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

 

 

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Living a Double Life

July 2010

Yes, in India everything is pretty cheap; at least if you have a western salary. But when you have to earn your living in rupees, things look very different.

Sure, we didn’t have to pay a rent anymore, but like everywhere else, there were bills to pay and still plenty of things to finish in the house. As you can imagine, we did not get really far with renting only one room to travelers; the tourist seasons here are short and it was impossible to put even one single rupee aside for surviving during the off-season. The last of my savings were shrinking drastically, too.

However, necessity is the mother of invention.

festesgracia

We started to organize Jam Sessions at our place, cooking and selling our tasty home-cooked food. Sometimes our narrow terrace was so crowded that people had to squeeze tightly together. Usually people brought their instruments along and some of the parties were really amazing. Other times our guests waited full of expectations for the music to begin, the only problem was that nobody had brought an instrument; in which case the jam-session was spontaneously transformed into a movie night in our living room.

Nevertheless it was never enough income and I had to rush back to Europe to make some money. The crisis had started there and people were discouraging me considerably regarding the chances of finding a job.

But I was lucky! Not even two weeks had passed and I received an acceptance letter from the first job interview I had in a telecommunication company. I was aiming for something temporary, but the company was looking for people seeking regular employment. I agreed and few days later I started working in the call-center. I felt guilty in the beginning, as I had not the slightest intention of doing that job longer than a few months. But I could not afford to not take this job and decided to put my needs in first place. Who would actually care if resigned? Does any big company really care about the personal needs of their workers? Their interests are numbers; and so were mine.

When they first showed me my future workstation, I caught my breath! To me it looked like a scene from a science fiction movie: A huge, grey office-cube consisting of countless rows of seats where people were plugged onto the computer system with their headsets.

SCARY !

office

I just came out of the jungle and by now was used to see the blue sky over my head, feel the sunbeams caressing my skin, the green grass tickling my naked feet and the wind brushing through my hair throughout the day.

“Only some months, You can do it!”

I told myself again and again. It’s amazing, humans are creatures of habit and soon I accepted and got used to my new situation.

The job itself was of course not really fulfilling, but the company was pretty cool. I got food tickets to spend in the food-court which belonged to the office compound where I stuffed myself daily with pizzas and other western food which I haven’t had for many months. All of the employees were young people from all over the world and the working atmosphere was friendly and casual. With some colleagues I got along very well; there was only one problem:

I WAS LEADING A DOUBLE LIFE !

As I had signed a contract of employment of indefinite duration, I couldn’t tell anybody about my intention to quit in a few months. Neither could I tell anybody much about my private life; living in the Himalayas and married to a sadhu. Therefore I tried to keep conversations simple and if somebody asked me by chance if I was in a relationship, I limited myself by answering “Oh, it’s complicated” – which, it was indeed.

My intention was to go back to India in three months after having saved some money to bring back. The thing is that saving money in the west is not easy. In Spain salaries are low and in Barcelona life is expensive. I spent much money for public transport, food and other necessary things. Of course, I also wanted to meet all my friends there and every time I had a coffee or a beer I was calculating for how many days I could buy food in India with the money I had just spent for a single drink. Few things are free in Barcelona; there is the beach and a few street festivals; anything else costs money. I was lucky enough that my best Spanish friend hosted me in her flat and I really enjoyed all the time I could spend with her and her flatmate.

I also could go on paid holiday like a normal employee and went to visit my parents, who live in a small village in the south-west coast of France and in the end of the year I spent some quality time with my sister’s family in Germany.

In the end I had to work six months in Barcelona to save at least a bit of money. I also found out that only few workers actually stayed in the company longer than a year and I didn’t feel that guilty anymore about my little lie. The day I quit they asked me for the reason and I answered that I would go back home. For them it was clear that I meant Germany, but while saying so, I pictured in my head the beauty of the Indian Himalaya peaks.

Same, same but different!

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October 2007

Everything felt familiar in Barcelona but quite strange at the same time. In India they would probably say

“SAME, SAME BUT DIFFERENT!”

I enjoyed to disappear in the crowd. Nobody cared what I looked like or where I came from. I was just one more face of many walking through the streets of the city.

It was late summer and I will never forget what it felt like to swim in the ocean again; wearing a Bikini!!!

FREEDOM !

On the city beach you might wear a swimsuit, a bikini, go topless or even naked. Everyone there just minds his own business. The times I bathed in Rishikesh in the Ganges, I did so wearing some dress; this actually feels more like drowning than bathing.

No decent Indian lady would ever expose her “naked” body to the public, only some old Matajis do go topless for a quick dip in the holy waters, this seems to be all right.

But if you are a woman in fertile age and on top of it a westerner, get ready to attract a lot of attention! Even if you bath dressed you might have some Indian guys sitting on the shore waiting for you to come out of the water with wet clothes sticking to your body.

Imagine wearing a Bikini!

Showing too much skin is not only disrespectful towards the Indian culture, it might also bring you into an awkward situation.

***

gato-botero-Raval-BarcelonaI moved into my ex-flat with my ex-cats and my ex-boyfriend. This might seem strange, I admit that it kind of was, but things worked out pretty well. I still loved him; I loved him a lot! But it was a different kind of love; the romantic love had turned into the brotherly love you feel for someone you know very well and with whom you have shared good and not so good times, laughter and tears; a beautiful feeling! The moment we met again and hugged, I just knew; even if I wished, things would never be the same. On one hand feeling that way made me sad, but on the other I was relieved, as one of my big doubts had vanished.

Baba had taken that particular place in my heart.

Maybe all would have been easier for everybody if my feelings had turned out to be different; maybe not.

***

There are the kind of friends with whom you don’t need many words to understand each other and there are social friends you use to hang out with from time to time. It was very nice to meet them all again. But conversations, gossip and ironic remarks somehow didn’t make much sense to me anymore and my mind often switched silently to standby mode. India had somehow changed my perception.

What was I supposed to say, when somebody asked me out of politeness

“How is India?”

it’s a strange question with too many answers, which most of the people don’t really want to know anyways.

***

The small miracles of modern life fascinated me again. There was plenty of hot water coming out from each and every tab. I did my first laundry in the washing machine and marveled at the outcome

“Wow, this is what the color white actually looks like!”

The clothes were really white and not yellowish or slightly blue or grey. My fist visit to the small supermarket around the corner caused me a stress situation; I stood a long time in front of the shelves filled with too much of the same stuff. I didn’t know what to put in the basket. This was my longest grocery shopping ever!

I had got used to the daily power cuts in India and even missed them a little. They make people calm down. When there is no electricity, everything turns more silent and peaceful. In the evenings we would light candles or a fire then, sitting in the warm light talking about life. Sometimes I was tempted to switch off everything and pretend electricity had gone. It didn’t make much sense though as the surrounding energy would stay the same.

***

A friend of mine needed help in his bar. The place was only a two-minute walk from where I lived. Perfect! I would do the morning shift. This bar is a peculiar place in the heart of the Raval. Working there would finally give me an insight about what living in this area was really like. I had lived there for years, but had only seen its surface. My previous job was in the outskirts of the city and I barely even knew my neighbors.

The first customers I attended every morning were usually a couple of Romanian prostitutes who came in to end their shift with a cup of coffee. Then the usual customers,  residents of the barrio and all unique characters, would show up for breakfast or a glass of cognac. During the day the place was never too busy and there was always time for a chat. People told me their problems and worries and I actually felt more like a social worker than a waitress. Sometimes I just sat there looking out of the window, observing strange things happening on the street. It kind of reminded me of India. I liked it.

torre-agbar-new-years-eve-2013In the evening and on the week-ends people would come to party. Once all the other after-hour places had closed, they came to that bar. While I was having my first cup of coffee, standing still half asleep under an acoustic shower of electro-beats on Saturday morning, I served beer, vodka-lemon and whiskey-coke to a multi-social stream of all kind of people. I have to say that after months without a taste of nightlife, all of this felt pretty odd to me. Apparently I already had satiated my urge to party in this city; it did not attract me at all anymore.

***

I had seen and hugged my family and friends, enjoyed the few things I had missed in India for some time and after only four months I was ready to return.

Once more,

I was drawn back to Mother India’s lap as by magnetic force…

flutewallah