Mar 5, 2011

Journal of My trip to India. The Many Faces of India.

Journal of My trip to India February 2011. The Many Faces of India

This diary is for the gypsy traveler who wishes to embark upon the sacred pilgrimage to India. It is meant for all yogis especially. Please read this in increments. The areas we went to are broken down into segments for you to read slowly.  I have highlighted the key places on our journey that moved me, opened my heart, and shook my soul to it's profound edge. I have also included  my favorite moments captured as much as one can, on a digital camera. India is the heart's essence of all things manifest in dynamic, raw form.  I will never be the same. Enjoy.

Feb 7 Landing in the Persian Gulf
Even in the Doha Qatar airport I am blown away. I feel right at home and yet I look about as different from everyone else here as possible. I look very white...white hair, white shawl. Everyone here is in all black, black skin, black hair, black clothing.  The airport itself is about 90 percent male, and any woman here is completely covered up. There are not too many women walking about here by themselves. It is just not is the custom here, so I may appear somewhat curious to some of them, since they are all clearly staring at me. I really don't mind.

From the costuming perspective of my past,  when I dressed and costumed theatre, dance,opera, movies, shows, and adorned everyone for Mardi Gras balls,I feel like I  am continuing to see costumes now. There are very elaborately adorned men in full white gowns with red braids around their head, or in full on black with large beautiful turbans,  and women with only their slits of their eyes showing, wearing long black dresses with sequins, and their eyes done up more than I ever do. To me, it is just a veil, or costume, and that is how I view it. I feel like underneath these different cloaks, we are all the same.

I can't help but stare at the women. They become more interesting, lovely, and feminine covered up like this. They are all incredibly beautiful, and it makes me want to see more of them in all of their femininity. It is so interesting how  the outcome of covering up something so great and Divine can bring to it even more beauty and allure. You can not help bot notice how extravagant they are, and how much they must go out of their way to hide themselves. They end up sticking out more than anyone else here, at least from my perspective and what I am used to. All of the other beautiful women who have somewhat infused themselves into the modern world, with modern dress, and their head covered,  do not compare to this ancient elegance. I feel so far away form home, and quite comfortable at the same time. This is going to be quite a diverse, new, yet old adventure! My veil may be white skin and hair, but I have a feeling my essence will fit right in with where I am going.

Feb 8 Arrival in Kerala, India

   India is enveloping. There is something so overwhelmingly consuming about it. She embraces you, and takes you over, with sounds, smells, colors, movements, and a rich, ancient depth like no other I have experienced. We are staying in a small fishing town in Cochi,  w a Chinese, Portugese, Jewish, and Colonial English history. The tropical, humid environment feels quite familiar to me,  just coming from New Orleans and the places I typically travel in Central and South America. Compared to the rest of India, this area claims to be a dreamy, sleepy part of the country, so this is a warm embracing way to ease in as we get acclimated from 2 days of travel. What has struck me first are the amount of birds singing songs I have not heard before in this tropical climate. They nest in some of the oldest and largest banyun trees I have ever seen in a city. The songs leave mystical vibrations in the air, inviting us in to a new mystery to be unfolded like a pandoras box.
   Besides the unique way of fishing, the Jewish district, and amazing antique shopping, Cochi is especially famous for their theatrical performances, called Kathakali,  based on chapters in the Ramayana, which we will see tonite. 

                                          KathuKali Dance Performance in Cochi.

There is also a lot of Ayurvedic massage offered in all of the hotels. Our first day also included Ayurvedic treatments from a dear, and small woman named "Ambika", a name for the consort of Siva. I told her that I love Siva too, and sang her a Siva chant after she rooted me back down into my body with sesame oil, which is typical in Ayurvedic treatments. I feel so at home here, just as I knew I would, and in every way imagined, or felt before, in this life time, and many. I feel fulfilled, complete, and alive being here.

Feb 9. Cochi, India.
 I am in total heaven and have never felt more at home anywhere than I have here. I am in complete love in every way imaginable. I feel like I know everyone here personally, and am eating the best food, teas, and spices in the world, smelling the best oils, seeing  the most murtis and Hindu art, dance, clothing, fabrics, song, beauty, prayer, architecture, landscapes, animals of all kinds, peoples of my life thus far. It feels like complete dejavu.

                                Laundry station for the entire area of Cochin, Kerala

Feb 10 Kerala Backwaters
Morning Sunrise view from our houseboat on the backwaters of the Arabian Sea.

I am sitting on a house boat right now in the heart of the southern tip of Kerala state in the deep Arabian sea canals and backwaters where small villages exist for harvesting the Keralan red rice fields. There is a mist surrounding me, I have meditated at the front of the boat for hours.  I can hear Indian flute and someone chanting mantra far off in the background. When we hear and read that India is a mystical place, this is it, right here and now. There is just nothing like this, this bhava (elevated mood) in the air.
                                          Our houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala.

We have been on the boat house all day,and will sleep out here in the picturesque rice paddies tonite under the stars. Today I have had much time to ponder many things in my life as we watched the local families wash their clothes and hair in the canal. My whole entire past has lead me to this very sacred time here in India that I am intoxicated by. Every experience and relationship has lead me to this long awaited time.

 I have been waiting for this exact moment in India, where I root down  in such a fulfilling state of calm, meditating and watching the sun go down over the rice fields of bright, anahata green. I am complete. I am whole. There is no moment like this one.

Feb 11-12  Paradisa Coffee Plantation in Kerala mountains
                                           Sunrise on the mountains of Kerala.

We left the Arabian Sea canals up to a higher elevation, traveling through smaller bustling cities to a very private and tranquil coffee plantation amongst a great variety of trees, spices, and flowers growing all around us. We are totally submersed in the woods with lots of wind stirring everything about in wild cleansing and mystery.  There is an Ayurvedic treatment center here, a pool, a spice walk, and lots of silence. It is claimed that from our view up high into the sacred valley, that the Pandavas from the Mahabharata lived for a time. We were also told about a temple 30 miles from here that claims to be the birthplace of Siva and Mohinis son, who was later left and then raised by tigers. Mohini was a form of Vishnu, who dressed in drag to seduce and trick Siva over a battle for "Amrita", (Divine nectar), that was at the bottom of the ocean of awareness.

                                                   The grounds at the Coffee Plantation.

There is only 40 days per year that visitors are allowed to come and visit this temple of the son of tigers, and last year there were 6 million. The son of Siva and Mohini was said to be raised by tigers. Very almighty, he became the ruler of the kingdom then, even before the heir to to throne at the time, the queens son. It is said that tigers are spotted often in the area, being a tiger reserve, and very consecutively around the temple. There was one found on the property here 4 years ago just below our place. Being in such an ancient land, with a history of avatars (God coming down in super human form) and deities ( Gods in individualized form), I can feel my shakti level has truly heightened with an old familiarity. It brings such wonder and mystery to my imagination and dreams to picture what ancient spirits are in the forests here, and what messages they would like to give me, or any of us here, willing to listen, especially in the whispers of this serious wind. It truly is that kind of place. If we sit still, and listen, there is much to learn under the ancient teak, mahogany, and palm trees.

                                                    Classical Indian Dance at the Coffee Plantation.

Feb 13 Journey to Chennai
Today is the last day of my 30's! It has been a traveling day down a tall mountain. Most everyone getting motion sickness. I must be very lucky. I must admit I have challenged my constitution a few times in my life with the amount of intensity that I seem to love, and my body and health has proven to be quite strong thus far. I have such blessings of health that I make sure to never take for granted. Now we are on a plane to Chennai, originally called Madras. The population is 6.4 million. Not a small town! Haha! Get prepared for our first taste of Indian madness! In Chennai we will visit Desikarshars hospital.

                                          Desikashar's Mandir in Chennai.

Desikashar is the son of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of all asana as we know it today, with Iyengar, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi as his pupils, in a school in Mysore. To visit Desikashar is to visit our roots. This is part of our family tree, our teachers teachers. What a blessing to have such a lineage and I feel it very important that we always honor all those that came before us. I have been  thinking  today how I feel like I
see family everywhere, in every face that we pass, and how that is helping me understand more about myself, my habits, my rituals, and my personality, my inclinations, especially since I do not know one half of my blood family. Here in India I find that this does not matter. Everywhere I look is family, and I am so grateful. I feel like I am  visiting my ancestry here, and there are many mirrors pointing back at me as to who I am and have been before many times before.  I know many of the words and phrases that I hear, see and read also in Sanskrit, and you can hear a lot of Sanskrit in the most common language here, which is Hindi, so I feel at ease in one of my most favorite art forms; communication. This trip is helping me to see so many things coming together in the culmination of my life in every way. I truly feel like I am at home, and am here experiencing the most full circle/cycle that I have ever experienced in my life, where everything, in a sensational extreme circus, is making complete and whole sense. This is very nurturing for me, as I experience the last of Siva's 5 acts, the endearing patience of revelation. ("All is coming" is a very popular Indian phrase).  The next time I write, I will be 40. It is one of the happiest times of my life and I can say that with every ounce of my being. Hari OM

               Picture of KrishnaMarcharya and our textbooks for Vedic Chanting lessons.

Feb 14-15  Katha Temples near Pondicherry
My birthday was filled with one of the most memorable days of my life. We went to the 5 Katha temples on our way to Pondicherry ( with a very high French influence), and got to see, first hand, after years of learning, the homes  of Ganesha, Parvati, Siva, Hanuman, and Vishnu, and their ornate temples. 

                                                     Ganesha Temple and puja.

It completely blew me away to be inside the worshipping grounds of the deities that I know so well. There was one Ganesha temple were we were able to take puja if we choose, and so I just copied the natives, took off my shoes, bowed down, offered ghee, and then placed sandalwood on my forehead, as I stood on the 4 billion year old rocks and caves that Arjuna, from the Mahabharata hid  out in for a while after their exile from his kingdom.In one of the temples sites, just in front of Vishnu and Siva, was a moment I will never forget.
                     4 billion year old rocks, caves, and temples of the Pandhavas.

There were many school children seated in front on a field trip that were staring at me and giggling, I assume because of my hair, and so I said hello to them, and asked
if I could take their picture. Suddenly, by the end,  I was surrounded by about 40-50 school children, all around me,  staring at me in such innocent wonder, and I began taking pictures of each of them, and them showing them their picture. Each so beautiful. Each with an individual story to tell. Each with a unique, innocent sense of wonder gleaming in their eyes. This lasted for about 45 minutes. I taught them the word "beautiful", having them repeat it, sang" om namah sivaya" to them, and kept pranaming them with namaskars and Anjali mudra.  Oh what a precious moment that I will never forget, and captured on film by many. It was a still moment in time, where all that I felt was the purest of all joy, completely present,  and totally connected in every way, in heart,  to these young natives around me.

  The next day we went to see where Mahatma Gandhi ended his peace pilgrimage on the Bay of Bengal to make rice in the sea with the natives as the first claim to gaining back their country from Britain.  This site was then followed by a trip to the Shri Aurobindo ashram, which I was really looking forward to, since my teachers, Sharon Gannon and David Life have talked about him, the Mother, & Shri Aurobindos "Integral Yoga" for years (along w Nancy LaNasa of Abhaya Yoga).

 Gandhi statue at the Bay of Bengal, where he ended his salt pilgrimage, in Pondicherry.

 I got a chance to bow down at Shri Aurobindo's grave site with other devotees, and could feel such a serene shakti on his puja site, where many Indians sat in silent meditation all around him and The Mother just next to him, right there. 

Just outside the ashram was a Ganesha temple, guarded by a giant elephant that was decorated with henna and flowers. There were many bells ringing and drums banging inside the colorful and ornate sacred site. There was a long line of Hindus waiting to receive darshan (being close to the source of light) from the Brahmins (priests) inside doing sacred ritual that we got to go in and see. Each corner of the temple had another puja where you could take offerings and receive sandalwood on your forehead. It was loud, raucous, and buzzing in there with so much excitement that I was completely mesmerized,hypnotized, and wound up with the devotion so thick in the air. What a buzz, to be around so many beings devoted, gasping in awe at their chance to visit Ganesha. I said many prayers and in that building and continued to sing Ganesha chants as I walked throughout. I also sang to the Brahmins who blessed me, and our eyes met in such rapture for our mutual love of the Divine when they recognized that I knew the bajans too, and have as much love for all of these things.

                                                    Outside the Ganesha Temple in Pondicherry.

                  Mountain outside of Pondicherry w a Siva kingdom on top (and on the left side of the path, or marga, a Shakti kingdom).

Outside the temple there was every possible thing you could think of buying as a puja offering. The best altar supplies I have ever seen in my life, from large garlands of flowers to small bowls of ghee. I have felt so at home in the land of Bhakti, and especially in the south, which is truly the home of Siva, Parvati, and Ganesha. They are everywhere we turn our heads and open our eyes upon. I can not seem to close my eyes at this point in the journey even for a moment. I don't want to miss a blink of this blessing that I am enjoying the fruit of. India is and has been my home many times before. This has been the greatest birthday that I have ever experienced in my life, and has been really kept so honored here by the group that I am with, celebrating with me.  The Redback tribe we are journeying with have all  been so thoughtful in honoring my birthday and I am really grateful. This is greatest epic journey I have been on in all my life. Dreams do come true.

Giant Siva Temple, Siva Lingham & Nandi.

Feb 16 Tirumannavalai in Tamil Nadu; The embodiment of Siva
                      Sadhus in line for offerings of food at Ramana Maharishi Ashram.

Whoa. Is there more that I can say today, here in the serious land of Siva, Tirumannavalai , on the full moon. There are Saddhus everywhere in bright orange, owning nothing, and living as aesthetics and spiritual free roaming monks, with Shakti as their temple of worship. This is also the land of Ramana Maharshi's devotees, as he lived here years ago, gaining spiritual enlightenment at the age of 16, and then going to live underground in a cave for 20 days to realize the  Samadhi embodied state of "I am". He humbly wrote many books and many devotees came to be near him in his quiet self realized state. We got to receive darshan in his cave dwelling, and then visit his ashram later for puja, prasad, and chanting. His ashram had many peacocks in front of it making their loud cat calls, and it is said that peacocks only stay in pure places, as they are free to roam about wherever they wish throughout the country, yet, there were many just right there,, on
the roofs and in the trees. The ashram had a very high vibration of tranquility and peace.
                                           Peacocks at the Ramana Maharishi Ashram.

The Siva temple nearby was loud juicy cacophony that sizzled with so much shakti that I could barely understand the presence that it demanded in my ecstatic and surreal state.I felt like I was in another dimension, and that a quantum, parallel reality was striking me all at once, with many past lives, the stages of this life, future lives, and the direct hits of shakti all coming at me in massive doses all at once, and in serious waves. We received quite a few darshans with ash placed on us, and watched a few pujus for Nandi, who is the Brahma bull vehicle of Siva. There were many priests pouring sacred mild, honey, turmeric, and rice over the giant statue, with thousands of Hindus and Saddhus praying and praising. 
                     Brahmins bathing Nandi, the vehicle of Siva, w milk, ghee, and tumeric.

There was so much Shakti today in these experiences that I feel electrified to a whole new level of capacity in this container. I once again have felt so at home even amongst the intensity, massive hoards of people, and uncleanliness, which
is what it might feel like from a different perceptive other than this one I am in right now, which is the greatest sense of wholeness I believe I have ever experienced. To me, it feels like loving souls coming together in total loving freedom and complete celebration of vibrance, rich and bright with all of the senses, joys and affections of others that you feel like you know very well. 
                                          Siva Temple in Tamil Nadu on the full moon.

This is what I felt like today, standing amongst so many other souls that are in love with Siva, with ritual, with the divine, and with the blessings of lustrous, rich presence that we all share in our hearts. We are near the end of our southern tour,  and are surrounded by Siva, Parvati, Hanuman, and Ganesha everywhere we go. 

                         Gathering for the full moon Siva and Nandi Puja.

Once again, I couldn't feel more at home, and buzzed with synchronicity that I do right  now. Even bits of all of this remind me of New Orleans and why I have chosen to live there. I have never been more present than this  right now. Everything is coming
together in ultimate revelation. It is full on.

                                                    Monkeys everywhere. Jaya Hamumate Namah.   

Feb 17 A Samsara embodied around the mountain of Siva

Full moon like no other... In the land of Tirumannavalai thousands of devotees come each full moon to experience a sacred pilgrimage around the 4 billion year old mountain which is 9 miles in circumference, and thought to be the embodiment of Lord Siva in physical form, although he is said to reside in the Himalayans in Mt. Kailesh (Tibet). We walked with everyone else, them barefoot, in a Siva rite of passage as together a massive swell of souls created a live compressed form of the wheel of life, called Samsara.
                                           Full moon pilgrimage around the mountain w 20,000 Hindus.

One of very few westerners on the walk, as we saw maybe 4 in  20,000,  the walk- about was dense with every walk of native life, from regal family members, to old wise ones with canes, to beggars without limbs or body parts missing, to the blind gypsies, to golden  embroidered saris and  fresh flowers in the hair of divine goddesses, and white dotis or longis for the men, and far out  saddhus that looked like a mix of a rastafari and sage, often with
dark glasses and serious dreads. This  walk has created a large imprint within me that I will never forget that was both shocking and sensual.  It felt like a living video, showing to us in one night, all that is possible in name and form on the full moon night of just 4 hours. It felt like time was suspended and did not exist as a condition. It was the perfect linking of time and space as Oneness manifest.

                                           Sacred Prayer Tree on the pilgrimage.

Each step on this 4-5 hour trek felt like I was creating offering, and in that offering, a samskara from some  past extracted, viewed like a clip in a movie, and then erased. I felt each possible emotion pass through me, horrifying and resplendent,  like a cleansing purification. In that release I could see  Lila,  a divine play revealing in such amplified form the true nature of projection, film,  & theatre in our vibrant veiled  life of far beyond 4 hours.
                Siva Temples everywhere on our sacred pilgrimage around the mountain.  

Along the road side were thousands of stands set up as temples, shrines to swamis, saddhus, gurus,  prayer trees, aratis, pujas, candles in the rocks, and mini altars for Shiva, Parvati,  Ganesha, and Nandi. The shakti was so high and compressed that the immensity confused me at times, overwhelmed me, and also calmed me with the greatest sense of ease and devoted appreciation all at once. I was feeling so many waves of shakti move through me. I can not find words for all of the feelings that came over me, except that every moment was immensely present and large, new, yet old, and that everything was there all at once in one show. I felt very absorbed in the here and now of this massive power current that was flowing around the Siva mountain. I was so taken out of the reality that I typically experience that nothing else seemed as though it could possibly be happening, or that perhaps I had made my life back home all up and it simply just did not exist
in this throbbing moment I was now finding myself in.
                                                     Full moon above the Siva Mountain.

The mantra Om Namah Sivaya was a clear stream flowing through my mind even through this entire other thing I was witnessing and so amazed by. It allowed me to feel everything, and to be honest with the comings and goings, but I never got too caught up in each sensation, as i had to move forward, and on, just like everyone else. The propeller of mantra was  moving me and every other soul in entrainment around what most believe to be the oldest rocks in the world, along with one of the oldest mantras in the world, and the oldest culture in the world. In this vivid moment, I was able to watch my mind and emotions, yet stay in the flow of consciousness, even in the unknown, like no other time before in my life, even when it appeared to be overwhelming in this boundlessness. 
                                          Nandi, the vehicle of Siva. All cows are holy.

This has been the most intense meditation and viewing of life that I have ever experienced. I felt like I released a tremendous amount of past imprints tonite and could watch it passing through, around, and out of me. I gained an experiential understanding of where all things come from, and how to respond to them, be with them, and yet remain absorbed in my ultimate center in the unexpected that came with each step.  How could This have been anything less in the land of Siva? It makes perfect sense.  I received the chance to view and extract more of my darkness for management and transmutation in this hazy place, and with a slight fever that is now quickly passing as we are about journey to the North to Delhi. This was a serious walk-about and right of passage for me turning 40.I know I will be forever changed in this magnitude of intense auspiciousness which Siva always delivers and I feel incredibly blessed.  This day marks history in my wheel of life,
the Samsara, shaped like our walk tonight. I feel more space for light.  Om Namah Sivaya.

Feb 18 A travel day to go North from New Delhi

               All forms of transportation are available in Delhi.

I don't mind a day of travel right now. We are getting a lot of rest and I am tired. We have left the land of Siva and are headed to New Delhi for the night. Delhi has 13 million people living in it and is the second largest city in India, next to Bombay (Mumbai). This should be quite a "trip" to see; a more highly populated anomaly like all the anomalies in India. 

The North is far more crowded than the south in India,which means more conditions, more people, more beauty, more garbage, as well as a more diverse variety of all of the flavors of life to explore. I hear it is quite polluted and can be hard to breath, and that the amount of people, especially children begging can be challenging to grasp. 

                                                    New Delhi Hotel District.

I have of often felt so rich here traveling through the villages where some families clearly can not even afford shoes and it seems that their legs can barely hold them up, they are so thin. If it were not for my yogic teachings, I know I would have a far harder time with this,  yet, I truly feel with all
of my heart that most all things are in there right place, learning just what they need to to expand into their next evolutional stage of consciousness.

Lots of garbage to be found by all sorts of sentient beings in Delhi.

 I secretly whisper Lokah Somasta Sukhinoh Bhanvantu to many of these people I have already come across here on my trip. I have also discovered that looking everyone in the eye, and getting  too involved in every interaction that I come across can actually be damaging for  us both, as I do not want to toss pity energetically at them, and they do not want to feel " less than" from me, so, I often send secret prayers,  and choose very specifically who interact with, which still is actually quite a bit, since it has been the thing that has brought me the greatest joy on this trip, these heart to heart moments. I do love the wonders of awe I get from families and children when they gaze upon my appearance; quite unusual in their eyes, all of this blonde, and gold, and white. Many families ask if they can
take pictures of me. "Yes!" I proclaim with excitement, because I am in just as much awe as they, and this is my organic moment to interact, talk, share smiles of loving connection, and express joy and appreciation at the diversity that life can present to us. I have many pictures of families and children that i have gotten the chance to talk to.
                                          Rickshaws taking locals to work and school.

  For the northern part of our journey, we are visiting Delhi, Jaipur, Viranasi, Dharamsala and the Taj Mahal before heading home. Jaipur crosses into the state of Rajasthan. Raja means "king or royal" and "stan" means "place" at the end of any word. The entire country or area where India is used to be called Rajastan. I am so excited to visit Dharamsala, the landing place of the Dalai Lama after being exiled from his home, and Varanasi where those about to pass this life hope to go to leave their body, and those that have passed get their body brought there to be burnt on the sacred river of the Ganga Ma, inviting a peaceful journey for their soul into the next realm. It is also thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, and quite intense for most westerners to witness, since we tend to hide our age,  calamities, and death. This is the place I look forward to going to the most for this reason,especially after all of the teachings i have
received from Ram Dass on aging and dying gracefully. He talked many times about Varanasi, and the teachings it brought to him.

Serious traffic but a lot to look at in Delhi. Even the trucks are works of Religious art.

 Our first stop is Jaipur tomorrow, a 5 hour desert drive, if there is no traffic, which never happens from Delhi by the way... We may pass through many rural desert villages. I love that  I really do not know what is going on, and where I am  going at all truly, and it has been absolutely heart/mind-blowing as a result. In all of my studies, and as many movies and photos i have seen, you just can not begin to imagine this until you are in it.

Feb 19-20 Jaipur
                                          The Amber Fort in Jaipur.

  Oh India, the Motherland, where nothing can be predicted...a 4 hour ride took us 10 due to Delhi traffic which was for sure the worst traffic I have ever been in in my life. There have been many firsts on this trip. We may have went about 15mph most of the way, stuck between trucks named "Shakti" or "Shyam", with fringe, rajistani mirrors, and Shiva tridents in just about every one. I am learning more and more patience here amongst the new discoveries. Jaipur is a picturesque city, so it is very well worth it. 

     Inside the jeweled Amber Fort w our group leader from Redback Travel, Ashley.

One of the first among many epic visions is the Amba (Amber) Fort that extends up the mountain side, colored pinkish, that blends into the light red rock, full of intricate carvings, more complex and ornate architecture, and bedazzled with mirrors, crystals, and fine gems. There is such a dichotomy here that the mind just can not really participate in the experience since each moment you must let go of thinking that you might have some idea of
what it is that you are going to see next. It is best to expect nothing.

  Outside of the jeweled gates are tons of beggars. The most that I have seen on the trip thus far. There are many children that get forced to show you how they are hurt, have body parts missing due to polio, or serious rashes due to malnourishment, barefoot, torn clothes, and completely filthy. You can see the mothers edging them to come touch our feet, pull on our clothing, and ask for money, showing us in full raw form their personal calamity, which is absolutely tragic for them and also unfair to us to shove this thing upon us in this way. So, bothered and confused, our next stop is  then a rare gem store with 4 Roles Royces outside the driveway,  and a kashmir store that was on Oprah,  where shawls begin at $400 U.S. Dollars, as Jaipur is the most popular city in the world for these things, and many rich and famous people come here from all over the world to say that their golden emerald ring is from Jaipur.
          Endless Markets in Jaipur, if you can handle the haggling, crowds & begging.

It made it very difficult to look around or want to purchase anything with all of this going on at the same time, yet it really is quite a cultural and learning experience. It is such a mix here that once again I feel like I am in some movie set. It is just hard to believe. It is fantastical, delightful, regal, rich, elegant, and totally dirty, disgusting, putrid, and exhausting all at once.
  We are off to Varanasi, also called Kashi, or Banares, right now on the plane from Delhi. I have truly been preparing for this moment. This, and Tirumannavulai are the two places that I feel will be the most spiritually charged and meaningful for me.
          Camels, Elephants, Boars, parrots, dogs, bulls, cows, & donkeys everywhere.

Feb 22 Varanasi Day 1

There is a peaceful amplified energy here undescribable. It is the most powerful presence I have ever felt in my life. Our hotel is right on the Ganga Ma river and I have now just seen her and sat next to her for the first time ever in this lifetime. I feel totally different here. It is like no other place I have ever been before, but only imagined. My body is swelling with clear, raw, primal power and we have only just arrived. I want to be by her side all day long tomorrow to watch the sunrise on the river, go to the main Ghat, do puja, kirtan, watch the sacred ceremonies of the burning bodies, and sing, meditate, and pray pray pray.

                                                    Sunrise on the Ganga River.

It feels as though anything you thought or said would have a reverberation into the atmosphere and just instantly come true, since we are in this place of truth. I am speechless, so overwhelmed with gratitude and awe, and grateful for the many lifetimes I have had that have lead me to this sacred place of deep
appreciation, alignment, and understanding of the sacred place that I am currently in. I can already feel this shakti in me hitting a new stage of boundlessness and more refined connection. This has been my favorite place, and I have a feeling it will be for me thus far on my trip.
                                          Puja offerings on the Ganga w Melanie of YogaBirds.

I will be by the rivers side all day tomorrow, dear Ganga, the sacred central channel shakti of the world. Thank you thank you for this tremendous gift. I hope to take it in fully, and share the overflowing well being potential on an even greater level now, and when I return.
Hare Hare Maha Dava Shambho. Kashi Visvanatha Gange.

                                           Early Morning Sadhu and is trident.

Feb 23 Varanasi day 2
  Varanasi is the most sacred, beautiful, familiar, and favorite place that I have ever been to in my entire life.  It was the first place that i just did not want to leave at all, and spent the most time away from the group so that I could soak it in as purely as possible. To be near the sacred Ganga has brought precious tears to my eyes of such deeply fulfilling gratitude, appreciation, magic, and wonder. The air is so charged with the juices of life's essence, Shakti Ma,
                                          Ganga Ma and sleeping saddhu.

that I can hardly contain myself, as I have such a constant buzz and completeness.  The veil feels so thin that standing on our rooftop, and looking onto the water,  an overflowing wave fills me and I can feel that I must be still to contain it so that it does not overwhelm me with its tremendous power. I feel my body is so spacious from all of my years of hard work in asana, prayer, and meditation, that I adjust getting filled right up and can take the soft power right in. I can
feel so many familiar spirits and energies here rejoicing and honoring the devotion that I have carried out in my life and I am eternally busting with gratitude for this.

                                          Gatherings at the Main Ghat.  

Varanasi was originally called Kashi, and this means "city of light" in Sanskrit. Light filled indeed, as everywhere we walked, I was moved with an overflowing sensation of the nectar of life in something very primal in origin. To observe each colorful person so purely devoted to the Ganga brought peaceful warmth of familiarity to my soul that. There was so much of it streaming through this somewhat limited body that I couldn't figure out whether to cry, freak out, scream with so much joy, or softly smile in deep contentment. It felt that at all times I was doing a bit of both, and walking around with everyone, I feel " Indian" along with everyone else. 
                              Offerings of hair and renunciation at the bathing ghat. 

Kashi is truly the city of Bhakti. It is the purest definition of devotion, as it is everywhere at all times.  One can go to witness it or become it in a city that has never been taken over by any other culture, religion, or modernity, making the bhakti very raw and alive.  Its purity can trace back to the beginning of time, where with very few tourists,  all things are being done as they have been done since we and it all  began. Being the oldest city, it feels like the creative principle of shakti and all things manifest to the core.

Another city of Siva, this is where he lived when he was a city dweller, and came down from his mountain, Mt. Kailesh in the Himalayans ( where I am right now as I write this.) Being Siva's dwelling, there where many Siva chants being recited by each Sadhu that we passed, and many all night during Arati, which is a fire/light puja to invoke the utmost devotion for all gifts that we receive and participate in, happening as the sun/surya goes down. 
                    Nightly Arati; Becoming and bathing in the light in offering.

 This ritual has been going on every single night for at least 5,000 years, where thousands gather to participate from all over India, including pilgrims from the country that leave their small villages for the first time, and all over the world. There are 5 men that hold large cobra snake lanterns to Mother Ganga and move clock wise as they chant mantra to the four directions, including  Purnamadah, the triumbhakam, and the Saraswati chant. I loved being able to sing all of the chants, and to recognize many of
the reasons for the precise rituals involved in the puja. It was the biggest Arati I have ever participated in, and naturally so, since it was also the place of the original one.

                                           Main Ghat on the Ganga from our boat.

  Kashi is very well known for it's ghats, which are groups of stairs that rise along the banks of the Ganga. There is a laundry ghat, where one can see the entire cities clothing and saris being washed and dried, a bathing ghat, where the families gather for spiritual cleansing,  the main ghat, where weddings and rituals take place (and in so many classic photos of India)

                                          Wedding at the Main Ghat. The woman always wears bright red.

 and the burning ghat (no pictures allowed) where families take their loved ones to die, or to burn them, if they have already left their body. Death, being a primary element of Siva, is very apparent in Kashi (Benares/Varanasi), 

and you see many plain dressed native country people come, along with many other Hindus, to bless themselves by the auspiciousness of the waters for healing purposes, or to plan out and have a blessed death. Many of pilgrims are older, or clearly not well, with shaved heads as an offering,  in hopes of a healthy body,a healthy death, or a liberated soul from
the body in total Moksha. 
                                                     Ganga Ma and man sleeping.

I looked forward to seeing the burning ghats most of all, to honor with all of my senses and purity of heart the reality of death, things ending, suffering, and calamity, and what it truly means to experience it so head on. Being so out in the open for everyone to see, it seemed to make it even more stark and strikingly real in that very moment, with little shock or repression for the family or anyone witnessing the death ceremony. 

                                Burning Ghat. Auspicious for souls leaving their body.

  As we approached the first burning ghat, there were three fires being prepared for three bodies.  We tried walking closer towards the ceremony, but quickly realized what was going on, and that only family, and men, were allowed,  the women are not allowed to witness the fire burning ritual.  Keeping a distance, we watched them preparing a body with oils, flowers, ghee, cleansing in the water, and later placing the body on an open fire. It is a tremendous honor to be burned here, and invites a clean, quick liberation of the soul as it leaves the body. We watched this also later at the main burning ghat, where the body was much smaller. I was not sure how I would feel about all of this, but I felt really good to see it. It felt so honest, open, and clear. It made perfect sense to me to have it out so openly, and to allow the elements of Ma to be a part of the next transcendence. It was far less confusing and dark this way. It really gave me chills, in
such a pure and light filled way. I thought to myself that this is where I would like to be when this time comes to me. I know it is difficult to plan these things truly, especially since the Hindus believe that this must be done within 5 days time, but Varanasi struck a deep cord in me, and I would like to be here when I too leave this body. It is said that to pass in a way that is planned or benevolent is a great boon of many lifetimes of hard work and high karma. If ever I could be so blessed, I would like to wish for this on the Ganga.  It would bring about the most complete full circle that I can possibly imagine, to be at the throbbing heartbeat and sushumna of the earth in a place pulsating like no other.  Varanasi has won my heart, soul, and essence and I hope to be back many times, calling it another home.
                                           Bathing Ghat on Ganga River.  

There are many other elements to this Shakti Mecca,  and it is Mecca to all Hindus, but one must go there for themselves. I too feel that all yogis should at least make it here to gain greater understanding of why it is that they practice yoga as it will bring a much deeper, more profound meaning.

                                          Morning misty boat ride on the Ganga.

    This part of the journey, and this city in particular, is too magical for many more words than I have already said.  If you are a lover or a wisher of all things in total liberation,  you must come to this spot for an  infusion of experiential understanding, which will strike you in every layer of your being, past, future and now like no other thing has yet before in your life.
                                          Dreamy night on the Ganga River from our boat.

Feb 24-28 Dharamshala
"All things are possible" is a very popular Indian saying that I have heard many times here from the natives, and it is absolutely true. Dharamsala couldn't be more different from Varanasi, and I love it and feel so at home here too. This is the most North latitude I have ever been in my life, and it is very cold compared to our southern tour. It is around 30'f up here in the mountains, and we are at about 4,000 feet high in altitude, which is only the foothills of the Himalayans

                                             Up in the foothills of the Himalayans.

They do not even consider this the mountains yet, but the roads are high, narrow and steep, and there is snow everywhere, with nothing but taller mountains, or the valley below in Dharamsala proper in sight. Although we are very close to Pakisthan and the state of Kashmir in India, it feels like we are in Tibet. For  over 50 years the Dalai Lama has resided here, forced to flee, along with many other Tibetans that were lucky enough to escape. Now considered to be in exile, they
are unable to go back or to see their families, and can only pray that someday Tibet will once again be free, and that all. Those still there can come and go as they please. For now,  if they are able to talk on the phone to their family, they are very lucky, as, sometimes, if the conversation goes either spiritual or political, the phone disconnects. The only way some Tibetans were able to escape was to prostrate for thousands of miles until they are out of the country. They found that that there is a very calm presence here, and the people are gentle, humble, and considerate. It is very clean and fresh feeling here, far more than any other place we have been, so it is a nice brake from noise, crowds, bartering, persistent begging, and pollution.

    Lighting candles at the Dalai Lamas residence for my nephew Aaron.

I went to the Dalai Lamas residence for the first time and to the temple where all of the Monks live. It was snowing as I entered, and a gush of tranquility and deep respect flooded me as I went through each room. The room that touched me the most was the room that had thousands of candles lit, and is kept up by two nuns. There was so much light and high vibration in there, that it really moved me, the devotion of everyones thoughtful candle lit for a loved one. My first candle was lit for my nephew, who has recently found out that he has cancer, and at such a young age. I prayed very hard and earnestly for him, knowing that the Dalai Lama would be in soon to bless all the candles. We had a Lama come speak to us, and he too reiterated that the power of prayer, and also forgiveness can actually clear out others karma, not to mention the profound effects it has upon you, so, I prayed for hard for all of my relationships, for my family and their health
and hapiness, and for the longevity and right relationships of all the work that we are also doing in New Orleans between all students, teachers, and the future flowing opportunity to always service with impeccable depth and integrity.

I sat in the same temple that the Dalai Lama sits in for a very long time, praying, and inviting deep insights to enter me, so that i might see where it is that I block my consciousness with worry, doubt, judgement, attachment, jealousy... These types of things.
I had some very obvious visions of things that I can work on that do not bring my mind peace or rest, and I felt that this guidance was very benevolent, and that it came from an exterior source. One very profound insight was the concern of judgement, and it is funny, even the entire time I was a bit upset at a few things that I have been contemplating, there was a woman in the temple that brought her cell phone in, kept answering it as we all prostrated and meditated, and even ended up being one of the workers at the temple. I was very bothered by her. She was speaking very loudly, letting her phone ring many times, and although so passionate in her prostrations, also did those so loudly and dramatically that it bothered everyone also. "Amazing", I thought. "How can people not know how disrespectful they are being, and she works here! " it is funny, because it was like the Buddha was watching my whole inner dialogue, and I heard a voice loud and clear in
my head "Yes, you are correct, this is loud, and disrespectful. This happens often with all humans. Yet, your judgement gets them no where. It is not a matter of importance that you are right. What is important is that you recognize these beings that you must serve. Go out of your way to note the imbalanced acts of humans, and then serve them the most. Be their caretaker, and be the one that invites a harmonic environment once again. Do not judge them, but look for them, and serve them first." Aha! This makes perfect sense. Thank you Buddha. I was so grateful to catch myself, and to stop being annoyed, disappointed, angry, or unsatisfied. This insight will bring great assistance to me in all of my relationships and encounters. As the path is always deepening, it is so important to also note how our roles evolve and can always be refined also.

                                                    Tibetans in prostration in front of Lord Buddha. 

The Tibetans here are so kind, even after having been through so much, that they are a great example to me. Every Tibetan here had to flee, and does not get to see all of their family, nor have total freedom to travel or do what they like. I can not imagine what that feels like. The more I travel through India, I just feel more and more blessed with great health, loving relationships, family, abundance, and of course the chance to do what i love so much, serve and teach. There are many here that do not have these things, and yet they are happy also. In fact, supremely and purely happy, owning little, and taken from all that they know, the chant that the Buddhists seem to recite the most rings very true and resonates here deeply..

Aum Mane Padme Om... Which means the jewel of the lotus is in the heart, or , in other words, everything that you need is within you... All things that you miss are inside of your heart, like an emerald jewel shining

                                           Om Mane padme Aum spinning in these prayer wheels.

always.  I will not forget the many encounters and cups of tea I have had with them, the Kashmiris, the Hindus, and the Muslims up on this mountain of snow, mantra, crystals, and dark red cashmere. I feel a deeper calm here than i have felt anywhere else that we have been.

                                          View from the Dalai Lama's residence of the Himalayans.

                                           Stupa at the Dalai Lama's residence.

March 1-3 Agra and the Taj Mahal
We took a classic Indian train to Agra to see one of the seven world wonders. The train in itself was an experience never to forget. I felt thousands of eyes upon me in wonder of my vision...having blonde hair, a bindi, nose ring, and Indian clothing. Considering the way I was stared at throughout my trip, I got the feeling that many Indians had never seen anything like me before, so I honestly did not mind to show them yet another possibility in this infinite world of diversity. 
                                            The sleeper car on our Indian train to Agra. 

 The train had many sleeper cars in in, and so there were many families in our car and it was quite an adventure. It was Shivaratri day, so the trains were full of celebrations to Siva, Indian travelers and talk of Siva in conversations and in the paper. There was a wonderful article about Siva on the front peg written by Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, and it took up more room than all of the devastating news we typically hear about. 

  The view from the window was a diverse experience for us all in itself. There were many slums along the way from Delhi to Agra. It is hard to see how so many families live,  some in tents and some grass huts, but all surrounded by heaps of trash, dirty water, and lots of animals. There were lots of Indians squatting on the country side openly, just in front of the train. We rode by them all one by one, and they acted as though we just were not there. This was mixed by yet another beautiful sunrise in the country, with rice fields, tropical trees, a morning mist, and an orange sky that was so Divine that you felt like it was the only magical place on earth and that there just was no other. I have felt like this many times on our trip. India has a way of making you feel that way. It makes you feel that all things are.

The Taj Mahal
  Oh what can one say about this? Something so immense, and created for the purpose of love, as an emperor had lost his loved one, and had something built to proclaim his loss to her, even amidst all of the thousands of concubines that he had. Our first vision of the Taj was at sunrise, and very few people had entered the Taj yet, so we got a chance to see it in it's striking beauty, with very few people there. It is just so hard to grasp or comprehend. It is the most magnificent vision built by humans that I have ever seen. It truly reveals our potential and we can are capable of, this sight. It was awe striking and almost appeared to not be real from afar.
    There was an incredible amount of sacred geometry down to finite details, and many inlaid precious stones, large slabs of marble, and unique curves to the architecture like none i have ever seen. The emperor was said to have thousands of concubines, and there were many rooms for them, entertainment areas, and a living room that was like a dream. Imagine peacocks walking around, yards of fine silks, silver dining ware, and fine sandalwood furniture. I just can not even imagine the riches here after going through so many slums to get to the Taj.    

  The riches and finest things that I have ever seen have also been in India, along with unhealthy living conditions. There is a difference though in happiness that is unique. I honestly have seen very little complete unhappiness or aggression in our travels. Although there appears to be so many with so little, and a few with a lot, the brightness is contagious and is a way of life. India, the land of devotion, has me in total love with her. I feel i have so many lessons to learn from the Motherland, and have yet a deeper and more refined appreciation for all things in my life, for my blessings, and for the offerings and gifts that come in intensity as you travel this endearing and beloved land.

I am sad to say that soon I must go home. I. Have never felt so at home than in India, and it is the hardest place for me to leave.this will be a practice in itself, yet I know I can bring India home in my heart. I make the journey now from Qatar to DC, to my sweet abode in new Orleans. The world seems so much bigger to me now. There is so much more I want to explore,a nd i know that I will. I have only just begun.

March 5. Back home

The first thing that I have notIced in being back home is how much space we have, and how quiet it is, especially after having left from New Delhi, which is very over populated, polluted, noisy, with litter and raunchy smells everywhere. Living right on the bayou in a very quiet part of New Orleans, I feel like I am living in a forest on the cleanest waters I have seen in a while. My home feels like a luxurious mansion compared to how I saw many people living, most notably in the slums, with homes made of tarp, next to huge garbage piles, where Indian women often go in their brightly elegant saris sifting through the piles for anything valuable. 
  Sitting on the plane after this trek, which was a 15 hour journey from Doha Qatar, I pondered just how seemingly poor, on the surface, many Indians were,yet,  in all of my pictures and memories, I truly saw the happiest people that I have ever been around, and with the greatest amount of devotion for their gift of life.  Many natives had no shoes, for example, and had the warmest greetings of pure love and friendliness, although we seemed so "rich" with our things, our many suitcases and high tech gear. I honestly enjoy having these things in moderation, and employing a modernity to the refinement and simplicity of a traditional past, yet i could see how these things truly can weigh a person down, and did not promise in depth happiness of any sort. Many Indians commented, with great compassion and concern,  on how much Americans eat, and how many seemed so unhappy, or empty to them.

  In being back just a few days, and not able to take my mind and heart off of India, I think about what it is that I miss so much, and why I am so struck by this country. One thing I have noted, and a worthy one I feel for all yogis; since yoga is very mainstream now, and a major way for westerners to exercise and train the body, it is vital to preserve the depth of the practice, while honoring our modern lives. I feel that anyone getting really into yoga, and all yoga teachers especially, need to make it a major goal to trek on their own sacred walk- about to this ancient region where holiness and devotion are the only ways of life, and inspires their every action.
  India is not an easy place to visit. It is very extreme in every way, it is both spiritually and sensually exhilarating. It can also be totally revolting and disgusting if you are not able to look at and deny any part of the experience of the vast spectrums of life. India does indeed push you to your edge so that you are forced to look at things about yourself that you may not even know, all reflecting back at you in every way imaginable. I saw many westerners had a hard time with this, or in the least, really just did not understand the ceremonial, devotional nature of such edgy intensity, and lowered it to being something archaic and unusual.

  India is throbbing with a heart beat like no other place I have ever visited. I always felt, at all times, a mix of fulfilling exhilaration, and an overwhelming awareness that I  am not in control of anything, and must learn to flow and experience each moment to the fullest, or it would just get overwhelming. The sincere amount of devotion I saw is something everyone should see, and especially anyone saying that they are into yoga, considering that India is the birthplace of it, and the birthplace of many things. I feel now that my practice, my life, and the yogic teachings are now infused into my soul, and has, with tremendous gratitude, activated a remembrance in me that is stoked with such an old appreciation, newly remembered again. I feel that I am India.
You will not be going to India to get you asana practice in greater depth necessarily, so let go of any expectations of what you think yoga or India is. What you will be going there for is to embody the devotional aspects of it, and in all things within India's culture, to a maximum that you just can not imagine until you are there. You will go there to feel a closeness, like no other, with the heart of the world; the birthplace of  life and its awesome, super charged force, in every frequency and manifestation possible. 
  I learned so much by just being with the natives, going out of my way to talk to them about how they live, their families, their way of life, as well as being in all of the sacred temples, which totally blew me away. If you are still, you can feel the primal origin of all things, around the whirling amounts of people that are praying and honoring the sites.  It is intense and slightly frightening, how powerful this is, and that is exactly why one must go. It has truly revealed to me so many reasons as to why I am the way that "I am". I feel more authentic in my practice, which is life, and with a new refined depth that is a part of me forever. I feel more steeped in my heart with so much joy to have reflected to me in full force the "vidya" (to truly see) of our lives, our interconnectedness, our shared traits of humanity that is nothing but magnified to the greatest extent in the Motherland.

  The Mother is not for the faint of heart, nor for anyone who is attached to organization, being in control, or unable to mutually look at the gore as well as the gorgeous, yet they are all one in the same, if you can "see".  If truly you desire to grow, and see the essential core of all things, free of fear or bound denial, a trip to India, the heart of the source, is a must. I am forever changed, or more so, feeling more back to my original state of being, more than ever before in my life. I am forever grateful to the Motherland, dear India. I have a heart ache for you right now, and know I have only scratched the surface in seeing you all the way. I will be back many times over, watching each time, my heart growing in it's fondness for you. Thank you dear Mother.
 Shri Ram. Jaya Ram. I will be back. Thank you India, for all that you have taught me.

Namaskar, Michele Baker

*A little bit of India is here with me, as I settle  back into my home in New Orleans. I will be back. Join me and Melanie for our Journey to the Motherland Tour, Feb, 2012 to the South.


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  2. hi friends..well written post.keep blogging.planning a trip to br hills resort and also near by place bandipur resorts..its really an awesome place.their sevices and Wildlife Safari really really visit once in your life tome..