of the outside world is but a reflection of our inner state, resist nothing, etc. Nothing I didn’t already know. I had a big smile ear to ear the whole talk. Not so much because of the talk itself, but because the message of our handsome Scottish yoga teacher, “to every monk there is a path”, finally trickled down from my brain to my heart and digestion system during that talk. That’s right, yoga, as a step by step practice to reach enlightenment I am convinced works and it is most likely the most efficient way to get “there”, but actually, I’m in no hurry. All this talk of ending the circle of pain and suffering or not having to come back down as a physical entity. But, I LOVE it down here. I love my life. I love who I get to play in the world. I love the world with all its faults and flaws and inequalities and injustices. I have no suffering to escape. I have no better place to get to. And I sure hope I get to come back. How can I not smile when the truth of that thought really hit?

3) Skinny dipping as a path to awakening
Yesterday was Saturday, our day off. Scarlet and I took a motorbike to a place above Rishikesh from which a hiking path leads to many wondrous waterfalls and eventually to the top of the hills that surround the Ganga valley, from which in theory we can see the big Himalayas, with snow capped peaks and such. It was a day of pure bliss. We left the trail early on, made our own path, swam naked in crystal clear waters by green pools in the jungle, watched monkeys and birds and butterflies go about their business. We sat in the sun for hours meditating, Scarlet in cross-legged position and me staring at fish in the waterfall pond, chasing lizard, investigating rocks (metamorphic sandstone, as expected), watching leaves come down the waterfall, etc. Basically, the same thing I did in Death Valley last April, that led to the strange and not yet replicated opening of all my senses to another dimension of Life. Hiking turned into bush-whacking then into scrambling, then into class 4 climbing. When the terrain finally got too sketchy, we turned around (Satya, truth, respecting one’s limit with honesty). It was the best day ever. I felt so “me”. It then dawned on me that comes April, I get to do this EVERY DAY for 5-6 months. To every monk there is a path. I am pretty sure I found mine. Oh yeah. PCT, you are only a month and two weeks away and I cannot wait!

That’s it. I might not get to see the big Himalayas (we couldn’t see them Saturday), but it’s all good. I want to roam Rishikesh some more with my days off and get you’all presents and chill and swim in the Ganga. I’ll be back here anyway, in this life or the next.

Good night. I hope you are all well, healthy, happy and out of trouble, mostly.



My beloveds and other random visitors,

I tell you stories here because that is what I do, but in truth, I have not told you anything about Rishikesh. The stories I have told could have happened anywhere in India I imagine, or possibly anywhere in this general neighborhood of the globe, away from the over-safe-quiet-conscious west.

Imagine, if you don’t already believe or know this, that the life 90% of humans live, with their daily drama, interactions, needs, desires, worries and other normalities is but a story we tell ourselves, a dream we have about our life. Then imagine that the leftover 10%, maybe more, one day, through luck, wondering, good karma, or whatever it is, suddenly wake up to the real reality that exists beyond the story we all tell. But maybe not quite fully. They are like Neo the first time he meets Morpheous, contemplating whether he should take the red pill or the blue pill. Well, 90% of humans in Rishikesh (and I feel quite a few cows too) are like Neos, either right before, during, or after the taking of the pill.

You can go to the cafe and enjoy your chai tea while discussing the one Soul. That is completely normal, maybe even expected. People the rest of the sleeping-dreaming world would call enlightened, though I prefer the term awake, come here and sometimes live here. Miracles are common place. There is a man down the street that has been teaching yoga for 89 years. He is now 104, and doesn’t look a day over 90. There is a Brazillian man that can fill a room with entranced devotees. His mere presence makes you feel warm and fuzzy, and the chanting that takes place in his place of residence will bring up emotions you didn’t know you had. You don’t need to believe. It happens whether you do or not. There are sages who have not eaten for years because they can extract essential nutrients directly from the sun, the source of earthy life force. There are some that can levitate, or transport themselves to other places instantaneously. There are people dressed in white (yoga teachers mostly) who cast an aura of strength that is palpable within a 100 feet radius as you walk down the street, and some dressed in orange that have joy in their eye even though you would call them beggars, bums, homeless in the west. There are energy healers, tarot readers, sages, monks, shamans, seekers and beleivers. This is the Rome of spirituality. All spiritual roads lead here.

I think the Ganges helps. Up town, to the north of here, I saw a restaurant’s sewer flow directly into the sacred river. It doesn’t mind. Downstream from it, where my friend and I immersed ourselves for the first time last week, the water is clear. My friend had a wound that he had tried to treat for a few days. That night it was healed. As for me, the joy I felt for the rest of the day I feel cannot entirely be attributed to the mere excitement of jumping in a sacred river and having a story to tell about it. Even here, from the hotel, you can feel its presence, its calm, its strength. I’d go as far as saying its love.

But that is not the most amazing part to me. Great gurus and masters and sages – that’s fine – it’s the regular people, the hotel staff, the cooks, the shop keepers, the beggars, the cane-juice makers, the construction workers, etc. – that truly make you feel like you have strayed into Shangri-la (and if you don’t know what Shangri-la is, you should really read “Lost Horizon”). Sure, they like their pop-music, cell-phones and such, but when they work, they are most likely to sing “Om nama shivaya” (I honor the divine in me) . If they say hello, they might call out “peace” or one of the deities names. The whole town is vegetarian (sucks being a cat around here). Organic, Ayurvedic conscious, fresh food is the norm, not a fancy fad for rich westerners. I don’t know if it is the result of the training or a true reflection of the culinary magic that takes place here, but I have yet to have a bad or mediocre meal. I have a culinary crush on the chef at the Oasis Cafe down the street. I have a spiritual crush on several of our teachers. I have a joy-crush on this whole town. And in just a few minutes I am off to sushi (vegetarian, organic, Indian-style sushi).

That is how much I can say now. Rishikesh really should be experienced, not described. I feel like I am bombarded with important food for my soul, my brain and the rest of my life, but the rate of intake isn’t manageable, so I’ll just gulp it all and use the 5-6 months on the trail to let it percolate down and digest what I will and cast away what I won’t. The pull of the Pacific Crest Trail is getting very strong in me now. I am glad. It will make leaving Rishikesh less traumatic. I will be back anyway. The majesty of the Himalayas lays just out of reach, and I would feel I have wronged myself if I didn’t spend some proper time visiting them. I will, however, not have time this round because the day my teacher training ends, I am signed up for a tantra workshop – which is what you think it is, and a whole lot more too – and when that is finished, the Dalai Lama is coming for a visit. Maybe I can see the Himalayas from here, if I climb higher than the temple where I was today … but that is just another story.

Love to you!

What silence hours?

alternate title is “loud loud loud”, but only my lovely ex-husband would understand.

The yoga teacher training has started, prompt and early at 6 am on Monday and every day since. We go until 6 or 7 pm, and I am sore. But this isn’t the story I will tell you.

As part of the training we have silent hours from 6 am until after breakfast, which comes around 10-10:30 (and consists of a green smoothy and either beans and rice or a bowl of fruit). When I was in Bellingham, I imagined this time of silence might be a little odd. I imagined … well … silence, I guess. But really, what silent hours mean is that we don’t talk, except to ask questions when needed, while the rest of Rishikesh it seems works overtime to be as loud as it can possibly be. It’s almost like the Universe is trying to make up for our (and other yoga teacher training’s) major deficit in chatter. Rishikesh is a holy place for many Hindu, so pilgrims by the 100s sometime hit town. That is what happened on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, over the lunch break, I had to get across the bridge to buy some salt to make a mixture to pour into my nostrils as part of a cleaning practice (other story). That was, I believe the loudest experience of my life. The stream of moped and motorbikes was endless, horns full on at all time, monkeys screeching, cows mooing, vendors calling, drums playing, musics blasting, people shouting. About halfway across the bridge I began to feel dizzy, but I was stuck in the crowd, transported by the masses, a dead log in a strong current. I was deposited on the other side of the bridge in a state of shock, turned around, repeated the maneuver in reverse and went back to my hotel to hide. I guess I’ll get purified by salt some other time.

In addition to the pilgrims, there is the largest yoga festival coming into town and for the past two days, we had the privilege of witnessing not one but two Indian weddings. Both were last night, but the loud, cacophonous brass band has been practicing in the courtyard below our sacred silence Challa (place of practice) for two days. … take a deep breath in and go into the stillness of silence, the teacher say. What stillness!? I guess if I can be in stillness here, I can do it anywhere. We watched from our balconies a filthy back lot covered in cow and donkey shit and plastic bags develop and transform into a magical wedding palace in just two days. It was impressive. Some green turf was rolled on the ground, white linens were hung gracefully from wood structures, anything dirty was covered with rich brightly colored fabrics, flowers galore were brought in, and lots of gold colored dished. Further back, away from view, monstrous cooking pots were brought in and several fires started. Men and women worked all day cooking that meal, but my, was it sumptuous.

The music really went on all day, but we only got out of class at 7pm. A gaggle of Yoginis (female yogis) from class invited me out, but I chose to go with my new friend Angus. Angus is trouble. He’s originally from England but lives in New Zealand. To further the stereotype of gay men, Augus has a fantastic sense of style, a wonderful sense of humor and is rather handsome. His sexual orientation makes it all the better of a shenanigans companion, as I can be as flirty and crazy and anything I want to be without worries of consequences. Damn consequences. We found each other on day one, the two oldest in the group, which allows us to also be the most immature. Why ARE young people so serious?

So, there wasn’t much of a discussion that we were going to crash one of the wedding parties, preferably the one with the fancy setting we had watched come to life from our balconies (we live two rooms away). I first wanted to go to a sufi music show and Augus humored me, but half hour past the starting time, the band had still not showed up, so we decided to go eat dinner instead. That took an hour, as it often does (and we met all sorts of quirky people, as is always the case), so by the time we went back, the mood for spiritually enlightening music had passed and that for the Indy-dancy-pop party that was blasting so loud I’m sure it could be heard all the way to the Himalayas had fully kicked in. Since we paid for the sufi show, we made a guest appearance, but escaped after one song. We took a narrow side street (cow, mopeds, scary filth) to the back of the wedding venue, squeezed ourselves along the side, along with other wedding crashers and emerged in a eruption of sounds and sight. The groom had just arrived on gold and white decorated horses, preceded by the loudest marching band I have ever heard. In front, around and behind the groom was a block-wide dance party reminiscent of the carnival in Rio except in its gender self-selection. Only men and foreign women, it seems, dance. Women were decorated in their best saris, and sat or stood  respectfully to the side. Angus and I were approached by one of the entrance greeters. He first asked Angus something I couldn’t hear, then asked me where I was from. For fun, I said I was from England. Angus then leaned over and said “You are my wife”. I answered “I’m from England”. That made sense.

It took about half hour for the groom to make his way into the door because so many dancers were in the way. When he finally did, it was like a switch was turned off. The band stopped and simply walked away. I guess their task was simply to take the groom to the door and no further. The dancing crowd dissipated; we followed the wedding party inside.

There was a massive amount of people. It seemed everybody in town, including all the foreigners, had also crashed the party. We ran across one of our teachers, Fabiano, who looked like he just had some great fun. He said he had been dancing with the groom party since 8 pm. It was almost 11 by then. He said the food was amazing, and completely free. Since we had already eaten, we headed straight to the desert bar. There might have been a lot of delicious food, but getting to it was akin to trying to get a train ticket in the madness of the New Delhi train station. Press and squeeze forward with an extended hand until you magically receive something in it. It worked for both of us. We followed it with some hot chocolate and watch a pack of wild Indians shakin’ it up on the dance floor.

While Angus was off getting more sweets, I met Anoub. He explained that there would be no official paper to certify that this marriage took place. The way an Indian marriage is sanctified is by the witnesses, so it makes sense that the more people shows up, the more real the marriage is. These people were getting hitched for 7 lifetimes, which is the usual length for a marriage. Damn, we westerners rarely make it one! The bride was late, and we were getting sleepy, and the approaching 5:45 am wake up call was looming heavy and pressing into my fun until it made it uncomfortable. So, we headed back and missed the actual ceremony, which from what Anoub said is simply the bride and groom walking around a fire 7 times. Maybe we didn’t miss much after all.

I am forever in awe at my new-found ability to sleep through anything anytime, boom bands playing and banners flip flapping. I slept through two alarms this morning and was late for class.

“Somehow you’ll escape all that waiting and staying
You’ll find the bright places
with the boom bands playing
and the banners flip-flapping
once again you’ll fly high
ready for anything under the sky
ready because you are THAT kind of guy”

(oh the places you’ll go – Dr. Seuss)

Good night! Test tomorrow. I gotta go – XOX.

Day two – A monk’s blessing is permanent.

I was about to take a photo of a elegantly tall and beautifully orange temple by the shores of the Ganges, from the very same bridge I crossed in Indiana Jones style yesterday, when a man in orange robes approached me. “Hello”, he said, “My name is … [I forgot]. I am a monk, could I speak with you?” Well, of course he could, I am here partially on a spiritual quest, aren’t I? In a rehearsed English, he began to describe that we are soul, the One soul created by Krishna and that we inhabit this body for one lifetime only, but the soul lives on. His English was difficult to understand, but since I knew the gist of his message I could guess the content of his speech and ask questions in the appropriate places, the kinds of questions that tricks a monk into thinking you understand him fluently. He was so delighted with me that he invited me to sit on a bench. We must have been quite a sight because tourists, India and otherwise, used the excuse of a 60 Lbs monkey behind us to take out photo. I wasn’t fooled. I have used that trick many times myself to photograph people and places without permission. After he exhausted his basic speech, seeing I was still interested, he started to recite some of the yoga sutras and translating them with commentary. This was great because the yoga sutras are required reading for the teacher training, and I have only made it half-way through the book. My homework done for me. Finally he said. “The body is temporary, life is temporary, everything of this world is temporary, but a monk’s blessing is permanent. You have a good soul. I would like to bless you in my temple.”

So I followed the monk in orange robes to his temple. Yes, I expected there would be some funds involved in this, there always is. But, a little cash to get into a temple where entry is only allowed when accompanied by a monk seemed a worthy investment to me. My curiosity would not have allowed me to quit the conversation then.

Once inside the temple, I was introduced to the deities. Shiva and Krishna and friends. Sorry, I was in a bit of a “this is soooo cool” overload and I forgot the names of the deities as soon as I had repeated them, as instructed. We walked down a long dark corridor that circled the chamber of deities. About 3/4 ways around the chamber, the monk stopped and leaned his head against the wall towards the deities. He said a quick prayer and we continued on, popping back out into the main entrance. Once there, we sat in front of a picture of what looked like a Yogi master with a Hitler mustache. I’ll get back to the Hitler thing if I have time … I saw other strange Hitler images in town. We sat crossed legged and in a very ceremonious way, the monk blessed me. Then he explained that his mission was to bring knowledge to the people about their true nature but also to help the poor and the orphans through donations, like mine. 500 roopies is customary. “Could I take photos” I ask – this is a trick I learned when I was a photographer. Sometimes a little cash will get you the best photos. I think of it as a modelling fee. I probably would have donated without the added incentive of photos, but it was nice to be allowed to document the temple, if nothing else for my own remembrance of the adventure. He was so pleased with my donation that we went through the whole blessing ceremony a second time. He then taught me a sacred series of pressure point that will guarantee my eyes stay healthy and a breathing technique to calm the mind, which actually seems to work very well.

Apparently, once you are blessed by a monk of this order, you can stay for free for up to a month in any of the mission house they run anywhere in the world.

That was that. I went back to the bridge, took the photo of the orange temple, walked down to the river, sat on a rock for a while, had an amazing meal of palaak paneer at a small restaurant overlooking the Ganges. I wish today was a groundhog day.


What else happened?

I walked everywhere I could walk, and everywhere I went people were incredibly friendly, saying Hello, smiling, waving. In a few occasions they asked if they could have their photo taken with me. Was it the dragon hat? I later met Carolyn, blond blue eyed German girl and we wandered the streets of Rishikesh together in search of an ATM for her (I have a map – there is a story just in how I found the map, but you already got the monk story, so that’s all I’ll have time for today). She always was a choice model for the locals.

We took a boat across the Ganges, filled with women in colorful robes who sang of Om, shanti and Shivaya all the way across, while the men amused themselves by spashing each other with the water (I partook in the second – this earned me more photo taking).

A beggar asked me, “Excuse me, can you help me?” I said “Maybe, what do you need?”. He said “I am schizophrenic”. He said this so sadly and truthfully. I said “I’m sorry I can’t help you”. He nodded, understandingly.He was still there this afternoon, and he still was asking for help.

A man walked onto the bridge with a sandwich. Balanced on a thin cable, this monkey comes running to him, jumps off, climbs the front of the man’s jacket, steals his sandwich literally out of the his mouth and runs away, back to balancing on the cable, well out of reach. I was most impressed with the maneuver and made a mental note to not eat a sandwich on the bridge.

I also figured out why I was lost yesterday . There are TWO bridges and their names sound identical to my foreigner’s ears.

Carolyn and I are making hiking plans. Rishikesh is in a very scenic area. We are surrounded by small but steep mountains, possibly climbable in a day. I feel that just past these are the ones I long to see, the majestic snow capped jagged Himalayan peaks.

The yoga teacher training starts tomorrow evening, with an opening ceremony. I will likely not have as much time for outside adventures for the rest of this weekn (but who knows what inner adventures I am about to embark upon).

An hour sure goes by fast when you have stories to tell.

Love to all. Namaste.

Day one. Suspension of many kinds.

“Travel often. Getting lost will enable you to find yourself” – (I don’t remember who)

I just rode across a pedestrian-only suspended bridge over the sacred Ganges River in the back of a broken down scooter driven by a man I paid 400 roopies for the ride to a hotel because I had to get out of the taxi I took from Ardiwar because the taxi driver had enough English to insist “You, me, Rishikesh, Love? (suggestive look)”, to which I answered without fault “No. You, drive. Me Rishikesh”. And that’s just the last hour. This one hour internet cafe I fear is NOT going to hack it for my storytelling needs! My life is FUN! 🙂
[copied from Facebook status – sorry for the redundancy]

This is a synopsis of the past however many hours since I left Bellingham Tuesday evening.

Ana and I went for Indian food at Chutney’s, a restaurant that delivers consistently amazingly delicious food and Tuesday was no exception. When Bill, the owner, discovered I was going to India, alone, with no reservations, and no plan, it was all he could do not to faint. A few phone calls later and I was no longer landing alone, with no plan and no reservations. His long time friends Ajan and Anita picked me up at the airport at 1 am, took me home, made me tea, changed my money, and got me all booked and loaded on the “completely full, no more seats” train to Ardiwar. I know how it works, that business of expecting miracles which makes them come true, but still, I get awed at my own good luck sometimes.

I also firmly believe in miracles as I have witnessed several today. Here is one: When passing a cow, two bicycles, a handful of school children, 3 motorcycles and a blue rickshaw taxi on a 1.5 lane bridge with a highly decorated truck coming full speed in the oncoming traffic lane (however loosely that term is defined around here), simply honking your horn will result in you not dying, even if you are talking on your cell phone and checking out you passenger with one eye while doing this. Miracle! I see no other explanation. How crazy do they drive? They drive crazy enough to scare a Yemeni, for those of you who will relate. They drive so crazy that India should not be so populated. They drive so crazy that I laughed in the taxi, a full-belly “I might as well die laughing since this is apparently how I go” laugh [I can think of worse ways].

If two hours ago you’d have told me I’d ever consider getting on the back of a scooter I would have called you crazy. But there are two hotels with the same name, and this is the foot of the Himalayas and I WALKED to the first one with my book-loaded 75 Lbs backpack … but, I don’t want to tell you this story. There are so many ones I have accumulated in just a day in India.

In Ardiwar, a naked man painted completely white, with dread locks and sacred-looking jewelry gave me a dirty look and blew me a raspberry.

I ate a couple of samosas cooked over a fire fueled by cow dung which was incredibly delicious and spicy and cost me 7 cents.

I saw unstoppable traffic get stopped because a cow crossed the road (why DID the cow cross the road? …)

I saw the slums of Delhi, and they were unlike anything I have ever seen before. I have seen poverty, but the train ride out of Delhi expanded my definition of that word to a whole new realms.

The country side is lovely. And civilized people in first class get served tea at regular interval, lest they forget they were once ruled by the British (the man next to me here is watching cricket on TV)

I met a nice physics professor who spoke very good English. He said “I was born and raised in Rishikesh (the capital of yoga), left when I was 25 years old, but I have never tried yoga. But here you are, coming from so far for it. Maybe I should try it sometimes”.

At the train station, if you go past all the homeless people sleeping on the floor or begging or asking you if they can help you with taxis or anything, you get to a place called the “clock room”. For a few roopies you can check your coat at the clock room and meander without 75 Lbs on your back. Across the street, some hotel advertizes “Cloak room” … ahhhh. Yes, that makes more sense. I was wondering why they check their clocks.

I saw the Ganges River 8 times today. Down by Delhi it’s an infamy. Up here by Rishikesh, it still looks like a big mountain spring. Half way between the two, I saw several man defecate in tributaries, people washing clothes, taking naked baths, sunbathing on rocks by it. I think I will love this river as much as the Mighty Mississippi and the Yukon River. Magical places.

Oh, and I saw a 20 foot tall status of Shiva by the Ganges. And narrow streets that reminded me of the old town in Yemen, except some kid went color-crazy and painted the whole scene with bright colors, especially orange. My Hippy vest makes me look like a local. That was unintentional.

This is not very coherent of a post, sorry, but I’ve only had two hours of sleep since I left Seattle and I’m a little … suspended. I think ‘suspended’ describes best how I feel right now. Awed, delighted, appalled, overwhelmed, psyched and everything in between. Suspended in my own expectations, even thought I thought I had none. Suspended from reality. Suspended on a cloud of mind-boggling adventures.

Times almost up.

Looks I’ll have things to share on this website after all. Holy Cow!

Turbans as helmets!

Here is a quick update on the pre-adventures preparations (which prevent piss-poor performance).

India: I am not packed for India, not by a long shot, but my friend ‘the other Melissa P with a black Toyota Tacoma’ solved my luggage dilemma. Take the backpack, she said. No discussion. Sometimes, it makes like easier to just let your friends boss you around. It frees up space in one’s cranium to ponder some of life’s idiosyncrasies. For example: Uncut hair is one of the Sikhs’ religious obligations. To manage long manes, Sikhs, but also Indian Muslims and Hindus, wrap them in turbans. Helmets are mandatory in India, but a turban will just not fit in a helmet. To solve this quandary, the helmet law was amended to allow turban wearers to ride without helmets as long as the unwrapped turban measures more than 5 meters (16 feet) in length. Somehow, it was determined that a turban less than 5 meters would not adequately protect the motorist’s head in case of an impact. Okay. So, I must ask. Did the Indian authorities have a set a crash dummies with different turban lengths to determine this? Did they take different turban fabric and hair length and thickness into account? Wouldn’t 16 feet of material wrapped on one’s head feel very hot and heavy the rest of the day? I mean, that would be like wearing your helmet around all day. Do they have little turbans inside big turbans for the purpose of riding? So many questions … The article I read also discussed the use of a tea cozy to protect one’s turban and of a dust cover to protect a long beard while riding. I hope to be able to document this in person.

PCT: Speaking of idiosyncrasies, I know an idiot … After months working on my backpack for the PCT, I am down to just the belt – a different belt, I didn’t like the original one I built. In order to sew the new belt in the right place, I filled the pack with all the gear that will be going, using my brand new *inflatable* pad on the inside as a frame to hold the pack in place … and then I pinned the new belt on. Yeah. What you think happened happened. I already found 6 of the holes. I’m pretty sure there are more. I don’t know if I’ll be able to save it. Is this a sign from the universe? “Hey, how about you don’t take an inflatable pad with you through the cactused desert!?” or is it just what it is, holes in a brand new mat. Bloody hell! On a more positive note, I found the pants. They appeared on the legs of the beautiful Deborah last night. I knew I had to have them. REI carried them and they are now mine, same size, same cut as Deborah’s, except I had to take the bottom hem about an inch, because I am, as she so like to remind me, much shorter than her. These will do both India and the PCT. If I were a pair of pants, these are the pants I’d want to be. Oh the places they’ll go …

Home:  I have recently acquired a fantastic yet ultimately worthless skill: I can recite by heart and with style the entirety of “Oh the places you’ll go” by Dr. Seuss. It takes 7 minutes to say the whole thing, which is why it is a worthless skill: nobody wants to sit and listen to me recite anything that long (well, except for Roseanna Mike and Melissa who were too polite to refuse). I need to find more polite people. It’d be a shame to let this skill go to waste. If you are reading this and would like to hear it, give me a call. I’m leaving in a week and I won’t have a phone past the 8th. Now is your chance. Also, the experience is best in person, so best would be you invite me out for dinner in exchange for the ultimate Dr. Seuss experience. Limited time only. Act now!!