Help the Nepali People Directly


As many of you have heard and experienced through the media, Nepal is in need of our help. I am collecting funds specifically for single mothers and low caste families who will not receive governmental help in the Dhading region. None of the money currently donated will trickle down to these people and we now have a very reliable local on the ground who can hand deliver. If you haven’t already (or even if you have) please consider this donation. One hundred percent of your funds go directly to the poorest people in Nepal who have lost absolutley everything. If you choose to donate somewhere else, please do extended research before you click that button.

Nepal needs great healing. Even beyond this earthquake, it is a country that has been ignored way too long. My support will not end with this earthquake relief. Along with Nepali locals, Tobi and I are in the planning process of creating small but useful projects consisting of educational opportunities for women in Nepal. Please keep your eyes open. Namasté and dhanyabaad (thank you).

Beth and Tobi

Go Gypsy Go and Goats for Good for Nepal. Every tiny bit helps.

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Short circuiting the Annapurna Circus



If you have trekked the Annapurna Circuit, or something of the sort, you may not like this tale. The enthusiasts have called me a cheater, a slow poke, and a rule breaker (not in the good way), but I never claimed to be a trekking enthusiast and never agreed to the rules anyway. I just like new experiences and testing the waters, sure.

The Annapura circuit is a well-trod path that takes one through small Nepali villages and holy sites for Buddhist and Hindus alike. You walk through the most breath-taking scenery imaginable. Massive waterfalls daily, lush forests of pine, steep cliff edges prone to landslides, snow covered mountains, multi-hour DSC_0195climbs that make you feel like your heart may go ahead of you on the trail- it’s beating so fast. You stay in small lodges called teahouses. Each run by a family which generally let you stay for free if you agree to purchase dinner and breakfast. You could compare guesthouses by a few main points.

• Do they charge for the room?
• How much is their Dal Bhat?
• Did you see the bathroom? Where is it?
• Will they let us charge our camera for free?
• If there is a hot shower, is the water really warm, or just warm enough to be called not-cold?
The prices increase greatly the higher you go, as the harder food is to transport up. A big discussion point on the trail is the roads they are developing where only a path was previously. If taken, these roads cut out three-fourths of the trek, which has veterans screaming and wailing. At the highest levels porters and horses are the main movers of goods. What the tiny porters can carry makes you feel like you should be able to run up these hills, but their strength trumps, out of pure genetics and culture.
The mission of most who chose to trek the Annapurna circuit is to cross over the Thorong La pass reaching a height of 5,416 meters, or 17,769 feet only accessible by foot or horse. It’s the main attraction, the whole purpose, why on earth would you just walk around through the villages and not go to the pass? It’s the Annapurna Taj Mahal for goodness sake!
I started planning in Pokhara. There is a trekking service named 3 Sisters which offers female-only guides and porters and proceeds in return give back to the prosperity of women in Nepal which is much needed. They helped me plan my route. I really just chose the first one recommended, not really sure of any of the details of the itinerary. I bought a book and on the way out of town, a map, 20 granola bars, a jar of high-shakti wild honey, some peanut butter and some mini-snickers and boarded the bus to Besisahar. I still didn’t have anyone to walk with and hadn’t put much effort into networking to find a group either. I knew if I was meant to walk with people, I would, otherwise I would walk alone and that would be just as fabulous. After a few hours tacked onto the trip because of a suspension problem on the bus, I arrived in Besisahar as the sun was making its final debut of the day. I asked a local where the trekkers congregate, hoping to meet anyone who had any idea of what they were doing, because I sure didn’t. We walk which way? Do I really need waterproof pants? I reach the top of the main road after a few minutes and the first person I see, sitting, playing cards, is Merlin. Now, I had been in the same camp as Merlin at the Kumbh Mela in India (see previous K.M. post) and also ran into to him in Pushkar for the Holi festival, dancing vigorously, covered in orange, pink, and blue powder. Merlin, yes! So nice to see you!
Merlin had his friend from Germany with him, Jan, and they offered to let me walk with them, at least the first few days, to get my bearings. We set off in high spirits down through the gorges, passing small villages, horses, goats, and children throwing flower pedals at us and asking for sweets. DSC_0026 Par for the course, my backpack was absurdly over packed and I had intentionally ‘packed light’. I felt like Katz in Bill Bryson’s, A Walk in the Woods. I wanted to chuck everything out of my pack over the cliff side but I genuinely smiled and walked on. We hiked to a ridge that overlooked the Marsyangdi River and we could see where we should be and we had missed a turn. We backtracked down through a small village. IMG_2287 The people looked glad, but a little confused to see us. They kept asking us where we were going but communication was tough and we just kept walking. After a few attempts and head nods we gave up and kept going, yes, yes. We met with a long, steep staircase that had varying widths of slippery stair tops. It took about 25 minutes to get down and all the concentration you had. By the time I reached the bottom, I told my German gang, man, I am glad that is over, I can really feel it in my ankle. They gave me a look of compassion and broke the news that we were, in fact, on the correct trail initially and we needed to turn around and walk right back up those stairs. My mind revolted. I could see across the river where every once in a while Jeeps flew by bouncing off one rock to the next. I felt like an idiot trudging up and down these hills with this heavy pack while within sight are these man-machines zipping past full of all the power I seemed to lack. Something about it didn’t seem smart, but this, my friend, is trekking, right?

Our second night we arrived right as a big storm was blowing in. Wind and rain that could knock you over battered against the one sheet of wood that separated our beds from the outside weather at the teahouse located on the tiny ledge of a cliff. DSC_0182My collarbones and hips were raw from my backpack straps and I waddled more than I walked, as my legs were stiff from the alarm of this drastic change in activity. I needed some honey scoops to help sooth what ailed me. In the dark, due to lack of electricity, I unzipped my pocket of the pack where my secret stash was and reached for the honey. A thick, cold, gooey mess had saturated my bag and most of what was inside. Lesson number one. Well, if they can’t have honey, give them…. peanut butter! You can’t mess up peanut butter, plus I wanted it gone so I could be lighter on my feet. I took a spoonful, imagining the good crunchy peanut butter I could eat for days. I was thinking back to the good ole days of honey roasted Earth Fare freshness. This was not it. There was something off about this peanut butter, so I had another spoonful just to check. Made in India. Okay, that’s not unusual- everything here comes from India. I read on. Peanuts, oil, rapeseed and sugar. Rapeseed? That’s the culprit. After much discussion Merlin deemed it passable, so it joined his pack never to be seen again.
I trekked with the German gang a few more days when we met up with an Australian group in their early twenties that had just finished cycling to Nepal from Thailand and they wanted to work a different group of muscles. How nice. Needless to say, I fell behind. I just couldn’t keep up, I didn’t want to keep up. I wanted to stop, catch my breath, look around and move slowly, as I needed to. This was not enjoyable. At all. Even as a grown adult, tears came to my eyes. Why am I doing this to myself, again? We passed through a small village about lunchtime and the boys pushed on. I gave them a wave from behind to move on and leave me there. I was starving and there wasn’t much convincing me to go any farther. This is where I met my first big group of Israelis. They had taken a jeep up and were only on day two of their walk. For lunch they had light food, beer and smoked their herbs. Whoa. How were they going to make it through this? I am doing everything by the book (except the packing rules) and killing myself each day and here they are having the time of their life, porters in tow and owning a buzz, or Rush, as they call it.

As I walked out of the village I took a wrong turn and ended up on the side of the river with the road. A purposeful accident, so to say. A landslide had just occurred and there were rocks covering the road so all vehicles were stopped, waiting. Some men were spinning their wheels in their offer to help move the rocks. IMG_2304 The rocks were more like boulders and about 15 men would get behind one and strain to push it down the hill while everyone was waiting for the bulldozer to arrive. We had time to get to know one another and this is where I met my bike gang, my salvation. Two young Israelis Arnon and Raz, fresh from the obligatory Israeli Army of three years had bought bikes in Delhi and drove them over the border. An Australian, Arran, who had his motorbike shipped over to Kathmandu and is taking 6 months to drive to London. Sometimes it is not just the scenery.
I still had another two and a half hours to walk by the guidebook, which meant about 4 hours Beth-speed. It was already about 2pm and the weather was turning. With enough time to mingle with all the jeeps waiting to pass, I found myself a ride up to Tal by the time the road cleared. It was fabulous but also nerve racking. Seated beside me in the middle was a stoic Russian woman, on her right was a Nepali older boy, holding the woman’s 5 year old son as he dangled out the window, shouting- as we made our way along the side of the cliffs. If one rock shifted under our tires we would have been eggs in a washing machine. The driver and the Russian woman were sharing a joint. They let me off on a ridge that overlooked the village and I hiked down. Right when I arrived on the outskirts of town along comes the bike gang. The air snapped with the roar of their loud Indian Enfield engines. I gave a big welcome wave and threw my pack on and we paraded into the village of Taal. It was a pretty big event.
I connected with these two young Israelis like I would have never imagined. We shared the same humor and similar Indian experiences. They were light on life and silly, which I love. Raz, who I remember from a days hike earlier is not only tough but has the sentiment of a rabbit. Arnon is fueled with a fire that makes his nose crinkle and lips curl when he speaks truth. It doesn’t help that his brown hair curls around his cap as he makes wise cracks and states his age, 21. Dang it. Arnon, having given his drivers license to Raz to use for the trip so he was using sliding through check points with his diving license. Not one official noticed the lack of a letter in the title of the laminated diver’s permit. Arran, on the other hand, harnessed strong opinions with a first world viewpoint. It didn’t help that Americans were his main target, but that is just a side-note to the list of targets. It is easy to find in someone else the parts that get under your skin. Too easy. But this, as like most in life, is a point where you know your work lies. For these aspects of another are typically the same parts of you that you would like to shed, but haven’t yet. Fortunately, they are big and blaring, like someone shouting in your face, otherwise we may miss them.

The village men all woke early and gathered along the rock wall in front of our guesthouse to see them ride out the next morning. It was endearing. I was to meet them in Manang, the gateway and altitude-acclimatizing village before the Thorung Pass. It would take them two days by bike. DSC_0291 By foot it would take me 4 days if I followed along at a swift speed. I thought of my options. Waited a day for no reason other than I wanted one more day in Tal and I could do some laundry and read. Then headed out by foot along a beautiful trail on a sunny, crisp day. Passed the huge waterfall onto a trail along the river and then over a wobbling suspension bridge that was fun to hop on in the middle. The bridge, as with most, was covered with Tibetan prayer flags. After about an hour, a gravel truck passed. My first vehicle sighting of the day! I stuck out my thumb just to see what would happen and boom! They stopped. I motioned, Can I get in the back? A head nod was given in return and I threw my pack into the gravel and climbed in. DSC_0420Sometimes locals will ask for money but these guys seemed to enjoy having a tourist gal in the back, bouncing around in the gravel, taking photos. We rode for a while then they stopped for lunch, I secretly bought the driver his meal and that got me a ticket to the front of the truck with the road workers. As if on cue the rain started, just a wet drizzle that soaked everything and everyone who had hopped on the back as well. DSC_0436

I was taken as far as they were going then dropped in the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. It was a steep road up, covered in pine trees with rain and a mighty cascading waterfall. It was heavenly. I imagined Maine or maybe even Washington. I walked another hour then a jeep came speeding by. My thumb leapt out and I was in a dry and fast jeep barreling upwards to Chame, which is the farthest you can visit without a motorbike, horse or two good feet. A guy in the jeep owned a guesthouse so we stayed with him and helped to celebrate the Nepali New Year. We could only celebrate quietly as someone had passed away in the village so no music could be played. I had made up two days of walking in one day, I could relax now.
So yes, I could have walked to Manang. I could have. But a motorbike ride was found easily and I high tailed it up to town. I really just wanted to meet up with the bike gang. I enjoyed their company and it’s all about the people, not the place. Ultimately, the people end up being the place. I reached Manang the next day to find the guys back from a day trek. There were some trekkers sitting outside the lodge when I got off the motorbike, Hey! Where did you come from? That’s cheating! I told them that I wasn’t familiar with the Annapurna-how much you have to hike it- rulebook. It is only cheating if you are a trekker, and I, am clearly, not.

I joined the crew and they started to plan their assent up to the pass. They thought it was funny that I had hitched and biked it up and that’s why I love them. Everyone along the way would talk about the two Israelis and how can they possibly just bike up? They would surely reach their demise over the pass as they have not done the proper prep-work, the training. Little did they know these three. At that time I was just so thrilled to be able to view this remote part of the world and sit in the beauty of it all.
I still wasn’t sure I wanted to make the trek over the pass but I couldn’t let up now. To walk any farther would be blasphemy. I was plotting an attack on Annapurna where I wouldn’t have to walk it at all. Maybe I could hire a porter and hop in the backpack much like you hear people say, Oh, just put me in your suitcase. Or just ride in one of their baskets they tote. Or I could payoff a small group of children, one for the head, two to carry each limb and three for my torso. It would be helping the local economy. I had to think on this one.
Manang was bone-chilling cold but beautiful. You were snuggled right into the snowy Himalayas. Our salvation in the village were the bakeries with chocolate croissants, strong-flavored Yak cheese, and the two projector halls that played movies like, 7 years in Tibet, Slumdog Millionaire and Into the Wild. In a woodstove heated small room, you sat on tiered wooden benches covered with fur. A fourth of the way through the movie they would pause it and serve popcorn and hot black tea with a spoonful if sugar if you wished. This was a great escape from reality.

The Bike Gang, was now capitalized, and known throughout town. One morning a local guesthouse owner asked for help with his motorbike. It had been out of commission for 6 days and he needed to make a run for supplies and was out of luck. Arran and Arnon went to help. They were able to fix the problem by taking the carburetor apart and in the afternoon we did a day hike to the surrounding mountains trying to get used to the altitude. It is better to hike up during the day and sleep low.IMG_2322 On our cave hike of about 3 hours up we reached a monastery where we found a monk alone on the mountaintop. He blessed us and let us take salvation in the monastery. The guys hiked up and I stayed behind to meditate in the small rock cut-out. When in Rome. We were still at the summit when it turned 4:30. We raced down and by the time we hit the village and were beat, freezing and glad to be back. The man whose motorbike the gang had fixed was headed out of town with a smile and gratitude. He said his wife would love to cook us dinner, how many did we have? Four, okay, no problem. We went to his guesthouse, sat and had coffee and waited. The common meal on the trail is Dal Bhatt. It is rice, dal (lentils), and a curry of potato or vegetables, a papadom (remember, these? You only get ONE!- first post) and some spicy pickles. It is always hot, ready and filling. This is what we expected to be served. But it was taking so damn long. What is going on here? We were sweaty but cold, stinky and tired. Then, the clouds parted, Nirvana had been reached as the boy brought the Yak steak sizzlers. Now after almost 6 months of very little meat this yak steak sizzling in front of me covered with a cream gravy adorned with thick fried potatoes and a salad that resembled a blanched coleslaw was more than any of us ever thought heaven could taste like. Kudos to the Bike Gang charity foundation of motorbike fixing! Kings/Queen for a night.
The day drew near as the Australian, Arran, had to be out of the country some time in May. This is April. He had to rush. Everything was rushed. I left my big bag in Manag and bought a cheap North Face knockoff smaller bag. The plan was to summit with the bike gang and then back track to Manang to retrieve my big bag and their bikes. It was going to be cold. And it was.
The next day we headed out. I felt fantastic. The sun was shining and the hike was beautiful and not overly torturous. Up and down, along a mountainside with stunning views of white jagged peaks. One of the real, true rules on the Annapurna is to not buy animal products. All the locals wear fox, goat or sheep fur to stay warm and it seems as though it works well. Of course, we had to ask around to see if there were any for purchase. Rule-breakers. No, these items are made by family, passed down, not possible.IMG_2368 Well, as luck would have it, on our trek out to the next Village beyond Manang in a village called Gunsang sat a woman selling these fabulous hats. I picked out a huge goat fur fro for $5. Goat not dead, just sheared. Along the trail the locals looked in admiration. Finally, some trail-cred.

We arrived in Yak Kharta, the first stop along the pass. As we had our lunch of fried macaroni, trust me it was the best option at the moment, the sky once again faded to grey. It suddenly became frigid. There was nowhere to hide. Most of the teahouses have woodstoves that you gather around but in the early evening the fires are not yet lit. We were high up and only getting higher. DSC_0691I had showered once in the past few days and it was more of a deed than an enjoyable experience. I turned to Raz and said, I think I am ready to go home. The words came out before I thought but they rang true and as attempted to sleep that night (the altitude allows a very light sleep if any) my mind kept going back to why I would say that. Why do I feel the pressure to go on? I am already satisfied. I am already in awe of what I have seen, where I have walked (or not walked) and what I have done. Why freeze? To get what? Okay, so I reach the pass, get the photo made. Reach the goal, the big time, to be successful? This is my trip, this is my dream state, I get to choose and reaching the top, even it was only 2 days out after 10 days of some-what work, is not my goal and never really was. Sometimes the top is not even the best part. The time in-between is. It would be great to show you the picture of me at the top of the Annapurna Thorung La Pass, but alas, I will not unless I photo-shop it.
That evening we had the most truthful discussion of the trip. As the four Amigos, yes there were really four, we sat around a luke-warm fire with an 84 year old-man who had summited everything from Everest to DSC_0469Kilimanjaro and was now going up on a horse to the of Annapurna again, and we talked about relationships. How Arran and I and had failed them and how Arron and Ras has yet to achieve them. It was pointed out how crucial it is to learn to love yourself before you are capable of giving the love you want in return. This is old news folks, but few of us follow through, really. An examined life is a painstakingly hard pill to swallow when you have knowledge of all your ups and downs, of your failures and passes. Who’s to really say but yourself and I don’t trust that even. What I call good and bad really is not even so, not real, not my Truth. Easy to know and hard to remember.

That night, my sweet friend, Arrran from Australia, who I had grown to love and appriecate, is sharing a bone-chilling room with me on the other side. Between chattering teeth Arran says, “Let me ask you a philosophical question.” I prepared myself for the worst.

“How does one learn to love themselves?”

I had never had the responsibility designated to answer a question such as this. It was a pivotal moment in my entire trip. This guy, who I had occasionally put off for being a hard headed, know-it-all had shown his beautiful softer side. I couldn’t help but love him and could only say that I couldn’t answer that right way. I stayed up half the night writing in my journal. It was one of those questions that is as good for me as it was for him to contemplate. So I thought, and I sat in silence. I still don’t have it mastered as I quaver now and again. But I gave him the best I could at the time I could and my love for him grew, as did my love for myself.

The next morning I was clear in my decision. I wanted to go down. I wanted to be warm, have a shower and a break. Back home to Pohkara it would be. Sounds easy, right? I broke the news to the Bike Gang. Raz had a few words with me about how I should push on but I explained it really wasn’t that important to me and I wasn’t just making excises. Arnon thought I was just kidding till I hugged him goodbye and saw the shock come over his face. Arran accepted it with ease and was disappointed that he would have to be the one to play catch-up on the trail now. He had been a good hiking partner for me. We parted ways and I hiked back towards Manang.

As I hiked, I cried, as I am known to do. I cried to leave the bike gang, I cried because of the sheer beauty of it all. I cried for love of humans, of life and of opportunity. These were true tears of gratitude. When we had hiked this same trail the day before we had said, won’t this make a beautiful hike down? It was. I passed all the groups of trekkers I had seen all along the way. They all wanted to know why I was going down. I simply said, this part of the trek is so beautiful, so nice, I think I would like to do it twice. It reminded me of Caroline Pond and her fabulous energy.
I can always go back. I may never, but I could. If I needed to.

A long, humbling, and exhausting downhill motorbike ride brought me to Chame in the rain. I met some great locals who showed me the local flair as an archery competition was underway. I stayed another day to shoot photos. DSC_0459 2DSC_0436 2

Then caught a jeep ride down through all the places I had painstakingly hiked up, which would only be the first part. We left at 7am and I was assured by the Isreali brother and sister team we would be to BesisaharIMG_2515IMG_2486 by noon to catch a bus to Pokhara. Eleven and a half hours later in the back of an open jeep with my brains and bones slammed in every direction, two breakdowns and a flat tire, we reached Besisahar. We hopped in a split cab to Pokhara and now I am back in civilization. For the better, absolutely.

This just in- Dinner with the Bike gang in Pokhara. As soon as I departed their company in Yak Karka big storms rolled in. Whiteouts with blankets of snow adorned straight up-hill hikes. The Pass was a good experience, overall, but cloudy which obscured the views and I missed a card game or two. I hope they were just playing it down for me but I get the distinct feeling, they weren’t. Sometimes bailing is your best option. True, tried and tested.







Half Moon Beach on a Full Moon Night


Arambol Beach, Goa.

Arambol Beach, Goa.

Something happened to make me lose my light in Goa. I still am not sure what it was. Thinking it would be a nice place to decompress from the hustle of the North and the extremes of the Kumbh Mela, I found myself in Arambol Beach. Surrounded by Russians. A complete vibration switch altogether. Goa sits alone, surrounded by the rest of conservative India, with too-young blonde Russian gals posing for beach front shots in not a good-girl way.
On the other side there are exotic hippies (a cultural term here), quietly dancing to the sunset drumbeat, in almost exactly the same attire as the rest of their tribe. Long dreadlocks adorned with beads and cloth are tied up in elaborate concoctions on top of their head. Tattered, but new, short skirts over Leopard tights seem to be the uniform and half-shaven heads are not uncommon. It was tempting for glance.

I’d had enough. Everyone had, I think. You could tell the general attitude of the place had been tarnished. The Russians were not the friendliest group of vacationers and it had a domino effect on every one there it seemed. I found it very useful to casually let the shopkeepers know in the first 20 seconds of conversation, that I was indeed, not Russian. But they could already tell by then and most likely before I even walked in the door. I found myself frustrated. Deflated.

I made my way South, out of the not-India area to find a perfect mix. Gokara is a holy city with the perk of being on a set of beautiful beaches. You can hike from one beach to another, each getting more desolate as you go. Shanti shanti, peace, I imagined in my near future. I went to the one right before I would be sleeping in straight sand. Half Moon Beach has 2.5 cafes, no electricity and basic huts with a mat that has never been washed, just beaten with a stick. The bathing quarters were a half mile, at least it felt like, walk, so you only went there when absolutely necessary. It was like camping with a café!

Our Beautiful fruit lady who slapped me once. For fun only.

Our Beautiful fruit lady who slapped me once. For fun only.

The door to my hut didn’t really even shut fully; there was a gaping hole of about a foot underneath for onlookers or crawlies to enjoy. There are no locks but I created my own fail-proof system of a carabineer and a second sarong fabric door that would protect me from all evil. I guess gigantic resentful ants and massive spiders do not classify as evil as they kept me company through each night.

You really had to make use of your day light because once the lights went out there were not many options. There was a steady but good flow of visitors and residents that you got to know quite well through long evening candle light chats. My first night there seemed to be the most dramatic. I went to sleep early with my earplugs in position. I was wakened to hear someone sobbing and loudly declaring, “I want to die, just like this, here. No one I can trust. They all are false. I just want to die.” I was alarmed, of course. I hadn’t quite got the feel for the place and who knows what could happen out here. I took the earplugs out and listened from my hut. It was an on-going saga of the same over and over. I had to see what the hoop-la was about and how much on guard I needed to be, so I joined the audience.

Sanjay, I sweet but saddened man on many glasses of rum, was poring his heart out. It seems like this was not the first time as the general reaction was one of non-concern. Except for Victoria from Boliva. She was tired of it, she was feisty, full of fire. She quickly stood and went into the kitchen.

“You want to die? This is what you want? We will give you what you want. Take this!”

She handed him the largest kitchen knife they have. It was a odd mix of cliché and unchartered waters but it helped. Sanjay changed his tone and became quiet.

“No, I do not want to die. Just here, I could die here. But I will not take my own life.”

This was a welcome relief. We all settled in, got to know each other a little better and let Sanjay sleep it off. It was a speedy introduction to a group of friends who had worked together for months and were clearly at their limit. It was nice to be cut-off again from the outside world but I also slept well knowing my phone was still charged with a signal.

First each hot morning I would hop up, put on my suit and run to the water. ‘First’ being not so early. Then enjoy a milk coffee and a tomato omelet. That would take up about 3 hours. Then plan a trek maybe, to another beach, over the rocks with a sea-view trail. To Paradise Beach, where people used to live.

What's left on Paradise

What’s left on Paradise

It technically is government land but as India goes (T.I.I.- This is India), people moved in. First the hippies built a camp, then the Indians built a café for the hippies, then the government tore everything down and kicked everyone out. This only took about 10 years more or less.
Baba Jay Marley! Yes! He appeared from the Jungle!

Baba Jay Marley! Yes! He appeared from the Jungle!

Each night I could walk out into a star-filled dark night and kick my feet in the water. When you did this the plankton would glow. At first thought, I was afraid we might be hurting a glowing creature by kicking at it but soon discovered they were plants and glowed even brighter with each of our kicks so they must have been okay with it.
Jess the Alaskan, my travel buddy.

Jess the Alaskan, my travel buddy.

I spent a night in the big city of Gokarna to come back to some Indian men from Goa who were drinking rum at 11am in the café. One had a very palatable cunning demeanor. Things had gone south. This guy was scary and drunk and intimidating and occupied the hut that shared a wall with mine. I wanted nothing to do with him but he would come join us at every opportunity. An eery, blank but dangerous look inhabited his eyes. You have to be tough with the men here. They do not view us women as humans as much. Women stay home in the country, they don’t speak up and they do what needs to be done. Life is dictated by the husband that was dictated to you.

This guy would not leave us alone though, he would open our hut doors when we slept, tear off our covered cloth windows, and follow us down the trail just to hand us a pamphlet on Hampi in the dark for absolutely no reason. He would stand too close and forcefully tell me to sit, to be friends and to drink his rum. Nothing was off limits. I started hiding my passport in the wall of my hut. I would booby-trap areas so I knew if anyone had been near. It was time to move on. The next morning I woke to him opening hut doors announcing, “My friend! Do you have a phone? Wake up! Hello? Some one took my money. My wallet, it is gone! Do you have a phone?”

No, I do not have a phone, good luck.”

I moved to the city. My first bathtub since I have been gone. The lady actually bargained me down to a lower price. She needs to practice or she just has a very loving heart. I am getting the blue and white tiled, hot water from 7:30 am to noon, bathtub room for $12 and I live like a queen. I bought a bathmat because I am moving in. This will be my new home for 2 weeks.

This town, Gokara, has all the spiritual, wonderful feel of India but is small, the horns aren’t as piercing and food is good and healthy. Everyday I eat boiled spinach with a lime juice covering and coconut lassies. It makes me feel strong. The locals smile often and love to have their picture taken. I think I will just settle in for a bit, write and spend that time with myself that I crave but also run from.

Maha Kumbh Mela 2013


Being blessed by the Ganges.

Being blessed by the Ganges.

Millions of pilgrims ritualistically walk barefoot through specific towns making their way to the Kumbh Mela. They walk for something like 54 days , carrying their bags on their head. Tiny, elderly women just walking, walking, their feet dyed red with henna. Some people are limping, holding their backs, obviously in pain but the pilgrimage is more important. You just keep going. In Varanasi, one of these cities, the streets are about as nasty as you can imagine with the cows, dogs and humans that live in the narrow alleys. I have been here for about 2 weeks and have been fortunate to see many of these groups pass. It is endearing.

Now to take in the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad in it’s full effect is a beyond mind blowing. I still read about it and continue being in awe. This is the largest human gathering on Earth. 2013 was the largest of all- 80-100 Million. 80 million of these bathe in the Ganges. Some drink it, not many got sick, reports say. Only recorded 3 babies were born. There was a platform at the railway station that gave out due to crowds and killed 40 plus and injured many. This Mela in Allahabad is to be the largest and most holy, happening only once every twelve years. There is dispute if this was the big, big one (every 144 years) and every theory has its place.

Our camp placement was just outside the official grounds of the Kumbh. The whole site is massive, as you can imagine, but to reach Rainbow Camp you had to walk past the boundary line, where the road ends and you see us. We were way, way out. We are not Hindu, conservative or Indian. Not allowed. To reach the action of the Sangam it would take about 3 hours by foot. Hearing this on arrival made me realize I better put on my good shoes, which I had left at the very beginning of my trip and pine for every other day. By the end of the week I would walk 10 hour days without blinking. DSC_0086The roads were dusty and dry or recently wet which made thick mud pockets. Just like in the streets of any Indian city you would look down more than up. Many people went barefoot as these Kumbh Mela streets were the cleanest I ‘d seen. They had crews around the clock sweeping and burning the trash. It was impeccable.

Being so far away had it perks. Inside the Kumbh there are very loud speakers of gurus talking, chanting and singing. Every sound technician must have been out to lunch because the sounds were piercing to say the least. We were able to escape this with a little more effort in trade. Our camp was beautiful. They had set up shelters for people to come and DSC_0445stay and every night so would have a rotating flow of Babas and travelers that would visit before they moved on to another ashram camp. I had a corner spot in a large canvas tent with about 10 other people. I slept on a bed of straw and a gifted bamboo mat from my new-found, goofy Iranian friend, Jay. DSC_0386Luckily, I had finally given in and just bought a sleeping bag for way too much because the nights were damp and cold and the days were sunny and perfect and I knew I was never attempting to get one made again (see previous post).

The first night was getting to know the place and being vehemently ill. On the ride over I had bought these outwardly crisp, inwardly just-right, bright green peas that they cook on the side of the roadside. I knew as soon as I bought them and consumed them I was knocking on trouble’s door. You just know. I spent the night having the 24 hour security men watch me fly out of my tent and dash to the back of the camp with my socks on and half my sleeping bag trailing with me. It was awful. It only lasted that night, though. Morning is a new day and you simply shrug it off with, “Well, I didn’t get as much sleep as I would have hoped to last night”. Some and most illnesses last a very short time here. At least mine have. It is uncommon to not have at least something at any given point just to test your immune system’s endurance. Mainly a slight cold or sore throat, and the rest can be any hodgepodge of varying ailments. It just goes with the turf. We could sit around for hours trying to guess where and when we screwed up by touching, eating or not avoiding a fecal pie when we were chatting and took our eyes off the path in Varanasi. It is useless. It just is what it is, you are sick, here you go, now what are you going to do? At least when you go to the doctor with an infection he knows exactly what it is and what it will take to fix it. He has seen it a thousand times and your bill will total to $4. I wish that would rub off on us. Well, you might have to see him 4 times and still not be completely healed but…. ok, ok.

Everyone helped with the meals and as blessing we would hold hands in a circle and sing. As soon as the songs would die down you could feel the energy of anxiousness to eat. We would end each circle with a long, sea of Oms. Some of the camp would start and Luke would bust into another song. Every time this happened. DSC_0433The faces would go from, “Please, no, Luke!” into everyone singing again, dancing and making congo-line like swirls, forgetting there was even food to be had. My favorite song was, ‘Every little cell in my body is happy, every little cell is my body is well. IIIIII’m so glad, every little cell, every little cell in my body is well’. I wish I could sing it to you.

During the day you could relax, take a dip in the smaller river nearby, read, meditate, have a yoga workshop, play music, or walk. Any option would suit. Sometimes a camel would stroll by or you could visit with your sheep herders would make their way across the field in front. Where the sheep fed was a path to cross to our swimming spot. Green grass and yellow flowers bloomed nearby. What also bloomed were skeletons. While this pasture was beautiful at present it was also part of the Ganges half the year. Bodies would be sent down everyday and some did not get burned. Those among the non-cremated were pregnant women, lepers, Sadhus and animals. IMG_1044So when the dry season hits, some don’t make it as far down the Ganges as one would hope and end up washed ashore, covered in orange fabric. Some of this fabric was up-cycled, to put it kindly, into our camp to shield the sun or act as barriers.

The masses come in the night of the 9th, which is the eve of the largest bathing days. On the 10th, I would suspect there were 60 million. This night was like many, a very heavy fog crept in and would sit until the sun burned it off in the morning. It gave the nighttime an eerie, lonely feel. But in this fog families slept everywhere, along each street, lined up side-by-side under one big thick blanket. They were waiting for their time to bathe in the Ganges at the Sangam, a confluence, with the Yamuna and the Saraswati, which is a mythical river. You just have to imagine it there but it is as real to the Hindus as the Mississippi is to us. On this day when the stars aligned at 6am (this time and day have been predicted for decades), it is the most auspicious time to bathe in the Ganges and wash away all ones sins and be free from the cycle of rebirth. Everyone does it, businessmen come from far away, villagers from even further and the whole town of Allahabad simply relocates over the river. And then there are us Westerners. They are as interested in us as we are in them. I initially felt bad about just snapping a camera in the Baba’s faces but then when I was stopped every few minutes with Indian’s wanting to take a picture of or with me, I figured it a good trade.

One of my favorite nights is when I went exploring on my own. I had run into a Baba who wanted to show me some Yoga moves that I could have showed him in two seconds that took him two hours, then demanded 300 rupees. Then, all of a sudden, a little boy came running out to the road. He was about as cute as you could get. This was in the plan. He said, “My family wants to meet you!” Of course I look over to see three gentlemen and one gave a big friendly, wave. I was immediately charmed, which is unusual by this point. I decided to give it a go. IMG_1149That sweet family took me in, gave me chai, talked about their life, preformed Puja with me and gave me a meal as close to mash potatoes and butter with chives you could get. A God-send. I am friends with them on facebook now, of course. With the exclusion of the crazy-grandfather with the dark goggles on. I was not allowed to talk to him, as he was crazy in the bad way. I thought he looked harmless enough.

We were invited to a Naga Baba’s ashram (camp) that is located near the Sangham. The Naga Baba’s are the ones that refuse clothes and cover themselves in sacred ash their entire life. This is a symbolic separation from the material world and the ego. DSC_0262 And most wear a shade of orange saffron representing the fire and end. They do wear a small cloth to cover sensitive areas but when they sit Indian style it is difficult to hide much. After a while it does not even phase you. I am getting used to more than I ever imaged.

I sat in their smoke filled tents watching money getting thrown around as offering, returned to giver, then given back while circling it over the honoree’s heads before being placed in the Baba’s hands for the final time. He scoffs at it, he doesn’t want the money but it will go out of site shortly, every time. DSC_0336I tried to stay awake to take part in the auspicious bathing time but just couldn’t do it. Sleep won. I was even invited to go with the women Sadhu’s and put on the orange cloths and be escorted to the Ganges at the correct time when other westerners would not have been allowed even near the area. I should have done it. I forgot to say yes.

I went expecting to only want to stay a few days to get a taste and left feeling like I was leaving very special family home. It was time though. My hair was full of dust and in one big blop a brush would be scared of. I had not showered in 10 days and my left ankle was swollen and red. I had it pretty good.

When I returned to Varanasi all the rooms at every guesthouse in town were full so I ended up sleeping on the couch in the lobby of my previous guesthouse. By that point Shiva and his family felt like my family and they would do whatever it takes to make sure I was safe and comfortable. I did not shower for one and a half days after I had returned to Varanasi and have to say I got quite used to being filthy. I walked around town in my same clothes that I had worn for 5 days waiting for my hotel room to open up. I was waiting to relish in it. I took nothing with me except some small rupees and a book. It felt freeing because I knew two things. I need nothing and I already have everything. IMG_1239

* Please vist for more pictures from the Kumbh Mela. This was the hardest post to write so far. Due to the complexity of the experience and the lack of internet service. Everything is a little far behind, including me.

Be Very Wary Aware.


Preparing for the largest religious festival on earth is not just a gathering of things, but a mental preparation.  Already, there are over 10 million people congregated in Allahabad celebrating the Maha Kumbh Mela, the big one, which happens once every 144 years.  Saints, Gurus, Sadhus, devotees and on-lookers make the pilgrimage for the 54 days to take a dip in the holy water of the Ganges on the auspicious bathing dates.  They expect more than 90 million people this year. IMG_0789

Lonely Plant says, “In the early 1950s, 350 pilgrims were killed in a stampede to the soul-cleansing water (an incident re-created vividly in Vikram Seth’s immense novel A Suitable Boy). The last Ardh Mela, in 2007, attracted more than 70 million people – the largest-ever human gathering. The next Kumbh Mela will take place in 2013. Expect a big one.

We are on our way.

My very good friends from Asheville arrived in Delhi and we have taken a train to Varanassi, a spirtual hub along the Ganges.  The 12 hour ride turned into 17 but without a blink, we laughed about the tacked on hours.  We made our way on foot through the packed streets with our big, hefty backpacks, well maybe just mine, everyone else has reasonably sized luggage, and got our first glimpse of the sacred river.  Instantly I felt the power of the place.  The energy runs through you with a zap-like quality.  Even though I know where I am, some part of me needs to still catch up to the reality of it all.  Standing on the ghats overlooking the Ganges it still seemed a bit like a dream, which it very well could be.  It only took a second, though, to look up at the many steep stone steps to climb with my pack that I realized I could not just float up, that I would have to do this. One step at a time.

The Kumbh Mela site is only four hours away. So there are people coming and going with stories to tell.  Some just go for the day. Four hours in India standing on a crowded bus is equivalent to a jaunt across town in Chicago for us.  My friends have brought a tent for us three to share at the Mela.  Many folks rent them there for inflated prices to have a safe and secure area to stash their gear but we have decided to leave it all here and go with nothing but the bare essentials.

When you travel it is fun to go on missions. By that I mean that everything is so new, so different and such a challenge it can take you the majority of a day to accomplish one tiny thing because you have absolutely no idea how to go about doing so.  I decide it would be great to find myself a sleeping bag and perhaps even a tent. So, I have a mission.  Really, I just went out for toothpaste, which I still have not bought (don’t worry, I still have some left) and ended up on a three day adventure.

I was pricing sleeping bags when I started to also ask if any one sold tents. I knew it was a long shot but no one even knew what I was asking for.  After asking a few people a man named Vicki came up to me and said he was from Nepal so he knows all about trekking and knows what I am looking for.  He said that he works for a place that makes fabric for tents and sleeping bags and could take me to the source. Not only that but he could have it made in about a day, just follow him.  Oh Vicki, short for Vikram, a common name here, just loves to talk with people. Money is not important to him, he just loves the experience and practicing his English.  He seems like a very nice guy with three sons and a beautiful wife. We walked and walked. I no longer saw any tourists and chickens were getting wacked on the side of the street for dinner with men using knives held between their toes and shoes were being sold for next to nothing.  I was out of my area.  Way out.  But, hey! Roll with it, Vicki is doing you a favor, helping you out. Setting you up for a good price for the Kumbh Mela.  We arrived at a Silk factory. First they were not sure what I was talking about. He explained and we picked out colors, measured fabrics, traded design ideas and I felt like I would come out with not only a unique and special product but a memorable experience as well.  Well worth it.  I would pay and pick it up the next day and Vicki asked me to join his family for dinner Imageafterward. I asked what I could bring and he said chocolate. My specialty, as I had just had my Mom send a special blend over with my friends for me. I would be glad to share for an authentic home cooked family meal. We agreed on a price for the tent and sleeping bag and I was out the door and on a cycle rickshaw back to my hotel.  I was thrilled and looking forward to tomorrow.

I woke up with anticipation of setting up the Indian version of a tent (with no floor) on the roof top and seeing how it worked and having my own purple and orange quilted sleeping bag. I finally found the place that was harder to find that I thought, thank goodness I took a few pictures outside to make it easier. IMG_0857 And Vicki showed up shortly afterwards.  I noticed he was very excited, pumped up and enthusiastic. He had been to the Kumbh Mela and had not slept and I detected a bit of after-glow alcohol on his breath.

There comes many times, as I have realized so far on this trip, where you have a choice whether to go left or right.  In my head, I knew I was not dealing with the same Vicki I had met the day before but also wanted to have faith that he would pull through with our agreement.  The biggest struggles for me have moved from trivial subjects, such as not getting what I desire to trying to decide what is in my best interest.  But to know these things you must first take little gamble, I mean, it all (life and the journey of traveling) is really a gamble, isn’t it?  You never really know but you just have to trust that you are guided and protected and then use your very best ability to make the absolute necessary decision at a moments notice.  I went left.Image

He produced the product. The fabric, same as the day before, still in the bag- unaltered. He explained the tailor had wanted too much money because the boss was out of town. Now that the boss was back and talked to the tailor we would go and the project would be completed in an hour, not to worry.  I paid the man for the fabric and Vicki explained that it would cover the entire cost of the project and the tailor. We hopped in an auto rickshaw and it seemed as though he was pals with the driver.  After about 5 minutes, Vicki had taken over the driving and we were zipping through the streets.  But first, we would stop at his brother’s shop and he would give me a suit. I explained I haven’t anywhere to wear a suit, but he insisted.  So I went.  Weaving through small alleyways and passing butchers and wading through puddles of blood and screaming animalsIMG_0894 until we reached a small stall selling cheap purses.  In the back there was material that he had embroidered that could be made into a traditional kurta.  The stitching was all off and scrambled but I thanked him and we were again on our way to the tailor.  Please get me there.

After 45 minutes of explaining what we needed done and telling me how he looked up to the tailor as a father, he told me he was off with his pal to get the cotton needed to stuff the sleeping bag.  And he needed money, “just give me 1000 ($20) rupees and I will bring you the bill and the change” No way. I gave him 300 and said get what you can as we had already agreed I had paid in full.  I was glad to not get back in the rickshaw with him and to be able to sit with the sewing men.  Well, I sat. And I sat.  Then I read, and looked things up, then I walked around. I tried to focus on my newfound intention on patience. It got very dark and cold. The men were ready to go home for the night and I was still there. No Vicki, no anyone I knew.  The tailors did not speak English.  IMG_08754 hours had passed.  I had downloaded an app onto my iphone that translated English to Hindi and told them that I think I have been left here and that I did not have Vicki’s number and was unsure of what to do.  I was supposed to have dinner with is family and that is wife was cooking a special meal. Did they know him or how to contact him?  They said they had never met him before. I asked should I leave now and go back to my hotel. They said yes.  Did I think that he had left me there on purpose? They said yes. No money was left with the tailors so no work would be done. I had a local friend pick me up and agreed to go back with me tomorrow to find the boss and ask him to cover the bill.

I lost a day, 5100 rupees ($110) and feel like a big naïve tourist. But I do have a heaping chunk of really high volume cocoa that someone I know will never see the light of!

Maybe tomorrow I will just do yoga on the rooftop and leave the missions to the newbies. Nah, what would I learn from that?

Fancy Friends



It’s a jungle out there so it is important to stay smart looking.  Fancy street dogs do this best by creating styles that not only show the latest color trends but highlight their toughness.





One of the more endearing moments I’ve had is realizing that the people dressed the street dogs.  For Delhi, it’s cold and these dogs never get relief so they make them clothes.  They prance around in their outfits begging for food and eating anything they can find as a sea of

IMG_0682legs wave through over head.  There are fancy street dog gangs as well, big fights happen. Then very cute moments will happen like sleeping in the sun together or in a garbage pile all curled up to stay warm. 

There are more than a many puppies in the North and kitties in the South.




The fancy putin’ tats get the fish from day one.  No mother, no milk, give them fish!  Some make it, some don’t but these tiniest are tough as nails when they make it big.







Goats have it good as well.  This fancy fella shops at the Goat Outdoor Gear Outfitter (G.O.G.O.) in Varanasi to prepare for it’s trek into the Himalayas come Spring.  Hold on, it wants to show you the other side too.


Fancy monkeys just don’t care.  Nudiests and footloose, they jump from to window, floor to top to across the electric lines and then stomp loudly across the tin roofs.  They swing like DSC_0075children from anything hanging and coo at me every morning from outside the bars of my window.  I think the small ones could have a chance at getting through if they put their mind to it.  No jackets allowed.


This cow just simply wears a dog.  Fancy cows just wear a small dog as an accessory for sleep, similar to an eye pillow.  It is a win-win. Cow looks hip and dog stays warm.  It is rumored these two sleep together every night.


Amma’s ‘What’s on the Menu?’ Game


Santa Face!I have found that since I have been traveling in India the majority of my crises revolve around food. Attaining, ingesting and digesting beloved food.  Maybe scarcity it is in the Indian air but the lack of availability of familiar foods seems to create a 5 alarm bell inside and make my emotions run wild.  I guess I can work on that next.


In Amma’s Ashram she tries to cater to every taste and that can prove to be very difficult as there are so many variations.  There are four main areas which to attain food and so far only 2 tears shed. That’s pretty good so far. All food here is vegetarian and I have not eaten meat in 2 months (except for fish 2 times at the sea) and feel great.

Santa Movie!

What’s on the Menu?

Indian Canteen-

+Rice!  Runny Rice, actually. Half water, half rice.  They love it.  Sometimes they even go back for more rice water.  Huge pots of the stuff.

+2 curries, the first is blow your socks off spicy and the second is a little less (keep your socks on) spicy.  It is already hotter than Hades here but add some spice and you find yourself sitting in a puddle of sweat, sipping your rice water for some relief.

+Curd!  Curd is a white milk-like item (I think) that is very sour and yummy.  Some just drink it straight and others, like me, have them pour it all over my runny rice/curry combo.  It makes it good!


What’s on the Menu?


Indian (Residents-Only) Canteen-


+Mostly the same but dryer rice and a broader curry selection and good stuff like chapatti and bread-like sides.

Please note- you are not allowed to eye or come close, especially get in line, for this food. Yes, one would assume since you do officially reside in the Ashram for many days that you would be counted as a ‘Resident’ but no, you are not.  You are not even close, these people have been here for 3 years, some even 20 years.  You are not a resident, you are not a day guest, you are just a floater in-between with no status and no chapatti.  Do not attempt to get in this line, or near it.  The cost is two tears.


What’s on the Menu?


The Western Canteen-

I was going to avoid this as to be authentic in my regional cuisine choices but after loosing all the water content in my body from sweating double time, I found my self here more times than not.  And it was fast.

+Soup!  Any kind.  Made of Veggies and tasty broth.  Each soup d’jour tastes almost identical to the one yesterday, whether they call it Chili, Coconut Vegetable, or pumpkin.  They are all very healthy, tasty and blessed.

+Salad!- Salad means tomatoes and cucumbers only.  They have no greens here.  Served with a yogurt dill sauce that I get two scoops of.

+Potatoes- served with every mean and thrown in other dishes hoping we wouldn’t notice.  Nice trick.

+Beets! My new best friend.  Also served each day, disguised in various forms such as lasagna.  Cooked, steamed, juiced. Love it.  My white clothes do not.

+Cupcakes.  My new enemy that glares at me with eyebrow winks, taunting me.


What’s on the Menu?


The Western Café-

Like Starbucks with a twist!  I go here only for Chai, porridge an occasional Mocha.


+Hand cut fries- with not sweet catchup

+Soggy pizza


+Veggie Burgers

+Cappuccino, Mochas and everything home.

+ Hand-made DARK CHOCOLATE (some even with Mint!)

+Cold-cups of mile straight form the cow who probably lives in the back.

+In Heaven


Beep Beep Beep! Stop the Press! Important Papadam Update!


On Christmas Day Amma blesses all the food, known as Prashad (an offering). 10,000 people get in line to receive their food, first the men, then the women and children.  They make you stand very close to each other and you scoot with tiny steps closer and closer to Amma to receive your plate in an assembly line fashion.  She blesses each plate, you take it and then are rushed away.  For Christmas dinner each plate had rice, two curries, rice pudding and a papadam.  Only one plate came with out a papadam, mine.  Dang it!


The view and our Elephant, Lasksmi, wanting some bananas, please.


A Very Little Christmas Woman



My next stop on the Ashram hop is Amma’s.  Often you would hear people at Sivandanda talk about going to Amma’s but no one really could ever describe it. I am sorry to say I might be in the same boat.  When contemplating something as vast and infinite as what is going on here, words simply will not do.  They just can’t.

The Backwaters

Amma grew up in Kerala with the sea on one side and the backwaters on the other.  She is one of the few (if only) living female Saints, or Gurus.  Traveling the world constantly doesn’t allow her much time in India so it is a very rare occasion to catch her here on her home turf.  Amma, meaning Mother, is affectionately known as the hugging Saint. I watched her sit yesterday for 13 hours straight giving Darshan and hugging one person after another with no food, water or bathroom break the entire time.  At the end of the 13 hours she was still laughing and glad to be in the company of all her devotees.   She even was joking around and pretending to blow water out of her nose at 2am when she could be high tailing it out of there to bed.  Amma is a Saint, but one with a seriously funny sense of humor, which is right up my alley.  You never catch her without a smile and a giggle.


Now why does she hug people for hours on end?  I would have been smart to ask this before hand as well.  Most Eastern philosophies believe that suffering is the human condition.  Amma says that if you hold someone and nurture them the best you can, well, you are able to ease some of that suffering.  Besides Amma’s tremendously palpable energy, physically that is what you get- a hug and a whisper in the ear.  So she hugs and hugs and hugs for as long as she can and then she keeps going.  She would say, “Why does a mother hug her children?” I heard her longest Darshan was 22 hours straight and she has hugged over 30 Million people over the years. I can believe it.


Her ‘good’ name is Mata Amritanandamayi and her ashram is just as large.  While the Sivananda ashram held about 300 people maximum, this has about 2000 full-time residents and an equal number of rotating visitors, usually Western types like me, mainly from Germany, France, Finland and the US.  It is built right where Amma’s childhood home is and there are sky scrapers for housing with 4 to a tiny dorm sized room and decks with the best views you could possibly imagine.

Now before you do your Google search and book your ticket, remember this still is an Indian ashram.  There are long lines for food, rusty water you can’t brush your teeth with, institutional bunk beds, squat toilets and cold showers.  Oh wait, never mind, our shower doesn’t even work, so we just fill a bucket and use that.

We do have a pool though! It is fabulous.  Keeping with Indian Tradition we have separate times for woman and men to swim.  The woman also have to wear swim dresses.  There are no pictures allowed in the ashram at all, no exceptions, so I had to snap this in the dressing room.

Pool dress!

We again have karma yoga but here it is called Seva. My job is to work in the Western Café kitchen cleaning but has transformed to cleaning the walkway where the birds have gone to the bathroom. If there is a smell that really truly disgusts me is this smell. This is how Seva works, it is there to teach you, and inevitably each person gets the one job they fear, despise and cross their fingers not to get. But, after the first day you forget most of this, actually all of this, you get in the flow and run your cold water and dump your bucket and clean your bird doo and just go about your day.  You do what has to be done and you do it one breath at a time.


I have met some characters here as you could imagine.  I’ve already learned so much just by sitting with people over a meal.  Yesterday, I sat with Ziggy, the self proclaimed clown, that told me of his days with Maharaji and the Beatles when they traveled to Risikesh.  He is also a dear and personal friend of Ram Dass, one of my heroes.  He is from Florida via Jersey and came to India in the 70’s and pretty much never left (in his heart at least).  As we were talking an Indian woman walked by our table and set a flash light down and kept on walking.  I gave a little head tilt in question as this woman was the smallest, skinniest and tiniest human I had ever seen.  You could see every bone in her body and she must wear children’s sized shoes as everything is miniature.  Her fingers cross and crinkle and usually stay near her mouth.  She looked very sick.


Hindus believe in reincarnation.  The soul goes on for many lives, learning and growing with wisdom and acting out karmas created.  The goal here is to reach enlightenment, being to finally become self-realized in that the mind is separate from the universal divinity within, otherwise known as God, and to solely unite with the divine and drop the mind.  This is called Samadi, ultimate bliss, or Moksha (liberation) and the end of all suffering.  One you reach this state you no longer are reincarnated into another life of suffering.

Beach Mediation

Ziggy explained to me that eve though this woman looks to be physically handicapped, sick and so very different, she is much more wise that we would assume.  Amma has proclaimed this will be her last birth, and to these devotees, Amma knows all, sees all, and loves all.  He also said that this lady may come up to you, put her head in your lap for a bit then move on.  Just let her, it means she likes you.

It was Christmas Eve and I was sweating at the beach, battling mosquitoes and having a hard time getting in the spirit of the holiday. They put on a Christmas musical staring Jesus, Moses, a little girl named Rachel and some bald Egyptian pharaohs.   We were all pretty tired as the show didn’t go on till 10 pm and it was hot and muggy with about 10,000 on-lookers gathered.  As the lights dimmed along came the woman that Ziggy told me about the previous day.  I had an extra chair next to me so I patted the seat, letting her know she could sit there if she wanted to. Instead, she pointed to my lap.  I was so thankful I was prepared.  I moved my bag and let her climb onto me.  She could not have weighed more that 65 lbs and looks to be about 50 or 55 years old, if that.  We watched the beginning of the musical, and as time went on she became sleepy and put her head on my chest, slowly curled her feet up so her entire body was in my lap and closed her eyes. My chin rested on the top of her head and my left arm was around her supporting her back and resting on the wide shelf that is her hipbone jutting out from her body.  I rubbed her back while she coughed a bit while settling down.  I held her tight like a child, like you would hold someone you love, like Amma would hold you in one of her warm hugs.  We sat they was for about 45 minutes till she started rubbing her stomach and saying , “pain”.  She got up and signed to me that she was going over to the other side.  I later saw her stomach being rubbed by another woman. Even though I was not so much in the Christmas spirit, it found me anyway.

Christmas Day

Joy to the World


Satsang- Every morning and nightEvery once in a while the ashram director deviates from the normal Satsang and chanting in the morning and we go on a silent walk to Neyyar Dam to watch the sunrise over the lake with the mountain backdrop. The walk can be appealing in so many ways. One being, instead of sitting in meditation, you get moving and hike hills and see school kids getting ready their day. Another draw being the pure joy of being able to leave the guarded ashram gates. There is something about that gate where a magic feeling of freedom lives. Freedom being- chocolate, cell phones, Internet, and food other than rice.
When we hike it never fails that we hear music as soon as the sun attempts to shine. Locals must have these massive speakers in every house as it truly sounds like a Jamaican dance hall echoing through the mountains. It can be surreal when the music is of a soothing, spiritual nature but that is only about 20% of the time. Otherwise you will be in silence, preparing for 6 am mediation and hear a bump thump thump pop-like song tugging your attention it’s way.
This will be the first Christmas I have ever spent away from my family. I am not sure what I was thinking (or wasn’t thinking) when I clicked the ‘purchase’ button for my flight. Even though we still have some time to go before the official holiday, I have to say that I am enjoying missing parts of Christmas like the television ads and the urgency to scramble to find the perfect gift when really we have it all already. Even the holiday music I can do without until maybe day-of and even then my taste is narrowed to 2 albums.Parents Love
On this particular early morning we were hiking and all of a sudden Joy to the World came echoing over the hills. I had never been so thrilled to hear a Christmas song. It brought to mind that although we all have so many miles between us, no one is ever really that far away except in physical form. Where Love lies, somewhere deep within, we are all there together whether we can see it or not. Just like how the sun always shines and the water level in the atmosphere is a constant. Friends, family, pets, ex-loves, alive or gone, never leave us, never move- away and continue to love us (whether they know it or not). Somehow, it seems logical to yearn for a physical representation of that love but not so when we think of the root of that desire. All we have are imprints of memories and projections of the future. All the people, places, things and experiences in your life are always right there with you no matter how far you go, who else you may meet, or how alone you may feel.