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Happy Birthday To Me – Again

Today is my 60th birthday. I know, I can hardly believe it myself. I neither look nor behave like it. And I certainly don’t live like it. But still, today marks the day I have lived 60 years. In india, when you ask someone of their age, they would say 60 or 61. 61 if you count the time you are in the womb, before being born. But I will stick to 60. A nice even number.

When my late mother was in her 80 plus she made an attempt to describe how she felt inside being 80 plus. She said: Every morning when I look in the mirror I see this old woman looking back at me. I don’t know who she is.

I totally get what she was saying. Because my mind is still young, I still feel like 20. When I fall in love now it feels the exact same way as it did back then. When I go on adventures I feel the same thrill I did back then. Inside me, my feelings still feels the same way even though my face has more wrinkles and my mind is more experienced.

As I wrote in the post one year ago, from the day I turned 40 I didn’t want to receive any presents that wasn’t a sort of adventure, an experience to add to my life. This year I gave myself the gift of going on a motorbike tour to Ladakh.

We started with a one day tryout on the mountain roads surrounding Vashisht. An important day for both the riders and the pillions to get in tune with each other and to get some understanding for the bumpy roads to come. We had a great day with great weather conditions.

According to Ashish, the guide and owner of Incredible Outdoors, we rode in total 1580 kilometres. This was the route.

Manali (Vashisht)
Pengong Lake
Hundra in Nubra valley
Turtuk for a day trip and back to Hundra
Manali (Jagatsukh)

I was the only one in the group that actually made all the 1580 kilometres on a bike. Well, except for one time over a water crossing when the team didn’t allow me to go on a bike for safety reasons. All the others did, at some point for different reasons, join the supporting car. Me and my two riders did ride in sun, rain, hail and snow, In hot sun and in freezing cold. We went through water crossings and landslides on bumpy and sometimes non existing roads. It was challenging in many different ways and if someone now asked me I would say Yes, I would do it all again.

Not only because of the challenge but also because of the beauty one passes by. The Himalayas, the valleys, the greenery, the high altitude deserts. It is extraordinary and very special.

The most memorable thing about this tour will be, at least for me, the attitude and spirits when things got difficult. The mentality of never giving up. That there is a solution to every problem. And when you conquer the obstacles in front of you, the road ahead is much brighter and easier. To never let fear make ones decisions.

On the second day, just after lunch time, just after we had passed the Baralacha La, we had to stop. There were several trucks stuck on what used to be a road but was now a huge water crossing. The approximately 30 bikes that had arrived before us were just watching the water running more and more fiercely. But that didn’t stop our team.

It was midday and the glacier was melting from the hot sun. What once used to be something one would describe as a road, had now vanished. Washed away by the water charging down the hill like a wild animal. Fierce. New bikes and more trucks kept coming. Everyone scratching their heads. But not our team. They took a walk around and in the water, testing the ground here and there and before I hadn even started getting my head around the situation I saw Ashish driving off. The rest of us were ordered into the supporting car. Prashant, the driver on this tour, took us across safely. Nishu, the mechanic who also happens to be a bike wizard, helped a few riders get their bikes across. And it turned out Ashish was the first one to make it across. During the coming 30-60 minutes our team helped countless of trucks and bikers to choose the best way for crossing the fierce waters.

To never let fear make ones decisions doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be cautious. But definitely not be stoped. That lesson is valid in any situation of our lives. And the 1580 kilometres we did was like a life lived in miniature. It was bumpy and smooth, hot and cold, exciting and tedious. We did use the word ‘boring’ in a sarcastic way. Because no day was boring. Every day was filled with different hurdles we all enjoyed handling. Not focusing on the problem but on all the solutions possible.

I rode all those 1580 kilometres as pillion. It is about trusting the driver. On the other hand the driver has to trust me. Because we are a team and we have to work together to make it work. To get to the goal safely. In the evening on the second day Ashish asked me if I had been afraid during the past two days. I honestly can say I never was. Not even when Nishu was driving. I felt safe. Both on road and off road.

I know some are afraid of dying. I am more afraid of not living a life while being alive.

Thank you Incredible Outdoors, Ashish, Prashant and Nishu for keeping me on my toes and making me feel alive. I loved every second of the ride.

Lets see what this year has to offer.



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Rakhi – with Love …

Sunday in Vashisht. Also being the day of Rakhi. India is full of different Hindu festivals, big and small, all with purposes most Indians have no clue about. But many of them are about love. Some sort of love at least. And some of them, as I see it preserve family values and structures. But, again, most Indians have no real clue what they really mean.

Like this Rakhi festival. This morning my host at the guest house, Manu, told me about it. That it is for sisters to tie a cotton bracelet around the wrists of their brother, for wishing them long life. So we had a conversation about it, what if one doesn’t have a brother, if a male person doesn’t have a sister, what then. In the end I decided to look it up on internet.

It turnes out Rakhi is the actual cotton bracelet. The Rakhi can be tied to someone’s wrist for a variety of reasons and occasions. Today, this special day is called Rajshahi Bandhan and is a happening between sisters and brothers or between men and women who have a sister-brotherly relationship. Here are some examples.

• Given a Raksha Bandhan by a girl or woman to a brother or someone she considers as one, who must then treat her as a sister

• The word ‘raksha’ signifies protection, and ‘bandhan’ is an association signifying an enduring sort of bond; and so, when a woman ties a rakhi around the wrist of her brother, she signifies her loving attachment to him.

• On the full moon of Karkata, or Cancer, sisters tie a rakhi around the wrist of their brothers, who in return give a present of clothing, cash or jewelry and become obligated for the safety of the sister.

• Dainty containers that hold these threads, which possess powers to strengthen the bond of brotherhood, are also ideal for those who wish to send rakhis with gifts to their beloved brothers.

Anyway, it is about love. In a very mysterious way, a lot of things are about love in India. I guess everywhere in the world. It is very much about love. At least in the beginning. Like Valentines Day, Mothers Day or any other day when one is supposed to show love to that special person. To me, those days never have been important. It is never about that day. It is about all the other days that are so many more than this one single day. But it is about love. And love is always about what we do and not what we tell each other, how love is defined in words.

Love can be given and love can be taken away. Love can also be conditioned. This is what I witnessed just now.

I am at one of the local restaurants in Vashisht, the place I most often go to have my breakfast. The owners are a young couple from Nepal. They have a three year old son. Since today is Sunday the little boy is playing outside the restaurant. He has a plastic glass which he fills at the public tap and then spills the water here and there. To some adults annoyance. The boy is just being creative using his fantasy. And then he sees one of the stray dogs lying under my table, next to my feet. He comes with the water filled plastic glass offering the sleeping dog to drink water. His mother takes the plastic glass and says something to the boy with an irritated voice, the she throws the water on the sleeping dog and shouts the usual indian guttural sound used towards unwanted animal presence meaning ‘go’. This is how a childs love for living creatures is taken away. This is how his love is conditioned to be given to some but not others.

This is why it is so important that we take the time to identify and become aware of the reason to our actions. So that we can spread and multiply the good ones. To act lovingly.

With love, I hereby tie a virtual cotton Rakhi around your wrist. To all my sisters and brothers around the world.

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Dear Stranger …

Dear stranger who gave me a lousy review on my FB-page Madlen Hjelmroth – Photography & Storytelling. 

I know your name but I don’t know who you are. We have never interacted and therefore we have never had a dialogue. You never contacted me, you never asked me any questions and you never wanted to know anything about me. But yet you seem to think that you know a lot about me. Apparently you know that I am a bad person. Therefore you want to inform the world of how bad a person I am.

I read your review and decided to help you out in your quest. This is how bad a person I am.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a man who told me that he doesn’t like Facebook because of the culture in it. He is not the only one to have that opinion. There are many people who say they don’t want to be on social media for the same reason. I have always defended internet and social media because it is not about internet and social media. It is about how people are using it, how they behave. The bottom line is that the way people using it, you and me,  are the ones responsible for the culture in it. Just the way we are responsible for our actions and the culture outside social media. In real life. The only difference between social media and real life is that on social media we can write stuff without having to look the other person in the eye. It is like an invisible barrier between sender and receiver. It’s so easy to point at the other person and write stuff without bothering about the consequences. The consequences the other person will have to deal with. 

I am a woman and daily I have to deal with the patriarchy surrounding me and all other women on this globe. Men who say and do things that are offensive but justifying it by saying that they didn’t mean anything by it or that I was the one who misunderstood them. Men who are schooling women in things women already know or that make remarks about details in order to show off their own knowledge. The thing that is called Mansplaining. 

Mansplaining means that men try to explain things to women who already know the fact. Men do it without being invited nor asked to explain. They take it as their quest to inform, teach or in general show off. 

I don’t tolerate Mansplaining on my FB-wall. No matter if the mansplaining is pointed or directed towards me or another woman. That doesn’t mean that man is a bad person but it doesn’t mean I have to tolerate his action.

I don’t tolerate Mansplaining in real life neither. When that happens I tell the mansplainer that his explanations are not asked for and that he can stop. That doesn’t mean that man is a bad person but it doesn’t mean I have to tolerate his action. 

You see, there are a lot of things I don’t tolerate. Like misuse of power, mental or physical abuse, fake news, misinformation, humans and animals being mistreated in different ways, littering, plastic straws and million of other things i believe don’t belong in any society. I am always the first to offer help when I see someone in need of it. I am not afraid of you writing a lousy review on my FB-page. It doesn’t intimidate me. I know who I am. I stand firmly on my own two. 

Who knows, one day we might bump in to each other. If I notice you were in some sort of distress, I would offer my help. If someone was offending you, I would defend you. And if you were the one to cause someone else’s distress, I would ask you to stop. Because that is who I am.  

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Drama In India …

I think India is the one country where drama keeps the Indians alive. I am convinced they can not breath without drama even though they try doing their absolute best avoiding it. They haven’t realised that by trying to avoid drama they are creating it. 

One day, my friend Karen and I wanted to go to Rishikesh. We were at our usual place  having breakfast when we heard one of the owner saying something about going to the market. So we asked him if we could tag along. Raiding three on a scooter is neither unusual nor undoable so there was nothing to stop us really. And he didn’t seem to mind either since he sad yes, lets go in 20 minutes, he said. Karen and I waited for him to give us a signal on when to leave. And we waited. 40 minutes passed and I decided to ask one of his colleagues since we hadn’t seen in a while. Oh, he left for the market with his friend, they told us. 

It turnes out he had planned going to the market with his friend. Since Indians can’t say No,  he said Yes and then ran and hid. He told us we would go in 20 minutes because by then he would be gone and wouldn’t have to deal with any consequences. By now, and after discussing this matter with indian friends, I have learned that it is tabu to ever bring this incident up ever.

The whole Indian society is flooded with drama. Movies, advertisements, news, political debates. Everything is coated with drama. More or less.

My country is well known for being neutral, not causing drama if avoidable and political correctness was probably invented there. I don’t always sympathise with the way things are done in my country but I guess that is needed in order to evolve. One of the things I love about my country is that people try to listen to each others point of view. Debating. It’s like watching two players on a tenis court. The ball goes back and forth between the two players. I love debating when the ones involved actually listen to each other, reflecting upon what has been said before responding. 

I am not easily chocked or scared, but one day I happened to see one of these political debates on Indian national tv and I was both chocked and a lot of question marks were straightened out. I have seen the everyday life in India and how drama is created. How people can get into big fights because everyone wants to be first. Be it on the road or buying a bus ticket. The arguments are loud,, the language is foul and the body language almost abusive. The day I say the political debate I witnessed the same behaviour. Political representatives for the parties shouting, not listening to each other and overall creating more chaos, confusion and drama than anything else. 

Same thing with love in india. The dramatic scenes in movies and music videos are very much about extremely handsome masculine men being in charge and on top of things while women are portrayed as extremely beautiful feminine and submissive. And when these men and women interact with each other there is always this coat of drama. 

Considering the amount of drama happening in India, one could easily write a trilogy on the matter. I guess this is one of the things I love about traveling. The nuances, the specific colours and tastes in each country one will never know about unless taking the time to experience them.

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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.