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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Escaping the Bam-Bholes

View Kasar

July 2008

It was raining season in Rishikesh; which means: PILGRIM SEASON! This is when thousands of pilgrims, many of them from Hariana, invade Ramjhula. Waves of young men clad in orange march 24 hours a day through town shouting: “Bham Bole, Bham Bole” to announce their presence to Lord Shiva. They carry holy water from the Ganges up to the Neelkanth Temple to offer it to the Shiva Lingam. One rule is that the water shall never touch the floor, so all the dhabas and chaishops on the roadside build improvised holders where the pilgrims can hang up their holy offering during their breaks. What I found very funny is that they come back from the temple wearing their underpants on their heads! ‘Strange rite’, I thought and then found out that they do so to dry their pants after having bathed in the temple compound. I wonder what the Indians would think I they saw a horde of Westerners marching through town with their underwear on their head…

Anyways, things get tough for a foreigner during this time of the year, as the pilgrims usually give them a hard time. The foreign tourists actually get evacuated by the authorities from the hotels and guesthouses next to the pilgrim trail and are sent to accommodations in more peaceful areas. So it happened to us and we decided to simply escape from all the turmoil. Baba and I had made friends with a girl from America and we decided to travel together. None of us felt like traveling too far, so we checked on the rarely used travel guide to find nearby attractive places. I hate to read instructions of any kind and also dislike reading guide books! We went through the section of Uttarakhand and stumbled upon Almora, which was only a one-night-trip away. I liked the melody of the word “Almora”. There was not much text to read about it, but as we skimmed it and read

“There is a nearby town called ‘Hippie-Land’ by the locals; ask for accommodation at the chai shops on the road”

it was decided: CHALO ALMORA!

As soon as we left the town of Almora after having survived another crazy local bus ride through the mountains and arrived in the village, I fell in love! It was simply beautiful! Peace, pure nature, village life, cool, fresh air and colorful flowers everywhere! I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Actually there is not much to do for tourists, life there is still pretty much authentic. No shops with tourist stuff to buy, no courses or classes, no distractions; it is the perfect spot to chill after having traveled through “Indian hard-core tourist places”. The scene really forces people to calm down, to be with themselves and nature.

We found a simple guesthouse where we spent a lot of time in the roof-top restaurant while the monsoon was pouring down and simply enjoyed the amazing view through the big windows, which offered a great view over the ever-changing clouds, rainbows, valleys and hills while we were munching on chocolate pancakes and sipping chai. It was off-season there, too and we only met one more backpacker. One day early in the morning I stepped out of the room and could not believe my eyes! The rain had stopped, it was a bright clear day and there they were, as if somebody had hung up a painting just in front of my eyes:

THE SNOW-COVERED HIMALAYAS !

Himalaya range

I had no idea that they were that close! Shame on me! Maybe sometimes reading a guide book is not a bad idea, but if you don´t read it you might get blessed with unexpected surprises like this one.

Some peaceful weeks later, Baba suddenly received a phone call from Bihar. His 103-years old grandfather was dying and his last wish was to see his grandson he had been missing for too many years. Since Baba ran away from home at the tender age of eleven he had returned to his birthplace only once after 17 years of absence. After the initiation to Sadhu-life you are reborn as a new being and should break all the attachments to your previous life, which also includes the physical family; at least until you have reached a certain stage.

But once it happened, when Baba and I were visiting Benares, that he suddenly became very introverted. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that soon it would be Rakshabhandan, the festival when the bond between brothers and sisters is worshipped and that he would like to see his sister again. Varanasi is not very far from his birthplace and I told him that I would buy him a train ticket if he wished to go there. He called his Guruji to ask permission and when Baba received his blessings, he took a train to Patna. All of his family thought that he had died and was more than pleased that he returned as a Sadhu, which is believed to bring seven generations of good luck to the family.

So now the grandfather wished to see his beloved grandson again. For some time the three of us were just sitting there wondering what to do. The Himalayas are pretty far from the plains of Bihar; to be more precise about 1000 km, which can be translated into 2 days and 1½ nights of traveling in pubic transports.

Uma in Wonderland

My friend looked at me and asked:

“You feel like going on an adventure?”

“Why not?” I replied

“Okay, then… CHALO BIHAR!”

I LOVE MY INDIA

i_love_my_india_remix

I love my India… you can find this phrase printed on stickers, T-Shirts and posters in tourist shops all over India. I love this statement, because it is just so true!

I think I have to explain something about my blog. I am writing about “my” India. India is a little universe by itself. There are as many Indias as there are Hindu gods, 33 million of them!

The country consists of 28 states, every state has its region, there are 22 official languages and there is a great deal of dialects, too. Each place has its own culture and traditions. It could be compared to one of those Russian Babushka dolls, something always contains something more and you never know where this ends.

If you come to India, what you see, live and experience not only depends on where you go, but also on how you travel, with whom and who you meet.

So when I talk about my India, I refer to my personal experiences. You might go or have been to the same places but have a completely different opinion.

My India is influenced by its village people, the backpackers, the freaky travelers, old and young hippies, spiritual seekers, more or less trustable Sadhus, budget hotels, local buses and sleeper class train trips and the simple but complicated things. I have little contact with modern Indian society and the big cities. Maybe because I don’t feel attracted to it, since this is what I miss the least from back “home”.

Sometimes people in Europe ask me “How is India?” There is no answer to this question. India is full of contrasts at all levels. I think that it is what you make of it or what it makes of you, which in the end is the same thing.

A couple of times I went to a Mall in Delhi and in Varanasi. There was a doorkeeper at the entrance to make sure only “acceptable” people would come in. I guess he let me in, because I am European, as I looked anything but acceptable in my shabby hippie travel clothes. But I only realized that when I saw the pretty, modern Indian girls inside the mall in their jeans and tight T-Shirts and the young guys with the latest haircuts, cool sunglasses and brand-name shirts.

In my India the dress code kind of loses its importance and after some months of hardcore travelling, you don’t even notice anymore that your clothes have several holes or that what once was white has turned into an undefinable shade. And one ends up hanging out with people who just look the same, so you don’t realize this until you meet someone who is “acceptably decent”.

The best thing of the mall, that I imediately enjoyed, was the aircondition as it was terribly hot outside. I was no longer used anymore to all the artificial bright lights and it took some time to get adjusted to all the sparkling and shining windows and the high gloss polished floors. I went to enjoy the shop windows and it felt as if I had been beamed into another reality, which felt somehow familiar to me. All the shops and brands you can also find in any mall in Europe were there and on the top floor there was a huge foodcourt and cinema halls. I even bought a cup of expensive Italian ice-cream. I stood at one of the big glass walls overlooking the street and looked down.

Suddenly my ice-cream didn’t taste that good anymore. Out there were the stuffy, grey pollution, the sweaty Rickshaw drivers waiting for passengers, dirty street-kids begging at the traffic light, scabby dogs sniffing around, pavement dwellers having a nap on the side of the dense traffic and cows chewing on plastic bags in the middle of the road. Yep, the real world, my India, was out there!

What I want to say is that I don’t intend to generalize anything, even if it sometimes might sound like it. Nothing is better or worse than the other thing. Things are just different, and so are experiences.

May your India be with you!

 

I LOVE MY INDIA

i_love_my_india_remix

I love my India… you can find this phrase printed on stickers, T-Shirts and posters in tourist shops all over India. I love this statement, because it is just so true!

I think I have to explain something about my blog. I am writing about “my” India. India is a little universe by itself. There are as many Indias as there are Hindu gods, 33 million of them!

The country consists of 28 states, every state has its region, there are 22 official languages and there is a great deal of dialects, too. Each place has its own culture and traditions. It could be compared to one of those Russian Babushka dolls, something always contains something more and you never know where this ends.

If you come to India, what you see, live and experience not only depends on where you go, but also on how you travel, with whom and who you meet.

So when I talk about my India, I refer to my personal experiences. You might go or have been to the same places but have a completely different opinion.

My India is influenced by its village people, the backpackers, the freaky travelers, old and young hippies, spiritual seekers, more or less trustable Sadhus, budget hotels, local buses and sleeper class train trips and the simple but complicated things. I have little contact with modern Indian society and the big cities. Maybe because I don’t feel attracted to it, since this is what I miss the least from back “home”.

Sometimes people in Europe ask me “How is India?” There is no answer to this question. India is full of contrasts at all levels. I think that it is what you make of it or what it makes of you, which in the end is the same thing.

A couple of times I went to a Mall in Delhi and in Varanasi. There was a doorkeeper at the entrance to make sure only “acceptable” people would come in. I guess he let me in, because I am European, as I looked anything but acceptable in my shabby hippie travel clothes. But I only realized that when I saw the pretty, modern Indian girls inside the mall in their jeans and tight T-Shirts and the young guys with the latest haircuts, cool sunglasses and brand-name shirts.

In my India the dress code kind of loses its importance and after some months of hardcore travelling, you don’t even notice anymore that your clothes have several holes or that what once was white has turned into an undefinable shade. And one ends up hanging out with people who just look the same, so you don’t realize this until you meet someone who is “acceptably decent”.

The best thing of the mall, that I imediately enjoyed, was the aircondition as it was terribly hot outside. I was no longer used anymore to all the artificial bright lights and it took some time to get adjusted to all the sparkling and shining windows and the high gloss polished floors. I went to enjoy the shop windows and it felt as if I had been beamed into another reality, which felt somehow familiar to me. All the shops and brands you can also find in any mall in Europe were there and on the top floor there was a huge foodcourt and cinema halls. I even bought a cup of expensive Italian ice-cream. I stood at one of the big glass walls overlooking the street and looked down.

Suddenly my ice-cream didn’t taste that good anymore. Out there were the stuffy, grey pollution, the sweaty Rickshaw drivers waiting for passengers, dirty street-kids begging at the traffic light, scabby dogs sniffing around, pavement dwellers having a nap on the side of the dense traffic and cows chewing on plastic bags in the middle of the road. Yep, the real world, my India, was out there!

What I want to say is that I don’t intend to generalize anything, even if it sometimes might sound like it. Nothing is better or worse than the other thing. Things are just different, and so are experiences.

May your India be with you!