Lake Michigan Dune Time

If you’ve never seen one of the “Great Lakes” in your life, I recommend making a trip sometime.  Lake Michigan, in particular, has beautiful sand dune beaches and water that stretches as far as the eye can see.  Once at the water’s edge, looking out into the vast blue horizon is like gazing out into the open sea. . .without all that salt, of course.  It is quite a sight.

My family goes camping every year somewhere on the lake and this was the first year I got to attend the annual shenanigans.  I’m no stranger to camping so I was pretty excited to bust out my awesome camping gear. . .plus, sleeping in my tent all cozy in my sleeping bag is some of the best sleep I ever have.  I know, I’m a weirdo to some people.

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After setting up camp at the PJ Hoffmaster State Park Campground, we headed straight for the beach.  And it looked like this. . .

The water was brisk, per usual, but after about 5 minutes it just starts to feel refreshing.  Growing up in Michigan, you get used to cold water.  It’s no big deal.  It’s just how it is.  I think I heard somewhere that cold water stimulates your lymphatic system, so it’s all good for your health, too.

The beaches are tall white sand dunes that are killer to hike up, but make for great adventures.  The best part of hiking the dunes is running down them.  Each step takes so long to sink down in the sand it kinda feels like you’re walking on the moon or floating instead of running.  And it’s even fun to hike up a dune just for the sake of floating back down again.  Me and my dad went on a really fun hike one of the days and I got some primo shots.

I love this one below.  It looks like he’s a lone man in the desert. . .or on some strange desolate planet. . .

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You can tell a little bit how steep this dune really was.  It was a great workout and also a never-ending foot massage from all that sand.  My little footsies were quite happy afterwards.  And BTW, I have the best Dad.  He’s a gem!

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Some of my oldest and dearest friends joined us for a few nights of camping fun.  I’ve been cashing in on all the friendly company I can manage while I’m here.  In the blink of an eye I’ll be back to my little jungle home far far away from so many of my loved ones.

Here are some great shots from another dune hike. . .

We came across this bench on our dune hike and I had to capture the wisdom of it.  I think it’s a good notion for all of us.  Keep dreaming, keep dreaming. . .grab it when you can, grab it when you think you can’t.  Just do what that little voice inside of you says.  Listen. . .

“I believe people should find their dreams and chase them before it’s too late.  If you know what your dream is grab it and run.”

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We had beach disco parties, of course, because I have to dance no matter what.  It’s good for my soul.  We had dinners and fun chats around the camp fire.  And we even made it to the nearest city to see a singing, dancing, light up fountain.  It was something.  It’s one of the oldest musical fountains out there, so check it out for a truly local experience.  Haha.

It was really hard to leave the camping trip, but I will be excited to visit the dunes again and that beautiful blue horizon.  Thanks, Lake Michigan.

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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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