Published: June 3rd 2008June 3rd 2008
There is a familiar saying that goes ‘Life is what happens when you have other plans’. I’ve found this to be particular true in India, a country in which the main lesson seems to be surrender. Things have a life and pace of their own here. You can make all the plans in the world, but if Mother India isn’t ready to let you go, something will happen to keep you just a little bit longer. And sometimes, a lifetime of experiences can occur within a week or two. This is exactly what has been going on for me recently.
I finally managed to leave Rishikesh on 10th May, almost on schedule and only three days late, with MJ for a week-long trip into the Himalayas. After this, I had decided, I would take a break from traveling and go home for a while. This insight came mainly during the five day sadhana
I did in April. I felt a real need to reconnect with my friends and family, as well as process the many experiences and adventures I have had over the past nine months. Before I set out on this journey, I had a few intentions and quests
- people I wanted to meet, experiences I wanted to have - and, looking back now, all of them have actually been fulfilled, albeit often in a very different way than I had imagined. A lot of these things didn’t make it onto the blog because they were either too personal or too long-winded, but I am thinking of writing a book about the full journey - a journey that feels very complete now.
So, I booked a flight to Germany for late May, and our Himalayan adventure was supposed to be the final highlight of my time in India. But, as usual, Mother India had some different ideas. MJ and I did our trip as planned - an amazing week during which we visited the highest Shiva & Parvati Temple in the world at over 3000m: simply the most beautiful and powerful place I have encountered in India, with ancient energy vibrating so strongly that it is almost visible. We camped in the wild, met blue-eyed hermits, went on stunning nature walks, saw huge eagles close-up, awoke one morning in our tent and found we had been surrounded by a film crew shooting a video of a devotional
Indian singer who kept forgetting his lyrics, had more photos taken of us and our tent in a week than in our combined lifetimes, and befriended beautiful mountain women and their buffaloes. We staid in an ashram in which we witnessed knife dances, enigmatic fire ceremonies and the washing and embalming of a chubby guru’s wooden clogs. In short, we had a wonderful, often hilarious, and sometimes very meaningful time.
However, it was not to stop there for me. MJ went back to Rishikesh as planned, while I, guided by synchronistic circumstances, remained in a small, charming mountain village, where, over the past two weeks, I became a full-time English teacher in an ashram school. I also fell in love and had a rather intense, wondrous and passionate relationship, and adapted to my new status as ‘Tiziana Mam’ as the only foreigner in an austere pilgrim’s ashram that hosts around two hundred Bengali pilgrims on their way to Badrinath a night. There I made do with cold water (when the water supply was there) out of a bucket, concrete floors, night-time visits from big spiders and beetles, monkeys peeping through my barred window (and occasionally breaking in to steal
bananas), and tigers that roamed and tore buffaloes at night. I got up daily at 4 am for puja
, survived on as little as three hours of sleep a night, and surrendered to being surrounded by hordes of shouting, spitting and coughing moustachoes and lively Bengali families that never tired of taking my photograph and asking me ‘Mam, which country?’
Yet, whenever I felt somewhat exhausted by this situation, I looked out of my window on the ashram’s seventh floor and caught sight of the dramatic scenery with the snow-capped Himalayas and the rolling green hills before me. I looked at the Indian women with their colourful saris working on the fertile fields, the rushing river below, and returned the big glowing smiles of the ashram boys who made sure I had what I needed, however simple. All this more than made up for the austerity, the constant noise, the busy work schedule, as did the enthusiastic inquisitive nature of my students, a lively bunch of 12-14 year olds to whom I taught anything from Macbeth to Creative Writing and English grammar, and whom I had enact the story of Excalibur with the aid of a broomstick
(aka sword) until they finally retained the essence of what they were reading. I’d never taught children before, and was amazed to discover just how much joy and energy they can transmit. I said to Maharaj-Ji, my ‘boss’ at the school one day, when he asked me if I was tired, ‘No - working with them is as energizing as a session of pranayama’. I ended up changing my flight and staying a week longer, as one of the teachers was sacked for gross misconduct just after I arrived. The school is desperately understaffed so I was asked to remain until the start of the summer holidays, which I did gladly.
I left the village on Sunday, after two incredibly rich and intense weeks that seemed like two years. I’d grown very fond of the villagers - very open, kind and beautiful people who rarely get to meet foreigners, the village with its little chai shops and temples, the ashram philosophy of uplifting poor communities through education and seva
(service) as a form of sadhana, and the simplicity of life in the mountains. Bhupendra, a new friend who, ominously, looks exactly like my father when he was young, accompanied
me on the drive back to Rishikesh, where I am now, back at Anand Prakash Ashram for a couple of nights before going home. It’s nice to be back actually, to take a couple of final dips in the Ganga and participate in the fire ceremonies, before concluding this part of my journey and leaving the country that has changed, challenged and taught me more than any other.
What’s going to happen next? Only the Gods know. For now, I am practicing to enjoy the moment and let the future take care of itself. I am flying home tomorrow - I will be staying with my parents for about a month and then go to England and Wales in July. After that, I am not sure. The journey continues, and I am planning to travel more in the autumn - possibly to go back to India for a longer time, maybe via Iran and Pakistan. But if I have learned one thing on this journey, then it is to not make too many plans and simply follow the energy and my intuition.
I can’t wait to reconnect with all of you back in Europe! I will continue writing
this blog, albeit somewhat more sporadically over the summer, so keep dropping by. Thank you for journeying with me over the past nine months, for your interest, support, messages and comments. I look forward to sharing some more traveling stories with you in the future! Om purnamadah purnamidam
Purnat purnam udachyate
Purnasya purnam adaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
There are more photos below