India – the land of OM, yoga, the cow and the rubbish…
I totally get why the Indian Tourism Authorities chose ‘Incredible India’ as the official slogan describing their country!
India indeed is incredible! In all senses. Positively and negatively speaking.
It’s lound, it’s chaotic, it’s smelly… It is disturbing in many ways. The traffic is dangerous, the hygiene inaceptable, the people often too penetrant. And yet is India capturing… It’s pittoresque, it’s holy, it’s spiritual, it’s interesting!
The mystic Himalaya, the holy Ganga, the beautiful Forts and Palaces…
Everywhere you look, you spot a colourful chaos. Beautiful fabrics, friendly people, holy lakes and rivers and super chilled cows everywhere. In the middle of the street, on a busy roundabout, on a very narrow bridge, at the beach. In the middle of every scenery – there is a cow!
India – Mixed feelings
Controversial is another word to describe this country! My own India experience is best expressed by LOVE-HATE.
Many people hate India. Others love it. I think India is like the opera. You can’t be indifferent towards this country. It stirs you up and releases deep emotions. I definitely got India under my skin. In both ways, good and bad. At times, a deep sense of happiness and purpose and then anger and frustration.
Why the bad emotions?
Why anger and frustration? Imagine making your way through rubbish and animal excrement (or human?) while you are trying not to be run over by the scooter whose driver is on the phone! Manoeuvring his way through the street chaos with just one free hand, putting others in danger.
Then there is a feeling of helplessness and sadness at the sight of poverty, neglected children playing between rubbish, monkeys and pigs… And oh hello Frustration again! This time at men peeling everywhere, and at people trying to grab you to get your attention.
Then incredibility – when you see the thin line between Life and Death in Varanasi. I’m not even really able to describe my emotions while watching the burials on the streets in this surreal city. At first I was sad (the intuitive instinct you get at a funeral), but then I discovered the normality of this tradition for Indian people and at the same time a sense of acceptance whithin myself. I guess it was just a bit of a shock seeing bodies lying arounds the Ghats, being burned a few meters away from you…
Trying to understand India
Seeing locals (family members I guess) playing with their phones and chatting away during the burial process. I have to say, as shocked as I was, I figured it is their tradition and their reality. So who am I to judge?! Therefore I tried to just be a quiet observer. To accept what I see. For them the river is holy and therefore it is desirable (and good for the karmic cycle) to find the last resting-place in the depths of the Ganges. To my surprise, on day three in this special city I started to perceive death as something ordinary. Human nature is incredible. Over time we get used to even the most difficult circumstances and sceneries.
Having said that, I think I will never forget the sight of a dying dog lying on the pavement, and then remaining there for the next two days of our visit and no one feeling disturbed by it. Not mentioning the picture that still haunts me the most: One of a dead baby being attached to a brick and thrown into the Ganges!
India – Beauty in the extreme!
At the same time there is so much beauty around you! So many happy feelings arising out of a blue.
Pure Love and calm came over me while chanting in the Ashram in Rishikesh among other devotees from around the globe or while listening to the Satsang of my new guru.
Inspiration when visiting beautiful palaces in Rajasthan. Excitement during the Tiger Safari in Ranthambore. Joy and pure happiness during the Himalaya-trek. Peace of mind during the yoga sessions in Goa or during meditation, on the rocks at the beach, overlooking the sea…
Many people find India ‘disturbing’. I have to say it applies to me too! And yet I find it magically capturing and attracting! Almost addictive! The beauty in the ugly? Maybe! But I can definitely see, there is beauty in the extreme!
My India trip – a mixture of Spirituality and Sightseeing
I decided that my first visit should not be too short (to be able to get an idea of the country) but also not too long (just in case I would hate it). I gave myself a month. It was a good decision and I can recommend it to every first-timer. You get a good insight into the culture. On the other hand you escape the negative vibes starting to creep over your spirit, just in time.
India first-timer? Better in company
Initially I had a 3 weeks trip planned. A tour of Rajasthan plus some Goa beach time, with Nik, a friend of mine. Then Magda, my best travel buddy, decided to join. Because she arrived earlier than Nik, I extended my trip.
That way I got to spend some alone time with each of them, and some together-time. I am a very experienced solo traveler but I have to admit that I was happy having company during my first India trip. Although the two of them didn’t know each other before, the group dynamic was awesome and very harmonious. With a good dose of humor and great company you can enjoy yourself even in extreme circumstances. Even with a running nose…
But yeah, try to walk down the street while taking in the atmosphere, chatting with locals, talking pictures, avoiding cow shit… All this while cleaning your nose and trying not to lose your friends or even your life under the wheels of a passing scooter! Sometimes fun, sometimes exhausting. Always challenging! Luckily no one got belly problems!
Rhishikesh – Spirituality & Himalaya
It all started in Rhishikesh. Rhishikesh is a spiritual place. Situated in the Himalayan foothills beside the Ganges River. As the Ganges is considered holy, Rhishikesh is known for its many Ashrams. Devotees from all over the globe come here to practice yoga and to meditate.
You find many yoga centers and temples in Rishikesh. The eastern bank around Swarg Ashram is traffic-free. The whole town is alcohol-free and vegetarian. The streets are filled with Men in Orange. These are Sadhus, people who have renounced a regular life for one dedicated to achieving spiritual liberation. The wise old men who live an austere life are called Baba.
Living in an Ashram
I practice meditation myself. I regularly participate in a Silent Retreat in Koh Samui, Thailand. And so I was really curious to stay in an Ashram – a center for spiritual studies. Some people live there permanently, some come for a period of time. Some people come for a short stay and stay for good. You find not only Indians there but also many Westerners seeking calm and inner peace.
We stayed in the Parmarth Niketan Ashram. I loved to listen to the Satsang – wisdom talks by my newly found Guru: The divine Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati, an American lady with a psychology degree who came to Parmarth as a young woman and stayed. There was chanting and happy tears. I also liked the daily Ganga Aarti at the river bank, in front of our Ashram. It’s a very powerful and uplifting spiritual ritual happening during sunset. This devotional ritual uses fire and flowers as offerings. You can buy a small ‘diya’ with a candle and flowers and floate it down the river. There is music and chanting and an amazing sense of community and connection.
The Himalaya Chopta Trek
There is definitely a special divine energy in this town and it seems that everyone is here for a reason! I regret that I only had six days here, out of which I spent three days on a trek in the Himalayas. I left Rishikesh with a promise to myself that I will come back!
The Himalaya Chopta Trek resulted out of a nice coincidence. My friend met someone from her childhood village. A Polish girl who lives in Rishikesh. Her boyfriend is a Himalaya trekking guide! We booked a tour with them and made new friends. It was magical. There were only the four of us, plus their puppy. Only us and the majestic mountains! Sleeping in tents and having only clouds and hills as a company for our morning coffee… Just WOW!
To be continued…
In PART TWO of this article I’m taking you on a tour through Rajasthan and to Goa, Agra, Varanasi and Delhi.
I will also give you some useful tips & tricks for your own India experience.
Stay tuned divine souls !
PS: Please feel free to visit my private FB page (Bea Kunysz), where I posted many more beautiful India pictures !
PPS: If you enjoyed this post, have a look at my article about the Silent Retreat in Thailand.