My Little Secret

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Arriving in the Gambia, 2018

I have a secret. I am not a light traveler. Most long term travelers consider this a burden only the most foolish foist upon themselves. Some of them travel with only a 32 or 50 liter backpack.  Personally I cannot imagine it.

“You have a lot of stuff,” people often say to me, sometimes in a derogatory tone.

“Yeah, I know!” I respond laughing.

It is not so much stuff in my opinion for nearly two years of nomadic living — one medium sized albeit heavy suitcase on wheels, a 42 liter backpack and a big shoulder bag. Plus the guitar I bought in Egypt which I admit makes everything a little unwieldy.  Still I manage and can lug it all myself though preferably not long distances or up hills.

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Peacock feathers found in Dehli park, crystals from Egypt and India

Maybe it is excessive. Inside my bags I have crystals (yes I have rocks in my bag probably too many), Tong Ren healing equipment (of course), scarves and shawls from Gambia, Egypt and India (maybe more than necessary), six packages of incense (good smells bring joy, plus it was hard to choose just two), yoga mat (duh), handouts for reiki level 1 and 2 trainings (only one copy), multiple hair products, make up and a mini hair iron (looking good is feeling good!), small bag of flower essences (for emotional balance), enough clothing that I do not have to wash clothing every day or three because I am too lazy for this, only one tarot card deck, sneakers and flip flops, lap top with extra battery, mouse and external keyboard, and fairly long list of miscellaneous items including little gifts I have bought along the way which I felt i could not live without like a cool knife in a handmade leather holster with a camel bone handle from Siwa Oasis and colorful little carry bags from Pushcar.

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Tibetan medicine doctor extraordinaire, Tenzin a Buddhist nun, in Manali

I also have a big bag of medication. That is my other secret. I have been sick. A lot.  In fact just last week in Pokhara Nepal I was diagnosed with Giardia, I think for the second time. Who can keep track. I think I have had five episodes of parasites over the past one and a half years as well as multiple episodes of bacterial intestinal infections from new food and water organisms or from ingesting unhygienic food or water.  I have also had a series of colds and flus, not to mention the heat stroke in the Gambia which set my electrolytes dangerously out of balance and coupled with a nasty bacterial infection led to two days in a hospital. I know it sounds bad but I am laughing as I write this because it is so crazy I have to laugh. It’s life, my life, and it keeps going on and I survive sometimes very well, other times in a more bedraggled style.

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Bhanga lassis in Pushkar with new friend from Mumbai

OK there are other secrets. Like I thought it would be lark to smoke tobacco in Egypt and now I can’t stop, leading to various lung problems requiring more medication. Moreover, in Egypt after decades of personal healing I decided I was cured of the disease of addiction and experimented with various, um, mind altering substances unique to the areas I have been in. I dabbled.  Siwa Oasis has an extremely strong local alcohol from dates, Manali is famous for hashish, in Pushkar I discovered a paste cooked from marijuana leaves called bhanga commonly put in yogurt lassi drinks, and in Khajuraho a local alcohol made from oranges. I even tried opium ! which is considered a medicine in India and I believe legal or quasi legal. Despite these forays I continue to spend the vast majority of my time clear headed and unaltered per the last 24 years of my life and that is often just as fun or even more amazing.

Ah freedom!  Sure there are dark corners some of which I am still extricating myself, but it is like a ferris wheel, there are ups and downs. Meanwhile I am on it and will ride this freaking thing for all it’s worth. Reveling in all the silly things crammed into my suitcase, stumbling my way through chaotic hospitals employed with well and poorly trained doctors.  I laugh at the incongruity of it all.

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Sampling local alcohol made from millet in Pokhara, Nepal with Deepak

I wrote a new song called “Stop Trying to Understand.”  One verse goes:

It’s a thin line
into the nothing
marketing something
it’s a black bird flying in the night
on a moonless sky

I don’t try to understand anymore.  I just go forward.  Today. Today. Today. It beckons like the towering snow capped mountains surrounding Pokhara, like the sun glistening on the Phew Lake. It is a medicine too.  Even the plants and trees outside my balcony speak to me of more. Of things beyond the body, beyond the mind. Of the friendships forged with people across the globe. Of deserts unfurling like God. Of undulating azure seas and ceremonies on mountainsides that lift me in ways I didn’t know before.

 

There is one more medicine my heart is pining for. Home. It just began it’s tap tap tap. Friends and family have been too far for too long.   I am not sure when but soon I will board another plane, lugging my bags and medicine, my crystals and scarves.  But for now there is Kathmandu, I am considering renting an apartment to stay awhile, rest my weary bones.  Then off, off I will go. Into the next today.

Here’s a cool video about visiting Nepal that I am in!! Made by Deepak in above photo in Pokhara.

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Ran into this woman early morning carrying around hot freshly baked pastries for sale in Pokhara, Lakeside. I had a “apple pie” one. 🙂
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Bauddhanath Stupa, World Heritage Site, Kathmandu
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Freshly made noodles for sale at corner shop, Kathmandu
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My new fake “North Face” jacket, much needed! Only $17!
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Peacock in Dehli Park
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Annapurna Mountains seen from Phew Lake, Pokhara. Photo by Pedro Nogueira
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Ancient temple medicine, Siwa Oasis, Egypt
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Desert medicine, Siwa Oasis
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shopping medicine in Cairo with Kelly from USA 🙂
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Friendship medicine with Kelly Maya in Dahab, Egypt. Co working on the Red Sea :))
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bhanga seller, khajuraho, this is a government store! This stuff you have to cook yourself.
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home made alcohol made from fruit paste, Khajuraho
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drive up on your motorcycle pharmacy, Pushkar  LOL
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Tibetan herbal medicine dispensary. Consult costs 100 ruppes/$1.41 and herbs around 200/$2.80 for 10 days. Very good medicine!
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puppy medicine! Manali
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Free medicine, Pushkar India
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Spiritual music Medicine in Pushkar
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Spiritual medicine, Maha Aarti, Pushkar Festival
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Bhanga paste from government store, Pushkar. Pre cooked. Very strong stuff!

The Hill Road: Nepal

It was a long ride, 12 hours on an old bus with so little leg room I wondered how full grown men managed to fit into the seats. I was traveling from Sonuali on the Nepal-India border to Pokhara Nepal. The trip was supposed to take 7-8 hours but the ticketing agent said the regular road was blocked so I got on the “hill road” bus. I wondered if it was really blocked.  I am a foreigner and hence clueless about most things, some people take advantage. I wondered if the bus driver just wanted another passenger on his bus. Still I got on.

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Our little bus

I was glad I did.  First there was the music, folk pop Nepali music. The driver put it on shortly after leaving and it continued to blare out of the speaker directly across from my seat for nearly the entire 12 hours. None of the other passengers seemed to even take notice which made me chuckle because in the United States no one would tolerate such a disruption to their personal-sound-space. And although not usually a lover of pop music I immediately liked the revolving selection of songs and grew to appreciate them more and more as our little bus sped down paved and pocketed roads, through small towns lined with shops and restaurants, and past farms, small herds of buffaloes, and a few forests.  At times I could not resist bobbing my head and tapping my foot to the beat and I kept having visions of local women in flowing shawls and skirts dancing in a what I imagined was a local style though I didn’t  have personal knowledge of such styles. I wouldn’t have minded getting up and dancing myself in the narrow aisle.  My favorite songs were https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYKb3xNY-4c and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gH81CRCJTxE

Then there was the driving team — two guys sharing the driving and a third managing the passengers continually boarding and alighting — all three appeared to be in their 20’s. When we stopped at a restaurant late in the afternoon I got out to stretch my legs. As usual I planned to avoid the roadside food lest I found myself sick from it and on a bus without a bathroom. Then one of the drivers waved me over. He was tall and his unlined olive colored face was handsome.

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This guy got on for a few stops and played and sang traditional Nepali music for donations

“Hungry?” he asked me.

“No,” I said shaking my head, “Thank you.”

“Come, good food,” he persisted in his limited English.

I shook my head again.

“Good,” he said again turning his head towards the kitchen, which I took to mean that the food was very good here.  “Nepali food. Like chapati?”

I had to admit I liked chapati, a flat bread that came out hot and slightly crispy from the tandoor oven and in India was a common accompaniment to curry. I walked over and looked at the food being served on large stainless steel plates. In the center was a few hot chapatis surrounded by little piles of four different dishes, one a leafy green, one that looked like curry with potatoes, the other two I wasn’t sure but it all looked fresh and not oily.

He was standing beside me looking hopeful, clearly determined.

“Mmm, it looks good, ” I said brightly.

And it was good. Very good. Moreover, the driver invited me to sit with him and the other two bus guys and the four of us proceeded to eat heartily while the waiters came around loading more chapati and curries and vegetables as well as hot tasty rice on our plates and the tall driver implored me to eat more and more. The food was good and so was the company.  The price wasn’t bad either at $1.32.

From the start Nepal was rolling in with aplomb.

“You have a guitar,” a slim man in his 40’s said to me as I stepped out of the squat cement building where I purchased my 30 day Nepal visa in crisp American dollars.

By the tone of his voice I could tell he liked guitar. I realized at that moment only a few people even noticed my guitar over the six months I was in India and one of them was Canadian.  Moreover he recommended his friend’s hotel and proceeded to usher me and a young Russian woman there.  Although I assumed he was earning a commission from the hotel for this service but I didn’t care; after 22 hours of travel by train and bus from Dehli to the border I was exhausted and grateful for any guidance.  Later that night he joined me in my room and it turned out that he played guitar quite well.

Two mornings later, still in Sonuali, it happened again. “Oh you have a guitar,” said a man directing me to the bus; there was regret in his voice and I could see he wished he had a chance to hear me play or maybe play himself.

I was headed to Pokhara, a medium sized town on the southern edge of the Annapurna mountain range. The range has three of the ten highest mountains in the world — Dhaulagiri, Annapurna I and Manaslu — and is a big tourist destination for trekking.

After my musical bus odyssey during which I passed countless run down towns I was surprised to find the Lakeside area in Pokhara a modern commercial center with upscale restaurants and coffee houses, high end hiking supply stores, big brightly lit supermarkets, and even vegan restaurants.  It was like I had suddenly come upon an American resort town, perhaps Boulder Colorado or some cute village in upstate New York or western Massachusetts.  That night I spent an exorbitant $7 for a pizza with sundried tomatoes and grilled vegetables in a beautifully furnished and festively lit restaurant called Roadhouse.  It was worth it because after one and a half years in the developing world whenever I step into familiar looking places — modern malls in Cairo, Tel Aviv almost everywhere, and the clean efficient metro of Dehli — a part of my soul lights up.  Not because I dislike the grittier aspects of these countries but because as my mother says, “You can’t take the American out of the girl.” I suppose she’s right.

But these moments are fleeting. It is in fact the rougher, dirtier and often chaotic aspects of developing and semi developed world that captures my imagination, enlivens and titillates me. There is inanity and surprise around every corner. No one cares about the latest fashions, brand names, if their decor matches or chairs have broken arms. Sure everyone needs an income and has dreams of a better life but the focus is on other things too — family, kindness, sharing culture, taking time to leisurely drink tea and pass the time with friends. I rarely get asked what I am doing that day. I just am. Me. Living, moving, writing, dreaming. It feels right.  I suppose life is the hill road bus — not perfect but perfect enough and sometimes better than I might have imagined.

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Sunset over reservoir, Khajuraho, India
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riding with Lucky on motorcycle behind buffalo herd, Khajuraho
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with good friend Lucky, who I met in Manali and happened to cross paths with in Khajurah, famous for erotic/tantric temples. At Khajuraho Temple
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outside of Khajuraho where Lucky and I saw crocodiles, 2 kinds of monkeys, spotted deer, Indian fox, antelope, and kingfisher bird!
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Goddesss yogini temple!! Khajuraho
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at couchsurfers house with friends and his family, Agra

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horrible overnight sleeper bus Michaelito and I shared from Pushkar to Agra, very bumpy not much sleep
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Canadian friend Michaelito and I, Taj Mahal after near sleepless night on bus!
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Taj Mahal!!
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they put jackets on their goats in Agra lol
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view from mountain temple, Pushkar with friend Ravi

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Bollywood dance class with Canadian friends Michaelito and Roselene and choreographer/teacher, Pushkar
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Red Fort in Dehli with Lucky
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Dehli dentist Dr. Pandey who replaced all my mercury fillings. Best dentist! She at Clove Dental in the RK Puram area of Delhi.
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Inside Roadhouse restaurant, Pokhara
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on the reservoir, Khajurho with Lucky
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cuddling 2 day old baby goat! with a local family
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Yogini Goddess temple, Khajuraho, India

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Animal Magic in Pushkar

I was sitting in a cafe called The Laughing Buddha when I heard a rumbling to my right.

“Was that a monkey?” a woman with a brown pony tail and light skin, a foreigner like me, asked.

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black faced langur monkeys gathered by the Pushkar lake

“Yes. It was a monkey!” I said, the two of us clearly titillated.

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Laughing Buddha on another day, monkeys are across the way, you can see why there are bars on that window lol. Two ran across the blue roof by my table but too fast to get pic.

It was in fact two monkeys that had scampered across the roof ledge two or three feet from my table, members of the black faced Langur troops that populate the town.

The cafe owner nodded, unimpressed but perhaps looking a little proud of our delight.

In Pushkar I have seen people and animals living in harmony to a degree I have not seen before, some animals are even actively revered. Perhaps it is because Pushkar is considered a holy city for Hindu’s, a town mentioned in Hindu scripture and mythology and associated with the creator-god Brahma. “Non-veg,” food i.e. meat and eggs are not allowed within the city limits and every morning and evening pooja prayer ceremonies are held along the edge of the Pushkar Lake.

A few days later I was at n outdoor cafe called Mali fresh juice bar enjoying a thick mango and ice juice with two local men kindly helping me find a new apartment when a camel loped by. My companions and I looked around but no human owner was in sight. Camels can cost several hundred dollars or more so to see one just roaming around without a human overseer was, well, unusual.

“It’s a free agent camel,’ I said and laughed.

My companions looked almost as charmed as I as we watched the long legged camel stride down the road looking like he had somewhere to be.

Even the smallest animals garner attention from locals. One day spying an older man and woman sitting in front of a shop doing something with coconuts I ventured over because I like eating dried coconut and wanted to buy one. But I quickly realized these were not for sale.

“What are they doing?” I asked the guy accompanying me.

“They making this for the ants,” he said pointing to a bag of grainy looking seeds. “They put it inside with water,” he said referring to the halved coconut shells.

“Really?” I said, “They’re feeding the ants?” I asked make sure I understood him.

“Yes because we step on the ants by mistake so to make up for this harm some people make this food for them,” he explained.

It kind of blew my mind and at the same time I loved it — this respect for nature and all its creations.

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the bee hive on my balcony

The theme was repeated across many species. Like the huge beehive hanging over my bedroom balcony. I texted the landlord about it, thinking he must not know.

“I know,” he texted back.

They were honey bees after all. Busy. With more important things to do than badger humans. They flew down into the desert terrain, pollinating the desert cacti, flowering bushes and into the nearby forest of the thorny acacia trees and returned directly to the hive. Only once did two bees veer from this regimen to perch on my window screen. Perhaps they were checking me out too.

Then there are the cows, street cows, as I like to call them, the giant brethren of street dogs. Both bulls and females, many sporting long pointed horns, roam where ever they please. They are of course revered in India, believed to be closely aligned with different goddesses, much like the ancient Egyptian goddess Hathor. Killing or hurting one can lead to jail time or even mob violence. Beef consumption is prohibited. It is not unusual to find one or more standing in busy roads blocking traffic, cars and motorcycles swerve around them or beep and wait while the cow or cows slowly amble out of the way. At night solitary and small groupings curl up on roadsides.

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cows blocking motorcycle traffic on side street

“Do they belong to anyone?” I asked a local friend one day sitting behind him on a scooter as we sped into the market, dodging people, cars, and of course cows.

“When the cows have babies the people they belong to take them in and oversee the birth. After that they let them go. They are free,” he explained, emphasizing “free” in a way that said being free was a very good thing indeed.

“They are healthy looking,” I said, “Fat even, some of them.”

“It’s a blessing to feed a cow. People believe that when you feed them you release bad karma. Locals buy food and feed them and some foreigners too,” he said.

They are like people, only on hooves. It’s not unusual to find them standing in line at vegetable stands and restaurants waiting for a meal. This morning a tawny colored young bull arrived at the gate at my hotel; one of the workers said he stops by everyday for a few chaptis, a popular flat bread lol. Moreover, they are docile and relaxed, even the giant old bulls; sometimes I can’t resist petting their heads or large bodies.

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Cow politely awaiting a handout at this restaurant.

Some even receive a spiritual blessings called “tilak” on their big heads, a red or yellow line usually applied between the eye brows by a temple priest or “sadhu” believed to impart serenity and spiritual emotion to the receiver throughout the day. During the annual 8 day Pushkar Fair which ended last week some were adored with flowers and painted in bright colors.

Once I started thinking about the animals I realized I had a long list of stories.

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Monkey with bananas. I am like 2 feet away!

There was the afternoon a large Langur monkey was calming eating bananas in the middle of the main market while crowds passed by and the shop worker who gave the bananas proudly watched the monkey eating. Several times I stopped to watch small herds of Rajasthani Shirohi goats pass by, charmed by their spirited gait, distinct markings and big flapping ears. During the fair thousands of animals were added to the town, primarily horses and camels. That is when I met my first Marwari horses, an otherworldly breed with inward pointing ears and saw for the first time large herds of camel being ushered down busy streets.

Some animals were transporting. Like the night a large black bat soared over the lake and landed on a nearby tree during an Maha Aarti ceremony. As I sat under the glow of full moon, mesmerized by the ceremony fires, ringing bells, aarti chant, and glittering lights on the lake I knew that bat and that moment was something special, something I would not soon forget.

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Maha Aarti ceremony, Pushkar Lake, Pushkar Fair 2019

It is among this cornucopia of four legged and winged creatures, women bedecked in brightly colored and sparkling saris, village men in swirling turbans, and foreign explorers I walk. I don’t know why. I am just a traveler. Lost among the lumbering cows and mythic horses. A traveler praying at the lake edge, dipping in fully dressed, welcoming the cleansing it promised. Readying myself for whatever journeys await. Nepal is next. Perhaps I will stop along the way for the ancient erotic temples of Khajuraho, a dental visit in Dehli, or the Ganges River in Rishekesh? Time will tell. Time will unspool and upon its wings I will fly, a full moon in my heart, aiming to land on just the right tree.

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Pushkar Lake at night
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Maha Aarti pooja, Pushkar Fair, 2019
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Man feeding Langur monkey. I am a couple feet from monkey!
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Cow hanging around
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bedding down for the night on a side street
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Cows on side of main road
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Cool Hindu temple, Pushkar
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big girl blocking half the road. Yes went a bit crazy with cow pics.
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Classical Indian Dance, Pushkar Fair 2019

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Camel herd, arriving for the fair for trading and competitions

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Rajasthani Malwari horse, Pushkar Fair
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Milk delivery Indian style

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Thousands of camels descend for cattle market of Pushkar Fair 2019
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Maha Aarti Ceremony! Pushkar Fair 2019
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Thousands of Hindu pilgrims arrive for Pushkar Fair, to sit by holy lake, say pooja prayers, and take cleansing dips
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Fresh coconut juice
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Dressed up for wedding
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Traditional Rajasthani dress for wedding
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It’s wedding month in India. Grooms ride a bejeweled horse through the town amidst a live band and procession on the way to the marriage ceremony. This groom was staying in my hotel I caught the procession as it was starting out.
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Managed an unsanctioned picture at the Brahma Temple at his consort the Goddess Gayati’s shrine.

To see an amazing Malwari horse at the fair this year go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYwJgu1z2kg

Mountain Magic in Manali

As I walk around this land of mountains and clouds, admiring villagers in traditional dress and making way for cows on the footpaths time passes like an ocean. Days I am cresting I feel blessed to be in this beautiful place.  Other times I feel sucked into an undertow, wondering what inexplicable fate brought me so far away from home and everything familiar.

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Crow visiting me on my balcony

Last week as I was wrapping up my affairs in Manali and packing for Rishekesh I suddenly felt the mountains. I mean really felt their power, peace and immensity like an expanding horizon in my soul.  I don’t know why it took so long.  Maybe it was because I was leaving or that winter was settling in, shops and restaurants beginning to close for the season, snow appearing on surrounding mountains peaks.  There was also sadness as I realized I was leaving and how these mountains had supported me through all the undertows, crestings and still waters of the past few months. I even began to consider staying through the winter, imagining the peace of the hills sides and valleys covered in snow and bereft of most travelers. Which is pretty crazy given I have been pining to leave for months.

Still I opened to it. Because the more I accept the mystery and go with its flow the more, just more everything feels.

Meanwhile as I continued to prepare to leave nothing went as planned.  With two packages to mail I arrived at the post office on Saturday only to be informed by a dour postal worker that it was closed and wouldn’t open again until Wednesday due to an upcoming holiday.  Persevering I located a private shipping company but was told I needed two forms of ID in order to ship the packages. I didn’t have my passport or drivers license with me and it was a long way across the valley, up the mountain to Vashisht where I was staying (one of the several villages that make up Manali), walk the 10 minute climb up to my guest house and then get back down again with my IDs. I rolled with it, deciding to return on Monday with the IDs and take the Monday afternoon bus. Then Sunday morning I woke up vomiting.  I couldn’t keep anything down and doubted I would even be well enough to get to the post office on Monday never mind endure a 14 hour bus ride to Riskekesh. I had to laugh. Manali! It doesn’t want to let me go.

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River in the valley

Around this time I found myself listening to Aimee Mann’s cover of the Beatles song “The Two of Us.”  We’re on our way home, our way home, we’re going home, she sang. Home for now is a progression of rooms with a bed, bathroom and sometimes kitchen into which I lovingly unload my suitcase, guitar, and musings. Nevertheless the idea of home tugged at my heart.  “The two of us, Sunday driving, not arriving, on our way back home,”  she sang. Listening I was cresting an inner mountain. Because at that moment it felt true that life is just this, a Sunday drive that goes on and on.  And we are “lighting matches, lifting latches”  stepping into the dark passageways of every moment, as a wooded trail beckons us on to the mystery around every bend.

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Villagers in local dress during a festival

A week ago during another undertow when I was about to go into a long rant about everything that was missing from my life I spontaneously began to pray.  “I trust God is guiding me in everything, I trust in God in everything.”  I don’t know where the prayer came from but I began to repeat it over and over and in the process the unhappiness that was pulling me under washed away. In its place there was a freshness.  Maybe it was soon after that I began to feel the Manali mountains.

 

The locals tell me these mountains are sacred. In fact every village has a village guru or rishi they enshrine in a temple, who is said to have been a real human being that inhabited these lands millions of years ago.  The Rishi’s are represented by seated effigies that are held up on two long wooden poles and decorated with colorful scarves and silver masks.  During ceremonies I attended the effigy was taken out, village men played drums and Tibetan horns and the local priests officiated, burned incense and saying prayers.  The three different styles of horns were four to six feet long and I couldn’t help but feel that their length and haunting trumpet was designed to reach across space and time to these long past rishi’s and welcome them.

As if the drums, horns and visuals was not crazy amazing enough sometimes the effigy began swaying to the left or right and the six men surrounding it had a hard time keeping it upright.

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Vashisht Rishi in Vashisht Temple

“Is it falling over because it is so heavy?” I asked a local man who accompanied me to a festival in a nearby village.

“No that is the spirit of the guru, he has something to say,” he told me. “That one doesn’t want to leave.”

Oh, I thought. Interesting.

Watching the priests and village men converging on the unhappy guru effigy I asked, “What is happening now?”

“The priests are communicating with the guru,” he said.

In time the guru effigy stopped shifting left and right and allowed the villagers to carry it away.

India! I thought to myself, smiling as I watched as the procession make its way down the walking path into the valley.

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the first procession leaving

“They have a long walk to their village, several hours,” my friend told me.

“They’re going to carry it all the way back to their villages?” I asked, my eyes wide.

“Yes.” he said, like it was the most normal thing in the world.

When it was time for the Vashisht rishi to leave the sky was darkening.  I lined up with the local men and a few foreigners and began the 45 minute procession back to Vashisht. We walked together crossing over a stream and the river, past shops and a gas station along the main road, and with flashlights hiked up a steep path back to Vashisht, all the while the colorful effigy being carried alongside us while the drumming continued.  It was pure magic.

Much like this town.  This morning I went out on the balcony and saw seven eagles circling over the valley and snow falling on a green mountain peak.  I saw green parrot-like birds alighting off the trees and heard the roar of a nearby waterfall.  I drank tea and then went back inside my room, to my warm blankets and to the mystery of another day unfolding. Here in Manali.

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On the way to the festival in neighboring village
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Crossing the river on the way to festival
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Rishi’s from 5 villages gather, drummers, long horn on left

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dancers at the festival
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Two kinds of the Tibetan horns
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trampoline for the kids at the festival
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Sitting next to the horns! It’s cold! At the festival
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On the procession, entering Vashisht
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Procession on main road
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Procession going up the mountain
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Priest dancing in Vashisht after procession
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In India they put prayers on trucks sometimes 🙂
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Manali valley
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Nepalese men carrying apples down the mountain behind my guest house
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My favorite tree in Manali Nature Park
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Manali Nature Park
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Manali Nature Park
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Rohtang Pass!
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On the way to Rohtang pass
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Manali Nature Park
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road to Rohtang pass, truck got stuck, big traffic jam, cars have to skirt the edge to get past!
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Rohtang pass, we got on horses here
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Rohtang with Pooja from Dehli 🙂 It was freezing, it hailed
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My guest house
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Buddhist Temple, Manali. The parents of these kids paid to get dressed up in traditional clothing
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local women harvesting something on a rooftop
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Sheep herd coming down off the mountain
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My friend Hasan’s shop, Old Manali

 

 

 

Ebb and Flow in Manali

I have been planning to leave here for a month.  Yet here I am, still in Manali! I admit it is probably one of the more beautiful places to be stuck. Situated on two mountains separated by a valley, I find the constant rumble from the river in the valley reassuring, the puffy clouds hanging low on the mountain tops dream-like, and the abundant rain refreshing.  Still I am wondering when I will leave for the holy city Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama.

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me in falls in Manali

“I’m definitely leaving by Thursday,” I told my landlord. Thursday arrived and I decided Friday, finally it was Sunday. “Definitely Sunday,” I said.

On Saturday and yet to purchase my bus ticket I realized I had giardia, a parasitic infection from water I unwisely drank from the main market.  There was a new renter coming Sunday night so Sunday morning feeling nauseous and exhausted I dragged myself to a new guesthouse in a  part of town called Vashisht where the shops and restaurants were more easily accessible.  A few days turned into five, I was tired and weak from the infection and antibiotics but well enough to sit on a 10 hour bus ride. Still I couldn’t bring myself to buy a ticket. I don’t know why, it felt wrong. Then a guy showed me an apartment in Vashisht that had a kitchen, I moved in that day.

Five days later I was still thinking of booking my ticket when I learned that the roads were blocked due to landslides from heavy rain. When they were cleared a few days later I still wasn’t feeling it, finally I gave up on tracking buses and time schedules.

Not everything is leaping. There is ebb and flow.  All I know is that when it is time to move there will be a feeling and there will be signs. Living in flow sounds easy but it can just as easily be enigmatic, a mystery unfolding in unexpected and sometimes not completely agreeable ways.

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the hot spring Vashisht, a rare moment when no one is there and I can take a picture.

At least the book writing is going great. I finally finished my first draft of Until I Rise Again. After eight years in the making the last line caught me by surprise. I took the rest of the day off and headed the other side of the river and up the mountain to Old Manali to visit some crystal shops and a Cuban-American friend and fellow couchsurfer Veronica, a master flow traveler if there ever was one, who wowed me with tales of her travels and life.

That night in Vashisht I visited the hot spring, or what I jokingly call the “scalding spring.” It was 8:30 PM, thirty minutes before closing time but still filled with local women some with young children in tow and probably some Israeli or Russian women as well. I slipped out of my clothes, listening to the animated voices speaking Hindi and admiring the local women’s long black hair cascading down their backs or piled on top of their heads.  I slowly lowered myself in the rock-lined pool, “Ahhh” I grunted, forgetting about everything except the heat of the water.

Meanwhile no sooner did I move into the new apartment I learned the 14th Dalai Lama was here. “You couldn’t have planned to be here for his talks,” someone told me because he decided to do them very last minute.  I couldn’t help but wonder if this was why I was still here because seeing him was a dream fulfilled.

It was pouring rain and chilly on both days I attended. Multiple tent tarps were set up in front of a hotel in the valley and in between each tarp the rain trickled in requiring the people sitting near the leaks — I was one of them — to open their umbrellas.

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the tents! No phone or cameras allowed. Photo by Tenzin Choejor.

The carpets laid on the ground for the 1,000 or more people in attendance were sopping wet; local’s brought various types of pads to sit on. Veronica and I made do with her raincoat and left with wet butts, the second time I brought a big plastic plate, it worked pretty well for my butt but didn’t do much for my feet, legs or backpack.  Still it was worth it.  I followed Veronica to sit in front among hundreds of maroon robed monks, mostly men but also some women and children monks. Although we were too far from the speaker broadcasting the English translation I decided it didn’t matter because here we were among the monks, the Dalai Lama was sitting only 50 yards away on throne-like gold and maroon chair and I could feel the energy of his words. My head kept nodding, my chin dropping onto my chest as if I were on drugs.  I walked around the rest of the day feeling like I someone had poured peace into my blood. Later I learned there was a video with an English translation of the talk posted online.

That was almost two weeks ago.  I am back at work, there are chapters to edit, summaries and query letters to write.  Here in Manali time tumbles on, cushioned by the clouds that seem close enough to touch and the never ending roar of the river below. Each day is filled with the strange mixture of this place — beauty, emptiness, writing, surrender, peace.  Ebbing and flowing, ebbing and flowing into the enigmatic mystery that is, and surrounds us all.

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Make way for cows! Manali
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I took a day off to explore the Solang Valley
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hike in Solang Valley to temple
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the bridge to temple lol
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the temple above, Anjani mahadev temple, Solang Valley
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the temple below, Anjani mahadev temple, Solang Valley
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Make way for horses! Solang Valley
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waterfall Manali
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Sign welcoming the Dalai Lama to Manali
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young monks go through security check. Photo by Tenzin Choejor. No phones or cameras allowed, all pics of the event provided by the photographer for the Dalai Lama.
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Photo by Tenzin Choejor
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14th Dalai Lama in Manali, August 2019. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
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the tents! Photo by Tenzin Choejor.
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Photo by Tenzin Choejor.
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Fog clings to the mountainside above the teaching venue. Aug, 2019 Manali. Photo by Tenzin Choejor.
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you can see the ground, this guy is making a moat to direct the water lol. the boxes are food and drinks that will be given away to attendees. Photo by Tenzin Choejor
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Photo by Tenzin Choejor.
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Arriving at the venue, the 14th Dalai Lama. Manali, Aug. 2019. Photo by Tenzin Choejor.
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the hot spring Vashisht
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Hot spring
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Wedding outside my apartment in Manali village called Mateayana
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eating with friends Ashwin and Shyam in Vashisht
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So many Israeli’s come here some signs are in Hebrew lol
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With friend in Solang Valley
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the river a bit north of Manali, Solang Valley

Manali Valley – Motorcycle Diaries

I was on the back of a motorcycle going I thought too fast down a single lane mountain road. I say road euphemistically, as in more a wide hiking trail, a road meant for rugged four wheel drive vehicles at best. Of course we didn’t know all 9 1/2 miles (15 km) were going to be that bad until we were nearly half way to Bijli Mahadev mountain.  By then none of us wanted to turn back.

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with Chotu, a good section of the road and before it rained. On the way there Chotu kept saying I hope it doesn’t rain, the road will be really bad (worse he meant). Then it rained, ha.

I was riding with Chotu, my Indian couchsurfing host and on the bike behind us was Eric, a couchsurfer from San Francisco, who hadn’t driven what he called a heavy motorcycle since he was fourteen.  If the rocks sticking up in the road weren’t bad enough, and mind you sometimes the road was all rocks and not the flat kind, the muddy sections were even more treacherous. Chotu did his best to stay on the inside of the road so that instead of slipping off the side of the cliff we would instead crash more safely into the side of the mountain. LOL.

Himachal Pradesh the northern Indian state is known for these mountains which are a part of the Himalayan mountain range that spans approximately 1,500 mi (2,400 km) and passes through India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Bhutan and Nepal.  Manali, where I arrived a few days earlier is a lot like Boulder Colorado, a mile high (2000 meters) town where on clear days you can see snow peaked mountains looming behind the smaller currently green ones covered with trees and grass and with pleasant summer temperatures which range between 55-80F (13-26C), a far cry from the sweltering 105F (40C) degree midday heat I endured for week in Dehli.

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Manali main market

The road traversed through tall pine forests clinging to steep rises, past waterfalls and trickling brooks and snaked along ridges offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. Periodically we came upon small herds of free ranging cows standing in the road or eating roadside vegetation, some which we had to dodge and others who stumbled out of our way as best they could.

I admit I was scared. Then Chotu crossed a patch of grass that turned out to be slick and muddy underneath. The motorcycle tilted precariously to the left.

“Why did you do that?” Chotu asked me, as I sat on the ground trying to catch my breath.

“I thought we were crashing,” I said, “so I leaped off.”

“No. It was okay,” he said. “We weren’t crashing.”

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the road, look on the right, that is Chotu and I taking a turn!

It was at that point I realized Chotu was a masterful rider and even if we tilted that much he could right the bike. I realized I could trust him totally and that I needed to in order to avoid further problems.  I pulled a muscle around my ribs when I leaped off but getting back on the bike a few minutes later I was relaxed for the first time. I knew I was in good hands, not just Chotu’s but also with the forces that were guiding my entire crazy traveling life. The fall and preceding pain was like a slap in the face, telling me chill out, relax, everything was copacetic.

Although my rib muscle was hurting I began to see the ride as a allegory of life. There are bumps and dangers, smooth roads and ease — all are normal, a part of the one whole experience called life.

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Chotu inside Bijli Mahadev Temple, a temple honoring Lord Shiva

Of course good judgment is always useful. None of us plan to ever revisit that road again on a motorcycle, I mean we’re not crazy!

We arrived home that night around 8 PM exhausted and with our bodies feeling the impact of the ride. Chotu hurt his wrist on one of the bumps, Eric strained his shoulder, and my rib muscle was hurting pretty bad. Still there was a sense of awe and satisfaction of having endured, survived and appreciated our little adventure.

The next morning I moved into the apartment below Chotu’s. Like his, mine was comprised of a kitchen, bathroom and bedroom with a wall of windows overlooking the mountains and Manali valley. My own place, for a month or more! I unpacked my suitcase, a smooth road unfolding once again. A place to write, to rest, to think, to be, a much welcomed balance the challenge of the preceding day.

 

 

Traveling long term you can’t miss these deeper truths; that life is this leaping, falling, landing, soaring.  Over and over.  It will unfold, sometimes like a river, sometimes like a still pond, sometimes like a highway, and sometimes like a remote road pocketed with slippery mud and steep cliffs.  Life is a giant free fall; all you can do is surrender to it and trust you are exactly where your meant to be.

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on the road to Bijli Mahadev
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on top of Bijli Mahadev overlooking Kullu Valley. Rain is coming, we leave soon hoping to beat it  but are not successful.
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the road, look on the right, that is Chotu and I taking a turn!
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Sitting IN the waterfall on the way to Bijli Mahadev. Restaurant  in the middle of the forest 🙂
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the mother of my landlord, doing her morning Suriya Pranam, a sun prayer
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new friend!
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on top of Bijli Mahadev with friendly women
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cool house, mountain village, Bhuntar, that is marijuana growing wild!
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cool barn in mountain top village Bhuntar India, wood, rocks, slate
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Marijuana, its (a) weed lol.. here
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mountain village, Bhuntar, India
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local bus, you gotta hang on, yes the roads are like that
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huge crowd in Delhi watching cricket World Cup on big screen, India vs Pakistan
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Metro in Delhi, clean modern!
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tailor fixing my guitar case, Delhi
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right side view from my apt. YES. Manali, Himachal Pradesh
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middle view from my apt Manali
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Left side view from my apt, Manali

 

 

 

 

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Weed path ha, Bhuntar mountain village
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this mountain is across from Bijli Mahadev
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Mountain village house Bhuntar, man invited  Sandeep and I in for tea
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Bhuntar mountain village

Some of the Buntar pics are by Sandeep who runs the homestay Siddharth Homes where I stayed for two weeks. https://siddharth-homes-holiday-home-rental.business.site/

https://www.facebook.com/Siddharth-Homes-1418864028265520/

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the homestay house in Bhuntar about an hour south of Manali. Very restorative!

Long Term Travel – A Doorway To

I was laying on a couch in an air conditioned lounge when it occurred to me that I didn’t know how I would endure the next several weeks. The thought was incongruous to my surroundings given that I was on a Nile cruise from Aswan to Luxor in Upper Egypt aboard a ship called Magic. The past two days I swam in the roof deck pool, alit to tour three ancient temples, and generally enjoyed the relaxing vibes of the 4 star boat. But it was my last morning of the cruise and ahead lay two to five weeks of traveling before I would be able to arrange longer term accommodation.

 

You must love to travel!” Mohamed said a few hours later.

We were on our way to the Luxor train station where I would board the 12:30 pm for Cairo.  He was a colleague of the Aswan tour organizer who booked my cruise for a 60-70% discount (see contact info below) and was graciously accompanying me in the taxi from the boat to the station. Along the way he asked if I was going back to the United States, I told him no, that I was enroute to Cairo, Dahab and then Israel, after which I would travel to India.

“It has it’s high points,” I responded conservatively.  “Some things are good,” I added in case he didn’t understand my English.

When he didn’t say anything I felt a need to explain. “I am tired right now of traveling. I have been traveling four years.”

Crazy as it sounds given my nomadic life style, I am not a natural traveler. I prefer unpacking my suitcase and not having to pack it again for at least a month preferably longer, having a kitchen stocked with my favorite teas and food, the right utensils and pans for cooking, and knowing where to go to get what I need.  The contrast between living the dream — Nile cruise! Siwa Oasis! Pyramids! Red Sea in Dahab!  Cairo! tropical beaches of the Gambia! — and reality of constant travel can be more complex than the pictures tell.

At times I feel like I am being dragged behind a train, the tracks scraping the skin off my feet and knees. Many long term travelers hit a wall at some point. How many amazing sights and places can you see until it is “just another” experience. Call it “awe fatigue” or “all-new-everything fatigue” lol. In a facebook group for travelers I read how one guy holed up in some exotic location (a Thailand beach town perhaps) and watched Netflix for weeks. I could relate. Sometimes you just need to take a break.

Meanwhile as tears filled my eyes at the prospect of the coming weeks the pressure building up released. A lightness filtered in; I rethought my plans. First I needed to take it easy. If I wanted to take a day or two to stay inside and do nothing in Cairo and/or in Dahab I could.  In Israel where I expect to be by May 24 when my Egypt visa ended, I could go directly to a family friend’s house near Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem (as I had been planning) where I didn’t know anyone. There I could rest again if needed and possibly leave some of my stuff at her apartment while I made side trips around Israel. I immediately felt better. Instead of being dragged behind the train I was once again sitting in it. Actually quite literally, because a few hours later I was on the ten and a half hour train ride to Cairo.

Khnum with consort Setet, Esna Temple

At least I like the trips — 12 hour bus rides (Cairo to Siwa), 14 hour trains (Cairo to Aswan), even 24 or 36 hour plane journeys (Denver to Barcelona, Dakar to Cairo).  The time feels luxurious, half a day or more to do nothing! I turn off my phone and sleep, read, listen to music and/or meditate. If mediate for an hour or more I often arrive feeling quite refreshed; as if I had been on a mini treat.

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tons of horse carriages awaiting tourists to return to boats after visiting Edfu (Horus) Temple

It is Ramadan now, the month long holiday where Muslim’s fast for 30 days– no food or water — from early morning until sunset, because of this most of the Egyptians in my train cabin were sleeping until early evening. The rocking of the train also made me sleepy but I didn’t sleep, instead I began to look out the window at the scenes passing by like a movie: donkeys lolling by a murky green canal, merchants selling gigantic cabbages and small honeydew-like melons off the back of carts, miles of a tall tan  mountain majestically rising up in the distance marking the start of the western desert, farm workers taking a break under the shade of a palm tree, and the spires of mosques reaching above houses and apartment buildings.  Then the song Don’t be Shy by Cat Stevens came on my playlist, the lyrics perfectly tailored to my day:

Don’t be shy, let the feelings roll on by
Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there
Just lift your head, and let you feelings out instead
And don’t be shy, just let your feelings roll on by, on by
On by, on by, on by on by

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Edfu Temple!

That is exactly what I did that morning. I let my feelings out and they rolled on by, just like the view outside my window. As I listened to the song I watched the palm and bananas tree fronds rusting in the gentle wind and the smooth moving surface of the canal as it too rolled on by.  And in that moment the dread of the morning completely vanished and everything seemed beautiful, even the piles of garbage that dotted the landscape. And I was just a woman on a train on my way somewhere. Somewhere good, and the train was good, and everything was good.

Although a full year has passed since I left the United States I feel like I have just begun and every moment feels like a new opportunity to leap into and through whatever challenges await. On the other side is. Everything.

CONTACTS FOR EGYPT TOURS

These are all great people and my friends!

Mahmoud  Balal, Upper Egypt — Luxor and Aswan, temples, tours, Nile Cruise etc. Offers big discounts from online and regular prices.  +20 100 712 7579  Guidetours@yahoo.com facebook https://www.facebook.com/matrex.luxor

Monty Montasser Mohamed, Upper Egypt — Aswan and Luxor, temples tours, Nile cruise etc. Offers big discounts from online and regular prices. +002 01025111063 monty1974@hotmail.com

Mohamed Gad – safari tours, Siwa, Giza, white desert and more. elbaron.32@gmail.com +20 0122 976 1639  Elbaron.32@Gmail.com, facebook https://www.facebook.com/mohamed.m.gad1

Ayman Fahmy – safari tours, Giza, white desert, Fayoum and more +20 01005189740   or +20 01144499224

Kelly Maya, Travel with Kelly — Experience Dahab. Speaks English and Portuguese. She can take you snorkeling and take amazing underwater pictures. +351 927200 499 whatsapp. raquel.maia.campos@gmail.com  facebook https://www.facebook.com/travelwithkellymaya

(you can use skype or skype call to reach any of them, all but Ayman have whatsapp too)

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View from my room, Nile Cruise
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View from deck, Nile Cruise
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nearby cruise ship, enterprising merchants selling towels, scarves and galbeyas from their row boats lol
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Sales method, throw the items up to the deck or room windows lol, throw money down in bag
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Esna Temple, Upper Egypt
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Esna Temple, honor Khnum, depicted with sheeps head, god of the Nile, Setet, goddess of nile, and Menhet, lion goddess and wife of Khnum
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view from Nile Cruise deck
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Queen’s tomb underground, in Giza Pyramids complex. Nice energy!
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Abusir pyramid in distance, Giza
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Charming Egyptian family, my neighbors in Siwa
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couchsurfer Mostafa and neighbors in Siwa
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Lunch with neighbors, mother Aisha doesn’t show her face in public
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Siwa dentist working on grandmother Samira with his 13 year old assistant, lol. I had a cavity fixed here!
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My Siwa apartment neighbors Aisha and Samira. Aisha wanted her faced covered for the photo
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Abu Simbel Temple! Upper Egypt near Sudan
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Abu Simbel, Queen’s temple
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Philae (Isis)Temple, Aswan, Upper Egypt
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YES
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Philae Temple, its on an island
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Isis!
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View from my friend Farid’s apt in Cairo
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Holy of Holies, I forget which temple! Philae?
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yes my guitar was repaired, in Siwa
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my new friend! In Siwa
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my last salt pool swim in Siwa, with two Chinese friends