Discoveries with MILINDIAS

March 2011

Finally I came back to the Indian Himalayas with a bit of money in my pockets in February. Up here this is the coldest month of the year, when it sometimes even snows and we spend most of the time sitting around a fire, on which we also cook.

At night, we light the wood stove in our room, if we don’t want to sleep covered with ten blankets. That year the winter was short for me; soon it would be March. Spring was almost around the corner and it was easier for me to deal with the coldness, which can be pretty uncomfortable in a house which does not exactly match western standards. But this year after not having seen Baba for many months the chilliness was putting me rather in a romantic than in a bad mood.

Fire Cooking

Furthermore I was full of new energies and felt very enthusiastic because while I was working in Spain a friend of mine, who also lived in India for several years, contacted me asking to join him organizing alternative travels to India. Funny, this was the same way how I set foot on Indian soil for the first time.

INDIA –  a single country containing a thousand worlds!

Now I had the opportunity to accompany people who were going to perceive the magic of India for the very first time, in more or less the same way I did.

A wonderful project came into life: 

MILINDIAS

My friend and I truly wished to share our Indian experiences with others and give them the chance to perceive the amazing plurality of India as we do, by offering insights one would probably miss by booking a simple package tour. For both of us, India is an important chapter in our lives; it teaches us how to need less and how to love more, to accept and act instead of react.

We wanted to show India how she is; which also means to experience exactly what you are supposed to. A journey to India means diving through magic moments, but at the same time it is almost impossible to escape from her unconcealed shadows; both aspects let you reflect and grow.

Soon I would be on Indian roads again, as the small group of adventurous travelers would arrive in March.

We picked them up from Delhi, where we went to meditate in the magnificent Gurudwara Bangla Sahib. It was a great group of open-minded people of different ages, who were ready to go with the flow of the Indian rhythm.

From Delhi we took a train to Rishikesh to learn more from different kind of practices at the International Yoga Festival. We visited amazing spots like the abandoned Beatles Ashram invaded by the jungle and the ancient cave where the Sage Vashsishta was meditating for ages.

Beatles Ashram

Interesting talks about Buddhism and the teachings of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa came up and the group was keen on learning more; and so it happened that we all together decided spontaneously to cancel the scheduled visit to Amritsar, and take a train into the opposite direction to Varanasi and Bodhgaya instead, where we would have a personal audience with His Holiness.

This is what I call flexibility and a wonderful spirit of traveling!

Varanasi is definitively a must to visit in India. It represents much of what India is in one single spot: Beauty, ugliness, devotion, magic and death. We reached the city at night. The next morning before dawn we walked through the darkness to the ghats and took a boat ride on the Ganges to contemplate the sunrise and the awakening of the city from the river. Slowly the smooth light of the first sunrays started to paint the skies. As if under a spell, everyone was visibly enjoying the placidity; we even spotted the pink dolphins, whose existence I previously considered a mere rumour. Perfect moments!

The facial expressions though changed drastically after the sun started to reveal the scenery more clearly: Dead bodies of cows and dogs were floating here and there and we saw from close the smoke and movements on the burning ghats, were cremation takes place 24/7.

Just like life itself: From one moment to another perception of things and situations can change unexpectedly

All of us enjoyed the entire experience of this journey to the fullest. It was enriching in many ways and I learnt that sharing and giving is something which makes me feel really happy; but this was not my only personal discovery during that trip: I also found out that I was pregnant!

By the way.. in case  you wish to learn more about MILINDIAS, maybe you would like to have a look at our page:

https://www.facebook.com/milindias

 

 

Advertisements

An adventure called life

September 2008

The three of us really wanted to stay at a peaceful place for a longer period after the intense time in Baba’s native Bihari village and Baba´s Food poisoning drama in Bodghaya. We  definitively needed a large amount of relaxation!

What a better place for that than the beautiful countryside of Almora in the Himalayas, which we had only recently discovered?

20140209_104635

We checked into an even nicer guesthouse with a large garden and found out that most of the accommodations in Kasar Devi include a kitchen. When you have traveled for a long time, you eventually get tired of eating out at restaurants, which are all offering mostly the same kind of menu. Having a kitchen made us more than happy, and it was also a way to save some money.

Someone had offered me a thick Indian cookbook for my birthday. First I thought that this person didn’t like me very much, because I had to carry the heavy volume with me through the whole country. But Pagli and I, both of us love to cook and we eventually went through the illustrated pages with the same excitement as a couple of teenager boys would do while reading their first playboy-magazine.

I love good food and admit that eating is something that makes me very happy!

Besides of spending much time in the kitchen, we wandered a lot through the beautiful lush green nature of the monsoon scenery, admiring the diversity of colourful flowers and collecting chanterelle in the forest. When it rained, the temperature cooled notably down and then Baba, Pagli and I would sit on the bed wrapped in blankets, drinking hot chocolate prepared of fresh milk coming directly from the buffalo, while telling each other stories or singing bhajans to the sound of Pagli’s Banjo.

The time had come to think about how life would go on from now on. Here I was, sitting in the middle of a small piece of paradise with my sadhu…

…BUT THEN WHAT?

Baba was not keen on living in Europe and not by a long shot I would dare to take him there to do any silly job and press him into the speedy western society. He was a free spirit and taking him to the other world would more than sure make him fade like a cut flower. Neither did I want to go back to the ignorance of an office job.

Kasar view

Life is too short to live only for making money that one will probably spend anyways in things that don’t really bring along any happiness and eventually will decay.

I could not come up with any alternative lifestyle, that appealed to me and that I actually would be able to put into practice in the west.

I loved Baba just as I loved India, even if at times the country made me really crazy. So, why not try to build up a life somewhere here? Of course, it is a place very far away from “home” and it was a big decision.

But my life-philosophy is:

If you don’t try, you will never know!

What was the worst that could really happen? Europe would not run away and I could go back there if I needed to do so anytime.

Now, the question was where in India?!?

I remember how Baba’s family in Bihar suggested us to build a house there in the village, as they owned a lot of land.

HA! NO WAY!

I would not survive there for even a month without going completely nuts!

On the other hand there was my beloved Rishikesh. But buying something there was too costly and everyone in town knew my Baba as he was part of Rishikesh’s sadhu society. A picture of dozens of sadhus coming to sit day and night at our place to enjoy chai, chillum and chapatis came to my mind. Nothing bad about that, but on a long-term that was not really an option!

Flowers in KasarWe decided to give Kasar Devi a try, we really loved that place. People are respectful, there is the tourist season when to meet nice people from all over the world, but also the off-season to enjoy the peace of the simple village life. The climate is pleasant, too, as it never got unbearably hot, though  the short winters can be pretty chilly.

Only a couple of weeks later Baba found a small piece of land that we could afford. This went so fast, that I interpreted it as a sign that things were flowing towards the direction they were supposed to.

Time had come to start a new adventure: The beginning of a new life in a new place

The revenge of the chicken

August 2008

Baba did not get too many chances to spend some quality time with his sister Kamla during our short stay in his native Bihari village. There were always too many people around and he was most of the time involved in some “men activities”. I knew he would have loved to meet her more in private. We came up to the idea to invite his sister to meet us in Bodhgaya. Her husband’s village where she lived was not very far from there. We told her that we would come up for her room in the same buddhist monastery where we were staying.

Om Mane Padme Hum

Om Mane Padme Hum

Actually I was a little nervous, because I barely spoke a handful of words of Hindi and I was very insecure about the social expectation as an “Indian” wife. There are plenty of social “rules” about how to act and what to say (or better not) in all kind of worldly situations and I really did’t think that I would do very good at it. I just wanted them to like me and make a good impression. I was so thankful to have Pagli, our American friend around to give me some moral support!

WOULD I BE ABLE TO DO AS WELL AS AN INDIAN HOST?

…BECAUSE THEY ARE REALLY DAMN GOOD AT IT !

__________________________________________________________

Something strange must have been in the air, because I don’t know why Baba suddenly decided that he wanted to eat that chicken curry! At the end of the meal we even started arguing, which is something we do extremely rarely:

“You really have to order this chicken?”

“Me long time no eating chicken! I want chicken!”

“It’s expensive!”

“no problem!”

Few minutes later…

“Why you don’t eat the chicken?”

“This chicken strange taste!”

“Well, you wanted it! And I told you! Common, now you eat!”

“NO! Me not eating this possible! Chalo!”

__________________________________________________________

The three of us left that strange restaurant in a grumbly mood. His sister would arrive tomorrow morning with her husband, her mother in law and her youngest son; this didn’t help much to improve my state of mind.

In the evening Baba started to spend several long periods inside of the bath-room and ended up spending most of the night there, too. In the morning there was nothing more left for him to get rid off and he was crouching in anguish next to the toilet. His head was really hot and he was bathed in cold sweat. It was the first time that I witnessed an Indian’s skin turning into a greenish complexion.

We girls put him to bed and tried to make him drink water, but that effort only ended up in further stomach cramps. Baba stopped talking. He did not react to us at all anymore. Suddenly he started to repeat in a weak voice:

“Doctor, Hospital…!”

This really made us panic! Baba never went to see a doctor in all his life, neither did he believe very much in them. This situation was truly not looking good at all!

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Monsoon in Bodhgaya

Kamla arrived with her family and it was all a big mess! Baba couldn’t talk, Pagli and I didn’t speak any Hindi and non of them spoke any English. She immediately started to take care of her brother, sitting on the edge of the bed holding his hand. We told her that we would go out to find a doctor. It took us some time to find the doctor the resident buddhist monk had recommended us. The doc and his assistant followed us immediately to the monastery. He performed a quick check on Baba and shortly after I saw how the assistant started sticking all kind of needles into my poor husband’s body. I tried to find out what they were giving him and why, but without success. The doctor talked vividly to Kamla and her husband, but the only thing that I understood was that they had to put a drip and eventually the word

FOOD POISONING!

I felt helpless and numb, but at least Baba’s fever went down fast and he had fallen into a peaceful sleep. I wanted to be a good wife and a good host. We didn’t have any kitchen to offer snacks or chai and the street sellers were not out on the street due to the heavy rainfall of the monsoon. We managed to get some chai from the monastery and explained Kamla that we would go out to bring some food and asked her to stay with Baba. The only thing we could find was some momos and samosas. When we came back the doctor explained us somehow that Baba was okay now, but that his assistant would stay that night with him to change the glucose drips.

The rooms were reorganizes in Indian style: Kamla’s husband would sleep in Baba’s room on the other bed. I would sleep with Pagli and Kamla with her mother in law and her son. This was all very strange.

Was I supposed to oppose?

I just agreed and decided to check from time to time on Baba during the night. On my first inspection the assistant was snoring loudly in an armchair. On my second visit he was for some reason sleeping next to Baba; in the same bed and almost hugging him. Was that normal?

I guess that sometimes it is better not to think too much and to let things simply happen the way they are supposed to in the Indian way without asking oneself too many questions.

The next morning the assistant looked rested and Baba looked much better, too. He could speak normally again and around noon he even started to feel hungry. The following day we all went out to do some sight-seeing and to eat out in a restaurant. Kamla ordered Chinese Noodles. I think she never had tried such a dish before.

It was touching to see her trying to manage to handle the long noodles with a fork and I remembered how some women in the village whispered with each other and laughed at me when they saw me eating, saying:

“Look! She doesn’t know how to eat properly only with the hand”

…and I could not avoid a smile…  

Baba &  Mathilda

Baba & Mathilda

Floating cups and water snakes

August 2008

As soon we sat in the bus heading from Baba’s tiny Bihari Village near Patna to Bodhgaya, a sensation of freedom came over me. Free from masses of staring eyes, expectations from the Indian family side and I would have not to worry about if my behaviour as a western wife could accidentally offend anyone.

In Bodhgaya we checked into a buddhist monastery. It was a big compound, but it was off-season and the three of us were the only guests in the entire building.

Of course! To whom else but us crazy monkeys it would occur to travel through Bihar during the peak of the raining season?

It felt just like haven to have such simple things like an own room with a door, a toilet and a shower again. Baba, Pagli and I were in a very happy mood. We celebrated our freedom with a small dance party in the room and playing card games.

Monastery "Garden"

Monastery “Garden”

The next day it started raining; a warm constant monsoon drizzle – which didn’t stop. To leave the monastery we had to cross the garden to reach the main gate. In the evening the garden had started to turn into a pool and the water accumulated came up to our ankles.

On the second day the water had reached knee level and some kids were bathing and playing in the growing pool. It was still okay to cross it after taking out the sandals and rolling up the pants.

After the third day of rain, the water came up to our waists and as I looked down from the balcony to the waterscape I discovered several water snakes and a couple of rats swimming happily through the green element.

No way that I would cross that pool any longer!

To get out of the monastery to have some food we took the safer way: Balancing on the narrow edge of a long wall along the pool. And naturally at the first crossing mission I fell straight into the pool accompanying my clumsiness with an hysteric shriek. All the diseases one might contract during the monsoons described in the Lonely Planet rushed through my mind. The thought of touching the ground with my bare feet made me panic and I paddled at high speed back towards and up the wall.

On the fourth day it stopped raining and Pagli and I decided to visit an Indian family with who she had made friendship during a previous trip to Bodhgaya. The pool was still full of all kind of creatures, but at least I was able to figure out a suitable balance technique to walk on the wall. Outside of the monastery, all streets were filled with stale water or there were still streams of brown soup rushing down the sides of the roads.

Eventually we reached the family’s house; well, actually it was not a real house, but a bamboo structure covered with plastics and tin sheets. The residents were busy piling up all kind of objects in front of it. A fatty mataji in a thin cotton saree spotted us and started to beam as soon as she recognized Pagli.

“Come in, come in! Welcome, welcome!”

she said joyfully and hastily pulled a few leeches off her leg. Blood ran down her skin. We took out our sandals (well, I did, as Pagli most of the time prefered not to wear any) and stepped through the small entrance, where we found ourselves up to the ankles in a nasty broth of monsoon water.

Chai time

Chai time

She led us to a charpoy in a corner of the room, as if there was absolutely nothing strange at all happening. There we sat down to enjoy an interesting view on floating cups, plates, flip-flops and even a paddling mouse. Mataji lived in that hut together with her husband and one of her sons, who’s beautiful wife was pretty advanced in pregnancy.

She went out for a moment and shortly after came back with two cups of chai. I wondered with which water this chai had been prepared, but I drank it.

INDIA TURNS YOU BRAVE!

I like to remember that story, for instance when I drown in self-pity or catch myself complaining about my situation too intensely. It reminds me that no matter how big my problems seem to me, I can be sure that there are people who have many more reasons to complain and worry about.

But they just keep on going;

…and they do so with a smile…

Inside the hut

Inside the hut

The Bihari Adventure starts

Village Bihar

August 2008

The trip was long and very tiring. Our American friend Pagli, Baba and I took a normal sleeper class train, in which we spent two days and almost two nights. I never manage to get a good sleep on such a train. For instance there are shouting travelling vendors constantly jumping in and out of the train trying to sell chai, snacks, cheap watches or whatever; and usually they do so when I am just about to fall asleep. I always admire the Indian art of being able to sleep in whatever place and under whatever circumstances; it’s amazing! Yet I prefer train rides to busses; at least you can walk around, there is a toilet (even if most of the time bringing yourself to use it might take a larger amount of courage) and you can sit at the open door to watch the landscapes rushing by for a while.

Pagli and I were imagining how it would be to live in a small Bihari village, but actually had not idea of what to expect really. We asked Baba many questions about life there, his family and his 103 year old grandfather who was presently on his deathbed, which was the reason we decided to go on this trip in the first place. Baba told us some of his childhood memories; He remembered the elephant his grandfather once owned, recounted some urban myths like the mysterious money printing machine, which somebody one day buried somewhere in the village, but which never could be found, that many Biharis out of necessity work as illegal gun-makers and how quite a number of scorpions used to sit on the ceiling of the classroom during the monsoons.

If that didn’t sound like and adventure, well then I don’t know!

Late at night of the second day we finally arrived in Patna, the capital of Bihar. I don’t remember that I ever felt that much exhausted before. I felt sweaty and dirty. It was July and it was sticky and unbearably hot. Another disadvantage of sitting in a sleeper class train is that the windows don’t have glass panels and you end up breaded with dust like a pakora.

Baba's village

It was raining when we went off the train. The streets consisted only of mud and puddles. Baba’s brother was supposed to pick us up at the railway station, but we couldn’t find him. He had probably been waiting at the station for a long time, as our train, of course, had a delay of several hours. Finally Baba found him and after a short and a formal greeting he led us out of the station area through the mud, where I lost one of my slippers in the thick dirt. I was carrying a pretty big backpack and felt like in a boot camp while I was trying to follow the small group through the rainy night.

Baba’s brother, who resembled him a lot, reckoned that Patna station was a dangerous area and more for two female foreigners and that it was safer to get away from there as fast as possible. It was about 2 a.m. and the rickshaws and taxis were not operating yet, so we took refuge under a tin roof that belonged to one of the closed shops. We wearily sat down on a couple of wooden benches. There was a police office next door, which felt kind of comforting. A whole regiment of mosquitoes was attacking us under the ugly neon lights. I had to fight hard to keep my eyes open; at least the insects helped me to stay awake. For a moment I even thought that I was hallucinating when I discovered some tiny snakes that looked more like earthworms crawling underneath the bench on which we were sitting. With excitement I informed Baba about my discovery

“Oh, look Baba! Little Baby-snakes!”

Baba looked and jumped up to shove them quickly aside with his foot

“This wallah very dangerous! Much poison! This biting you then you dead!”

OOOPS!

Bihar

Three hours later the first Rickshaw-wallah showed up and we headed for Baba’s village, which is 12 Km away from the capital. During the ride my mind did nothing else but to repeat the following mantra like a zombie over and over again:

“SHOWER, SLEEPING! SHOWER, SLEEPING! SHOWER, SLEEPING…”

The sun was already rising while we were driving by lush green rice fields. The rickshaw suddenly stopped on Baba’s demand. We finally had arrived! We had to walk down a slope to reach the village, which we could see in a near distance. Pagli jumped out of the Rickshaw, slid and sled down the slope holding her Banjo high over her head to save it from getting damaged.

Like this we marched towards the village:

Exhausted, stinky, dirty and clustered with mud!

The only thing you really need

Meditating monkeys

I remember how nervous I was before I went off on my big Indian backpacker adventure all alone. I hate to pack bags and I am really not god at it. I had no idea what to take with me and wanted to keep my luggage as small as possible, so I asked all the experienced backpackers I knew for advice. The wisest answer I ever got was:

“The only thing you actually need is PATIENCE, everything else you can buy there”

–What a big truth-

Still, after having lived here for years, I look up to the sky at least once a day and sigh “God, please give me patience!”

If you are an impatient or restless person, this is the right country for you to turn into the master of patience!

It is very simple: Or you go with the flow or you go completely nuts! Soon you learn that getting angry and fighting against the natural rhythm of things will not help at all. The only thing that such reactions will lead to is physical and mental exhaustion.

For me the best way to cope with all the craziness is what I ended up calling “Maya-meditation”. Every situation holds a perfect opportunity to meditate, even if you never practiced any meditation before.

What do we do when we meditate? We observe.

Meditations are all about observation; we observe our thoughts, our breath, our emotions, our reactions and try not to judge what we see.

Watch-see-let go

Baba and Ganga Ji

In my Maya-meditation I do the same, but with open eyes and in any pose and place. It helped me to deal with all the intense and uncommon impressions you take in during the day, and there are a lot; some are obviously visible and some simply sneak into your subconsciousness without noticing it.

Example Situations that required some of my extra patience:

  • I sit in a small restaurant and just ordered an Indian breakfast. I understand that things go a little more slowly here; so I relax and go through the books on the shelf. After about 40 minutes the cook comes out of the kitchen; without my breakfast. Instead he jumps on his bike and off he goes. I ask the guy behind the counter where the cook went. “Ohhh, he just going to buy curd for making your breakfast”
  • My purse broke and I want to buy a new one. On the bazaar I see one I like. I ask the shop-wallah to show it to me. It is ripped. “Don’t you have another one?”  Yes, Madam. One moment”He disappears in the depths of his little shop. After a long time he comes back with a big smile. “Madam, this very nice for you!”  I look at it and say: “It’s a belt”. “Yes, Madame, this your size. Very nice!”. “I don’t need a belt, I want to buy a purse”. “Yes Madame, this belt very nice, you try”. I turn around and leave.
  • Finally I made it to the cyber cafe and almost finish a long e-mail I wanted to send since weeks. Power cut. Email lost. I wait some time for the electricity to come back, but eventually leave. I arrive in the guesthouse. Light is back.
  • Waiting! Waiting in general for something to happen or for something to stop. I think I spend at least 60% of my time waiting in someway for something or someone.
  • Traveling in public transport. Well, this subject definitely deserves its own chapter…

Sometimes things here are so easy and just go the way they should. But occasionally things get stuck and become pretty complicated. Every time I found myself in a challenging situation and thought

“Oh, things can only get better, just keep on breathing”,

life laughed down at me and things actually happened to get even more than worse, although the present situation had seemed to be unbeatable. Well, this kind of experiences can make your patience really grow!

...waiting...Most of the situations that demand a lot of patience though are also the funniest ones. Once the tension has passed you will laugh so much about what happened. If you want an easy trip without any complications, don’t go backpacking, better take a “boring” package tour!

I think everybody who has been backpacking through India changes in someway. Some love it, some hate it; but one thing is for sure: it will not leave you indifferently and your limit of patience will have at least doubled.