Gokarna: OM Beach and Half Moon Beach

Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m a little slack these days.  We’ve been full power busy in our little jungle bubble doing all kinds of home projects, art projects, construction projects, and just had visitors from America, UK, Germany, and Australia for the past three weeks.  Whew.  It’s been a whirlwind for sure.

To break up the energy, me and my Aussie friend, Trines, took a little 5 hour road trip down south to Gokarna, Karnataka.  It was super.  We got some great views on the drive down, stopped for Chai, and listened to an epic playlist, of course!

If you’re ever traveling in India and wondering about awesome beaches, this is an area to check out.  The town Gokarna itself is good for shopping. . .if that’s your thang. . .

You can find everything from silver goblets to a whole new wardrobe.  Some of the prices are better than in other tourist areas, too, but you still need to work on your bargaining skills.  It’s actually a popular pilgrimage destination for Hindus so it’s a very holy, mystical, and magical area.  It’s also considered to be a bohemian destination for those seeking the “hippie trail” in India.  There are many beaches surrounding Gokarna itself and we decided to check out Half Moon Beach and Om Beach.

To get to Half Moon beach you either have to do a 30 minute hike from Om Beach or you can take a boat.  We got to Gokarna very late in the day so we opted to take a boat.  It cost 200 rupees per person.  Don’t let them charge you any more.  They told us it was 2000 rupees at first, for instance.  Yeah, yeah, always good price for me, my friend, right?!

Anyway, it was just about sunset while we waited for our boat to get ready and I enjoyed petting the baby cows.  I just love cows, as you know, if you’ve been following me awhile.  They really can be like dogs sometimes.

Magic Man and Trines enjoyed a lovely bench. . .probably watching me pet the cows. . .hahahah. . .

Then we got on our cute, little boat, and zoomed over to Half Moon Beach. . .

It only took about 5 minutes but I was surprised when we arrived that there wasn’t massive crowds and it looked pretty peaceful.  In India, especially going to tourist or well loved places, I never expect it to be quiet and under populated.  Half Moon beach was just that.  In fact, I think we were the only people around.  It was like our own private beach.

We stayed at the first place attached to the Half Moon Beach Cafe.  I’m not going to lie, it was not a “nice” room, but it was basic and cheap and the grounds were very special.  It was 350 (5 bucks) rupees for basically just a bed in a concrete box with outdoor shower and toilets.  It’s kinda like camping.  Oh yeah, you also have to come with your own bed sheets and towels.

The surrounding landscape looked like a postcard to me.  The birds chirping, the rolling fields, stacks of hay. . .It would be a nice place to stay if you are looking for a quiet, rustic, earthy experience to hang long term.  Also, everything we ate at the restaurant was super yummy.

The next morning, the three of us decided we wanted a little bit more stimulation and moved over to Om Beach. . .but this time we did the hike.  Btw, the hike takes only about 30 minutes and it’s a beautiful, easy path that anyone can do.  I highly recommend it.  One thing about living by the beach is I miss the mountains all the time, so for me, it was super nice to strap on my pack and hike all up in mother nature for a bit.

We taught Trines Rainbow songs on the hike and sang through the woods. . .

Tall trees, warm fire,

Strong wind, deep water.

I can feel it in my body,

I can feel it in my soul!

On the other side of the hill/mountain/cliff thingy, we finally got a view of Om Beach.  Wow.  Besides being actually shaped like an Om symbol, the view was utterly stunning.

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Yep, this is called living the dream, folks.  Seeing that beach made me feel so glad I’m not stuck in Trump land in the cold winter.  Brrrrrr and yuck.  But, dang, now THAT. . .well. . .that’s a glorious sight.  Don’t you reckon?!

 

 

Isn’t he the sexiest man alive. . .even with all that gear wrapped around him?!  Hehe.  Okay, okay, I digress.

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So, we found a cool spot on the beach to stay and for 700 rupees we got a really, really nice room with a great bed, clean bathroom, and a lovely front porch.  I could’ve stayed at this place for months.  The ceiling of our room was neatly lined with different colored sarees and I thought that was a cool touch.

Jungle Cafe is set up like a beach village with beautiful outdoor showers and toilets (for shack renters or whoever) so you can revel in the sounds and sights of nature, accompanied by cool shacks for rent alongside the mini house blocks.  Shacks went for 350 rupees and were very nice, too.

But, one of my favorite parts about this place was that the ground was maintained so well you could walk around barefoot and never step on anything ouchy.  There was a whole team of lovely ladies who meticulously swept the sand around all the houses and shacks, almost like a beach zen garden.

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Another win: you can order from their restaurant and have it delivered to your house or shack.  Yessssss!  The food there was delicious.  Fruit salad and yogurt is always a go-to for me.  I love it!  We did try other food, too.  Sometimes I eat more than just fruit, but man, it’s hard for a faerie.

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Swimming was about 2 minutes walking distance from our little zen garden home and it was glorious. . .

We were happily surprised that Om Beach wasn’t very populated either.  I have heard about this beach from so many people that I assumed it would be packed at this time in the season, but it was nice.  It seemed the only people who were there besides us was a whole tribe of Israelis.  It did feel a bit like the dominant culture on the beach and that was an interesting ambiance.

Our one night at Om Beach was a fun evening with a few other random travelers.  We drank vodka, listened to 90’s European Pop music, and ate dinner together.  It was the kind of night we all needed after the eerily quiet night on Half Moon beach.

In the morning, me and my Magic Man went for a quick swim, had breakfast with Trines, and then jumped back in Dinky-Doo and made the 5 hour trek back to our jungle paradise home.

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If you’re in the mood for dreaming. . .

Dream of Gokarna.  Dream of Rainbows.  Dream of all of your favorite things.  It’s good for your heart and soul.

See you in 5!

 

 

 

Love in Hampi, India

What would you do in the name of love?  Would you hire a magical monkey to build a bridge of rocks across the ocean to have your one true love rescued?  And where would you get such mystical rocks?

Wait, I know. . .

I know a place with rocks that pile on top of each other in inexplicable ways–daring the laws of gravity and humanity, carrying the spirits of the elders in their smooth and playful shapes.  These hard sponges of energy tell the kind of stories you can only feel in your body, in your soul, in the crevices of yourself that you don’t even know. . .yet!

This place is called Hampi.  It’s an ancient village that was once one of the richest cities in the world.  Today it is rich with experience and wonder. . .and what remains are the remnants of a culture, perhaps, long forgotten.

We got whispers of a Rainbow Gathering happening near Hampi (check out my post The Valley of Home here if you don’t know what I’m talking about), so we rallied our group of fantastic traveling faeries (see post The Good-Good Life if you’re intrigued) to meet up with us for a grand adventure.  And a grand adventure it was, indeed.  Btw, the rainbow gathering moved 800km away, so we stayed in Hampi.

We left Goa before sunrise to get an early start on our 9 hour drive across the state of Karnataka.  Most of the drive went through arid countryside decorated with small villages just often enough to keep things interesting.  People gathered at watering holes with special receptacles.  Women and children gathered at slabs of rocks used for washing clothes.  Sometimes we’d pass groups of men sitting at desolate bus stops waiting for nothing but a good conversation.

Village after village, we whizzed by in our orange time machine, Dinky-Doo, and glimpses of other realities faded into the dust.  Half way through the journey, we stopped in a big city called Hubli and had the best South Indian breakfast for a whole 20 rupees.  Yep.  That’s only about 30 cents, dude.  Win!

But, hours later when Hampi appeared in the horizon, it suddenly felt like we were on a different planet.  Gigantic rocks piled high and strategically like some posse of giants just finished a grueling game of Jenga.  I swear dinosaurs roamed these lands.  I never stopped believing there just might be one coming around the rocks at anytime.  The misplaced palm trees also give it a stone age (haha) meets Jurassic park kind of look.

Hampi is divided by a glorious river and the GPS told us our guesthouse was on the wrong side.  Woops.  Couldn’t Hanuman make a bridge across the tiny river while he was making that huge one in the ocean?!  What gives, monkey god?!  So we had to drive more than an hour down to the next town where the only bridge was to get to the other side.  Recurring tip: Nothing is easy in India.

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The two sides of Hampi are quite different.  One side is filled with ruins and temples and the other side (nicknamed “Hippie Island”) is bohemian guesthouses and rice paddies.  You can only cross the river by boat and it’s a whole 20 second ride for 10 rupees.

However, when we arrived at Nargila Guesthouse, I was hypnotized by the postcard views and the sight of my faerie tribe. . .

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Our room, I must admit, was not my favorite in India, but it was peak season and really busy and we were lucky to get one at all.  The restaurant part also made up for anything the room was lacking.  It was similar to the ones in Kheerganga which you can read about here. But to reiterate, it’s a whole floor of cushions and low tables so you can literally lounge around all day and order stuff from the restaurant.  If you’re wanting to catch up on a good book, do some writing, or play cards all afternoon, the rice paddies in the background provide the perfect postcard view for any time of day.

Hampi Tip:  The Nargila Restaurant is worth a visit, especially since one of the hosts, Ganga, is a lovely guy.  He makes your visit very cozy and the place makes the best banofee pie in India, I swear.  So, it’s worth it to check out for a meal or two, or even an afternoon, but maybe stay in another place if you want super clean rooms.  It depends on your needs/wants while traveling.

Every morning we got to watch a local gang of monkeys doing their morning ritual of “monkeying around” on the closest tree line.  It was pretty darn good coffee time TV, people.  Every so often one of them would jump on the roof of the restaurant kitchen and cause a little trouble, but mostly they stayed in the trees.

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Our first night in Hampi we spent celebrating reuniting with our friends.  It involved lots of good conversation and even more cashew Feni.  What the heck is cashew feni?  It’s a local alcohol made only in Goa from the fruit of the cashew. . .kinda like a moonshine. Heh heh.  Yes, we stashed some in our little Dinky-Doo just in case.  Needless to say, shenanigans were had and even a dance party by the river unfolded quite, um, naturally.

Pardon the blur in the photos.  In my state of, ahem, bliss, I can’t believe any pictures are recognizable at all.  We did a fine job of spreading some magic on those river rocks.  I’m sure they’ll remember us for a long time. . .

After a day of rest and lounging at the Nargila restaurant, we headed to the Monkey Temple on the full moon.  January 12th was the first full moon of 2017 and it was in Cancer. . .which basically means that it was a more intense full moon than usual and it was said to invoke a lot of new beginnings for this brand new year.  I’ll take it.  Anything is better than the shitstorm of 2016.

For me, personally, going to the Monkey Temple on the full moon was also very auspicious and special.  In case you’re just joining my little universe, I’m a monkey and the year of the monkey is just about to end, so I literally got to say goodbye to my challenging year at my very own temple.  It seemed almost too appropriate and perfect that I honor the growth and changes in such a profound way.  But, it wasn’t easy, of course, physically or mentally.

It all started with 575 steps up.  Way up.  To the top of a cliff.  See that white building on the top of the rocks?  That’s it.  Ooh, and that’s Ela, our American friend.  She’d already been to the temple but joined us for a second visit.  Hanging with her is like eating some good ol’ American comfort food.  Wait, does that sound weird?!  I mean, I don’t get to hang with a lot of Americans. . .okay, I NEVER get to hang with Americans, so her presence was a real Midwestern treat!

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We quickly became part of the pilgrimage, making the climb up to pay our respects.  The steps were steep–a switchback around and between giant boulders.  The old men and women in our procession would sometimes drop on all fours and climb that way because it was so tough for them.  I didn’t find it that difficult thanks to all my running, and my glorious youth, but it was definitely a sight to see.  There were even spots where entire groups of people would rest and catch their breath, all while smiling and laughing at the people still climbing up.  It was pure comedy while we all huffed and puffed our way to the promised land.

There was a countdown painted on the rocks at random spots so you knew how many more steps it was to the top.  I also loved some of the paintings along the way, like this one of Hanuman below.

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Everything was fine and dandy approaching the temple. . .

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And just as I turned the corner of the last rock, my damn foot vein puffed up with shooting pains  (a healed injury from August, 2016).  Ugh.  I don’t know if it was the sudden elevation, or an actual physical manifestation of the monkey year pulsating on the bottom of my foot, or just freakin’ coincidence, but it pushed out a whole bucket of tears in less than 2 whole seconds.  As if I’m not already a scene being a white chick there, but a crying white chick is even better.  Guhreat!

At most Temples in India, you have to remove your shoes because the area is considered holy and shoes are dirty.  I personally never leave my shoes in the designated area. Instead, I carry them covertly with me so they don’t get stolen.  I’m not saying that all shoes get stolen, of course, I’m just saying I don’t want to take the chance because it does happen and I really love my shoes.  A lot.  They’re worth a ton in rupees, man, and that’s all I’m gonna say.

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So, I know it was in the middle of the day and it was the full moon, but still I expected to see at least one naughty monkey somewhere hiding in the shadows or en route to a napping spot.  Nope.  A big fat nope.  Not one single monkey in sight for me, the monkey, in the year of the monkey, at the monkey temple.  Hahahahahaha.  The only thing I got was a resurrected foot injury and some sweet pics.  Maybe the monkeys were letting me enjoy my temple all to myself because usually the place is filled with them in every direction.  I like to think of it like this.  Thanks, Hanuman.

The next day, we braved the river blessed by our magical dance party and paid 10 rupees to get to the other side.  The river is only so big and it’d be easier to have just a foot bridge across it, but since this is India and nothing is logical, you have to take a boat. . .and better yet, since they don’t want to waste fuel on the 20 second ride across, you have to wait ages for the boat to fill up.  It’s annoying and funny.  Indians will do anything to save a couple rupees.  I can’t decide if they’re genius entrepreneurs or horrible cheapskates.  Maybe both.

Our lovely Dutch babies, Jasper and Femke, joined us for the afternoon.  They are on a mega traveling expedition around the world and also have a blog.  It’s written in Dutch, but you can check it out here.

At the time we were crossing the river, there was a whole heap of Indians on the other side bathing and having a good time.  They got a kick out of me taking a photo as we zoomed by and posed accordingly.

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The view from the other side looked like this. . .

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The other side of the river was completely different from “Hippie Island.”  It almost looked like scenes from Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider in certain areas.  I never saw anything like it before in my life.  Wowie zowie!

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The temples and ruins were said to be 600-800 years old.  Some of them were made with such huge slabs of rock that, still today, no one knows the technology that they used to create it all.  I envisioned an archaic regal society–filled with vibrant colors and different smells–as I scanned the old buildings around me.  There was an energy in the air that felt like memories of the majestic life it once had.

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I couldn’t resist a little photo session.  I mean, when you come this far, you’ve gotta take advantage of the views, right?!

 

That big pyramid temple in a lot of the above pictures might be the most famous in the area, called Virupaksha temple, and up close it has the most intricately erotic carvings. You know, the kind that remind you of the Kama Sutra and probably the sort of fun that this ancient society once had. . .obviously, since they freakin’ carved it in that much stone.  Geez.  Hehe.

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In a popular courtyard area, surrounded by temples, I was happily surprised to finally see some sweet cows being loved.  I know what you’re thinking.  Don’t Hindus worship cows? But really, in my humble opinion, and as I’ve stated in previous posts, they are among the most mistreated beings in this huge country.  However, at this spot, there were two lucky cows given so much love.  People actually waited in line to pet them and even rub their feet.  I’m sure they were just hoping to get some food, but cows are pretty affectionate animals and they deserve cuddles too.

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There was some kind of ritual going on in one of the buildings that echoed out of the stone columns.  Kids danced to music and plenty of visitors checked out the happenings.  We stayed out in the courtyard watching the monkeys rival over turf politics while listening to the sounds of the beautiful music echoing all around us.

It got a bit more interesting when a tiny puppy tried to steal a bag of potato chips from one monkeys’ turf.  I thought I was going to witness a nasty fight, but the puppy survived unscathed, at least, for the moment. . .

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After a day of exploration, we went to the river for sunset. . .

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One of the things I love to document when I travel is the street art, or graffiti, and Hampi had a few good pieces around.

The day before we left Hampi, all of the locals were getting ready for some festival at one of the temples.  I don’t know the name of it but it’s basically fancy chalk drawings that women do outside their homes and businesses for good blessings and festivities.  They don’t use stick chalk, though, they use powdered chalk. . .kinda like colored sand that they drop from their hands as they move in a particular pattern.

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Technically, you’re not supposed to walk or drive on any of the designs because it’s just rude and bad luck and so not cool, but of course some idiot drove on one and it started a big fight on the street.  The old lady was pretty pissed off that her sacred design was defiled.  I was just glad it was an Indian and not a Westerner.  We’re not all white devils after all.  Yay!

Four days later, we said a truly final goodbye to our special friends.  We just happen to catch a good part of their travels before they left for other places, but I know deep in my heart, we will all be together again someday.  I’m very thankful for all the fun we’ve shared and it’s only five minutes until the next cuddle.

Our last night in Hampi was quiet without the faeries.  As they headed on a bus ride towards Bangalore, we got a good night’s rest to make that long journey back to our beloved rainbow penthouse. . .in the jungle village by the sea.

I will never forget Hampi and the reminder of the great spirit within all of us.  Those magnificent rocks are true gurus in the art of how to rock.  Aho!

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2016 Rainbow Gathering in the Parvati Valley, Himachal Pradesh, Kheer Ganga

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“When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the warriors of the rainbow.” Native American Prophecy

It was a perfect sunny morning.  Puffy white clouds decorated the bluest sky and the hills were definitely alive!  We set off on a hike to the Rainbow Gathering about 30 minutes from Kheer Ganga.  It was, ummmm, totally gorgeous. . .

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We probably took longer than 30 minutes to do the hike because we had our packs, there were too many good views to marinate in, and the incline/altitude made it a bit tricky for everyone.  Snow capped mountains were almost within reach, herds of sheep and goats roamed on their luscious salad buffet meadows, and the energy of the Himalayas settled into all of our souls.  Slowly, slowly. . .we made our way Home.

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I love how nature adapts.  These goats with their majestic, long hair and magical horns. . .wow, huh?!  I never got tired of seeing them roam around the hills, listening to their funny sounds echo through the valleys.  They all have such different voices.  It’s almost like you can tell their personality by the sound they make.

The Rainbow Gathering had about 70 people already camping when we arrived.  People from Russia, Canada, Spain, USA, India, Germany, England, Ireland, Israel, Ecuador, Belarus, Netherlands, and many more places. . .gathered in this beautiful meadow and shared community duties, hosted workshops, cooked communal meals, made art, went hiking, played music. . .connecting and reflecting about this giant, yet so small, world we live in.

We scored a sweet spot next to a wonderfully, huge rock.  It was our wilderness abode for two weeks and it served us very well.

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Days in the mountains went slow.  We created a morning space by our groovy rock and a different crowd came every morning for chai and biscuits, and of course, boundless good conversation.  In the afternoons, the shepherds came through our meadow so their flocks could graze.  It was like a tsunami of pungent aroma that overtook our city of tents and it was awesome!

None of the animals seemed to mind me hanging out while they ate around me.  Some of the goats gave us a really good show, too.  They loved our special rock and climbed all over it.  It was damn good nature TV, people.  Go to the mountains, wherever you are.  I promise you will find magic if you look for it.

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There was also heaps of cows.  No surprise, though, considering this is India and cows have a way of infiltrating every inch of the Mother land.  Unlike the afternoon wave of goats and sheep, the cows were just around all day long.  Amit carved a special stick for our camp so we could practice our Krishna skills. . .aka. . .cow herding.  If you let the cows graze too long near your tent, you might get an unwanted cow pie or piss puddle, and well, I wasn’t into that much Nature TV.  Let’s get real.

Loud grunts and strange noises came out of any person with the special stick.  It wasn’t long before the cows got familiar and knew to move along.  Several surrounding tents, however, didn’t have such savvy tenants and got robbed or peed on.  The cows in India are quite ambitious, too, and will even try to inhale your one of a kind Pashmina.  They have no shame!

Nights at the Rainbow Gathering begin with a communal gathering for dinner.  We hold hands, sing silly songs, and ohm like we mean it.  Afterwards, any announcements are made and then music around the main fire goes into the wee hours of the night.  It sounds a bit, you know, bliss-ninny’ish, but singing those songs with people from all over the world does something to your heart.  I swear.  We had tons of Indian tourists visiting the hot springs in Kheer Ganga who came over to see what the Rainbow Gathering was about and a lot of them were supercharged by our dinner ritual.

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A few days into the gathering, one of my dearest friends, Raj, arrived to join in on the mystical mountain experience.  He had never been to this part of his own country or spent much time camping in the mountains, or in general, and he found our camp with a hypnotized look on his face. . .freshly mesmerized and shocked by the massive beauty present all around us, and probably exhausted from the insane hike up.

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We made lots of new friends. . .shared hugs, visits to the hot springs, evening dances under the starry sky. . .

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I think it was the cleanest I’ve ever been while camping.  Visits to the hot springs were so nice.  Rejuvenating soaks, clean clothes, and an awesome hike every single time.  Himalayan living treated us well.  Now I see why Shiva stuck around for 3000 years.

One of the coolest encounters on the mountain was with an old shepherd.  She didn’t see the point in discussing her name, but she told us stories of the cows, the plants, and her two daughters who are married to foreigners.  She would hang at our camp while she was wandering the hills and we happily fed her biscuits and snacks in trade for her company.  I have no idea how old she was, but the wrinkles on her face reminded me of the lines on a  road map, and those highways had stories you couldn’t dare to dream.

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The days melted away and the Himalayas took its’ toll.  Dry skin, sunburned noses, sore feet, sore muscles from the endless hills in every direction. . .but we never stopped having fun, laughing with the global community, and sharing love with our family. . .

No matter where you are in the world. . .if you want a new experience, to meet different kinds of people, to indulge in beautiful nature. . .go find a Rainbow Gathering.  They happen all over the world and you can find whatever journey you might need at this very moment in life.  It’s that kind of magic.  It’s that kind of goodness.  And it’s just waiting for YOU to find it!

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Loving you, family!  Thanks for the hugs, the laughs, the tears, the memories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The KheerGanga Pilgrimage in the Himalayas

If you want to feel like you’ve left this world and gone to another planet, go to the place where Shiva meditated for 3000 years.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.  Maybe you’ll even soak up some of his deep thoughts in the hot springs while you’re there.

But, where?

In a land far, far, very far away. . .in the state of Himachal Pradesh. . .near China and Kashmir, is a place almost 10,000 feet up in the Himalayas in the Parvati Valley called Kheer Ganga.

From Goa, it only took us TWENTY-SIX hours on a train, a TEN hour overnight bus ride, a THREE hour local bus ride, and a FOUR hour hike to get there, but it was all worth it.  By my calculations, I think that makes it a true pilgrimage.

So, there I was again in good ol’ smelly Delhi.  It’s not a place I like to linger, especially since the last time I was there with my husband his wallet got picked, but all roads lead to Delhi, it seems.  We timed it just so that when we got off our 26 hour train ride from Goa we only had a couple hours in Delhi before we jumped on an overnight bus to Bhuntar.  It was just enough time to eat at a fave restaurant and pick up some warm clothes for evening temperatures in the mountains.  I even picked up a random Turkish traveler, Cem, to join us on the pilgrimage.  He had a wanderlust in his eyes and a backpack on his back and he gladly accepted the spontaneous adventure.

The three of us gathered our gear and followed a man through the stinky streets until we were told to wait at a certain spot for the bus.  It was a classic scene where groups of travelers were herded into clumps waiting for buses to different places.  Like usual, we waited, and then waited, and waited some more.  Indian Standard Time.  What to do?!

Travelers beware: When you book a bus trip in India, it will often come at a much different time than promised, and may even be a completely different kind of bus than advertised.  Heh heh.  As they say, Ye He India!

I did, however, manage to catch some good shots from the bus window. . .

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We settled into our seats, watched the crazy world of Delhi through the windows, and after another chunk of IST, the bus finally moved.  We passed the infamous garbage mountain on the outskirts of the city–burning and smoking like a scene from some apocalyptic movie–and shortly after, I fell asleep.  I didn’t wake up until the bus stopped for dinner time.

Around 7am the next morning, we reached Bhuntar.  It was grey and raining and the thought of trekking in that kind of weather wasn’t looking too good.  A whole group of us got off at the same stop and haggled for a long time with a guy offering a taxi ride, but then we all decided to go cheap and take the local bus instead.  All the seats were taken, of course, but the roof was an option if we wanted to sit with our bag. . .in the rain.

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The next 3 hours were on a bumpy, windy dirt road that went up and down through mountain villages.  It was picturesque and the loud Hindi music reminded me of riding the buses in Nepal.

We got off in Barshani.  A lot of people like to stop in Kasol.  It’s a really good option to do last minute shopping if you need warm clothes or other things before going up to Kheer Ganga.

The weather was still grey and rainy and we were totally exhausted from non-stop traveling.  Food first was our mission before we made any arrangements or plans to do the hike.  Aloo paratha with yogurt, veggie chow mein, and some really strong chai helped, but the 3 of us still weren’t convinced about the hike.  Do we rest and try the next morning or do we just keep going until the end?  Was it even possible in our current state?  And what about the rain?

In this moment of uncertainty, another group of travelers passed us, and by chance, one of them was a French woman Amit and I met last year in Australia,  Nikki.  The world is truly a small place.  Once you get out there, you can’t believe how often you find the same people all over the world.  Anyway, Nikki was on her way to Kheer Ganga, too.  Her presence was enough motivation to shift our energy and give us some oomph to get our butts back in gear.

Other than trekking to one of the most beautiful places in world for a great adventure and some outdoorsy time, we were also on a mission to get to a little thing called a Rainbow Gathering.  Do you know what that is?  It started in the USA in 1972 as a gathering of people on National land to create an intentional community of peace, love, and freedom.  These gatherings happen all over the world in most countries and attract people from every class, creed, culture, and color.  It’s a great place to meet the global family.  We call it Home.

The hike to Kheer Ganga is known to be quite intense so it’s pretty common to hire a porter for your bags.  I was a bit shocked at the idea because I’ve never done a hike with such a strange luxury, but it didn’t take more than 2 seconds to convince me.  For 850 rupees, I got to “enjoy” the hike.  Plus, it helped the local families earn an income.  Win!

And the journey continued. . .

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Now, I’m a fairly experienced hiker and have visited many mountains, but fifteen minutes into our hike, I was so freakin’ glad we had our amazing porter.  The trail was steep!  The air was hard to breathe.  The views were breathtaking.

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Our amazing porter practically ran up the trail ahead of us.  His fitness level was nothing short of incredible.  Along the trail, there’s little villages filled with chai shacks.  If you need water or snacks or toilet paper, it’s there.  Our porter would wait for us to catch up with a chai in his hand and a big smile across his face.  I think he got a kick out of watching us not-so-in-mountain-shape people huff and puff our sluggish bodies up the mountain.  He’d give us a nod, wait a few minutes, and then take off up the mountain again.

If you can’t tell from the pics, the trail spends a lot of time drifting along a precarious ledge. . .filled with huge rocks. . .and steep hills to fall down.  We walked through orchards, passed makeshift fabric shrines, Indian families dressed in gorgeous outfits with pretty shoes, and a waterfall or two.

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The above adorable little girl actually turned her head when she saw me take out my camera, but you can still see how cute she is.  This village had amazing wooden structures set amidst the greenery along the cliffs.  It looked like a postcard in every direction.

Just when we thought the hike couldn’t get any steeper, we looked ahead and stared UP at a wall of green and rocks.  Heh heh.  Yep, that’s a trail.  At this point, I was really really really glad to not have my pack because I thought for sure I’d be using all fours to get up this part.  Whew.  Kheer Ganga better be good, dammit!

On top, the views were stunning. . .

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By now, we were on the home stretch, but it didn’t get any less challenging or beautiful.  We crossed a waterfall and the incline was relentless, but we kept at it. . .slowly, slowly, as they say around here. . .and eventually we made it to the top.

Kheer Ganga isn’t much of a village. It’s actually just a handful of restaurants with lodging accommodations on the side of a crazy steep hill.  The infamous hot springs sit at the top, so just when you think you’ve reached, your Stairmaster experience keeps on giving.  Prepare to work every muscle in your mind and body to get to this place.

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Rather than hiking straight over to the Rainbow Gathering. . .which was about 30 minutes over in the next valley. . .I thought we should all treat ourselves and our muscles to a much deserved soak in the hot springs water after such a grueling journey.  The men’s side is open and the women’s side is boarded for privacy.  It’s nice to not get the stares and have the option to soak nude.  There’s also a separate section in both areas to do your laundry.

The soak was ahhhhhmazing!  Afterwards, I felt like I was tripping from being so exhausted, so we decided to stay in one of the restaurants for the night and head to the Rainbow Gathering in the morning.  It was a good decision for all of us in our delirious states.

While the hot springs are a main attraction, Kheer Ganga is also famous for being a stoners’ paradise.  It’s a mecca for the world’s best hash, or as they call it ‘charas,’ and the restaurants are designed so the entire floor is cushions with low tables and anyone can lie around, get stoned, and order food and chai.  In the night, they bring out pillows and blankets and the whole restaurant becomes one, big, sleepover party.  It’s pretty cool.  It reminded me of a bed-in, but without the protest.

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With red eyes and no energy, I passed out in my cozy sleeping bag in the middle of the evening shennanigans, but oh what a sleep I had!  The next morning, I woke up fresh as a daisy and without sore muscles thanks to the magic of the hot springs.  And after chai and some breakfast, we continued over to the next valley to get Home.

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The Sacred City of Pushkar, Rajasthan

In the state of Rajasthan, there is a small village near the Thar Desert called Pushkar.  It has hundreds of temples and is home to the infamous Camel Fair in November, but is also a mystical place for the wanderers and the gypsies of the world.

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After our mega journey to Nepal and back to Delhi, we visited Pushkar for a few days before returning to Goa.

It is said that the Pushkar Lake appeared when Brahma dropped a lotus flower.  At dusk, reverberations of drums and gongs hum through the city, and if you manage to score a roof top view, the silhouette of Pushkar is a beautiful sight.

Even though many tourists and those on pilgrimage visit Pushkar, it remains enchantingly small and shanti.  The streets are an endless, windy bazaar of clothing, jewelry, and a menagerie of goods.

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And like the rest of India, there are cows everywhere!  I think the narrow streets and close feelings of the area make the cows more friendly.  Some of them even go on specific routes for their daily snacks.  The man on the left with the white cow keeps a loaf of bread and says that the cow visits every morning, but only once.

Sadly, a lot of them are definitely starving.  The whole cow thing in this country really gets my knickers in a knot!  They are sacred, or rather, taboo, in Hindu culture as abundant food suppliers.  Krishna, that cool blue guy, was also a cow herder.  But in a twisted reality, that means that they don’t get killed ever and the ones that stop producing milk are just left to roam free. . .which means More stray cows, More starving cows, More obstacles on the roads, and truthfully, it’s mean and quite the opposite of respectful for such a being that is revered so “highly.”

I like to save any food scraps I can to give to the cows so that’s one less meal of garbage they have to eat.  This one fine afternoon, after a delicious falafel plate, I saved a piece of pita bread for one lucky cow.  She was outside the restaurant when I spotted her trying to eat an old scarf that somebody had chucked aside.  Yes, I said scarf.

I called out to the pretty cow and she turned towards me–the blue scarf hanging from her mouth, wiggling, trying to get the fabric down her throat.  I pulled out the pita bread, a twinkle glowed in her eyes, and that damn scarf flew out of her mouth to make room for my gift.  She ate the pita bread and seemed quite happy about it.  I was happy, too.

One evening at sunset, we sat on the roof of our guesthouse and watched the monkeys jump around the roof tops.  I took it as another sign of the Monkey year!

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Pushkar has an inspiring vibe.  Most of the travelers who visit are business gypsies–designing clothes, jewelry, you name it.  There’s a certain buzz about the streets with so many people creating something in one, small place.  If you come to India, do yourself a favor and visit this magical spot.

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Two blissful days in Pushkar and then we headed back to our special Anjuna. . .I was so happy to see my golden babies and the glorious sunset view from our home.

 

 

India/Nepal Visa Run

A few weeks ago, we braved leaving our glorious jungle bubble in Goa to go on a trek of epic proportions across mother India.  Heh.  We traveled 1700 miles (2700 km) by train, bus, and rickshaw to a funny place on the Nepal border, called Sunauli. . . .to explore a bit of Nepal and exit the country for my visa.

If you’re American, you get a 10 year visa, but you have to exit the country every 180 days (6 months).  For this kind of visa, the 6 months begins when you arrive in India.  For people other than Americans, the most common visa is a 6 months visa, but the visa begins when it is issued, not when you arrive, so make sure to check your dates when traveling.  There’s not that much current information about doing the visa run to Nepal on land, so here it goes.

In India, you can’t just rock up to the train station and get a ticket.  Nothing here is *that* easy.  You see, there’s so many people trying to ride the famous trains, you can only go to certain stations to purchase tickets where they have “tourist quota.”  So, our adventure began with a 2 hour drive south of Anjuna to the Margao station.  If you’re in the area, that’s where you need to book your tickets.  Not all of the trains run every day and some of them only bi-weekly.  Btw, the Rajdhani Express is real nice.

Anyway, when we got to Margao, I was surprised to see the crowd waiting for the ticket room to open.  As soon as it did, like in a classic parody of this quirky culture, the whole group ran to get in line first.  I’m often amused at the opportunistic, sometimes rude/survival-of-the-fittest nature of people around here, but in a place with such a large population, how could it be any other way?

Living in Anjuna is much different from the rest of India. We don’t have the crowds or the same amount of pollution as in other places like Delhi or Mumbai, and the vibe around here is more like a holiday than the dirty, dusty, daily grind of everyday living.  Out there, India offers a plethora of confrontational and beautiful lessons to anyone who can see.

A real good lesson to be learned in India?  Personal space is a luxury.  Really.  People stand extremely close in lines, or in shops, or most public places, and it’s normal.  Coming from a Western culture, I have to remind myself that the woman who almost stepped on my toe, or cut in front of me, isn’t being rude.  She’s just making her way.  Like the traffic rule. . . “Might is Right”. . .it applies to many aspects of life here.

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With luck on our side, we got some of the last tickets available to Delhi, and jumped back in Dinky-Doo.  There’s never a dull moment while driving in India.  I know I’ve explained the traffic before, but one of my very favorite things is watching the trucks pass.  You never know what is going to be in the back of it. . . . a pile of beautiful women in colorful saris, furniture, one man sleeping while standing, school kids in their matching uniforms.  It’s really unpredictable.

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A few days later, a rickshaw pulled up to the Chill-Inn and we set off on our adventure. . . .

A 28 hour train ride to Delhi awaited us. . . . but only after our favorite breakfast. . . masala dosa. . . .

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Are you wondering what the heck that is?  It’s like an Indian crepe, but even thinner and a bit crisp, and on the inside is potatoes and peas with spices.  It’s a typical South Indian dish and it is served with a spicy coconut chutney and a vegetable soup for dipping or sipping.  Mmmmmmm.  Ooh, it’s a  yummy meal for only 60 rupees, too.  Dosa is also always made fresh so it’s a good thing to eat if you’re traveling.

After breakfast, we headed to the Thivim station just outside of Mapusa, pronounced Mop-sa by the locals.  It is the main station in North Goa and it’s quite nice, by Indian standards.

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In case you’re wondering, that is NOT my big roller bag.  My bag is the tiny red back pack behind me.  That’s right.  We challenged ourselves to live out of small backpacks in many different temperatures for two weeks.  How many things do any of us really need?

The Rajdhani Express arrived and we settled into our berth just fine.  We booked the A/C sleeper class which has bunk beds and tends to be a bit cleaner than other compartments.  The windows don’t open and sometimes it gets cold, but mostly, it’s nice and comfortable. On this particular train, they provide blankets, pillows, towels, and serve a lot of pretty good food.

If you’re looking for train tickets, the Upper berths and the side ones are the best.  If you get either of those options, you can take naps whenever you want.  The other beds are communal until it’s sleeping time.

For many hours, I stared at the motherland whizzing by.  We passed so many bridges.  Bridges that looked half done and then abandoned, bridges with men at work in sandals, bridges that didn’t appear to have roads attached to them at all, or even have anything to go over–a repetitive wasteland of bridges going nowhere; endless mounds of useless concrete.  There was something sad, but, I don’t know, artistic about it?!

Underneath some of the concrete arches, people bathed and washed their clothes; kids played.  The bridges provided a necessary refuge.  In the end, I suppose all things can find a purpose. . . even the unfinished, forgotten, abandoned things.

Green fields with crops also whizzed by.  I noticed many fences that looked like fabric barriers, but they were just random saris drying in the sun.  When we went through cities, I saw kids playing Cricket next to heaps of garbage, people lying in rope beds near the tracks, and all different kinds of animals sniffing for food.

After a decent sleep, and almost 30 hours, we arrived in good ol’ Delhi.  Delhi is not my favorite place, but it is an experience and it has some amazing restaurants.  Dal Makhani and garlic butter naan are to die for in these parts.  Do yourself a favor and get butter chicken with a heaping basket of naan.  I guarantee a good time!

However, getting out of the train station in Delhi is an assault on the senses.  I forgot to mention that a lot of the trains in India, well, have toilets that are just holes that go down onto the train tracks (newer trains have flushing toilets).  I’ll give you a few seconds to imagine what that might smell like in an extremely high population city station.  Heh.  Got it?!  Signs advise to not use the toilets at the stations, but not everyone is good at following rules.

We didn’t go to Delhi to go to Delhi.  We went to Delhi to catch another train to Gorakhpur, but stayed a day to enjoy some of our favorite sights and foods.  We stopped at a cute little hole in the wall on the main road in Pahar Gange Main Bazaar.  That’s a good area in Delhi if you’re looking for a place to go.

The tiny restaurant had a low ceiling, quirky pictures on the walls, and a random assortment of travelers from everywhere.  A cute, old lady with white, frizzy hair dressed in a floral skirt sat down at the table behind us.  Her cigarette smoke wafted out onto the main road and blended in with the Delhi dust and she fed a hungry dog a piece of her buttered toast.  I assumed, by her calm nature, that it wasn’t her first time in India, or Delhi.

We sat in the early morning sun drinking chai–watching rickshaws, bicycles, carts, tourists, and life pass us by–absorbing the typical honking sounds of the city.

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The dust and dirt in the air quickly becomes a nasty phlegm in your throat.  It’s all part of the Delhi experience. . . .along with the garbage.  In fleeting moments, the dust and dirt is charismatic and beautiful.  In a city with so many people, anything goes.  Laundry hangs wherever it can, people drive however they want, and there are no boundaries for anything.  The good, the bad, the ugly is all mixed together everywhere you look, so you have to confront all aspects of life.  It’s amazing and horrible. . . but it’s so  REAL.

 

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In western cultures, we are too good at hiding things.  We put everything and everyone in a specific place–behind walls, fences, or even buried in the ground–and forget it exists.  But the garbage is still there.  The crazy people still live.  The poor people are still poor.  When everything is out in the open, you can’t forget, and it’s sort of humbling.  What’s that saying, “Airing our dirty laundry in public”?!  Well, we all know it’s there, so what is the point of hiding it?  Food for thought.

When you walk around in a place like Delhi, there are thousands of opportunistic people in every direction.  For example, a guy walking past us noticed Amit’s broken shoe and asked to fix it. . .

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He was essentially a traveling cobbler with a whole contraption he carried like a briefcase.  He glued and sewed and buffed for 60 rupees.  The locals watched and laughed as Amit got “overcharged” (they thought), but it was only one dollar, really.  People are hungry for rupees and being observant, for this dude, paid off.

We were running late for our train to Gorakhpur, so instead of taking a rickshaw to the station, we were advised by locals to take the Metro (subway).  It sounded like a good idea, so we happily joined the masses shuffling underground.

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The first segment was fine.  We got out of the metro and then had to run to another part.  The next subway had such a large crowd trying to get on, I literally got swallowed into the crowd of people and moved by group force onto the subway.  It was scary and kind of exhilarating.

20160202_143321Just after this picture was taken, and a few laughs were had, I felt something near my hip pouch, but didn’t think anything of it because we were all stuffed in together and figured someone just moved their arm next to me.  But then, the train stopped, and Amit’s wallet was GAWN!  Yep.  Just like that.  Note to self, opportunistic people come in all shapes and sizes, and an overly crowded subway train is the perrrrrfect place to pick pockets.  Be on guard, people.  Luckily, he didn’t have much in his wallet, so other than mourning the actual wallet, we didn’t lose anything important.  Whew!

Back at the Delhi train station, we were once again accosted by the perplexing aromas.  Another overnight train ride to Gorakhpur awaited us, and this time we got the side berths, so we lounged and binged on shows for most of the ride.

Our neighbors on the train were three men.  They sat together eating weird spicy snacks, listening to funny Hindi music on their phones, and one of them was always crushing chewing tobacco with lime in his hand.  They were nice enough.  Sometimes neighbors on the trains can be a bit confused or judgmental at biracial couples, but these dudes were more like intrigued.

Close to Gorakhpur, one of them men stood up and pulled his shirt off his belly.  The man behind him wrapped this back brace looking thing around his midsection.  It reminded me of the olden time ladies helping each other with corsets or girdles.  I asked if it was for his back and he laughed, making fun of himself, and then confessed it was to hide his belly.  WHAT?  I had to laugh.  This was definitely a first for me.  The man then explained he was returning home to get married and he wanted to look good at the train station.

Trains in India run on IST.  That means they are late a lot.  Our train turned out to be 6 hours late, and when we asked why, the attendant didn’t even know.  It’s the Bermuda triangle time zone on the tracks, apparently.  I don’t have many pictures from this part of the journey because the window was too dirty to take any.

By the way, there’s nothing in Gorakhpur.  Unless you are going to Sunauli, I don’t think you would ever go to this place.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, but we found out, you can get “tourist quota” tickets there.  Varanasi is also a few hours south.

From Gorakhpur, we took a local bus. . . .blessed with being able to get a seat. . .and rode 3 hours to Sunauli.  This was the kind of bus with sunken, old seats, and stuffed in the same manner as the subway in Delhi.  I was totally amazed how people stood for 3 hours like sardines in the aisle.

The India/Nepal border was bustling with foot traffic, bicycle rickshaws, trucks, and a cloud of dust.  I rode in my first bicycle rickshaw to the immigration office. You can get a Nepal visa on arrival and it’s $25 USD for a 15 day visa.

Forms filled out, passport stamped and Nepal visa put in, we got back into our bicycle rickshaw and crossed the border. . . .

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On the other side, a whole new adventure began. . . .