Mumbai, Pune, Ellora, Ajanta, Rishikesh, Dharmasala, Ladakh, Jaipur, Udaipur, Agra, Mathura, Vrindavan, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Thamal, Pondicherry, Tiruvannamalai, Kerela, Kochi
I took a two-day trip over the weekend, about six hours from Pune, with an Iyengar student Dale who I had met at a workshop in Illinois. Such a small, small world. In Ellora, there are 12 Buddhist and Hindu caves, and in Ajanta, there are 30 Buddhist caves. One would have to be in shape for the climb up and down, up and down. Some people hired two men to carry them in a chair, I was tempted. The caves were incredible.
The flight from Pune to Delhi was smooth. I took a train from Delhi to Haridwar, which is located where the Ganges emerges from the Himalayas. It is one of Hinduism's most sacred cities in India. When I arrived at the train station, I felt like I was in a time machine and had gone back 200 years. Sadhus were sleeping everywhere in orange clothing. I spent the night in a 3/10 level room, but the location made up for it. I sat outside with my legs in the sacred Ganges on a clear full moon night. I smiled, laughed, and deeply appreciated for having the courage and trust to create this most potent experience. The next day I went to Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganges, surrounded by hills on three sides. There are two suspension bridges, Laksman Jhula and Shivand Jhula, which are the home of many temples, ashrams, yoga, restaurants, and shops. I found a beautiful, new hotel to live in for ten days. The view is outstanding. I watch and admire the sadhus who walk for days to reach a holy site with only their walking stick, stainless steel pail for food, and a cloth bag either on their head or arm with everything they own in it. I came to India with my super deluxe suitcase on wheels. I decided to exchange it for two mala bead necklaces and only have a soft suitcase I can carry on my shoulder. I enjoyed the teachings at the Sivananda Ashram.
The overnight train was quite an experience. I had a lovely Indian man in my compartment, and we talked about family life, business, religion, and politics. I was exhausted and fell asleep; he was gone when I woke up. I was so delighted to have the compartment to myself. I listened to Osho tapes and music, read, and wrote in my journal. Then a family from Kashmir came in, and they were very loud. They had many containers, and I realized they had brought their dinner. So as lovely and kind that Indian people are, I had a delicious dinner. Then it was time for bed, and I could not get much sleep. Between the father and daughter snoring and the A/C, which felt like I was in a freezer, I laid in my hard bunk practicing surrender. I was dreaming of earplugs. At 2:30 am, the trainman woke me up since my destination was arriving. I originally was going to take the five-hour bus to Dharmasala but at 3:00 am, I decided to be driven by car, which took three hours and cost 950 rupees, about $21.00. It was worth every cent. It was beautiful to see the sunrise as we drove up the mountain.
Himachal, PredeshI'm staying in McLeod Ganj, which is just outside of Dharmasala. The combination of Tibetan monks, Hindus, and an International tourist is powerful. I went to the Tsuglagkhang Complex, the Tibetan Government's headquarters in exile, the home of the Dalai Lama. The energy is very different than other parts of India that I have been in. I think the Buddhist influence is quiet, humble, and compassionate. It is very quaint, more peaceful, and not as aggressive. The mountains are beautiful with clean air and tranquil energy. The Dalai Lama's website has the wisdom to fill the head and heart.
Population 21,100, Jule (pronounced joo-lay) means hello, goodbye, please, and thank you in the Ladakhi language. I flew to Jammu, spent the night, and flew to Lah. The security at the airport was so tight. They checked me four times and everything in my purse inside and out. Ladakh is a sensitive area: it borders both Pakistan and China. There are soldiers everywhere. The altitude is 3505, and you suffer from AMS (acute mountain sickness). The whole village shuts down in the winter. The Great Himalaya Range, with some snow-capped peaks of 7135m, borders Ladakh to the southwest. I'm staying at the Lotus Hotel and have views of three sides of the Himalayas. The beauty and peace are like nothing I have ever experienced. I'm taking morning walks to incredible ancient Buddhist temples and stupas, which often you have to walk up 100 plus steps. The altitude is to get used to and the constant dehydration. The village is mainly Ladakh, Tibetan, and tourists. I feel so happy, content, and blessed. I would have to say that this sacred land is the highlight of my journey through India.
I met a couple from Holland on the airplane from Lah to Delhi and drove with them to Jaipur. I'm staying at the Hotel Arya Niwas, which is very clean, with many westerners, good vegetarian food, and a great internet connection. I took the daylong city tour to City Palace, Amber Fort, Museums, and beautiful temples. I was the only westerner and met many new Indian friends. Jaipur is a very dynamic city, the pink city. It has a new section that is very clean and beautiful. Before there were Rolex watches, sundials were used. It was amazing how the time was exact.
I'm now in the Southern part of Rajasthan, considered the most romantic city, also known as the blue city. Each city is so different and unique. The streets, or in America, we would call them walkways, are filled with cows, bulls, goats, pigs, elephants, camels, auto and pedal rickshaws, scooters, jeeps, cars, horse and buggy, donkeys, and humans. It is amazing how natural it is to share the space with animals. I took the tour today of the City Palace, built around Lake Pichola, the largest palace complex in Rajasthan. Wow, the beauty and detail are unbelievable. I could quickly move into the lady's quarters. There is a section where all of the furniture is made of crystal. They knew how to do it up in the old days. Next, I took a ride through the city on an elephant. I was unsure how to get up into the strapped seat, waiting for a ladder to come. Instead, the Indian man gave loud commands to the elephant, and the elephant slowly bent one leg, the other, then the back legs, and down he went. Still, how am I to get on? I was instructed to step on the elephant's leg, pull on his ear, and go up. Then the elephant stood up, and I held on very tightly. Getting off was just as enjoyable. It's the offseason, so I was able to negotiate to stay in a beautiful hotel. My room is next to a Hanuman temple and faces the palace with marble floors and lavish fabrics.
The people are friendly and not quite aggressive as in other parts of India. When you first arrive, they know you're new, and all the shop owners approach you. I've learned through the three months to go SILENT. I stay calm, centered, grounded, and chant OM. It works! It is so hard to resist buying EVERYTHING. Today a cow bumped into me. I was startled but laughed! This evening I went to an Indian folk dance which was in an old palace. The dancers had bowls on their heads with fire, one had eight bowls stacked on her head, and then she danced on the glass. Talk about BALANCE and FOCUS.
The flight to Delhi was smooth. I decided that I wanted a local bus experience. Agra by car is only 2 1/2 hours. The long eight-hour journey started with the driver being unable to find the bus station, which was only 30 minutes away and took over an hour. Then the bus stopped in every town and street corner, and people would come into the bus each time to sell water, food, etc. Now, this went on the entire time. I'm the only westerner on the bus, and I had my duffle on the seat so nobody would sit with me. It's sweltering and humid, so the person in front of me and back would open their window entirely, which meant mine was shut. So each time, I would re-open my window (halfway). This was a ride that I thought would never end. Finally, we reach Agra, and the bus driver signs for me to get out. My foot had not even gained the ground, and auto-rickshaw and cycle rickshaw drivers were all over me.
The next day I saw the most extravagant monument ever built for love, the Taj Mahal. Beautiful semi-translucent white marble carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semi-precious stones in beautiful patterns. Late afternoon I went to Fatehpur Sikri, the Ghost City, which consisted of 46 buildings. It was built, and no rain came, so it became a ghost town. Next to it was a Muslim Mosque. I have visited many holy temples throughout India, but the vibration was very different. I was the only westerner and made my way through the HUGE complex. Besides having to say NO, NO, many times to guides, postcards, pens, etc., it was a compelling experience.
Went to the birthplace of Krishna. It was very well guarded, with no pictures, 24 hours chanting Hare Krishna and POWERFUL. We went to the forest where Krishna and Radha danced. I had a guide take me through the narrow alleyways in Vrindavan to the many temples with monkeys everywhere. One of the temples had 2,000 women, unmarried, with no name, no family, and they chanted the Hare Krishna mantra two times a day for four hours. We went to a temple where for a donation, you have your family names carved in Hindi on a slab of marble, and it's put in the temple. There was a ritual as well that went with this most powerful, heartbreaking experience. The International Krishna Consciousness (ISKON) has its main complex here with devotees worldwide. We arrived at sunset, and it was so alive with singing and dancing. We ended the day at a Sikh temple for prayers and a talli. Tomorrow I go to Varanasi, the city of Shiva, on the bank of the sacred Ganges, where pilgrims come to the bath to wash away all sins. It also is a place where the most intimate rituals of life and death take place in public.
No doubt this looks like the oldest city in the world. I need to add to my list that there are bats here, yes, bats!!! I met a couple from NY and spent September 11th with them, starting with a 5:30 am boat trip down the Ganges. Early in the morning, you can see people bathing in the dirty, polluted water to remove all past sins. There are over 100 ghats, some used for "burning," where bodies are cremated. It was such a beautiful ritual to see the family (men only, since women were known to throw themselves into the burning fire to be with their loved ones) carry the body through the town, shave them, and turn them in the four directions, use banyan tree wood and set them on fire. It takes about three hours for a body to burn. The only thing left of a man is his chest bone and the hip bone of a woman. Saw where older people stayed waiting to die. It showed me how quickly a lifetime could go up in smoke. What's left??? We went to a yoga school where the young boys were climbing ropes, wrestling, and swinging weights over their shoulders, all in the mud. So much for an outdoor gym. I went to a Muslim area to watch weavers working on making silk brocades and beautiful Benares Saris on hand looms. What a meditation to do this work! In the afternoon we went to Sarnath. This is where the Buddha came to preach his message on the middle way to Nirvana after he achieved enlightenment in Bodhgaya. It was a great day.
Bodhgaya is very holy, the sacred place where Buddha achieved enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. The beautiful Mahabodhi Temple has a great sense of peace and serenity within the compound. The town is small, homey, clean, and filled with monks and visitors worldwide. There are many Buddhist Temples here: Tibetan, Burmese, Napali, Bangladesh, Chinese, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Vietnamese, Korean, and Taiwanese. I'm staying at The Root Institute for Wisdom Culture and enjoying the staff and solitude at the end of my four-month spiritual journey through India. I'm able to do my yoga practice in their beautiful temple. I feel so blessed. The Lamas say the power, of course, is multiplied at least seven times here.
I stayed at the Tibetian Guest House, which was very clean and centrally located. Thamel is a popular tourist destination in Kathmandu, Nepal. Thamel has been the center of the tourist industry in Kathmandu for over four decades, starting from the hippie movement. Even though some refer to Thamel as the "ghetto," " most low-budget travelers consider it a tourist heaven. Its narrow streets are lined with small shops selling everything from food, and provisions to clothes, walking gear, cakes, pastries, music, DVDs, and handicrafts. The prices are even lower than in India. The city stands at an elevation of approximately 4,600 ft in the bowl-shaped Kathmandu Valley of central Nepal. It is surrounded by four major mountains: Shivapuri, Phulchoki, Nagarjun, and Chandragiri. The city has a rich history, spanning nearly 2000 years, as inferred from inscriptions in the valley. Most of Kathmandu's people follow Hinduism and many others follow Buddhism.
June 2007- Pokara, NapalPokhara is about 200 km west of the capital Kathmandu. Pokhara is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Nepal. Three out of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I, and Manaslu — are within 30 miles of the city, so the city's northern skyline offers a very close view of the Himalayas. My guesthouse was so beautiful, with three windows facing the mountains. Lots of yoga, long walks, boat rides, and relaxation at the end of my visit to Nepal. One evening the group from the Nepal Idol stayed the night and performed the next day for a benefit. They invited me to join, and it was a blast!!
This was my first experience in South India and was very different from the other parts of India I had experienced. The people were french speaking and were very clean. The Sri Aurobindo Ashram is a spiritual community (ashram) established at Pondicherry in the Indian territory of Puducherry. In Sri Aurobindo's yoga, the highest aim is the being of one without the renunciation of life in the world. Such a fulfillment of the consciousness, the urge for perfection, must not be confined to a few individuals but must extend to the masses, leading to a new type of being that is "eternal, self-existing, and inalienable." Sri Aurobindo lays the foundation of his inquiry by focusing on the contradiction between the mundane human existence and the human desire to acquire a divine perfection in life.
An ashram is undoubtedly a beautiful place. One big hall is where people sit to meditate, contemplate, or be there. At the end of the hall is the Sri Bhagavan (Ramana Maharshi) Shrine, a sort of temple with a Shiva Lingam in the middle and a statue of Ramana Maharshi behind it. Next to the big hall, there is another hall divided into two rooms. In the first room, there is a statue of Ramana Maharshi and some paintings, and in the second room, there is the Shrine of the Mother. There are also two other rooms specially dedicated to meditation.
This experience was most profound. The Sri Ramanasramam offers no special yoga or meditation courses. Still, a daily program starts at 6.45 am and until 7.15 pm, creating an exceptional atmosphere. The program includes milk offerings to Sri Bhagavan and chanting the Vedas and puja twice a day in front of the Sri Bhagavan Shrine, followed by a puja at the Shrine of the Mother. At 4.30 pm, somebody sits at the entrance of the big hall and reads in English one of the books from the ashram.
I met Ammaji in LA and was taken by her huge heart and life mission to help people of all caste. On September 25-29, I went to Kerala in South India for Ammaji's 61st Birthday celebration. Kerala is very green and beautiful with lots of rain. As you fly in, it looks like a forest of palm trees. There are two sections to the ashram. You could cross by boat or walk over the bridge. As you walk over the bridge, it is a fishing village with many vendors selling locally made goods. Watching Ammaji hug thousands of people with so much presence is impressive. Her life is a testimony and guide for all of us to make it a better world for future generations. Mata Amritanandamayi is known worldwide as Amma, or Mother, for her selfless love and compassion toward all beings. Her entire life has been dedicated to alleviating the pain of the poor and those suffering physically and emotionally. Mata Amritanandamayi has embraced and comforted more than 34 million people throughout her life. Amma inspires, uplifts, and transforms through her physical embrace, her spiritual wisdom, and through her global charities, known as Embracing the World.® When asked where she gets the energy to help so many people, she answers: "Where there is true love, anything is effortless." While Amma is widely regarded as one of India's foremost spiritual leaders, Amma says that her religion is love. She has never asked anyone to change their religion but only to contemplate the essential principles of their faith and to try to live accordingly.
I visited Kochi Mattanchery and stayed at the Bolgatty Palace. Kerala is called 'God's own country. You travel to the island's boat. I went to the Dutch Palace built by the Portuguese and presented to the Rajah of Cochin in A.D. 1555. The palace's glory lies in the murals, which are in the best traditions of Hindu temple art, religious, decorative, and stylish. Went to Jew Town, a Synagogue built in 1568, the oldest Synagogue in the British Commonwealth. The great scrolls of the Old Testament and the Chinese hand-painted tiles are magnificent. In Fort, Cochin is the Chinese Fishing Nets at the entrance to the harbor. To watch the fisherman, about 10 of them, pulling on these ropes is quite an exercise. St. Francis church a Protestant church, was built by the Portuguese in 1503 and is believed to be the first church built by the Europeans in India. There are many ancient churches as Kerala is primarily Christian.