Thursday, 31 March 2016

Breathe In Life

Day 230- We arrived at the train station near Rishkesh after a seamless transition. 

Rishikesh is considered the gateway to the Himalayas and is widely regarded as a meca for yoga, meditation and Ayurvedic medicine but it is also viewed as a holy city. The Ganga (river) that flows through the city is said to wash away ones sins and millions of pilgrims a year flock to the city to do just that. 

After departing the sleeper train we had some time to kill while we waited for a bus to take us the rest of the way. And kill it we did. Mike and I busted out the hacky sack that we purchased in New Zealand. The locals were intrigued and it wasn't long before we had an audience. A few were daring enough to join and when they got a hit in on the hacky sack, we all gave an encouraging cheer. As you can probably tell, I have insane hacky sack skills, check out that 90 degree angle on my famous knee hack. 

Some of us packed wisely for the long trip and others (Mike and I) did not. Meaning we were starving and we couldn't wait to get to the hotel to eat some well earned afternoon breakfast. When we arrived at the Divine Ganga Cottage, they welcomed us with a blessing, some mala bead necklaces and a delicious tea. We were excited about our big spacious room and we were also happy to unpack and settle in for an extended 5 day stay. 

The hotel had a great view of the Ganga river, one of the main reasons Rishikesh is such a popular place to visit. 

After we'd relaxed a bit, we headed with our guide Melissa to Anand Prakash Ashram for some early evening yoga. The attending yoga teacher training students at the Ashram were leading the class, so the class was free... free yoga? Unheard of, what a treat. 

We returned home to a delicious buffet feast, which was agreed to be the best meal in India to date. Everyone was settling in nicely and our new home gave off such powerful healing vibes. This safe environment was making everyone in the group feel very comfortable. We all began to share what we were looking to get out of the trip and what our intentions were coming into this health and wellness journey. Jordan, one of the other main guides, put the indian experience perfectly when he said, "India doesn't give you want you want, it gives you what you need", this is a saying that we all repeated to each other at some point or another on the trip. I now believe that everyone on the planet is in need of some form of healing. Though this was not my intention when I booked this leg of the trip, it was in Rishikesh that I began to self analyze and ask questions like; "what are the causes of stress in my life?" and "how can I better myself today?". Even Mike was looking to better himself and he's perfect!!...

Day 231- A few of us went to a Satsang (gathering and open talk) by a very well known spiritual leader to many around the world. Mooji, was in town for a week to answer questions and give guidance to his pupils and we had the pleasure of sitting in on one of these exchanges. It was interesting to experience and he had a lot of helpful advice to offer. A lot of his advice came down to the idea that, all of people's suffering and happiness comes from within and it's not so much that outside influences affect a person but more so how a person LETS these influences affect them. He repeated that we are all in control of ourselves and the world is how we CHOOSE to view it, as opposed to it being 'just the way it is'. It's a very empowering idea. It was interesting to see people's devotion to him and how much some of them felt like they couldn't live without him and his guidance. Mike and I later discussed that this dependence on him, as their guru, was the exact opposite of what he was trying to teach. I am all for one seeking inspiration and meaning in life but I feel this is a private and personal journey and found these individual's dependence on Mooji somewhat concerning. This contradiction in behaviour and theory aside, we really enjoyed the experience and found it fascinating. 


Like Mooji I agree that...

As we waited in the long line to get into the Satsang, I captured a little girl peeking behind the door of her home. Had I been a few inches to the right, it would have made for an incredible photo.


After Mooji, we went to the orphanage next to our hotel for some delicious eats. The orphanage has a restaurant called Ramanas that serves amazing farm to table food and delicious coffee. 

In fact, the milk served for the coffee is the freshest milk I've ever had. They milk their cows, boil the milk and serve it with their coffee. Amazing. 

The tree below was our view from the restaurant and we all admired its leafless budding flowers. 


After lunch a few of us met up with Jordan to go for a group walk across the Lakshman Jhula bridge, into the busy shopping area of Rishikesh. 

The bridge is guarded by monkeys who will frequently jump down on innocent patrons if they have visible food. 

As soon as we got to the other side of the bridge we took a deep breath, happy to avoid any monkey raids, and saw this cute little holy cow wearing a mala necklace. 

We walked through the market area and lost each other repeatedly in the various shops of gemstones, clothing, malas and wool. 

Mike and Jeff were becoming instant pals and I loved watching their friendship blossom.


As the sun began to fall, we hurried over to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram to see an Aarti ceremony. Aarti is a Hindu religious ceremony of worship where candles are lit and offered to followers as a blessing. 

The songs of the ceremony were beautifully sung with the setting sun while the fire lit lanterns were passed around. Followers then took turns going down to the Ganga, to place the holy water on their feet, faces and over their bodies. Mike and I, along with many other non hindu visitors, joined in on the ceremony to cleanse ourselves with the water from the Ganga. 

Once the ceremony finished, we all packed into tuk tuks and rushed home to get to Ramanas for pizza night. 

Day 232- It was a 4 am start this morning in order to make our way to the top of a mountain to the Kunjapuri Temple to witness the sunrise. We all boarded 4X4 jeeps to drive us up some wildly winding roads to the top of the mountain. 

We figured the clouds were too thick to let the sun come out but just as we were about to leave for breakfast, the orange broke free and it rose above the himalayan mountainside.

The first look at our incredible group of people. Missing a couple of key members. 

The photo below was taken by Jordan and I think he captured the moment perfectly. 

And the boys. 


Before we made our trek down the mountain we stopped for breakfast and something caught my eye. It was fluffy and fury and shaking like a leaf. When I got up close what I found was the cutest little pup my eyes ever did see. I picked him up and snuggled him into my arms, the whole while he grunted and moaned from the pleasure of the warmth. My shirt wasn't warm enough so we passed him around from girl to girl until we eventually tucked him into Mike's sweatshirt, then he fell into a deep sleep and had puppy dreams. 

We were hesitant to give up the pup and he was none to happy either but we needed to make our way down the mountain. We lost a few comrades before we began our trek but we were left with some super strong and tough trekkers.

The scenery was beautiful and showed us a completely different side of India. The mountainside. We also saw a new side of Laura, an Indian version of her, who repeated something about 'her trying her best' with the perfect hindi accent. 

We came upon a waterfall and everyone was looking for some refreshment from the heat.  As some may have guessed, India is on the conservative side of things and women's modesty is very important to them. Meaning that jumping into the waterfall with our bikinis on would not be an option. So we did what anyone else would do in this situation. We kicked off our shoes and jumped in fully clothed.

I was hesitant at first because I didn't want to walk the rest of the way in wet clothing but Melissa (my new bestie) and I encouraged each other to take the leap.

A bridge under a bridge.

Mike letting the falls go straight to his head. 


It was great to get outside and get moving but when it was all done, we were pretty tired from our early start. Everyone went their separate ways but Mike, Jeff and I went up to the yoga studio at the hotel and got weird together. It was a practice that I'd attended once before at my yoga studio in Calgary and Mike even remembers when I called him after the class to tell him how amazing it was. We listened to some sweet music, let our bodies respond freely, released our inhibitions and danced like nobody was watching. For the first song Mike felt a bit awkward and embarrassed but after a pep talk from Jeff and I, he closed his eyes and released himself to the music and it got weird folks, perfectly weird. It leaves you feeling so liberated and energized and the three of us felt amazing. We watched the sun set behind the studio, Mike and Jeff played hand ball, followed by a face massage exchange to release any built up sinus pressure. Mike got some odd looks from the newcomers entering the studio but after we just danced like tribespeople for an hour it didn't seem to bother us. 


Following our ecstatic dance, us and our other group members set up for yoga class.  

After, we went for a delicious Ayurvedic dinner and a shopping trip to the local organic store before we hit the hay. 

Day 233- This was a great free day. Melissa and I went shopping for some Mala bead necklaces, ate some momos with Jordan, bought some matching pants and unknowingly bought some matching shirts. Haha At that point we realized that we are either great for each other or terrible for each other. Why terrible? Well we were so focused on shopping that we neglected the other important needs of our bodies and forgot to drink a single glass of water the whole day while we walked in the heat of Rishikesh. We also encouraged each other to spend money without hesitation, which could either be good or bad. Either way we had a lot of fun and it was nice to have a friend to hang out with, although I missed Mike a lot and it was only the 3rd time in 8 months that we'd been apart for more than an hour! While I shopped, Mike did what he does best with his free time, he wrote emails, napped, made a spread sheet (??), addressed some DFFL work and played his games. 

I was happy to return to Mike after what seemed like a lifetime apart... (What was he doing? Where was he? Did I miss anything? Did he miss me? I wonder if he ate any food while I was away? I wonder if he ate a bunch of candy? What does he look like again?) I put my questions aside and we joined the group for a yoga class led by Jordan this time. The group was feeling pretty over stimulated and we all needed to unwind and Jordan knew just how to do it. He led us through a Yin class that was bringing us all back down to earth but it was interrupted by a curious monkey who wanted to know what we were up to. If you can look past poor Mike's broken pose (he's still learning) and at the window in the right hand corner of the photo, you can see the monkey trying to make his way in. 

After yoga, Mike went to his Ayurvedic consultation with Dr. Harsh Agarwal. Mike's skepticism of Ayurvedic medicine was dissolved. Along with learning about his dosha, i.e. things to eat, foods to avoid, mantras to use, meditation techniques and oils to help, the doctor also talks about any illnesses that are associated with the imbalanced dosha. Mike had gone into his appointment with his problems in mind and was going to ask the doctors advice on how to aid himself. Before he could even bring up his issues, the doctor had mentioned both of the problems as they are commonly associated with his imbalanced dosha. This got Mike's attention and it was impactful enough that he was willing to try some of the suggestions Dr. Harsh gave him. I was excited for my appointment the following morning and I was happy for Mike's experience. 

Day 234- I had my appointment first thing in the morning and Dr. Harsh impressed once again. He accurately assessed my dosha and I know this because the issues and illnesses that are associated with my dosha were bang on. I received some great information and lots of strategies that I can use to help manage my problems in the future.

Next up was an activity that I have been wanting to do for some time now. An Indian cooking class!!!! Yippeee. 

Not just any Indian cooking class but an Indian cooking class with all my new friends. We have all the same necklaces and red dots on our foreheads...this is not because we tried to match but because it is a custom to bless and welcome guests into an Indian home by placing a red dot on the forehead. The necklaces were just a lovely bonus. Melissa and I on the other hand purchased the same clothes the day before and both couldn't wait to wear our new outfits, so yes we match.  


The necessary spices to make any Indian dish. Colorful, just like the rest of India. 

First dish, Aloo Gobi (cauliflower and veg dish with Indian spices).


Cooking is hard work so we needed a chai and biscuit break.


No Indian dish is complete without some Indian bread, perfect for dipping. So we learnt how to make chapatis. 



It was so fun learning how to make the food for ourselves and I bought all the important fresh ingredients so I can make it when I get home. Slowly but surely I will make my sister proud. There is no butter in this recipe so there is no way I can poison my nieces with it right? (*thanksgiving mashed potato butter disaster, story for another time)

Now time to enjoy all our hard work. What you see below is, chapati, curd, mint chutney, aloo gobi and biryani rice starting from the left going clockwise respectively. 

After the class I joined Steph for another free yoga class at the ashram while Mike went mala necklace shopping with Jeff for a planned group activity, Mike also snuck in a Gorilla workout. 

This day also happened to be the special birthday of our guide Jordan and a whole evening of fun was planned to celebrate this adventure seeking soul. It started with a t-shirt signing and om chanting ceremony.

Then progressed to a delicious meal with a wicked freshly baked cake.


Things progressed into an evening of sharing between all of us as we were also participating in a secret mala exchange with the people in our group. (Essentially a secrete santa with mala necklaces) It was really cool how seriously everyone took this challenge. Each person put so much thought into choosing the perfect mala for their person, giving the received mala so much significance to its wearer. I received mine from Melissa (Leader) and she really struck a cord with me when she explained the significance behind all of the stones. First off, she chose to make the necklace herself, which was even more special, secondly she chose stones to compliment my dosha and lastly, and most importantly of course hehe, the necklace matched one of my new outfits so perfectly that you'd think she'd done it on purpose. 

Mike received his from Laura. There were a lot of reasons why she chose it but I was too focused on the fact that she was all over my man to give a hoot! I get it, he's a beautiful hairy man, but she couldn't keep her hands off him. I swear she winked at me when she gave him a hug after gifting him the mala. To be continued... 

Then the night ended with some dancing, yoga moves and flying Lauras.

Careful Jordan...don't drop her.... we wouldn't want anything to happen to sweet little Laura. 

A great day and an even better evening to cap off another amazing destination. How could it get any better than this, I couldn't imagine. 

Day 235- After we packed up and brought our bags down to the office, Mike, Steph, Jeff and I went to the yoga studio to do a self taught yoga class. While we practiced, a beautiful bird sat outside the window and caught my attention. 


We enjoyed one last salad at Ramanas for lunch, packed our gear, went out for a blazing hot skillet with momos for dinner and made our way to the bus that would take us on a smooth short journey to our next destination...let's be honest, this is India, smooth short journeys don't exist, but one can hope right?



Things Just Got Spiritual

226- We boarded our night bus for Pushkar around midnight with skepticism that we would make it to our destination without issue. Our drive took us 7 hours and it was a smooth, trouble free journey. Mike and I had spent a few days in 'Carzy Delhi' at this point and we were happy to try out a new Indian spice. In this case, the holy city of Pushkar, Rajasthan. 

Pushkar is one of the oldest inhabited cities in India and the world, for that matter. The center of Pushkar wraps around beautiful Pushkar Lake. The lake, characterized by its many ghats (set of stairs) leading down to the holy water, serves as holy ground for bathing by both locals and pilgrims alike. As soon as our bus arrived, we were taken to the lakes edge by some very eager indian men. One such man put a red bracelet on our wrists and told us to repeat after him. Starting with some words in hindi and then moving onto asking for good fortune, good health, good family, good parents, good tip... good siblings, good job, good children, good health, good family, good job, good tip... good children, good happiness, 500 rupee tip... good parents, good health, good tip. We both recited the names of our family members and in the end, we were blessed with the water and hands of the man. It felt like it was the true beginning to our adventure in India and what a better way to do it than sending good vibes and well wishes to our families back home. Oh yea, and then we tipped the holy man 50 rupees. 

We checked into our room at the Hotel Sunset. The rooms were cute and the staff was so helpful. 

After an attempted nap, I gave up and went exploring while Mike continued to sleep. He was reacting to a bit of the food and the long journey had made for one weary traveller. This was our first contact with what is formally known as 'Delhi Belly'. It's not quite food sickness, it's just a bit of an upset stomach. Nothin ol' MK couldn't shrug off with a bit of sleep. During my explorations, I got a lot of big brilliant smiles from the Indian men and women and at no point did I feel unsafe whatsoever. The streets were alive and I knew right at that moment, that I liked Pushkar. Anywhere that allows me to wonder through a market, drink chai, walk past cows, oddly tall camels and a bunch of smiling faces, is a place for me. Oh and in comparison to the hustle of Delhi, Pushkar was positively peaceful. (most of the time...)

In the street above, a purple line along the side of the road gives good luck to passersby, a calf in the distance walks behind some people, carpets hang overhead to shade those below, men sit in their shops calling to potential customers as they walk past, as if customers hadn't noticed they were in a market place, the road is happily shared between people, motorists and animals, music plays from each shop creating a medley of sounds that resembles nothing close to music and incense burns along the road. Although it may seem chaotic and disorganized, it all flows in perfect harmony with about a dozens scooter honks every ten seconds just to make sure everyone's paying attention.

The buildings are beautiful and each looks like it's divided into three or four seperate sections, seperated by color and various designs. There are no two buildings alike in India, from what I saw.


The entire city looks like a intentional art project. I quickly scoped out all the items I wanted to purchase while in Pushkar and took note of prices and shop locations. 

We all gathered for dinner as a wedding procession passed directly in front of our hotel. Giant speakers powered off of trailing car batteries blasted music and horses made way for some of the most bombastic dance moves we'd ever seen. I caught Mike on several occasions trying to time his twisting overhead hands with the rhythmic thrusts of his pelvis. I think he's still a ways off from leading any Indian wedding party but at least he was feeling better from the Delhi Belly. 

After the music and people faded, ok just the people because we could hear the music across town until about 3 am, the sun set behind the lake and the sky illuminated to orange and blue.

We had a group dinner that night compliments of the guides and they cleverly filled the table with every type of exotic Indian dish on the menu. This gave many of us the gentle 'Pushkar' we needed to open our stomachs as well as our hearts to India. It was delicious! 

Fennel is a stample in the Indian diet and is used as an aid in digestion. I know my mother in law would love it because it tastes just like black liquorice. Just take a spoonful and chew it. 

We had many leftovers after dinner and our guide Melissa had the idea of packing up individual meals and going out in town to hand them out to those less fortunate. Everyone was all for it so we hit the streets and shared our dinner. Along the way we ran into some other hungry residents of Pushkar and we all stopped to help feed these little guys as well. None would go hungry in Pushkar that night. 

Is it me, or does Mike look scared below? Why don't you mooooooove a bit closer Mike?

Everyone was tired from our travel day so we all retired fairly early in the evening.

Day 227- My inner clock was a mess and it had me up at 5 am. Luckily I wasn't the only one.  A couple of fellow group members were also awake and we were all itching for a hot cup of coffee. However, we realized quite quickly that we were locked into the hotel complex and the staff was soundly asleep in the room next to the restaurant. Quite the predicament but we were a group of highly intelligent, highly motivated and highly uncaffeinated women, so we snuggled in and began to devise an escape plan. Our master plan was to sit and watch the sleeping staff until we saw someone stir, at which point we would engage this person in pleasant polite eye batting conversation and ask them to let us out. No, it wasn't the most elaborate or creative plan but it was the one that set us free. Once we were out we found a spot nearby who had the kettle brewing and was serving coffee. So we sat and enjoyed the rising sun and a cup of delicious indian coffee while getting to know eachother a little bit better. 

We started the day with a yoga class led by Melissa on the balcony of our hotel. Melissa put a focus on stretches that would help release the bodies lymph nodes, which was perfect because for the past three months, Mike was dealing with swollen lymph nodes in his neck that were the size of golf balls. I'm talking big, like huge, like hard to pay attention to him when he talks because all you can look at is his giant pulsating neck!!! We had been to the doctor in Australia twice about them already and although they had receded considerably, they remained a little swollen all through New Zealand. He was getting frustrated with them and thanks to one yoga class led by Melissa, his lymph nodes drained out entirely by the next day and for the first time in three months they were completely gone. Mmmm hmmm. I will make a believer out of him yet.  

Mike was beginning to feel better but was still lacking energy so he came with me to check out the rest of town but didn't last long before he went back to the hotel and to the bed that was healing him so thoroughly. I wasn't satisfied so I went out again in search of nothing and everything. 

What I found were these beautiful women who are rarely seen on the front lines and often work behind the scenes. You would think they are on their way to some extravagant event but nope, they're just off on a regular day, dressed in their everyday stunning attire.

I returned home to meet with the group to do a sunset walk to the top of the Savitri Temple. The temple is 1.5 kms up some oddly misshapen steps of varying sizes to the top of a hill that provides a beautiful view of the Lake and the city of Pushkar. The sunset was pretty amazing too.

Late night we hit up Om Shiva for some delicious oven fired pizza and admired an adorable cow under the awning, looking for something appetizing.. I think the owner feeds him chapatis.


Day 228- Another early morning had me freezing in the restaurant desperate for warmth but it wasn't too long before hot chai was served along with some delicious banana porridge.   

Mike was finally starting to feel like himself again so with my business partner in tow, we hit the streets for some serious bargaining. However first things first. We wanted to send some positive vibes back home to our friends and family in the oil business whose jobs were on the line, given the terrible recession Calgary is in. We got one of men at the lake to bless our friends and families and wished for succcessful jobs, healthy families, healthy tip..., and happy life. 

There is a lot of controversy around the men who do these 'prayers', because some say they are imposters acting as holy men and they ask for crazy amounts of money to do the blessing. They also aggressively insisted that Mike and I seperate to get our blessings done by two different men, hoping to receive more money for the deed. Mike and I were prepared this and told the man right from the start how much money we'd give him (100 rupees) and we were firm that we would be doing our blessings together. In the end the prayer was beautiful and although we're not Hindu, we do believe that positive vibes and thoughts sent to our loved ones back home could only help. 

On the shopping front I was very successful and finally bought some cool items for our home. 

On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at an Ayurvedic Massage therapist. After many mind blowing and eye opening conversations with some of the people in the group, who practice Ayurvedic lifestyles, we were interested to find out what we could learn about ourselves by getting an Ayurvedic massage. Ayurveda is a way of life that if practiced according to your Ayurvedic type (dosha). An approach that is said to cure illness, free oneself from internal struggles, prevent illness, and basically live a healthy and happy life. It is not religious in nature but rather the eastern counterpart to western medicine. It suggests ways to live ones life by using natural and holistic techniques. 

For anyone who knows Mike, I'm sure you're shaking your head because you know Mike is a skeptic. Me on the other hand, would eat rocks if you said it would cure bad breath, so I jumped in feet first. 

We had our massage and after it was finished, Deepak, the man you see in the photo above, spoke with us about what he observed in our bodies from our energy. Mike's doubts were briefly lifted when he heard Deepaks feedback on me as it was eerily accurate but hope was lost when Mike heard his own inaccurate reading. Eager to believe as I am, I also doubted the validity of Mike's experience because Deepak himself did not even massage Mike. I don't believe that he got a great sense of Mike before giving us his observations. 

Like every phase of this trip Mike and I really wanted to commit to whatever that place had to offer. Be it scuba diving in the Philippines, historical lessons in Cambodia/Vietnam, hiking in New Zealand or beaches in Australia we were going to immerse ourselves in it and India would be no exception. We intended to explore the religions faiths, spirituality and holistic approaches to health that are employed by over 1 billion Indian souls and this was just the beginning of our education. We knew we wanted to delve further into the idea of Ayurveda so we didn't put too much faith into this first experience and looked forward to an official doctor led Ayurvedic consultation at our next destination. 

Day 229- I packed up and prepped to leave on the evening train and settled in with a chai to work on the blog. It was a difficult task and the more time I spent with the people in the group, the more in depth our conversations got and the harder it was for me to pull away to work on the blog because all I wanted to do was talk with my new friends. 

Mike on the other hand took the free time to join Jeff, Breathe In Life's newest hire, in the grass for some afternoon yoga. I was already impressed with Mike's level of openness in the first days of the trip but I was beginning to see a side of him that I didn't know existed and it made me proud. 

I will also say that it's hard not to listen to every word that comes out of Jeff's mouth and not want to try whatever he's suggesting. He might be the most open hearted, free spirited and interesting individuals that we've met on the trip. He speaks with such passion and honesty about every topic that it didn't take long for Mike and I to hop on the Jeff train to awesomeland.

As the moon fell, we boarded the night train to take us to our next destination. The train was sweet and we were all excited to be packed together in a metal tube, riding the Indian railway system. 

Just 14 hours to go and we'd arrive in our new city. The time went by all too fast with the aid of 501 jokes from the $2 joke book that someone purchased before getting on the train...."Which way to Rishikesh? Why the Railway of course". OK now 502 jokes, all of superlative quality. Now if we could all just stop talking and go to sleep, much easier said then done. 

Next stop, the yoga capital of the world.