It’s 6:44PM and the power just went out in what seems like all of Koh Lanta. I have 36% battery life on my iPad and I have to write about this.
My cousin, Adam, and I left our hotel in Phuket this afternoon at 12:20PM. We had to take a van to the dock, a ferry to Phi Phi island and connected to another boat for the ride to Koh Lanta. After a 20 minute songtew ride, we finally arrived at Lanta Pavilion.
I should mention that Adam has been sick since we got in the van.
Yes, that’s right, for a full 6 hours, he has been severely out of commission. After we checked in, I picked up some Gatorade, Ginger ale and lime soda for him at a nearby 7 Eleven (yes they have over 4,000 7-11s in Thailand.)
About 10 minutes after I got back to the bungalow, the power went out.
So were sitting here in the dark, I’m writing this entry, drinking our entire stock of Chang Beer and hearing Adam moan and share his war stories from this afternoon.
Probably the only plus side of this was that I got to see Phi Phi island and the sunset on Koh Lanta.
And the power is back ON. 7:03PM only took about 30 minutes Lanta…things are looking up!
I need to vent for a minute. Why is it that Indian men feel this incessant need to poke into your personal space? It seems they are all trying to bother me about something.
Some want to take me on a ride in their rickshaws, tuk tuks, or taxis. Others want to sell me something I don’t even find it interesting. Prime example: a bindi paint kit. (Like I have the skills to actually paint a bindi on my own forehead) A few men have offered their unsolicited help with my train ticket. A handful have asked to take my photo. And most of the rest just creep up next to me and invade my personal space. It’s annoying!
It’s interesting that Indian women tend to be demure and conservative as they cover their legs and shoulders but the men don’t respect privacy and personal space. They aggressively demand your attention and don’t know when to back off. I’m over it. For a culture where men still seem to take the lead role in the family and are typically the primary wage earners for the household, the Indian people could use a lesson in decency, privacy and respect of others.
Soon enough, I will be able to avoid eye contact with others on the subway in New York and I will enjoy every minute of it. Shortly after I get my fix, I’ll be on my way back to beautiful and snowy Colorado where I flourish and love every minute of my life.
Until that time, I vow to lose the ‘tude and enjoy every last minute of my time in India.
India Rant-The Bright Side
After I finished writing my last entry, I got off the train in Jaipur. My hotel scheduled a tuk tuk driver to pick me up from the railway station and escort me to the hotel. The hotel owner told me I was to meet a guy named Rafik outside of a restaurant called Refresh. Serendipitously, our meeting was refreshing. I passed through a few of the typical Indian men that I just had just finishing ranting about. From the minute I met Rafik, I knew he was the light I needed to get from the dark side to the bright side.
Rafik is an angel and his story will explain why he has stolen a special place in my heart.
Born in Fatephur, a small village in northern Rajasthan, Rafik never had the chance to attend school or learn how to read or write. He had an arranged marriage at the tender age of 15. Now 37, Rafik and his wife have seven children. Four Girls and Three Boys-all under the age of 22, each born two years apart from the other.
Three months ago, Rafik arranged a special triple wedding for his three eldest daughters. His eldest daughter is the only one that is old enough to live with her husband. The others have to wait until they are older before they move out. Since the wedding was so expensive, he could not afford to send the other children to school. It costs 40,000 Rupees or approx. $650 to send his five youngest to school for 1 year. Rafik never had an education and even though he wants one for his children, it’s just too expensive and unfortunately, impossible.
Over the past 20 years, Rafik has travelled all around India driving tourists and locals in his tuk tuk and taxi. He has seen every part of the country yet he is still so proud to be a Rajasthani! Unlike the other Indian men I’ve interacted with, Rafik is gentle and warm. He is not aggressive or boastful. He is genuine, loyal and a sincere pleasure to be around. He has never had a sip of alcohol or a drag of a joint, beedie or charra. He is responsible, reliable, honest, gracious, kind…I could go on all day. Overall, Rafik doesn’t want for anything, only that his clients are happy as they enjoy their trip.
In Jaipur, it is typical for tuk tuk drivers to host one tourist or tourist group during their entire stay in the pink city. Since there are so many attractions to see, the drivers will take you around the city and wait outside while you meander through the various palaces, forts, temples and museums. You pay them for their service in a lump sum at the end of your visit. Even though I read about the protocol before I arrived, I was a little reluctant to spend money on a personalized driver to follow me around all day. On my first day in Jaipur, Rafik suggested he drive me around but I decided to try a group tour instead.
Boy was that a mistake!
I took a “tour” in a giant army truck with no tour guide, a driver that only spoke Hindi and 9 Hindi speaking tourists. It took us a full hour to pick everyone up. We were given an hour to see The City Palace & Jantar Mantar. In fear of missing the bus, I only got to see The City Palace. After waiting another 20 minutes for the driver to show up, he took us to some huge bazaar where I had no interest to shop but felt the pressure to buy. Eventually, we made it to Amber Fort. We had an hour to explore an enormous fort so I almost got lost as I tried to finish the quick visit. It was time for the tour to end and we had only seen two places when they advertised for six or seven. I hopped off the bus just inside the city walls and took another tuk tuk back to my hotel.
When I got back, I immediately called Rafik and decided to take him up on his offer.
The rest of my time was easy, effortless and fun! Rafik drove me all over the city. We hit Albert Hall, Hawa Mahal, Jantar Mantar, Ngaragh Fort, Jawal Mahar, Monkey Temple, Hanuman Temple, Iswar Gol and the Royal Tumbas. I even rode a camel.
He introduced me to a few local spots where I could find the best Lassi and Chai around. We enjoyed conversation over lots of Dahl Makhani and Palak Panner.
I learned about his city, heard his story and enjoyed my final days of my journey in India with a man who has so little but yet so much. Rafik’s smile is rich with splendor, so vibrant and full of pure joy….Truly Magical!
Thank you Rafik for being a decent man and guiding me around the pink city with ease, care and security. I am forever grateful for you and your kindness. You are a bright light that has surely helped me to see the bright side of this incredible journey in India!
Think this might have been my favorite experience thus far. I keep thinking about it and since I’m listening to the Beatles on the train to Agra, I feel compelled to write about it.
Maharishi’s ashram was just around the corner from where I stayed in Rishikesh. Sadly, it’s been closed for a number of years and has since been damaged, vandalized and ripped of anything that would be of use to the locals (i.e. windows, light fixtures, etc).
Apparently, Maharishi abandoned the property when he retreated to the US to share his knowledge and wisdom of transcendental meditation with westerners. After it was vacant for a number of years and vandalism occurred, the government took ownership in an effort to preserve what remained of the holy sanctuary. It is prohibited to enter the property but our trusty tour guide Sachin showed us the back way.
At first, I was reluctant and hesitant to enter the premises as my rational mind got the best of me. In retrospect, I didn’t have anything to worry about. I don’t think I saw one person of security or authority the entire 10 days I spent in Rishikesh but we did see these crazy spiders.
Sachin was born at the ashram and told us stories of his childhood growing up there. He took us into one of the 80+ caves and we practiced meditating like George, Ringo, Paul & John had once done. In typical Indian male fashion, Sachin found it more suitable to pose like a catalog model.
The grounds were full of little nooks and crannies where the caves stood strong. We walked through a maze of caves to find the main building where Maharishi resided. Built with marble and stone, I tried to picture how lively and luxurious this place once was. In reverence to the forgone community, I tried to perfect my handstand.
A few meters away, we entered a spacious high ceiling room that was probably used for congregations, satsangs and kirtans. The space is now adorned with graffiti art of visitors who painted and wrote all over the walls to honor the memory, history and legacy of the ashram. This was where the community came together back in the day and it was very cool to see the community still present, shown with heart, art and spirit.
As we left the grounds of the ashram, the nine of us were walking out in two separate groups at two different paces. I started singing one of the Beatles songs and my group quickly joined me in song. Soon after, the group behind us started singing another Beatles tune as well. It was the most enjoyable and magical experience I’ve had so far. So lucky to have felt the love, warmth and magic of this historical place.
It’s my last day in Varanasi. India is seriously intense and energetically draining but I’ve had such a nice time staying at the palace known as Hotel Surya.
Thanks to the divine for this place of luxurious refuge.
My friend Sona and his family have owned the property for the past 30 years. His grandfather purchased the palace from the King of Nepal. It is literally a palace fit for a King, or Raja, and it’s pretty sweet that the King is my friend.
With stain glass windows, marble floors and a huge courtyard in the center of the grounds, Hotel Surya is an oasis of serenity in the midst of complete chaos occurring just outside its walls. The staff at the restaurants, spa and travel agency are taking such good care of me, I feel like a princess. Definitely not what I expected when I decided to come to Varanasi but I’m pleasantly surprised and happy to indulge in the amenities.
Outside the palace, life in Varanasi is a little different.
Inhabited by civilization for over 2,500 years, Varanasi is the oldest city in India. Naturally, there are some things about the city that need improvement. Trash is everywhere, roads are are all torn up and traffic is chaotic; comprised of cars, trucks, tourist vans, buses, bicycles, rickshaws, tuk tuks, pedestrians, cows, dogs, donkeys, pigs and water buffaloes. The infrastructure needs a serious face lift but it appears that improvements are coming soon.
During my time out exploring the city, I was exposed to the pollution and absolutely disgusted by the lack of care and concern for the environment. Locals discard their trash on the street and directly into the river. Granted they don’t have a sufficient disposal system but the behavior is completely irrational and unnecessary.
It’s tough to watch them destroy the land and water they cherish so much.
The Ganga River is so sacred and holy to the people of India. They bathe in the river with the belief that it cleanses them of sins and thus brings them closer to the divine. As I witnessed in Rishikesh, locals honor the river with a nightly ceremony called Ganga Aarti. In Varanasi, I took a boat ride from one of the ghats, or staircases, alongside the river to the main ghat where they hold the evening ritual.
Instead of enjoying the devotional ceremony, I watched young boys sell styrofoam cups and aluminum cups filled with marigolds and candles to send down the river. Oh, how stirred I was to see items that takes hundreds of years to decompose floating alongside the boat. I also saw a young boy finish off a plastic bag of masala flavored chips and then just as I anticipated, I reluctantly watched him throw the empty bag directly into the river. So sad.
Last night, Sona took me down to see the crematorium at one of the ghats. He was very nice to accommodate my request as he has minimal interest in watching dead people burn alongside the river. It is believed that Hindus must come to Varanasi before they die in respect and duty to the holy site where they will eventually be cremated. After the burning begins, I guess they float the bodies down the river to complete the ceremony. Supposedly, the bodies sink to the bottom but apparently, corpses have been seen floating around as well. It’s a sight to see but not one I would like to repeat.
The ash, trash and toxic waste combine to make for a complete wasteland.
My heart is breaking over for the people of this country and their complete disregard for the sanctity and purity of the land and water. Prana, or life force is said to come from the river and the land but yet their life force is tarnished, damaged and polluted.
Perhaps a little education and a change of habit might save this great nation but I feel hopeless, depressed and scared for the world after seeing such activity.
Varanasi has taught me many things. Seeing this part of the world makes me so proud of where I’m from and thankful for my privileged childhood and adolescence. I also feel an immense amount of gratitude for my education, college career and graduate studies for without all that, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I am also fortunate that after all these weeks abroad, I can retreat back to my home in Rye and enjoy the holidays with unconditional love from my family and friends. I’ve had it good. I know that.
When you’re traveling around a country like India, appreciation for the simple life continues to show up. And while I love watching football, skiing, dining out, going to shows and dancing the night away, it all feels pretty insignificant at this point. We fill our schedules, become distracted by competition and rivalries and add meaning to everything from misread messages to insignificant indulgences.
I want to thank you for reading this far. Traveling is a great way to educate yourself on international affairs and world issues. I hope this blogs captures a glimpse of what I have seen and experienced.
My only wish is that you take some time to reflect and refresh your perspective on your life and the world around you. Rather than focusing on what ails you, who hurt you or what is holding you back, think of the abundant and bountiful life you’ve been gifted and what you contribute to save our lovely planet.
The locals call Varanasi, Banaras, and I think that might be the sexiest Hindi word I’ve learned so far. But sexy is definitely not a feeling I’ve had in India. Just saying.
This is a story of 8 people who traveled to Rishikesh, India on experiential journey to find out what happens when they discover the trip is no longer just a yoga retreat but more of a cultural experience to help them capture the divine within themselves.
A life coach.
A yoga teacher.
A spiritual guide.
And a token male.
A completely eclectic group; each person unafraid to share their unique individuality.
And our leader, so strong yet vulnerable. So wise but still full of amazement magic and wonder. So in love with the culture, the people, the history, the devotion and the beauty of Rishikesh that she casts tears of utter joy.
All of us ready and eager to taste, smell, see, feel, here and share the divine blessings of the motherland. And I, so humbled, grateful and honored to be part of this journey.
Tonight, as I sit in Hardiwar train station waiting my train to Varanasi to arrive, I get to enjoy the presence of the full moon. I, myself, am full of warm memories of my fellow retreat goers, the hotel staff and my new Ram Jhula family.
Each new phase of the moon is an opportune time to reflect on what has transpired and where we are headed. And always a great time to let go of what is no longer serving us.
With the rest of my trip, I intend to feel the magic and embrace it fully. I am releasing any reservations I carry of doubt, fear and insecurity. Going forward, I will do my best embody my truth and share it with the world. I will play BIG.
And I will hold space for all of those I love and support to do the same.
After writing this morning about not being able to find the magic in India, I realized that I’ve had it inside me this whole time. I just wasn’t recognizing it, seeing it, experiencing it, feeling it or embracing it.
Swami Shree has told me all week long that the divine is inside. Valerie challenges and inspires us to find that intuitive wisdom that lives within us. Today, I’m acknowledging that the magic has always been there but perhaps my magic was waiting to be awakened.
I recognized it when I captured the essence of the country in my journal after my arrival to Delhi.
I saw it when I watched the community of Rishikesh come together at Ganga Aarti to honor the holy Ganges river.
I experienced it when we visited the Maharishi Yoga Ashram and we sang Beatles songs as we walked the grounds.
I felt it when we chanted harmoniously together during our yoga session this morning. I felt a resounding vibration rising up out of my heart.
I embraced it when I connected with Valerie today and I admitted that I was having a hard time feeling the magic but that I actually had it inside this whole time.
I still have a lot to see on this side of the world and I want to be sure I get the most out of this experience as I can. I don’t want to be ungrateful, impatient, or resistant with the experience. I am free, open minded and full of love, wonder and enjoyment.
As a life coach and yoga therapist, Valerie is a great teacher, a guide on this spiritual path and a phenomenal leader on this amazing journey around Rishikesh. Val and I have been friends since I moved to Boulder and we bond over the NY-CO connections. She mentors me on my offering to the world, whether it be in yoga, personal relationships or business. I am eternally grateful to have her as my teacher.
Here is a overhead shot of this magical land. From our hike to Neelkanth Temple yesterday.
A lot has happened over past few days here in Rishikesh. We hiked to Neer Waterfalls, attended a yoga classes with a local teacher and visited the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga Ashram, the ashram where the Beatles came to stay and study. The owners of the hotel where we are staying welcomed us over to their home for dinner and yesterday, we hiked 7.5 miles to see the Neelkanth Temple, a temple dedicated to honor Lord Shiva, the creator and destroyer of everything.
Days are going by quickly and we are experiencing a lot in this magical town.
I must admit, however, that I’m not sure I’m feeling much of the magic quite yet. I had to share this with the group the other day because I was concerned I was missing something. With the upmost respect for the people of India, their culture and Hinduism, I’d like to explain where I’m coming from.
I’ve never been a very religious person. I was raised Roman Catholic and even though I don’t practice this religion often or attend church, it feels a little strange to embrace Hinduism just because I’m visiting this holy land. And although I enjoy the stories of the deities like Hanuman, Ganesha and Ganapathi, I do believe that they are just parables and not necessarily the truth.
Keep in mind, I definitely value the messages of the Hindu gods and know they have valuable lessons to teach us. I was so grateful to be present in the temple honoring the gods in this special way but I’m not sure I’ve connected to the spiritual piece yet. I believe in what yoga can teach us, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, etc. I practice and teach yoga asana regularly but since I’ve been so immersed in western culture, I tend to speak more to the psychological and emotional aspects that I experience on my mat. I can only share my experience because that is my truth.
“Ong namo gurudev namo” Our leader, Valerie, shared this chant with us in class the other day. With this chant, we seek guidance and wisdom from some high vibrational being, whether that be Shiva, God, the Divine.
So today I am asking these higher vibrational beings to help me see and experience the magic that is happening all around me. Allow me to let my guard down and see the love, divinity and devotion of this magical place or if is already there and within, allow me to acknowledge that beauty within.
Yesterday, we started our day with a very deep hip opening class with Valerie. We spent the day walking around the town of Rishikesh, ate lunch at an Ayruvedic restaurant and did a little shopping.
Since I don’t have much to speak to in terms of our day out, I wanted to share one thing that I took from Val during class.
She spoke of what might happen when we feel closed off or tight in our hips. Our hips tend to hold a lot of emotion so when we work on opening them up or releasing the tension that builds up, some of that built up anger, resentment or sadness can show up. She said that sometimes the energy that we put forth is the exact thing that we need to adjust our state of mind.
Now I’m sure she put it more eloquently than I did, but I completely believe in the point of her message. Instead of running victim all the time, what if we took a step back and realized how much our intention is running the show?
I sincerely believe that the more negative thoughts you think, the more you manifest negative results. Manifestation is such a powerful act so flip your mind set and give it another try.What is stopping you from living your most profound life? No matter how messed up your past was or how poorly you’ve been treated, you have the power inside yourself to change it. Go on a run, read a book, play with a puppy or kitten, do a cartwheel, do cool shit and get inspired and you may start to invite that positivity you are seeking into your life. Do it now….your best life is waiting!
Thursday, November 7th, was our official first day in Rishikesh.
We kicked off the retreat with an afternoon puja ceremony to honor the Hindu deities, Durga, Ganesha and Shiva. From my previous knowledge, I know these sacred mythological beings are worshipped by the Hindu people and at times, honored by yoga practitioners as well. Lord Ganesha is the elephant god and he is said to be the remover of all obstacles. Durga embodies the fierce, fiery female energy and Shiva is the powerful masculine being and represents everything that resides in us all.
The owners of Nirvana Hotel invited local priests to initiate a welcoming ceremony to help us set our intentions for the week. The chants to Shiva, Ganesha & Durga resounded throughout the room and we joined them in blessing the figures on the alter at the center of the space. The priests gifted each of us with handmade flower necklaces and they painted red bindis in the center of our foreheads.
Although unsure of the specific chants, I did catch “Om gam ganapataye namaha” which I’ve sung before in yoga classes and during a few Kirtan sessions. This chant translates to “I offer my love and devotion to Sri Ganesha; please grant me success in my noble endeavor.” Ganesha might be my favorite of the Hindu deities. What a beautiful offering! (Even if you don’t believe in this stuff, you can’t deny its beauty.)
The hotel owner presented our retreat leader, Valerie, with this special poster welcoming us to Rishikesh. It was truly an honor and a blessing to be welcomed in this special way. Valerie is continuously surprised and humbled by their gifts and acknowledgment and I can see why. They are all so warm and welcoming and they hold space for all of us in such a profound and special way.
Last night, we attended the Ganga Aarti which is a daily ceremony to honor the Ganges river. In such an organized and respectful fashion, the entire town gathers to see Swami Chittananda and his disciplines as they chant, sing and pray to honor the river, The Mother Ganga. And the wild thing is, they do this every night!!!
I cannot even begin to describe the love, devotion and solidarity of the people at this event. After singing their praises for Mother Ganga, they pass around gold candelabras with various candles lit and they pass them through the crowd with mindfulness and ease. A few young Indian girls who were seated behind us made sure we had a chance to touch them. At the close of the ceremony, every These traditions are truly remarkable and sacred that I feel so honored and thankful to be a part of them.
That evening after dinner, I met another Swami. Valerie’s Swami, Achrya Shri Ji, sat and enjoyed dinner with us. I eventually asked him about Love and what he thought of it. He shared the following:
Love is divine.
Love is always within us.
Love is always there. Once you love someone, you can never take the love back.
Love is continuous. Love is not there to be given or received. It is always present.
I mean I can’t make this stuff up. So inspiring and full of wisdom.
After that conversation, I retired to bed and slept for a full 10 hours. I think I might sleep better here than I do at home. India, I think I like you. Until next time…
The Delhi airport was definitely a pleasant surprise. I walked out of the plane and through the gate and it looked like I was back in New York. No offense to JFK, LGA or Newark, this airport was much more impressive. Completely immaculate, brightly lit and so quiet. After traveling for 14 hours, I found it refreshing to have a small taste of a silent sanctuary.
Giant hands showing different mudras are prominently displaced to welcome you into the country. Customs check were quick and easy. And after connecting with fellow retreat goers and our driver, we were on our way for an overnight car ride to Rishi.
And finally, the traffic! Whether its a small tut tut, a moped carrying 3 people without helmets or a giant truck that resembled a transformer, it is all a complete cluster fuck. There are no definitive lanes so there is so much honking and swerving between vehicles. They cut in front of each other, drive on the wrong-wrong side of the road and come so close to each other I think we’re about to get slammed…just complete madness! My father would have a heart attack if he saw traffic like this. (Don’t worry dad…I’m not driving). My favorite part? The transformer truck! They are like monster trucks adorned with black lights, tassels, graffiti art, painted deities and fun colors. I’ll try to get a pic to share soon.
Upon leaving the airport, I felt a cool breeze and smelled a hint of burning trash and what I thought to be the sweet smell of cardamom. My friend Tom already warned me about the smell of burning trash and how he, oddly enough, actually missed it. So, to be honest, I found it rather comforting. I had a glimpse of what Tom’s experience was like and somehow it drew me into India a bit quicker. Still, from all the other stories I read and heard…I knew that pleasant aroma would not last long.
Soon enough, once we were in the heart of Delhi bustling in and out of traffic, I caught the waft of other unpleasantries. My retreat mates covered their faces with scarves and scowled at the stench. It must be a mixture of trash, urine, pollution and who knows what else. I really rather not know. The smell has followed us on our way up to Rishikesh tonight, obviously worse in the areas that resemble slums and easy to avoid when we are moving quickly. I’m so glad we retreat to the mountains first. Perhaps there will be more fresh clean air up there….wishful thinking.
In Hinduism, Sanskrit & Yoga, Svadhyaya is the study of the self or self reflection. For me, this blog will be a personal account of my time away and a way for me to share myself with those who will read it.
Here is my satya, or my truth, and full intention for this journey.
In India, I want to drink chai, eat dahl, saag and roti, practice yoga and smoke charras. I want to learn more Sanskrit, study more philosophy and share these gifts with my students. I want to see all different parts of this country and I want to revel in the beauty of it all.
In Thailand, I want to ride an elephant, go scuba diving and explore historic temples.
I want to eat something only Anthony Bourdain can find.
And in Cambodia, Laos & Tokyo, I plan to do the same.
A few years ago, I went on a 5 month journey to study abroad in Europe. I went to study, to experience culture, art and a wonderful “vida en Espana.” Unbeknownst to me, I also went to fall in love for the first time.
On this journey, I’d like to fall in love again but rather intend to fall in love with these countries, with the cultures and with myself. I am so privileged, humbled and thankful that I am fortunate enough to go on an exploration like this. After finishing business school, teaching yoga full time, hustling and being constantly on the move, I hope this trip will provide me the ability to listen and learn how to best take care of me. I am ready to be broken wide open and find clarity for myself on this journey of life.
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for more!
With love and gratitude,
P.S. I wrote this blog on the 8 hour overnight drive from Delhi to Rishikesh. Here’s the view from Hotel Nirvana. Namaste!
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