Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We Made It! Safe and Sound in Kathmandu

Our journey began with a three-hour delay at the railway station in Varanasi, where crickets jumped into our sweaty hair and clothes and Indians slept in piles all around. I played my flute to pass the time, but finally passed out on my pack, too. Around 1:30am Rumi and I went in search of chai, and finally at 2 the train arrived on the opposite platform. Hoardes of people, including us, jumped down onto the tracks to get to the other side before the train arrived, India-style. With herculean effort we found our bunks, asked the men sleeping in them to please leave, and finally passed out. Indian sleeper trains are filled with Indian feet. If you don't like feet, please don't come to India. Unless you're me and you really appreciate discomfort.

Our 7-hour train journey quickly evolved into a 12-hour odyssey. We arrived in Gorakpur, bought our last Indian bidis and chai, and found a jeep to drive us to the Nepali border. Three hours later, we walked across the border into Nepal and bought bus tickets to Kathmandu, another epic 12-hour journey up tiny, twisty mountain roads in the rain. My tailbone thought it would never end...

We arrived at our final destination this morning at 5am, exhausted, filthy, sore, with swollen ankles, and, get this...cold! Kathmandu is a haven after the insanity of India, filled with innumerable shops and modern conveniences (notebooks! western groceries! real bakeries with bread!)...unfortunately, my only real craving, for filter coffee, was not in the cards...but I am thrilled to be free from the cow crap sauna known as Varanasi and I'm hoping that the pizza-like bubbles on my face will finally subside.

I am somewhat committed to one week in this place, but already feel the urge to move on...only time will reveal the next destination.

Finally, in response to my grande skeptic (see comment string), I must concede that I cannot provide the answers you desire. The realm of words is, unfortunately, completely inadequate when it comes to the meaning of God--whether you want to call it "God", "the universe", "infinite consciousness", or whatever else feels comfortable. Some people feel the presence of God, and others do not.

Personally, I am overwhelmed with the persistent and powerful feeling that I am well-taken care of, guided in my choices, and protected from the bad elements around me. I rely heavily on my intuition, which grows stronger every day, and there is no doubt that God and my deceased predecessors are constantly by my side, watching over me and teaching me about right living (thank you, Ito, George, and now, my sweet and loving Tia Sylvia) . This is my experience..

And just a note for the record, this blahg was created long before my trip to India. The title, created in a moment of pain and desperation, did not refer to a spiritual quest. It is true that I have always been attracted to India, but until I arrived this last March, I had no idea why...this is partly why I believe we have only to make ourselves open to whatever may come, as opposed to searching for any specific thing, as we can never know what life may have in store...and surely life has much better things in store for us than our tiny little minds could ever dream up!

my love and deep gratitude to all who helped make this possible,

Friday, June 22, 2007

Chelo Himalaya!

Today the sunrise was spectacular (see photos below!!!), with bright red streaks of clouds in the sky and the sweet relief of the early morning breeze. Indian tradition is to rise at 4am daily, and with this insane humidity, I realize that these hours really need to be savoured. Only in the last few days have I taken advantage.

Varanasi is an aggressive place. It is not for everyone. I find I must shield myself from its vast insanity, venturing only to the Ganga, the fruit market, and the jambe shop for music fun. This is the place for music, so musical instruments abound. We acquired a tambourine and a flute, both great fun to play with, and we’ve been taking refuge in a nearby jambe shop where everyone plays something. I play the tambourine and sing while others play various drums (jambe and tabla), guitars, yesterday a violin... Some of the drum players are fascinating to watch and I would love someday to get crazy with a drum…

In true Indian fashion, the electricity shuts off every morning around 11 to about 3pm. For the hottest, sweatiest hours of the day, everyone turns to jelly and everyone finds some way to get horizontal. Sweat is forever dripping down each and every bit of the body. Nothing ever dries. We move slowly through the stone maze of namkeen shops (snacks), samosa and chai shops, sweet shops, tailors sewing cheap clothes for tourists, small convenience shops, and my favorite, the bidi shop, where a sweet and silent older Indian man patiently hand rolls bidis, or Indian cigarettes. But it’s not a cigarette…bidi is a tightly rolled leaf filled with a tiny amount of tobacco and tied together with a tiny purple string. A package sells for 4 rupees. Tradition shows us that bidis are for sharing and enjoying, s every day we buy one package of bidis and sit in front of the bidi shop to share one. If a chai man comes along, it’s even better. The 2 rupee chai comes in handmade clay pots that can be easily smashed in the street for quick reintegration into mother nature. This is great fun for me, and I usually say “mozeltov!” when I smash mine…

The first time I decided to take a Ganga bath, I felt scared to touch the toxic water, but after I closed my eyes and felt the full power of Mother Ganga, there was no going back. Today was my sixth and final Ganga bath, and while the dead bull floating nearby for the last three days was definitely unappealing, it was not enough to actually forego my swim. I believe the next time I am fortunate enough to visit this overwhelmingly filthy, chaotic, yet strangely endearing city, I will swim across the Ganga.

The greatest thing about Hindu tradition is the fact that all Gods are welcome. Everyone can choose their own; so far, I have only really incorporated three: the Hindu Goddess of learning and music Saraswati; Santa Maria, Madre de Dios, and the moon, which has an undeniable effect on me since many, many years...

It appears my time with Mother Ganga has come to an end. Tonight at 11pm I will take a train to Gorakpur, where I will switch to a bus to Sunali, the town on the Nepali border where we will cross and, hopefully, catch another bus up the windy roads to Kathmandu. Personally, I am not a huge fan of Kathmandu, but the Himalaya calls…I will travel with a new friend, a Japanese girl my age who teaches yoga in Japan (does it get any better than this?). My feeling is that I would like to find a monastery to stay in for the monsoon, but only God knows what adventure I will find next…

Thank you Lord for protecting me always during this amazing adventure. Thank you Lord for blessing me with loving, understanding and supportive parents with whom I can share my adventures and lessons..


Con mucho carino,


PS Nepal is not known for easy internet access, but I should have access for at least the next two weeks…

Singing on a boat on Mother Ganga

In my room at Kumiko House: never so happy to live behind bars!
Checking in with home..after three months, it was time to get some serious talking done...
This is TODAY's spectacular sunrise! Thank you, God!!!!
Chai shop concerts in Hrishikesh
Scene from the 25 hours train ride to Varanasi
Sweating and passing the time on the train. We didn't ride, we rolled..
Playing around on the ghat in front of Kumiko House
Sunset from the opposite bank of the Ganga.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Power of Faith

Today is Sunday. Day of relaxation and fasting. Day of silence and solitude. Day of first Ganga bath!!

To work up the mental strength needed to enter the water I reminded myself again and again that the water was clean, that the water was pure and holy. I gritted my teeth, ignored the floating garbage and unidentified things I was standing on, and managed to walk in up to my knees. Within minutes I noticed a small child of about 4 years screaming and splashing around with real fear in his eyes. He was learning to swim and his father was further out in the river. I quickly jumped in and swam over to him to pick him up. I held him and told him it was okay, his little body shaking so hard!

So no hesitation allowed in Mother Ganga. We must embrace all her parts fully, clean and unclean, with the knowledge and faith that she is pure, she is holy, she is God. God has a plan for all of us. Our job is to be open and ready when the plan reveals itself. The power of faith is very real indeed, and greater than I could have ever imagined…

Within days of my arrival at Kumiko House, I realized what I had come to learn. In Hrishikesh I was free to acquire many things…clothes, “products,” cooking paraphernalia, books, papers, decorations, even furniture (I hate to admit it)…and my companions at the time, being westerners, were completely accepting of my excess, even telling me stories of others who had much, much more. But I knew in my heart that it was not right. I gave away maybe 80% of what I had when I left and still my pack weighed at least 15 kilos!

I also ate regularly in restaurants…in chairs. Now I sit on the floor, eat what I am served, and share my food with ten other people. I am here to learn moderation and humility. I am learning to endure the insects jumping all around, landing on my face and in my clothes. Accepting that electricity is a privilege, and that toilet paper is excess. All the comforts that are considered necessities in the west and elsewhere are now only excess, and I must learn to live without them. This is why I appreciate the opportunity to distance myself from the western mentality. I understand now that western life is a dream world.

And now I noticed my first question from an anonymous commenter, which I will repost here for those of you who are a bit more technologically challenged (talking to you, mom);

“Sorry to crash the party, but I'm curious. The subtitle of your blog, and in fact your entire journey, is devoted to a spiritual quest. So I'm curious...whether you search in a cathedral, a mosque, an ashram or a corpse-sprinkled river, what makes you so sure there's something "spiritual" to seek at all? Whence your conviction that there is more than this brief life in this one world for you to explore and enjoy?”

Ahhhhh, let me say that this is one hell of a first question! I will respond as best as I can, according to my own personal beliefs, which you are free to reject if they are unpalatable.

First, the term “spiritual quest” is confusing, because God is inside all of us; There is no need to search. Human beings are made up of a mind, a body, and a soul. The individual soul is one reflection of God. (In this part of Asia the accepted greeting is “namaste” with both hands together as if in prayer. It is a simple acknowledgement that we are all divine in nature, and a natural way to show respect and love for God.) Unfortunately, many people in the world do not realize they have a soul, and identify only with their mind’s desires (I’m hungry, I’m offended, I’m American, I want a hamburger...etc.etc). These people don’t realize their true nature as divine beings and think that external pleasures will bring satisfaction. But the satisfaction received from external things is only temporary. Lasting peace and satisfaction can only be attained by going inside, reconnecting with our true soul-nature, and learning to love.

Now for the short answer: I know there is something to seek because I feel it. I simply cannot doubt what I know to be true in my soul.

In India, God is everywhere. You see God in the eyes of people all around you, you feel God’s presence throughout the day and see how God is guiding your life every single day. It is impossible to deny the existence of God here. This from a girl who, until two months ago, was unable to comfortably use the term “God.”

Okay, that’s my best shot. I hope it helps. Now it’s time to chelo for afternoon tea...and very soon now it will be time to head to God’s own country, the Himalayas…

Until next time,
With great love and appreciation for all my dear family and friends,

PS: The coming monsoon has brought temperatures down. Maybe God knows I cannot survive in 40 degrees with 80% humidity?

PPS: I am hoping to post some video on youtube in the very near future. If anyone knows how it can be done, advice is welcome!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Asa Gohan" at Kumiko House!!

I am staying at Kumiko House, a Japanese guest house that not really a guest house, but more like a home. Kumikosan is a Japanese woman who came to Varanasi more than 30 years ago, fell in love and married an Indian man, Shantiji. Kumikosan was understandably lonely, so Shantiji went in search of Japanese tourists to bring to their home. Eventually they moved to a larger home and now "Kumiko House" has been operating for 30 years. Kumikosan and Shantiji live on the first floor. THey are old and grumpy and it's a bit difficult to imagine them in their prime, but they are wonderful souls and I am honored to stay in their home.

Kumiko House sits on the ghats (steps) overlooking Mother Ganga, though the Ganga here is a bit filthier than in Hrishikesh. (One of the other inmates at Kumiko House swims everyday and he occasionally encounters a dead human body. I am planning to swim in the Ganga at least once before I leave, but I am hoping not to encounter a dead human body.)

Kumikosan runs a tight ship. Breakfast is at 8am and is announced with a loud "ASA GOHAN" from the ground floor. That's when we all jump up and form a line on the stairs, to pass food up chain-style to the third floor. Dinner is same same. Since I arrived I've only been with Japanese people and the cultural divide is not insignificant. It is a very subtle culture, and it is very difficult for me to figure out how to behave. But I am just DEE-lighted to be speaking some Japanese, as well as singing in Japanese, and the break from Western people was just what the doctor ordered...

My friend Atsushi stays in the dormitory on the third floor, the common room where everyone eats and hangs out together. Our days look something like this: early morning yoga (if heat permits), washing, and breakfast. Then, when the electricity shuts off around 10am, we head to the insanity of the main market for (fresh! juicy! ripe! cheap! golden-red!!) mangoes and lychee fruits, followed by afternoon rest. Evening time we head down to the ghats, where we sing and play guitar until dinnertime at 7pm. We never venture out after dinner as it is a very dangerous place and curfew is 10pm.

Atsushi plays guitar and we both sing everything from Indian mantra to classic Beatles to Japanese hits. Song selection depends mostly on who 's in the audience, and the audience here in Varanasi ranges from Indian children to groups of older Indian men, a few Western tourists and many goats. We are planning to chant our first mala (108 prayer beads) on the ghat very soon now..

My first days here the heat was so oppressive that I couldn't think or move (40 degrees celcius), but today it is 33 degrees, so even though the humidity is very difficult, I feel strong and am managing well. After those first days, I am so grateful to have such cool weather!! I am not sure I could last in heat any higher than 40 degrees...the monsoon is approaching but, thanks in part to Global Warming (TM - America), nobody knows when it will arrive and predictions vary...

so many details! so many new experiences! so impossible to write them down!!!

until next time,
with big love from the holy city of Varanasi,

PS: Did I mention that I traded in my precious Hrishikesh sunset for a spectacular Benaras sunrise? I have to ask again...does it get any better than this???

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Holy Hell

The 24-hour train ride from Dehra Dun to the city of Benaras (aka Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh) was the easy part. With temperatures hovering in the low 40’s and more humidity than I have previously experienced in my life, I am understanding very clearly what I need to do: adapt and survive.

My arrival here is reminiscent of my arrival in Washington, DC. Both are legendary for their filth (dead rats in the streets, just like DC!), and both represent a complete assault on the mind, body and soul. Our arrival here last night was not unlike being thrown into a wall at 50 miles per hour.

The only difference is that Benaras is the holiest city in the holiest country in the world.

I am travelling with a wonderful guitar player from Osaka, Japan. We are here to play guitar and sing songs on the ghats (the steps down to the Ganga). To explain how this happened is not comprehensible to anyone involved, except to say "when it works, it works."

I am not now able to write more, as it is midday and mental activity is slow. I wanted only to let all know that I am well-cared for and that everything is as it should be. Three months in the relative comfort and convenience of Hrishikesh left me soft, and now my extreme discomfort is another opportunity to become stronger. Here and now I will learn, once again, what it really means to survive.

Thanks to God for always guiding me and protecting me in these challenging times…with love and prayers from the holy banks of Mother Ganga,