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The People I Meet …

I can’t say I have been traveling a lot lately. Not the way i started out this journey. On the other hand I always try to encourage co-travellers to go slowly. Not to take the fastest way from point A to point B, not to travel too comfortably and to try to spend more than a couple of days in each place. Traveling is so much more than checkin of the list of places we want to see.

So, even though I have been staying in Rishikesh for the past 5 months,  I have done some travelling. The physical one has taken me to Delhi a few times and to the Nepal once. 

And then there is this RIshikesh journey. Rishikesh has changed so much since I arrived 13 january this year. The Laxman Jhula area was a quiet vilage like place. A few visitors amogst the locals, everyone commenting on the calmness and no one had to be afraid of being run over by jeeps. Crossing the Laxman Jhula bridge was a delight and I used to stop at the middle to let myself be embraced by the wind and energy from Ma Ganga. Taking a deep breath in, holding it, breathing out slowly. Pure magic.

Now, five months later this is a different place. Everything is about business. The Indian tourists and pilgrims are flooding the place which leaves little or nothing of the original Rishikesh. The kids are on summer hollidays so famillies come here to spend a few days in this holy place. Lots of money are spent on offerings, gifts, presents, food for the fish, rafting, speed boat tours. This place has become more of a circus field than a religious ground.

I had a conversation with a young man who told me that he is not religious, he doesn’t dip in the Ganga, nor visits any temples, he never fasts or acts in any other religious way. But still, when he passes a temple he does this thing with his hands, shows respect. Why do you do that, I ask him, since you don’t believe. It is out of fear, he says. What if I don’t do that gesture and something bad happens to me or my familly. 

Last time i went from Delhi to  to Rishikesh I took the train and I had a conversation with a woman on her way to Haridwar. Another of these holy places in India. When she heard I had spent four months in Rishikesh she said to her daugter. This woman spends four months in Rishikesh to show her devotion to the Gods and I don’t even go once a month. Yes, why would one stay in Rishikesh for such a long time if not to show devotion to the Gods. 

Traveling is not about ticking of a list. It is neither about where we go. But foremost, to me, traveling is about the people that I have met or am about to meet. Like this young man who has come from Delhi to find questions. He is holding the book The Monk who sold his Ferrari as it is the bible. So we talk, we share, we spend two days together and then he tells me of his depression and suicide attempt. Yes, we have to be kind, because it is true as it is said, we never know what the next person is struggling in his life. 

The woman I met yesterday evening who offered to give me healing because i was struggling with a percistent cold. I asked her what I could give her in return and she said A hug. So she gave me healing, I felt an ease and when she was done I got up from the chair a took a step forward and opened my arms to give her a hug. She sort of hugged me in that short and not very close way. But I embraced her in a tight, warm, long hug and didn’t let go. I could feel how tense her body was and after five seconds I felt how she surrendered. She exhaled deeply and her whole body relaxed in my arms. The connection between us was extraordinary and I am not sure who was healing who.

Traveling can be all the beautiful places and scenarios we pass. To me it will always about the people I have met and the ones waiting for me to meet.

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Looks and Age …

Apart from the tattoo on your left hand, there is nothing that indicates you have one wild bone in your whole body.

Every day, several times a day, I go to the local chai stall. That is where locals a tourists, indian and foreign, meet. This is the best place to be, my second home. I’ve told you about the owners previously so I won’t bore you with that again. But, yes, they are one of the main reasons why I still go there every day. Depending on the season and the weather I will probably start with something hot just after they open. Like ginger the or coffee. Then go back to where I’m staying, work for some time, shower and leave for the second visit before breakfast around 11. This time I will have chai. And I will probably have on on my way back home for a nap. And then again after my rest, socialising, food, chai stall again and once or twice before going back home to sleep. That is quite a few times I realise, and also the reason why I talk to so many people each day. 

Yesterday afternoon a group of people I already know were sitting there and they had the company of a younger man, perhaps 30+, who was new to me. I sensed good vibes from him. We were people watching and saw the Rajasthani male tourists with their gorgeous turbans passing by. One of the guy said, You could wear your shawl as a turban, let me show you how to wrap it around your head. So he did, and he looked amazing. No wonder, he has a very interesting and good looking face, with well groomed moustaches, a tiny goat beard, beautiful eyes and amazing long hair any woman would kill for. So he tells me a turban would look good on me. I  dismiss the whole idea with the joke I will have to grow my hear in that case. That is when the whole group starts talking about my looks and appearance. 

Calm, composed, regal and sophisticated were some of the adjectives used. And on top of that, the one to me not very well know man says that sentence. 

Apart from the tattoo on your left hand, there is nothing that indicates you have one wild bone in your whole body.

I couldn’t hold back a big laugh, loud and from the bottom of my heart and every other tiny corner of my body. Isn’t it amazing how we all make ourselves a picture of the next person by their looks. The most unimportant part of a human being and we still give it such importance. Being a single female traveller, there are these two things that are sometimes a blessing and sometimes, not a curse but contributes to a less amazing experience. 

Looks and age. 

I’m soon 60 and looking back at the past year and a half I have travelled, I can see that my age and looks have saved me from some unpleasant experiences. Not only because of my age and looks but also because of my experience in life. I know how to behave and conduct myself in different situations, I know what works better and I can tell people off with a confidence I didn’t have when I was younger. Or even when I started this journey. And I don’t get all the unwanted attention from young males the way young women do. That’s on the good side.

On the not so good side, I am not always invited to different social events the way a young woman is, I’m not offered help the same way young women are, or free stays. There are some situations that young people don’t know how to handle. Some younger humans assume a lot of things. That I don’t understand technology, internet, how to find my way, that I can’t carry my stuff and a lot of other things. 

On the interesting side is that I actually don’t look my age which has provided me with loads of laughs. Young men hitting on me, not knowing my age, me observing their reactions when they let them find out.  

Looks and age, two so unimportant parts of a person, the two things we can not change, and yet they are always in focus. I get it. It’s a very human behaviour.

To find out who I am, who you are, to see the person behind the facade, that takes something else. Time and curiosity. It’s when we take the time to have conversations, time to spend with each other, when we take the time to listen without reacting. The most beautiful way on which that can be done is when someone does all of the above without wanting anything back, without any expectations. We should all focus more on that.

That guy also said that I didn’t look like I had done anything wild that I could tell him of. There are lots of stories to tell, I said, but I’m more focused on the wild things I’m about to do in the future. 

 

Today we had 43 degrees Celsius, in the shadow. Now it’s humid and it feels even hotter. I can’t but think of the Englishmen, before they left India, sipping gin and tonic, complaining about the weather. I hate gin and tonic but today I wouldn’t have mind a sip or two.

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It is happening …

It has been 1 year and 7 months since I left my home to travel for one year. Yes, I was supposed to be away for one year but then things happened and I decided to extend my travels with one more year.

So, what do you do when you suddenly get a bonus year, a year whole year, another year to do whatever I want. The sort of opportunity that might never come back. I didn’t have to give it much of a thougt because I sort of already knew.

Twenty years ago a had a vision of me, in Italy, sitting on a porch with a view over a river while writing a book.

It turned out that the vision was partly true. Italy in reality turned out to be India, the porch is a balcony and the river is Ganges.

For the past four months I have stayed put in Rishikesh writing a book. Yes, I have to pinch myself from time to time because it still feels like a dream even though the amount of words I have written indicates that there actually will be a book of some sort. Just like the rest of this journey it feels exiting and scary. But mostly exiting. And just tiny little bit scary.

Less scary now than the first time I actually said it to someone else. I was at the chai stall with a group of people I had just met and one of them asked me what I was doing in Rishikesh. Yoga? No, I said, I am writing a book. Now it looks like i have really written a book. And I have to pinch myself.

The hard thing has been to stay focused. Focused on writing and not thinking about everything else that is not relevant at this point but feels important to other people, so they bombard me these questions and assertions. Do you have a publisher, what is the title, the cover is very important, have you identified the audience, are you a writer. No, don’t know, I guess, no, how do you define a writer. Does it mean my book is doomed because I haven’t thougt about all those and other issues one might wonder.

Lucky me, I have a friend back home who is wise and whom I listen to. Ny is her name. She tells me not to bother about all that. She tells me to keep on writing. So I continue to write. She says there is a time for everything. I know she is wright. Although it is interesting to observe peoples reactions.

Yesterday I met a young german woman. She asked me all those questions and many more and I felt as if I was on trial. Apparently she is a writer working with german and international tv, writing scripts, doing this and that and then she asked me the ultimate question.

– Are you famous?

– Nooo ……..

– You have to be famous if you want the book to sell. If you are not famous you really need to do something that will make you famous before you publish the book.

– ……..

Luckily, I know I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do, and since I am not driven by success or fame, her opinion has little value to me.

Don’t mess with a writer. She might put you in a book and kill you.

Anyway, since I’m busy writing a book, I don’t post much here. But I do continue to post my photos and short texts on Instagram and on my Facebook page. So if you want to stay tuned with my life in India please feel free to follow me there.

I have now been in India for 4 months and have 8 more to go. A lot of fun and interesting stuff is awaiting. I’m going to do at least two more rounds to Nepal, I’m going on a motorbike tour to the worlds highest pass in the Himalayas, my birthday is up in august, in October I’m going to the southern parts of India and much more.  Come, join me on my journey!

Just to give you a hint on the weather right now …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instagram – @hjelmroth

Facebook – Madlén Hjelmroth – Photography & Storytelling

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Emotional, humble and grateful …

6.20 am I open my eyes and see that the light has arrived to this day. It is the early fragile light, but it is there, opening up for a new day. I close my eyes and listen. I hear the birds singing and have so for the past two weeks. Where were they, did they actually mígrate to here or were they just cold and their songs frozen previous to that. Their songs are so full of live and vitality.

In contrast to the tuck tucks on the road, struggling to descend the tiny hilly road. A tractor is going full power up killing any other sound around it. The howling dogs, near and far. The jappy puppy in the courtyard just next to my balcony who is constantly being bullied by his sibling and therefor always screaming . The cow. Crying out nw and then. Someone opening a squeaking gate. Closing it. The mules putting one hoof in front of the other on the asphalt wile on their way to work. The falcon crying.

The wind is moving faster and faster, in circles, between the houses, catching the leaves in the trees, playing with them so that they make sounds, grabbing a piece of the metal roof playing with it, making it sound like thunder.

In between there is some sort of silence but the silent moments get shorter and fewer.

It is early yet, the honking is still yet to start. But soon someone will play music, om shanti om, the kids will arrive to the school next door. Their happy voices will fill the air before the prerecorded melody played on drums starts playing and they sing the national song.

Rishikesh International Film Festival started a couple of days ago and considering the odd hours films would be screened I decided I would rent a scooter to get back and forth. It’s a distance of approximately three kilometres but wow, these three kilometres are en experience to remember.

The road is narrow but still there are at least four to five lanes. All invisible and made up when needed in the instance, in the now, as vehicles travel at two directions. The left hand side traffic is mostly on the left hand side. Mostly. The road is crowded with everyone and everything. Trucks, tuck tucks, motorbikes, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, dogs, cows and everyone are in total extreme hurry or they don’t give a f***k about that there are others on that road. These amazing extremes of india. Driving in daylight is crazy but driving on this road when dark, that is when one can really see how crazy it is.

When the lights from the vehicles try to probe the mix of dust and fumes, and the feeling when that same air hits my face leaving layers of particles almost making it difficult to make facial expressions. And the honking. And every one overtaking any vehicle possible and any possible side of the road. It is a surreal movie being played in front of my eyes and the most surreal thing is when I realise that I am a part of the movie.

Yesterday was the second evening at the film festival and I watched the movie Monk with a camera. I touched me. Just like the one I saw yesterday, The highest pass. They both moved me for different reasons. The fist one because it showed the roads I traveled last year going to Leh, the Himalayas. That movie was not about doing and inner journey through the outer. About facing our fears instead of nourishing them inside of us and the consequences of that. I liked that movie but I also know that one doesn’t have to conquer the highest passes on the highest mountains to face ones fears. The highest passes are within ourselves. I got emotional when watching those roads, the mountains, the scenery. Perhaps because I never thought I would ever get there but I did, and it was as spectacular as I have heard people saying. It was spectacular and it probed my being in a way I can not describe.

Monk with a camera is an amazing portrait of an westerner and his journey to becoming a Tibetan Buddhist Monk but also about his struggle with detachment to his passion for photography. If for nothing else, I would recommend this movie for the simple reason that he could, in such a simple and beautiful way, explain the importance of not focusing on oneself but on others. In the good way that is. When we don’t feed our egos or diminish ourselves. This humble mans words touched me and once again I realise that it is not about how many yoga courses or retreats one attends that matters. It is about what we bring and how we incorporate that knowledge into our everyday lives from them that matters.

I am touched and emotional and once again feel so privileged and humbled and it is 10 pm when I put the key into the slot, press the button, hear when the motor starts and the scooter and I are on our way back through the surreal movie of traffic in Rishikesh.

How dare I drive here, I remember thinking, when I rented the scooter a few days ago. This is one fear which I am addressing. The fear of driving a scooter in India. Being afraid while driving will make me question every decision and movement I am to make on the road. Staying aware and present in the moment helps me stay focused on what is happening around me and I find myself and my vehicle in the same flow as the others.

I am emotional and high on the experience when I park the scooter, open the heavy gate and open the padlock before entering my room. It takes me a while to wash of the dirt and the fumes before going to bed and closing my eyes.

It’s 8.30 am and the kids in the school ext door are singing. What a beautiful way to start my day. Today I will meet with two of three beautiful friends, Pooja and Ishaan, for lunch and a trip to the Neer waterfall. We all wish Sourav could have joined us. The three musketeers, these amazing youngsters, taking me in, giving me so much love, and knowledge and perspective on life. Grateful.

 

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Love, mothers and spring …

There are a lot of things happening in Rishikesh now. Many festivals and celebrations of different sorts. Everything happening the two first weeks in Mars. I realise that the reason to that is the weather. Now it is sort of perfect, in between cold and hot, bearable in every way.

This place has become over crowded and I try to stay away from the crowds as much as possible. The atmosphere is different. The visitors are different. The chai place is crowded. Good for them, I really am happy for them since it means cache for the cold days. And I can hear I am not the only one feeling that way. I am trying to stay away from it all but I also want to see my friends, so I go and endure.

And as always I listen.

I listen to the couple next to me. Both in their early late forties, him indian her Russian or Eastern European. They are struggling. She is asking him questions and requiring to see photos on his Facebook profile, asking about this woman, that child, constantly doubting him in different ways. He is sighing, rolling his eyes, showing and explaining. She is still doubting, he is still trying, new issues, new questions and it so continues. I am confused. But so are they most likely. They never asked for my advise but I know what I am thinking. If it is that much of an effort then it is not worth it.

Love can be so easy with some and so difficult with others.

There is a lot of love here in Rishikesh. Especially now when spring has arrived. I will give you todays riddle. How do you know spring has arrived to Rishikesh. The coconut oil is now in the liquid form. But there are other signs too. In the morning i can hear birds sing outside. Early, before the daylight, they sit outside and talk to me while I stay in my bed and enjoy the performance.

The sun doesn’t set as early as it has previously and therefor the gat is more frequently visited in the evenings. The warmth is still bearable but soon we will get to a point when I will have to adjust my routines. Until now I have been doing my writing in the morning for between two to four hours. I light my candle, make myself coffee, pile cushions and blankets and I am ready to start typing. I love my morning routine but if I want to see some of the daylight i will have to go for an early morning walk and write during the hottest hours of the day.

I also need to get some sort of summer wardrobe. I did get a dress, which I got a lot of compliments on, and it is a good thing it only takes 15 minutes for it to dry, but it would be nice to have one more item. To chock everyone around me.

Life in Rishikesh is Shanti Shanti at the moment but still eventful. Old friends have arrived, new ones have entered my life. I have become mother to two young adult women. A fact to which I am very proud. When it comes to making a change in this world it doesn’t have to be in big complicated and costly ways. Having a conversation, an honest conversation about the not so easy questions, listening and reflecting, sharing thoughts and experiences, if that can inspire and encourage one person to peruse a dream or make a change in that persons life, then it is a big change.

Tomorrow is The International Women’s Day. But as my friend Ishaan said, shouldn’t every day be women’s day. Yes, it should. We will get there.