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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.

 

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Drugs in India …

I got the flu. Every muscle and every joint in my body is aching. It hurts so much I’m lying in my bed almost crying, comparing this pain with giving birth. Either I got a man-flu or it is as bad as it feels.

This was a few days ago. The flu hit me fast and furious and from one second to next I knew I had to go home. A friend helped me cancel that days social engagements and I started walking home, legs feeling like spaghetti, breath shallow, nose blocked and head being dizzy. I stopped by the convenient store for some food and the medical store for some nasal spray.

The body is an amazing living mechanism. It has so many intelligent functions. After all, it has survived for hundred of thousands of years. The human body sometimes malfunctions but if you look at its history one might say it has survived many attacks. Bugs and germs and viruses, all vicious and ugly and yet, humans continue to inhabit planet earth.

One of the secrets is that to an extent the body can fight its enemies. Like a flu virus or a bacteria. That is what happens when the body responds with fever. Fever above 38 degrees for a certain amount of time is needed for the body to fight the enemy.. So this is what I am going to do. I will let my body do the work while I feed it with food and sleep. No other medications required. For now.

But my blocked nose needs some help so I enter the medical store and ask for some. Oh, yes, the man behind the counter has the brand I’m asking for and we both smile with relief and happiness. And while I am there I can’t restrain myself from asking him, I might as well, since I have read so much about it. The issue that makes some people in india and some people overseas extremely rich.

Drugs sold over the counter not needing a prescription. At least not in India. Drugs like antibiotics as one example. So I ask the man in the Medical shop, how does it work here in India, do you sell antibiotics over the counter, not needing a prescription from a doctor?

Well, yes of course, he says. For most people in India it is very expensive to see a doctor. Instead they can come and buy the antibiotic straight away, he says with a proud voice.

India is unfortunately The country when it comes to usage of antibiotics. The meat industry is pumping the worst ones into the cattle stock that ends up on someones plate and on top of that the usage of antibiotics when people here are self medicating is huge. If this wasn’t enough, there are tons of cleaning products in the convenient store labelled ‘anti bacterial’. Either you want to clean your floor or your face, in India people buy these anti bacterial products which in the long run ruins our immune system. Indias population is on the verge of a catastrophe. But hey, why bother, when keeping the population uneducated in the matter makes some people very rich.

This is the consequence of some people, companies, feeding on other peoples fears.

Overusage of antibiotics and anti bacterials is a global issue not been taken serious enough and not being informed about enough. Antibiotics and anti bacterials also kill the good bacterias, the good ones that keep us in shape. Physically and mentally. So while one industry is feeding on our fears, the fear of being sick, by promoting us to kill bacterias in order to cure, a new industry is flourishing by selling us bacterias to add to our bodies. The saviour, The Probiotic. A paradox.

Anyway, I am much better now. I am hungry, which is a good sign. Now I will have breakfast. Good morning and have a beautiful day to you all.

And stay away from antibiotics and anti bacterials as much as possible. Only use them when really needed. Never as a precaution. If you are a meat eater you probably should try adding more beans into you diet and decrease your intake of meat.

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My room, my life, my people …

I found myself a room in Rishikesh. I love my room.

The building seem to be new, rumors say it was built last year. Considering it’s only first days of February, that means not long ago. It looks like no one stayed in this room previous to me. I might be wrong, but, so what. It’s not a big thing if I am the first one to stay here or not, but it feels like it was waiting for me.

The building is made out of bricks and plastered with cement, two of the new materials used for house building. Bricks holds both heat and cold. Unfortunatelly not the way one would wish. This morning we had 7 degrees celcius in Laxman Jhula, cold and humid The bricks and cement holds the cold which makes it even colder inside. When the weather here is hot, this building will be hot too.

People used to build functional houses made out of mud and bamboo. They are cool in the summer and offer some warmth during winter. But that is not at all a modern way of building houses so people suffer from cold and heat i a completely different way now. Being modern.

This building is built as a hotel. The owners live in the area on the ground floor which is the most common thing to do in India if you own a smaller hotel or business. On the first floor there are four exact rooms, squarish with two beds, one bedside table and two chairs. The bathroom is modern containing one sink, toilet and shower. The balcony is facing east offering some warmth these chilly mornings.

It is a thursday morning. I am standing on the balcony enjoying the view and the sun. Oposite my balcony is a school. I havent seent the children but I can clearly hear them. And their female teacher. I hear them loud and clear. When the teacher is teaching, her voiceis is in a shouting mode. School in india and a lot of other countries in Asia have the Memorising – Reciting way of teaching. Becoming an engineer is not different from going to primary school. It is all about memorising,

Memorising and never questioning what one is being thought. Such a different way from how I raised my children and the school I chose for them. Theory is all good but learning by doing, mixing theory and practice, using critical thinking and debating what is being thought is in my believe crusial. This is not happening in India. Nor in many other coutries in Asia for that matter.

There are some popular educations in India. At least when it comes to the parents liking and kids do as their parents tell them to do. Becoming a doctor or an engineer are two of them. The latter is a very theoretical education. You memorise theories but never get to do any experiments to try the theories. This is what I was told from a newly graduated engeneer.

So I stand on my balcony and listen to the voices of these children, I listen to their innocense and I wonder what they see for themselves in the future in this society which has so much theoretical knowledge combined with a high lever of authority.

Last days of january and the mornings are still very cold. This morning we had gale winds making it difficult crossing the Laxman Jhula bridge. The bridge was swinging, the power of the wind making me lean to my left to hold my balance. The weather is moody and we are all waiting for it to find its inner peace.

I walk through empty steeets. This is the best time of the day. Only a few chai stalls are opened. Most cows and dogs are still asleep and the monkeys are just waking up, making their distinct screaming noises. My favourit chai stall and second home here in Rishikesh is where. I am heading.

Rani is here today. Beautiful Rani. She has a special aura around her. It’s not that she is constantly smiling or doing anything special. She just has something coming from within.

Women in india don’t smile. It would be inapopriet showing anything that could be entrerpreted as an invitation. In Rani’s case that is so obvious she has to keep a distance to the men visiting the chai stall. Even though she is married and well respected in the community, she still is low key towards people she is not close to. I am one of the lucky ones she will grace with her amazing smile. Rani, my Indian sister.

I love this place, the chai shop where one can watch life happen. The ones who come here early in the morning are on their way to work so the discussions are a bit different from the spiritual ones later in the afternoon. The chats in the morning are more of a practical matter. Even Indians who are now fluent in English mix their speech with some english words which I am grateful for, then I can grasp the essence of the conversations bustling around me like flies. Issues are discussed, stories are shared, business partners are found, the locksmith having a chai just got himself a job, people coming and going while Rani is making chai.

Some stand, some sit, but we all try to keep warm. It is us, the humans, and one cow and a couple of dogs. All are welcome, we all stand close, trying to keep warm.

Since a few days back I have a new daily routine. I wake up early, put the kettle on, I arrange my writing spot with blankets, pillows, iPhone and keyboard, make myself coffee and then start writing. I do so for a few hours and then make myself a delicious breakfast containing two boiled eggs, broccoli, collie flower, tomatoes and roasted almonds. Then I either continue writing or I do some laundry, clean my room, enjoy the sun on my balcony.

Then I head down to the village across the bridge. Meet up with friends, chat, go for a walk, do some photography, and have chai and more chats. I have my second meal and at 5 pm I meet up with my pupil, a 17 year old girl I tutor in English. Then probably another chai and chat at the shai shop and eventually I head back to my room and I end my day in the light of a candle and the smell of an inscent.

 

 

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Back to Rishikesh …

I had two choices.

A. Going to a warm place in India, continuing the traveling part of this journey, meaning moving from one place to another.
B. Going to a cold place and staying put.

Thinking back and forth, exploring different possibilities, finally I decided to go for plan B.

Now I’m in Rishikesh and it truly is cold. Perhaps it feels colder to me since I’ve been spending a long period of time in warm or even hot weather.

It’s 8 am 18 th January 2018, 9 degrees Celsius with fair winds, and I’m having a coffee at the local chai shop. This is not any chai shop. This is The chai shop. For me it definitely is. It’s cold. Rani is a 38 year old woman running this chai shop with her husband Satish 40. I found them and the shop last year when I first arrived to Rishikesh. It had been a long journey from Kashmir, I was tired and I had had difficulties finding my accommodation in between the many tiny back always of the Laxnan Jhula part of Rishikesh. After checking in I decided for a walk as I always do when arriving to a new place, a good way to get ones bearings sorted. I walked 50-60 metres and saw this place on the right. It was sort pulling me in, it had personality.

I crossed the street, ordered a chai, sat down and more or less never left. For a reason not known to me, this is where I have met interesting people, Ive had great conversations and this is where one can observe life happening every day.

Even though this place can be packed with tourists it is still very local. Most foreign visitors are here for the yoga, the ashrams. The one month I spent in Rishikesh last year tought me that. Then I stayed at a hostel and newcommers often asked me: do you know a good place for Yoga? Next question would be; do you recomend any special place to go? Most people managed to get their days fully booked with different healthy activities, eating healthy western food at the westernised restaurants and caffees paying tripple or six times the price for a coffee or food they would have paid at the local place. My answer to their questions were without exception the same.

No, I don’t know of a good place for yoga. But I can show you a wonderful place for chai and a conversation.

They would all, without exception, get a bit startled and show big eyes not quite comprehending my answer. When one is so focused on the goal the road to there is sometimes missed out on, walked but not seen, seen but not taken the time to feel.

I never traveled when I was young but I remember all the stories friends told me, different times, different ways of traveling. Transporting oneself in a cheap way from one place to another involved hitchhiking or going by train. That also meant slow traveling, moving slow, seeing landscape changing.

Few people travel that way today and you have to bare in mind I have met quite a lot of travellers. There are a few who try to closs Europe to Asia on land, but most travellers are flying not only from one country to another but also within a country because they want to save time.

Saving time. The goal.

Seeing as much as possible. The goal.

At first, when I listened to peoples reasons to why chose flying over land transport I just nodded and agreed. But then I made a calculation, the time difference between an 18 hour train ride in India over flying same distance.

Train: train stations are always in the centre of a city. That is most probably where people are staying which means easy access to train. You board the train at 6 pm, you reach your destination next morning at noon and have most probably cheched in at your accomodation aound 1-2 pm. Lets say in total 20 hours of travelling of which most you spent a, interracting with locals b, sleeping c, seen the landskape change d, had the opportunity to see the culture and society from inside.

Airplande: one hour to airport, 2-3 hours at airport, 2 hours flight, one hour security and lugage, one hour transport to city centre. A procedure that looks all the same whichever airport one goes to. In total 7-8 hours which is the whole day and no experience from the transportation to add to your mind or heart.

When one is so focused on the goal, the road to there is sometimes missed out on, walked but not seen, seen but not taken the time to feel.

Once in a while, some of these western travellers would say yes to my offer and I would introduce them to my favourite chai shop. We would order a chai, my treat, and then I could see how they were sitting, anticipating, waiting for something to happen. I would try to start a conversation about random things and sometimes they would let go of the anticipations and get involved. Sometimes they would get bored waiting for something to happen, thank me for the chai annd leave. In a couple occations they would actually open up, engage in the conversation with me, with the other guests, get carried away and forget they were in a hurry, start breathing and I could see how their bodies relaxed. How they started being present. They would enjoy the time spent and even thank me for taking them. They would be the ones I would see there again, not because of me taking them there but because of themselves. They would be the ones who would reduce the amount of yoga sessions and increese the number of chai and conversation sessions.

The chai shop is an outdoor thing. A shack. A something. Everything and everyone passes by this place. Cars, jeeps, cows, dogs monkeys, tourists, motorbikes, babas, travellers, locals, skooters, vendors selling groceries or street food and occationally a cat. I made that place my second home in a way. One can just sit there and observe, watch, see how life goes on just in front of me. The colours are spectacular, both the one worn by indians and by foreigners. It’s like a firework passing by. I was so taken by it all that I realised people around me came and went. I was like the constant remaining in the same chair. Conversations and the people I conversed with changed. I listened to storries on why and where, what brought them here, for how long and how we had changed. The change within.

Rishikesh is close enough to New Delhi for a weekend getaway and far enough to escape the polluted air and the stress in the modern city. People come to live the simple life. Either for hiking to the temple or the waterfall, perhaps take a bath in the Ganga River or just sit and have a chai. Watch life passing by. Simple things.

I love that about Indians, they do know how to enjoy the simple things in life.