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Doing business in India …

Doing business in India can be an interesting experience. If one is patient.

I have been in Varkala for 42 days and my sole purpose of coming here was to finish a project I started one year ago. And to get rid of the tan lights on my feet from the stripes on my flip-flops. I wanted and needed quiet time, sun and an ocean to dip my toes on from time to time. 

Every day I walk the beach promenade on Varkala Cliff. On one side of the promenade is this spectacular viewer the beach and the sea. Food for the soul. The other side is packed with shops and restaurants. Anything to please and entertain the tourists. After spending that many days here, the shop owners have come to know me as the lady that doesn’t do shopping. I told them that is the case. Now they know and when I pass we grea without wasting each other’s time. 

A few of the shops sell drums. Beautiful, handmade by skilled men. The thought on perhaps getting a smaller one to gift my best friends one year son grew on me. Ten days ago I spoke with one of these drum makers, told him what I wanted, he guided me in what sort of drum I should get for the little boy , we agreed on the price and I told him I would get back to him the next day with the design I wanted him to make on this special drum. 

Next day I gave him the very detailed drawing and before I left the shop he said:

  Can you give me some money, for good luck?

I gave him 500 rupees which he took with his right hand, touched his forehead with the note, kissed it and touched the heart area with it three times. Standard procedure for some businessmen here.

Five days ago he asked me for some clarifications about the design, which I gave and three days ago he again asked me if would please come to the shop. Now he shows me that there is a crack on the base of the drum. One could clearly see there had been an attempt to mend it so it wouldn’t be easy to spot. I told him I wanted another one, one without a crack and he told me it would cost more. To which I disagreed.

The day after I decided not to go through with buying a drum from him, went back to the shop and told him about my decision. Now I wanted my money back. 

– I don’t have money, he said. My brother has the money.

– When is your brother coming back?

– In an hour.

– Look, I have been in India for quite a while now. Five minutes in never five minutes and one hour is definitely never just one hour. You have your phone in your hand. Call him.

The guy calls his brother and afterward lets me know that his brother will come around 2-3 pm with the guys lunch. He will bring the money then. At 2.30 still no brother nor money. By 4 pm nothing new but I decide to go and have my dinner and sort this thing afterwords. Next time I arrive to the shop the brother and the money are still nowhere to find. 

– Have you had your lunch, I ask the guy.

– Yes, I have, he says touching his belly in a content gesture.

That means that the brother has been there but doesn’t want to give me my money.

– Ok, this is how we are going to do. I will go into your shop, pick one drum and take it with me. When you have my money you can call me and we can exchange my money for your drum.

The guy is clearly taken by surprise, numb. I notice people are gathering around us and to be sure everyone will know what is happening I now repeat  wat I told the guy loud and clear. Then I enter the shop, take a beautiful drum under my arm, walk out and again repeat my message for everyone to hear.

I slowly, without any hesitation but with a confident posture, walk away.

Thirty minutes later I get a call. Brother and money have arrived. I walk back with same calm confident posture, we exchange drum and money and I go back. From experience I know that when we meet tomorrow there will be no hard feelings, no looking away. We will greet and continue as if nothing has happened. 

The only thing I have to figure out now is what to gift the beautiful one-year-old boy I am so longing to see. 


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I can’t afford …

My soul sister Kay Newton, posted a question on Facebook yesterday and to which I felt I wanted to respond. I sent her a message and she told me she wanted to know more. This was her post.

‘Have you recently… 

– Uttered the words ‘I can’t afford it’ (even if it was under your breath or just a mind fart)?

– Had a close family member or friend use ‘I can’t afford it’?

– Heard ‘I can’t afford it’ from a work colleague?

If you said YES to any of the above, I would love to hear from you in a private message. 

I used to say ‘I can’t afford it’ (I blamed my Yorkshire working-class upbringing). Having just travelled business class to Zanzibar and numerous other exciting things this year things have changed. 


– I can’t afford having dinner at that restaurant, I told my neighbor and fellow travelers the other day when he invited me to tag along.

It’s not that the restaurant is one of the posh kind but the price for a dinner would have consumed as much as 3/4th of my daily budget. 

I’ve been on the road for two years now and the only way I could do that was because my budget was tight. Not because I have a lot of money, an income or someone to support me. The only reason I was able to travel for so long was the simple fact that I used to utter those words also before I started travelling.

I started spending my money in a conscious and mindful way. 

First thing I did was to have a look in my wardrobe. Did I have everything I really needed I asked myself. The answer was a big yes. To be hones, if we really think about it, how much of what we have in the wardrobe do we use. That means I don’t need to buy more clothes. If what I buy can be paired up with what I already have then I don’t need that much. 

Second thing I did was to stop and give it a second thought before I had coffee out. Same thing with dinners, snacks, sweets and everything else we buy to treat ourselves. Or even worse, console ourselves. Because we had a bad day or are not happy enough. 

Third thing I did was to make a budget. And I stuck to it.

I spent my money in a conscious was and that payed off. I saved money to finance my traveling. Because that had been my dream, the thing I really wanted to do. One day I was on my way.

Ok, I’m going to be brutal now. Hold on.

Just because someone is carrying a backpack doesn’t mean the person is actually backpacking!

Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent travel. It includes the use of public transport; inexpensive lodging such as hostels; often a longer duration of the trip when compared with conventional vacations; and typically an interest in meeting locals as well as seeing sights. // Wikipedia 

Lets start with public transportation. I’ve been in India for the past year now and I have met a lot of people. Very few travellers use public transportation and in my opinion they miss out on the interesting part. This is one of the best ways to get to know local culture. How people behave, what they do, patterns specific for the people in that country. Yes, it does take time but not that much more than if the person takes a flight or a taxi. We already know how that works wherever we are. Public transport on the other hand will give us new experiences and most probably we will also have a conversation with the locals. 

Hostels are the far best accomodation to choose when traveling. It is cheap, easy to find and above all, this is where you meet fellow travellers. They are like walking encyclopaedias. Where to find what, how to get there and how much to pay. Whatever you want to know, there is always someone to give you a tip. Another thing with hostels, you will never be alone. Unless you want to. Otherwise there is always someone to chat or team up with for a couple of hours, days or for as long you want. 

Food. Just because a restaurant looks similar to what we have back home doesn’t mean you wont get food poisoned. Street food is prepared there and then, is delicious and you will get a taste of that countrys or areas culture. 

The most important thing is that saying ‘I can’t afford…’ is not a bad thing. On the contrary. It can give you the most rewarding experience.

I’ve met so many ‘backpackers’ who feel alone because they stay i hotels and miss out on ‘the local’ because they fly or take a taxi. Next day they pay huge money to go on a trip to see ‘the authentic’.

Traveling when you have money is easy. You can afford paying for this and that but you will always miss out on the experience cheap traveling will give you.

Traveling is not about checking off a list. It is about experiencing. 

Lastly. Yes, things don’t always happen the way we planned. Don’t get upset about it. This is how life works and these are the memories you are most likely to remember the most.

I can’t afford missing out on the experiences that comes with budget traveling.



Kay Newton is an amazing knowledgeable woman. She always ask questions to make the rest of us give serious thoughts to things. She is also coach, confidant, speaker, writer and overall an awesome person.

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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 feel 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 weren’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. My two riders and I 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 one’s decisions.

On the second day, just after lunchtime, 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’t 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 trucks and bikers to choose the best way of crossing the fierce waters.

To never let fear make one’s decisions doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be cautious. But definitely not be stopped. 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.

Let’s 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 the internet.

It turned 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 about 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 the internet and social media because it is not about the 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.