India 2012: Varanasi

Lion

DSC_3929India, the most beautiful, most terrible place I have ever been and I ended those weeks in Varanasi. It’s taken me two years to even stop for a moment and write about being there, of all the spiritual places I have been, the one I felt the most from my feet to the top of my head. As I pack my bags this week for Nepal, my mind has wandered back.

Maybe because there’s a hum to Varanasi, that can be heard and felt, a thrum of life, of death, overlapped on each other – drum of a heart, sometimes brand new and as ancient as time. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities – all that swirling history of energy cannot disperse – it floats, it dances, it electrifies the air. That could explain the butterflies I saw everywhere that week – why so so many butterflies? Floating, dancing in the wind. India’s outstanding amount of humanity seems never seemed more present. I can see why people come to seek salvation at the end of their lives by dying on the shores of the Ganges, it just makes sense to me to want to be there at that moment, hopeful the next turn round will go well.

I went to to see the ghats, steps down to the Ganges by the dark of the chaotic night, by the light of a brand new dawn. What a juxtaposition. Life and Death, side by side.

IMGP0438By night, it was like being on drugs, absolutely overwhelming in it’s dimmed technicolor, endless beeping, shouting, the cows (always cows). Lepers, babies, beggars, shopkeepers, men, scooters, women, monkeys, pushcarts, giant vats of lentils, holy man, unholy people, bodies, widows, just everyone and everything, all in one tide of what looked like chaos but really flowing together like the holy river in front of us.IMGP0417

A race, on the bicycle rickshaw, through the crowd (please don’t get lost), down the slippery steps, to the boat, by the funeral pyres, stopping to listen to the evening service, off the boat (please don’t let me fall in), back through the crowd, find the rickshaw, get back to the electric light of the hotel, the hostel, the modern ordered world.

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And then by the light of a perfect morning. The streets almost empty and the way to the steps clear of crowds. Chants of early morning prayers. People coming to wash themselves clean and start another day over. Offerings made to relatives and family long since gone from the material earth. I thought of my father, of dear friends & family no longer here and I sent my marigolds and my flour & ghee to them – somewhere down the river, on another shore.

India 2012: Saris

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a rainbow of colors

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India 2012: Taj Mahal

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This morning we woke up at dawn to get to the Taj before the masses and I learned, you can never ever beat the masses in this country, because they get up even earlier and maybe never sleep at all.

I can understand now why my grandfather said it was the most beautiful place that he had been in the world. Simply put, it is. The dramatic entrance of the sun just proved his point more…the white walls and jewels glowed brighter and brighter, and it took my breath away.

The most impressive memorial of love lost in all the world, built by a man with a broken heart for a beloved wife, who died too soon. Shah Jahan would loose his empire and eventually his own will to live to build this mausoleum.

If you can come to see it, do it. Deal with the crowds, the hawkers with their books and their post cards, the security lines, the heat, the hassle…all of it (and if you’re looking for less hassle, I can already say, India is not for you… beauty is earned here for the tourist). It is worth the sight. Look at the building and take all the noise away and think of your own loves, hopefully not lost, hopefully a phone call, email, plane ride away because I did… I sent them all my love and more.

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India 2012: Cows

Cow, Lion

Of course, I need to write about cows here. So many cows, every where I look, more cows. More like wild dogs, domesticated cows sitting in the middle of traffic. Here’s a photo series of the whole high way being stopped by a herd headed south.

I have done so much more today and yesterday, so much I am too tired to speak about it – ballooning, temple seeing, museum going, Bollywood movie watching, chai drinking – I swear it’s all happening… and it’s amazing.

India remains one of the most baffling yet beautiful places I have ever been. I’ll be thinking of this trip, long after my return. Until then, the COWS!!

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India: Delhi to Jaipur 2012

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India is all I expected and more – it is dusty, chaotic and noisy… people, cows and monkeys are everywhere. Life happens on the street – sleeping, eating, fighting, bathing. I can see how so many people come here and hate it but I can also see how people come here and loose their hearts to this land.

I arrived early in the morning and immediately faced a Delhi traffic jam like none I have seen (I include Los Angeles and Bangkok in that reckoning). All lanes, and I mean all, became two way roads.

And I was off… no personal space, temples of every kind on all the street corners, Buddhist monks crossing in non stop traffic, guards every where, school children yelling hello, hello, hello.

Yes, this is a stream of consciousness, but so is India. I am in the pink city of Jaipur now – spent all day yesterday bouncing along the highway. My ability to bargain is still not so great but I am slightly better and yes, I am okay with curry for breakfast, curry for lunch and more curry for dinner. I’ll let the pictures tell my story.

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This is indeed India! The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendour and rags, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genii and giants and Aladdin lamps, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle, the country of hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods, cradle of the human race, birthplace of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of traditions, whose yesterday’s bear date with the modering antiquities for the rest of nations-the one sole country under the sun that is endowed with an imperishable interest for alien prince and alien peasant, for lettered and ignorant, wise and fool, rich and poor, bond and free, the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the world combined.

Thank you, Mark Twain

Countdown to India: can count in hours now, 72? something like that

 

This is indeed India! The…

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Almost time: India 2012

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Today, when I called my credit card companies to tell them I was leaving my normal cowtown land, a great small world moment happened. The operator at X Bank asked me where I was headed, when I said India, he told me how lucky I was, how it would change my life and that especially going to Varanasi was an experience that I would never forget. He never said where he was but I knew.

We all go so fast in this life. Call Center operators can become anonymous people so much of the time – blank voices on the phone outsourced to lands far away (unless they make a point of telling you they are in the USA and this is alarming in another way… I don’t need someone here to help me or think they’d be any better at it… so there).

I told him I felt really lucky to be able to come see his country and I had waited a long time to go. Without saying more, He said India was more than worth the wait and don’t be afraid of how crowded and chaotic it was, to try to see beyond the crowds, the heat to really see the beauty because it was one of the most beautiful places in all the world. I told him thank you and promised I would, and I promise, friends, I will.

Countdown to India: days, mere days.

India 2012: Packing it all in

Cow, Lion

There’s a time before a new journey when I always get to maximum velocity; a perfect storm hits of everything at the same time. A window into my mind (so sorry, it’s not as bad in there as it initially appears), I have this moment when I think because I am getting on a plane that every single loose end in my life needs to be tied, every bill paid, every file updated at work, every relationship in good stead because, well, because I never come back the same person and I want whatever I am leaving behind to be all tidy.

Travel changes me fundamentally as I am sure it does you too (or goodness I hope it does – that’s the point of jet lag, to earn the change). It’s one of the major reasons I go at all, perhaps THE reason. Something has got to drive us to put our lives on hold, go into debit, buy electronic devices we probably don’t need. Sure, I know I do all of that and more because I can only be a cow for so long, I crave what new sights, new lands, new food brings my soul. However, in the dangerous most honest moment, what I really crave is perspective and the distance from the familiar that will give me the chance to see my path for my path and all the places where I have fallen down, gotten off track, where I am exactly where I should be and where the path is headed alarmingly up hill and looks rocky and horrible. Maybe I have to live in the tornado before I go because I know how much work I’ll have to do when I get back? I don’t know…. I just know it’s always the same and what should be clear to all of you, especially those who know me well in real life, the pre trip breakdown has started, right on schedule. Beware of your inbox. I cannot be held responsible this week for, well, anything and someone hide my credit cards because I do not need a compass that can communicate with my phone… no one does.

Countdown to India: one weekish

Two week countdown

Cow, Lion

Seven years ago tonight, I was sitting around a fire in the middle of the Sahara listening to music, under a bowl full of stars, so far away from everything.

Getting on that plane seems so close now and have to start really mentally preparing myself for the other side. Today, I realized I don’t even have the correct adaptor plug and that I didn’t know adaptors come in alphabet letters? Amateur.

For all my years of traveling, sometimes I just feel rusty about it all. The wrong bag, the wrong shoes, the wrong pants, the wrong book to read – but then, I am at the airport, the plane roars down the runway, I remember how you stand in line sometimes and sometimes how you just have to push like hell or be knocked over, remember that coffee that tastes like mud still has caffeine in it and please, for all that is holy, let me have remembered most of all not to drink the water (even though I always do & clearly have lived to tell about it – thank you modern medicine). It all comes back.

I am ready. Let’s do this.

Countdown to India: thirteen days

“In India, I was living in a little hut, about six feet by seven feet. It had a canvas flap instead of a door. I was sitting on my bed meditating, and a cat wandered in and plopped down on my lap. I took the cat and tossed it out the door. Ten seconds later it was back on my lap. We got into a sort of dance, this cat and I…I tossed it out because I was trying to meditate, to get enlightened. But the cat kept returning. I was getting more and more irritated, more and more annoyed with the persistence of the cat. Finally, after about a half-hour of this coming in and tossing out, I had to surrender. There was nothing else to do. There was no way to block off the door. I sat there, the cat came back in, and it got on my lap. But I did not do anything. I just let go. Thirty seconds later the cat got up and walked out. So, you see, our teachers come in many forms.” ~ Joseph Goldstein

India: Countdown starts now, 30 days to Delhi

“In India, I was living…

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