A note on my three blogs


A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.

Enjoy!

Saturday, 29 October 2005

Embracing the pain

Life is funny. Two days ago I finished the book Turning Suffering Inside Out: A Zen Approach to Living with Physical and Emotional Pain by Darlene Cohen. It was a really good book, and I could very well identify with how to deal with emotional pain but less to physical pain since I have a very healthy body... The author has arthritis and writes a lot about how do deal with chronic physical pain indeed... A day after reading the book I wake up with strong pain in my neck/upper back... HAHAHA!!! Thank you Life! You are telling me to learn how to embrace pain, aren't you? Ok then, I shall practice what I have learnt in the book...

So yesterday, all day, I focused on my breath and on the pain. I studied the pain. I learnt/experienced some things which I had read about indeed. Like breathing into the pain to make space and relieve it. Like trying to study the pain and see how different it may feel when I perform different movements. Generally how to learn about my own body, and most importantly, how to love and care for it rather than feeling angry or frustrated at it. For example, on the bus, I didn't lean on the back rests of the seats because holding my back straight was allowing for my strong lower back to absorb the shocks thus relieving my neck. I realised indeed that keeping a straight back is healthier than slouching. I also kept moving my neck, slowly, whilst either inhaling or exhaling to feel the difference and to make sure I did move my neck. Last night I sat for hours on my computer and not moving my head made my neck even stiffer!

This morning I think I feel a little more sore... But holding my hot water bottle against the sore areas of my neck is very relieving indeed; I read this on the net last night, along with finding out that Thai massage can relieve torticolis.

A few years ago one morning I woke up with a completely blocked lower back. It had never happened to me before, and it has never happened to me since. But I was stuck in bed for all that morning and I couldn't go out all day. I had called a friend to help me throughout the day. And I had phoned the doctor, who had only told me "there's nothing to do" apart from resting and taking pain killers. Thank you very much! I hate pain killers. I realise that I have probably never had any pain such that I would love them indeed. But I hate them because all the do is numb the pain... I don't want to numb the pain! At most I might want to relieve it a little, but I need to keep some of the pain otherwise my body can't act according to that pain. Pain is feedback. Pain is important. And we should be grateful of the pain. Pain is unpleasant indeed, but I am grateful right now because it teaches me a lot about my body and it allows me to be aware. Aware, for example, of which movements use neck muscles to be performed. And that is very interesting indeed.

Anyway, this time I don't want to call an ordinary doctor for this. I have booked a Thai massage because I will trust a woman who massages my body for an hour more than the doctor who will just look at me and say there's nothing (or hardly anything) to do. I am increasingly interested in Eastern science anyway, and this is a great opportunity to learn/experience more about it.

When I was at the Dour Festival in Belgium, after the last band on the last day, my lumbar was feeling sore from standing all day for four days, so I bent into uttanasana (forward bend) to stretch it. A guy saw me and we started to talk; a bit later he started to massage my neck and told me how tense it was. I had known I had a tense neck for about 10 years, without knowing what to do, and without knowing what a relaxed back should feel like (when touching it)! He did a Thai massage to me, right there behind the stage tent (!) It was a bit strong but it felt good and healthy so I allowed him to carry on. At the end of the ten minutes he made my neck crack both sides and I was very surprised but it felt amazing, and my neck was suddenly completely relaxed. I was totally amazed

I think I will learn a lot about the massage tonight, and I will certainly bombard the lady with question, huhu. She sounded very friendly and trustworthy on the phone. :)

Extract from the book:

"I think many people have a skewed idea of what "accepting" pain is. If you have the idea that coping well should resemble serenity or equanimity, something like the proverbial "grave under fire", then you think you should resign yourself with a big cosmic grin, no matter what horrors are being visiting upon you. Actually, "accepting" pain sounds to me too passive to accurately describe the process of successfully dealing with chronic pain. It fails to convey the tremendous energy and courage it takes to accept physical pain as part of your life. Truly accepting pain is not at all like passive resignation. Rather, it is active engagement with life in its most intimate sense. It is meeting, dancing with, raging at, turning toward. To accept your pain on this level, you must cultivate particular skills. After you have developed some proficiency, dealing with pain feels much more like an embrace, or the bond that forms between sparring partners, than like resignation."

Monday, 3 October 2005

Vipassana meditation retreat

So yes, everyday for ten days, between 21st September and 3rd October I lived the life of a nun, waking up at 4-4.30 am and meditating for 10 hours, going back to bed at 9pm to fall sound asleep by 9.30pm. Out of 24 hours in a day, my eyes were closed for 17. I observed my breaths, the sensations that rose and passed away throughout my body, I observed my thoughts, my mind, and went through an incredible journey within. For 10 days, I had contact with no males; I respected Noble Silence and did not even speak to the woman whose bed was 20 cm away from mine in our small, modest bedroom. It was just me, cut off from the world, in order not to distract my mind - the object of my study - in any way. I didn't kill any creatures not even that spider that was walking on the wall just above my head one night. When I was not meditating, I was sleeping, eating, doing my business in the bathroom, doing my laundry or walking in the wood or the meadow around the site. Everyday I enjoyed massaging the soles of my feet on the roots of the trees; I enjoyed the wind caressing my face, observed the trunks of the trees. One day I teased a mouse with a dried leaf. The other ladies had just become part of the scenery; I observed them, too, but only when their looks did not cross mine. Sometimes on my way I would make up stories in my mind to entertain myself (distracting my mind on purpose - maybe that was cheating!?) to generate positive emotions. I played with my mind, so to speak. Or I would force a smile on my face to remember what it felt and to enjoy the positivity that it engendered. For any outsiders, we would have looked like a depressed or bitter bunch. But inside our minds so much was happening, from asking ourselves what the hell we were doing there to getting used to our new little life to being peaceful and quiet. Or sometimes a storm of emotions would pass but we would have to accept and deal with it. A lot was happening behind our blank faces, an entire journey. And no-one was going through the same journey, yet we all shared that strong experience. We didn't look at each other and avoided all physical contact, but inside we knew we were all on the same boat...

When I arrived in the centre I was stunned; it was a meditation course taught in Hindi and English. I had not known this, but indeed it was mainly a course for Indian people. So 2/3 of the other women were Indian. Beautiful ladies in sarees. We ate amazing Indian food (yes, I ate chapatis again!), heard Hindi everyday. And generally I recognised those Indian habits I had encountered the previous month. I was so thrilled! I had just finished completing my photo album of India; my mind was still over there. And there I was, at times thinking I could well have still been in India!

The first few days I was wondering what the hell I was doing there - many of us did. It did not feel quite real. The Pali chants of Mr Goenka before each meditation session were disconcerting and my mind wanted to go home, to get on with my life, I had to adapt to this weird lifestyle. But gradually I accepted. I had no choice. And slowly my habits developed into a routine that just became... what it was supposed to be. And those times when I really didn't want to face another meditation session, I was bound to realise that time was slower anyway than when my mind was focused, so I had better get on with it anyway. So my mind eventually became quieter and quieter. I became more and more content. And of course, as time went by I started analyse what I was taught and to understand the functioning and purpose of the meditation. And how much sense it all made, and how amazingly the course was organised - that first time when it rained and I thought I was going to run to my room a bucket full of umbrellas was waiting for us outside of the hall. On Day Three when I overslept and one of the organisers had to wake me up, she was full of acceptance and compassion and told me not to worry and to just go to the hall. Making me worry or feel guilty, of course, would have disturbed my mind. Absolutely *everything* was cared for, in order to keep our mind as quiet as possible in order for the meditation to be most effective. There were of course difficult emotional moments (I had to cry a few times to release my anger) but after a while I understood that they were just mind issues I was getting rid of and eventually I again became grateful for the work I was doing. And usually I wasn't unhappy at all, but peaceful and content. And more mindful. Being in the moment and going back to the breath was really like I had returned home.

My sense of time soon dissipated. It seemed to pass very slowly, yet at the same time the days were over quickly. The most difficult moments of the day for me were early mornings. The first hour of meditation (4.30-5.30) was usually alright, but the second was such a struggle, that each day I had to go back to bed for 30-45 min before the next meditation sitting of 8am. When that was achieved I knew I was going to be ok for the rest of the day. I had no choice but to take every moment as it passed, step by step. And gradually the day unfolded itself. It was like a cycle. Of course, I had no idea what day or date it was. It all just was a big continuing flow... It seemed long, yet by the end it was all like a really quick dream with every moment blending into the next... The words cannot express.

In the beginning during sitting there was a lot of physical pain. I had to change position often, to adjust my meditation sit with various cushions and blankets to make it as comfortable as possible to avoid the pain from sitting long hours as much as I could. But I soon learned that it was a vain task, because whatever position I took, there was going to be pain anyway. In my back, in my thighs, in my knees, in my neck. And the only way it was going to pass away was by accepting that pain. And so I was grateful for the three hourly sessions where we were not allow to move, because I realised that the pain was worse when I tried to avoid it by moving than when I determined myself not to move. Because by not moving and by accepting the pain, it dissolved a lot more quickly blending in the sensations. I also discovered something interesting in my body. I had known from yoga that one of my thighs was more flexible than the other and couldn't remember which one. But after a while, from observing the pain it was obvious that it was the right one. And my straight back always tended to fall towards the right - I had to readjust whenever I was aware of it - provoking pain in the lower-left part of my back, and probably tension on my right hip. It just all seemed to make sense... But by accepting, gradually that too went. And by the end of the retreat I could sit for an hour or even at times one and a half hour in one go. For when the mind is concentrated in deep meditation it is a little like sleep: long hours have gone by but when you wake up it seems to have gone very quickly.

Over all, the meditation retreat was not a big blow for me. I knew (to a certain extent) what to expect, I had already practiced vipassana, and I already had experienced, and agreed with the whole philosophy behind it. But now it is crystal-clear to me how the technique works, and indeed I realise just how amazing it is. In Vipassana, we train our mind to be sharper and sharper in order to study the sensations of our body and eventually to feel, experience, the impermanence law of nature (Dhamma) in our body - how everything rises and passes away. We get to know it not on the intellectual level but on the actual *experiential* level (that is, deeper in our consciousness rather than just in the surface of the mind) so that it is no longer blind belief, but becomes an experience we witness and we can no longer doubt. In the process we learn how to eradicate aversion towards unpleasant sensations and craving for pleasant sensations so that we have no choice but to become equanimous towards everything that happens to us. It is a (life-)long and at time painful, but incredibly rewarding process to eradicate suffering. So Vipassana is in no way mystical or weird or whatever... We don't create those sensations throughout the body. Those are natural, constant sensations; it's just we learn how to be aware of them. And as the mind gets sharper and sharper we learn how to "reach" the unconscious to uncover and deal with deep-rooted issues in the mind: they arise in the form of (unpleasant) sensations, and in turn we have no choice but to stay equanimous towards them during the practice, to let them go... I had known that issues arise in meditation but had felt *very* perplexed about this. I am now fortunate enough to have experienced such a storm on Days Seven and Eight!! It was an issue I knew of, it was clear, I recognised it. My heartbeat was fast, I had to cry, it was scary, but then what was I to do? I had no choice but to continue scanning my body and to accept. Eventually it passed... And however difficult it was at the time, this experience left me with an amazingly strong and rewarding feeling!

All announcements were communicated via notices on the notice boards. On Day Nine, one of them said "Noble Silence will end tomorrow at 10.00". Even though silence really had not been the most difficult part of the journey, I almost cried with joy! For the first nine days I had observed these women, having a feeling by the end that I knew them quite well. But when we started speaking again, I realised just how different people look with expressions on their faces, and how different they actually looked when they smiled. And no, I didn't know them at all after all! I had not laughed for ten days and just to laugh at everything for quite some time! There was no shyness. Everyone said hello to everyone, smiling without no end to one another for having shared such strong moments, however different our adventures had been. They all had amazing life stories, coming from different backgrounds.

It had felt like the perfect moment for me to go on such a retreat, with respect to where I am in Life at the moment. And perfect it was indeed; Life confirmed it to me. I met an Australian woman who (1) lives in Edinburgh and was going to share my train journey back home, (2) who told me of a Vipassana meditation sitting group in Edinburgh, (3) who has been involved with the coming of the Dalai Lama in Edinburgh two years ago as part of her work - not only that, but he is again coming back next month!!! (and she is involved again.) (4) She knows a violinist player who will probably be able to give me lessons (5). She wants to share some 5-rhythm dance classes with me. (6) She is going to Nepal and Tibet in January and she has given me the name of a good organisation to help meto perhaps find teaching work in Tibet. (6) Her partner works for an association for people with learning difficulties. (7) The best friend of her partner is the son of my yoga teacher! I am completely blown away by this encounter. All this in just one person; could there be any better opportunity at this point in my life!?!? Dhamma really rewards you when you surrender to it, when you do things with your heart.

So... such a retreat may sound very scary, but after all, as one of my fellow-meditators said; there is nothing to be scared of. After all it is nothing but you. :)

I had the chance to stay one extra day at the end of the retreat, and so participated in the community life that fills the centre outside meditation retreats. Here live about five long-term people along with volunteers who come and go for periods of a few weeks to a few months. There they offer their services, doing various tasks (cleaning, washing, laundry, cooking, gardening, building work, office work etc.) that is needed to run the centre. For free, obviously, they can live there. There is no hierarchy. An individual can be a Vipassana teacher for ten days and become a builder thereafter. It's like a big family of like-minded, aware, kind, and basically amazing people. I only stayed for one day but it gave me a great inside in such community life. People from all backgrounds come and go here. Once you have been on a 10-day course you know what it is all about and you can go and spend time in any Vipassana centre like that in the world. Some people go from site to site, from country to country, like this - and indeed it is an interesting way to travel! In just a day I had already become part of it, there was no shyness because shyness is out of the point - we are all the same; we are all one. We all have respect, acceptance, and kindness towards each other. I spoke to amazing people and was integrated straight away. People help each other; people there are selfless. Before I left I could help myself of fruits and make a sandwich, it was obvious, there was no need to ask. By staying an extra day I also had the opportunity to watch films about Vipassana for children and Vipassana taught to prisoners to make their lives more bearable (and to see more of India on telly and feel my eyes we joyful tears!)

I conclude with those words from Ken Wilber, which I believe are very true:

"I would say meditation is spiritual, but not religious. Spiritual has to do with actual experience, not mere beliefs; with God as the Ground of Being, not a cosmic Daddy figure; with awakening to one's true self, not praying for one's little self; with the disciplining of awareness, not preachy and churchy moralisms about drinking and smoking and sexing; with Spirit found in everyone's Heart, not anything done in this or that church. (...) Meditation (...) seeks to go beyond the ego altogether; it asks nothing from God, real or imagined, but rather offers itself up as a sacrifice toward a greater awarenesss. Meditation, then, is not so much a part of this or that particular religion, but rather part of the universal spiritual culture of all humankind - an effort to bring awareness to bear on all aspects of life." - Ken Wilber; Grace and Grit, p. 76 (my italics)

For more information:

  • International Vipassana website: www.dhamma.org
  • What Vipassana is + code of conduct
  • Dhamma Dipa; Vipassana meditation centre in Hereford, England
  • Interesting academic article about Vipassana (although the best way to understand Vipassana is to practise it yourself - just as you can't learn to ride a bicycle by just reading a book about it... ;)

  • Daily timetable:

    4:00 a.m.--------------------Morning wake-up bell

    4:30-6:30 a.m.---------------Meditate in the hall or your own room

    6:30-8:00 a.m.---------------Breakfast break

    8:00-9:00 a.m.---------------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL

    9:00-11:00 a.m.--------------Meditate in the hall or your own room

    11:00-12:00 noon------------Lunch break

    12 noon-1:00 p.m.-----------Rest and interviews with the teacher

    1:00-2:30 p.m.---------------Meditate in the hall or your own room

    2:30-3:30 p.m.---------------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL

    3:30-5:00 p.m.---------------Meditate in the hall or your own room

    5:00-6:00 p.m.---------------Tea break

    6:00-7:00 p.m.---------------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL

    7:00-8:15 p.m.---------------Teacher's Discourse in the hall

    8:15-9:00 p.m.---------------GROUP MEDITATION IN THE HALL

    9:00-9:30 p.m.---------------Question time in the hall

    9:30 p.m.---------------------Retire to your own room - lights out

    Thursday, 25 August 2005

    One more day

    Back in Delhi. In 24 hours we will be waiting in the airport for our plane. I don't know in what state I will arrive, since sleeping on the plane will work as our only night... wohah... and the comfort of Aeroflot isn't the best... :p

    Nevermind... I can't remember when I wrote last... I think it was in Haridwar... Yes... After that our final destination was Rishikesh, another city on the Ganges. We will have seen the Ganges from 4 different cities, and in Rishikesh, we even found a little beach and bathed in it. :) This morning. It was very pleasant to say the least, albeit rather cold... but in the heat very refreshing. The speed of the current of the Ganges is rather scary, it's so fast it looks funny... But we were careful and it was ok. :)

    We found another companion in Rishikesh, who travelled from Haridwar with us. A young German guy from Leipzig, very friendly. We laughed a lot and joked about chapatis (aaaargh... dunno when I'll eat those things again...) We went to a concert last night but it was disappointing. We will have spent lots of time with various people we met, it was great. We end up our trip with the contact details of about 8 new people. :)

    Anyway, Rishikesh was really nice. Very yoga-meditation etc. with ashrams and OM symbols everywhere... So, we stayed again in an ashram but this one was a lot more pleasant and friendly than the one from Haridwar. We could have taken another Yoga class but unfortunately I got ill again - recovered pretty quickly though - and we didn't have much time. This place made me want to go on retreats though... Arhh... :) And the room in this ashram was so cheap for such a palace (200 Rs i.e. 4 euros for both of us!).

    So yeah back in Delhi after a long 7-8 hour bus drive... Delhi is such a mess; we hadn't missed that traffic and those horns... But it is kind of fun... Tomorrow we will probably go to a quiet garden whose name I forget and go shopping some more before heading to the airport...

    Flight at 3 am...

    So our itinerary was:

    Delhi - Agra - Varanasi - Allahabad - Kajuraho - Orchha - Gwalior - Jaipur - Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj + Bhagsu - Manali + Vashicht - Haridwar - Rishikesh - Delhi

    We have seen a lot in one month. :)

    And been in very many autorickshaaawwwwws.............. :p

    And been amused by the countless spelling mistakes seen on signs and menus (the best being 'spenatch' and 'costember' (customer)... :p)

    Now my worry is the price I will have to pay for the tons of photos we need to develop... ;)

    Monday, 22 August 2005

    Haridwar

    Manali was another pleasant town in the mountains, where the temperature was as cool as in Dharamsala. There wasn't much to do, however we went for a 2-hour ayurvedic massage and a consultation. It was most interesting. The two Swamis detected something very relevant about Niko, which really convinced us about the reliability of this.

    We are presently in Haridwar, which means "God's Gates" in Sanskrit. We sweat like beasts again, but my stomach seems to be back to normal for good now (touch wood!) Haridwar is another holy town on the Ganges. We are staying in an ashram where the food is free; I had never imagined an ashram would be so posh... It feels rather severe. The town is very pleasant, even though there is not that much to do here either. More temples... We wanted to go to Chila to go to a natural park this morning, in order to ride elephants, but when we arrived there we learnt that it wasn't allowed for a month. It's a shame... I really wanted to ride an elephant. At least I have seen one on the road from the bus about last week (Niko didn't even see it though!)... So I *have* seen an elephant in India (and maaaaaaany cows, and goats, and dogs, and pigs, and cats, and donkeys, and horses, and monkeys, and camels... and lizards, and snakes and bugs... :p)

    Anyway, the end is near and we have only one destination left, Rishikesh, before heading back to Delhi.

    Thursday, 18 August 2005

    Dharamsala cont'd

    We are still in Dharamsala, well to be precise McLeod Ganj. We have spent three days here; I am in love with the place and I will definitely come back some day. I had felt something good would happen here and it did; we ended up meeting a new friend-for-life here, whilst wandering around town...

    She is a Francophone Swiss girl with a totally amazing life story, and we clicked straight away; since then we have spent all our time with her. We met her as she was looking for an English word and it came out in French; I helped her find it... We then started speaking as if we had known one another forever, and she told me she had been working as an English teacher in Calcutta... Now if I want to go there to teach English, not only have I got the right contact, I may also have a companion as she may well do it as the same time as me... We will see...

    By last night she had totally convinced us to go for an ayurvedic consultation (probably in our next destination) (her mother has been treated for almost 20 years and she gets treatment as well; it is even more comforting to know that from someone occidental you know...) and we have totally convinced her about finally taking on yoga. I wanted to go to a yoga class here in India but didn't want to fall into a rip-off class for tourists; she's been here fore two weeks and knows a very good class so we will go with her in two hours. :D

    We have also had our best Indian breakfast here in a small Tibetan bakery/coffee shop (Tibetan bread is amazing, and even there apple tart tasted great!) and we have met a Tibetan refugee; totally honest and good-hearted man... We have heard some of his stories about his family about the Tibetan history and condition... He had glowing eyes when he spoke about his dear country, to which he cannot return or else he would go straight to prison... Refugees are obviously better-off in India but still rather taken advantage of by the Indians. He earns 1000 Rupees per months, that is 20 euros (!)... - He dreams of having an education, but now our Swiss friend has decided to sponsor him so that he gets the chance...

    This place is so very inspiring... There are so many more ideas boiling in my head; this meditation retreat will definitely be the perfect conclusion of my trip to help me find what comes out of it and where I go from now...

    Tonight we are taking a night bus on to Manali.

    (I have now been speaking French almost constantly for three months and my English doesn't feel so fluent...grrr...)

    Tuesday, 16 August 2005

    Dharamsala

    So, after almost 24 hours of bus journey we find ourselves in Dharamsala, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and of countless Tibetan refugees. As I so wanted to see Tibet, needless to say I am happy here... It feels like an entirely new destination; besides it has rained a lot and now the temperature is so cool that I can wear jeans, closed shoes, and at times even a jumper. How refreshing! And there are the mountains and the incredibly low clouds to make the landscape amazing.

    There are Tibetan people everywhere; hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist monks and nuns are part of the scenery...! It feels completely amazing here. We have seen the residence of the Dalai Lama, his temple, and an amazing Tibetan museum. It is also a lot more quiet and peaceful here, no more concerts of horns and beeps and terribly heavy and noisy traffic; beggars are less aggressive also.

    I feel incredibly lucky and yes, blessed too. My heart is filled.

    Monday, 15 August 2005

    Saturday, 13 August 2005

    Second half of the trip

    It seems we are having a little difficult few days in our trip. We've pretty much lost three days, well time is never lost and it's all part of the experience but there we go...

    We clearly 'shouldn't' have stopped in Gwalior given the time it took us to arrive in Jaipur, after various breakdowns and things that slowed us down (e.g. three hours to get a train ticket etc.)

    Today we are in Jaipur, Rajasthan at last, but Niko has been ill all day, sleeping and resting. Like I did in Khajuraho four days ago... I have been very fine since I've not eaten Indian since, in order to rest my tummy... It really helps.

    We were stuck as to where to go next and a little worried as we have only two weeks left, that is ten days if we want to be in Delhi back on time for the flight... We were thinking of going round Rajasthan but without conviction... Today in the hotel I met an Israeli guy who helped us though. He knows India very well and has been travelling for 18 years (!)... So finally we are deciding to go up north to see the Himalayas...

    Next destination Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama spends all of his birthdays and where there are numerous yoga and meditation (vipassana) retreats... Then Manali; in this area it looks a little more like Tibet too, so we will see very different landscapes and sceneries. I like the idea very much... :D

    Thursday, 11 August 2005

    Gwalior

    Ok, perhaps I should write another little entry as I am in an internet cafe... Problem is, I dunno what to write. Useless heh.

    Khajuraho was amazing. We met three young Indians (ages 17, 17 and 20) with whom we developed proper friendship. As a result we stayed there for four nights, two of which we spent in their family's house. That was amazing, they took us off touristic tracks, we rode bikes to the breathtaking, splendid nature, in the mountains, in little villages. We were greeted by a farmers family where nobody spoke English, got offered chai tea and food, got greeted by lots of village members, surrounded by countless adorable children... People smile so much here and we smile so much too. Our friends have taught us some Hindi, which I totally enjoy practising with people... To their delight... It really brings a lot to communication to speak their language. :D

    The best of the trip is the fact that we live in the here and the now, truly, we are fully present to everything that happens to us.

    Another amazing experience happened in Orchha, two days ago... The five hours we got to spend with a sadhu, that is a great yogi sage who has given up all possession, ties, family etc to devout his life to enlightenment. People follow them, ask them questions about Dharma and gods and wisdom etc. etc. And we spent time with him. He called us our brother and sister... We spent time talking, laughing, smiling, drinking tea, eating, sharing food, giving, practicing Hindi, and at night, I was the only woman sitting next to the sadhu, whilst a crowd of Indian men sang mantras and played percussion. I was even escorted to a temple. It felt very privileged as I was taken by the sadhu, I was his sister Meena (my new Indian name... :p).

    It's such a mess to write here. There is so much to say (again)... But I am amazed; I am blown away... And it's easier to write when things come in my paper journal than the few times I get access on the internet...

    Today I write from Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh.

    Tomorrow we are off to Jaipur, Rajasthan...

    Thursday, 4 August 2005

    Fascinating India

    Almost a week already and only now we have found proper access to the internet...

    We arrived in Delhi one day late as we missed our connection from Moscow... It was a whole experience in itself though as we had to stay 'prisoners as passengers with no visa' in a Russian hotel, were fed etc. Many people were in our case so we met lots of interesting characters in the process, including a Dutch couple with whom we spent our first week. They are now in Katmandu, Nepal and we have carried on our journey through India. They will pick us up in Amsterdam though at the end of the month.

    So, I have already been to Delhi, Agra (Taj Mahal), and Varanasi/Benares, the holy city on the Ganges. Now we find ourselves in Khajuraho after a 12-hour taxi drive with a 'private chauffeur'...

    I needed a few days to adapt as everything was very disconcerting at first, overwhelming and lots to handle. But I feel perfectly fine now and I totally love India. There is so much to see, far too many pictures taken already; I especially love the children, who are so adorable and beautiful. Everywhere we go we see the looks at people on us, like they have never seen white people before. But it is not unpleasant at all, because their looks are curious yet pure and honest at the same time.

    There is so much to see in India, the amazingly messy traffic, the cows everywhere, the vivid colours, the amazing landscapes, the beautiful women in saris, carrying things on their heads... the temples, the boat trips on the Ganges, the enormous Taj Mahal, the music, the smells... And the food is amazing...

    More later... There is far too much to say.

    Wednesday, 3 August 2005