Lola Bites Back: And Other Inspirational Tidbits

Location: Bissingen an der Teck, Baden Wuerttemberg, Germany

Laughing all the way...

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Sweetness of Life is Devotion

Pilgrimage to Gomukh: 250 km (150 mi.)
5-23 June, 2009

We left for the unknown only three weeks ago, but it might as well have been three months. How can I possibly offer a glimpse of my last weeks to you with mere words? How can I fit a thousand stories into a few paragraphs?

We left Rishikesh a group of three: me, Atsushi and Koji (both Japanese). After two days we met three babas from Manali and the six of us walked together for four days. At the hot springs in Gangnani, we had a chance meeting with Alex (German) and he walked with us for several days until a sprained ankle took him off the trail. Two days before we reached Gomukh, Koji turned back for health reasons. That left me and Atsushi to reach our final destination.

A journey inspired by my strong connection to Mother Ganga, it was at turns difficult and exhilarating. I had moments of inspiration and moments of real fear. Almost everything I saw and experienced was new. We reached Gomukh on the 8th day, but my own adventure was just beginning..

It was somehow inconceivable to ride a bus back to Rishikesh, so in the last five days I found myself traveling alone with our three babas and their dog named Baby. We slept on concrete floors in temples and ashrams, ate whatever was offered and bathed in Ganga when possible. My female status was an awkward fact for all involved, to say the least.

Babas are wandering Hindu monks...
but I am too exhausted to write this story could take weeks to unravel and is simply too far from the world I come from.

For now I'll just share a few things I learned:

I discovered that I can walk. I discovered that I am strong. I discovered that it is difficult to be a woman in a man's world, and worse if you are a single one. I learned how to make quick decisions and to fully utilize my intuition. And I proved, once again, that human beings are truly able to adapt to anything. And that necessity is a powerful motivator.

. . .

I'll let the pictures do the talking. All I can say for sure is that walking is what I am supposed to do right now, and after a few more days rest here in Rishikesh, I will pack my bag and set off for another adventure into the unknown.

Jai Shri Ram,

PS My cousin sister Cristina is on her way to Peru and has a blague of her own can read her impressions of Rishikesh and follow her adventures here.

Day 1 on the road and still smiling.

Water sources were often sporadic and dodgy, but this one was first class.

First night: I took a room (the boys slept in the bus stand) and was adopted by a
huge Indian family from Madya Pradesh. They fed me strange Indian concoctions
and kept me up all night with questions.

Koji and Atsushi's room for the night: the local bus stand.

Indian road signs are a delight; frequently inspirational, they also make an effort to rhyme!
This one is unique because it has no spelling errors.

Ganga Mataji inspired us every step of the way.

Walking on the road is rough going. I often felt we were like cockroaches when the
busses and jeeps flew past spewing black exhaust fumes. But we refused to die.

We stumbled upon this magnificent statue of the goddess Kali standing on Lord Shiva's chest.
Kali is the full-power Goddess of destruction.

We walked with our babas for four days.
Pictured here is me and Premnath Baba (about 30 years old).

More inspiration. More rhymes. More spelling errors.

We have a photo with one Indian family we met in Gangnani.
Westerners from L to R: Alex, me, Atsushi, and Koji

There are many small Shiva temples on the way, as well as hairpin turns on the road.

We take a break on the side of the road and our babas make chai!

Another break, after one "shortcut" that took us up straight up one mountain.

One of my favorites...

A detour from the road took us to this baba house, where we met a baba couple (Kali babas, dressed in all black and covered in holy ashes (vibuthi)). They have been living here for ten years.

Walking walking walking!

We were truly giddy with excitement when we realized
we had only six km left before Gangotri..

And then only five..!

And then, with only two km left, we met Koji again, sleeping on the side of the road.
We had to leave him two days before as he was striken with severe diahrrea.
Unexpected reunion is so sweet !

During the last leg of the trip (Gangotri to Gomukh, 20 km), we climbed 1,000 m
and the scape turned to rocks and mountain goats.

Eureka! The source of Mother Ganga, a hole in a massive rock at elevation 4,000 m. Atsushi took bath, but five seconds in the water and I was numb, so I contented myself
with songs and prayers instead.

I hold Baby and say goodbye to Atsushi on the morning I set out alone with our babas.

Guruji, a.k.a. Rajendranath Babaji, 67 years old and our leader.
He often scolded me for laughing and smiling too much.

A welcome break for chai.

We called it the baba guest house, a small stone structure on the side of the mountain
where we could sleep.

An ashram where we stayed two nights. The resident baba (Swami Girijanand Saraswatiji) was very kind to me; he gifted me bangles and shawls and allowed me to sleep in the kitchen (even reminding me to lock the door!). I slept there with rats and other insects, and even woke to find one june bug in my panties. Unforgettable.

Ganganath Baba, the lowest on the totem pole (i.e. servant to us all), in the morning sunshine at a magnificent Shiva temple where we spent our last night.

Panchampuri Baba, sitting with his Guruji, had a magnificent smile, which was not captured in any picture. In fact, most babas will not sit for any pictures.

A rare opportunity to be photographed in a temple with Panchampuri Babaji.
Frequently I was instructed to hide myself.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

You Got to Know When to Hold 'em
Know When to Fold 'em..

My busride to Delhi was a smashing success. In ten hours of bumping, swerving and honking, nobody groped me or stole anything, temperatures did not exceed 40 C (100? F) and I didn't vomit.

After checking into my guest house in Pahar Ganj, I went directly to the airport to meet Cristina. The rickshaw wala who drove me there wanted to be my special friend, but I told him no thanks. I waited at the international arrivals gate for several nervous hours before I finally spotted her, whereupon I gave her an excited hug and welcomed her to my India. My dirty, hot, humid, crowded, insane India.

We hired a taxi and headed out into the night, jabbering all the way. As exhausted as we were, we continued to jabber away until three or four in the morning. Sometime during the course of our intense exchange, I understood that I would be learning something very significant from her visit..

Cristina's maternal uncle is my stepfather, George. He was a blessedly consistent presence in my life for nearly twenty years, and it took that long for me to know him. At his funeral in the summer of 2003, I learned more about him than I had ever known before. He was a remarkable character, at turns hilarious and humble, frequently (and maddeningly!) inane, and yet capable of great wisdom. In later years we established a mutual understanding and, just before his death, he gave me the greatest gift of my life.

I have mentioned before that even though he is not physically with me, I remain close to George. Even it is difficult for me to mourn his death as I am quite sure he is with me every day. I cannot offer a "rational" explanation for this, but perhaps one day it will come. For now I can say only that this is my experience, and in fact we have grown closer since his death four years ago. But I assure you that I fully intend to expound on his remarkable gift, and in doing so share much more about this inspirational man, my stepfather, in the near stay tuned..

. . .

Cristina's first day in India consisted of clothes shopping in the tourist nightmare known as Pajar Ganj, an unsuccessful first meal of indian rice cakes (idly) and the neverending Bus Ride From Hell back to Rishikesh, an ordeal that needed two days of recovery (for both of us). In spite of the horror in her face, I was confident that she would get over the initial shock and find something to appreciate in the madness. I was quite pleased to discover that she does not complain, relieved to discover that she cleans her own wounds, and alarmed to discover that she does not like fruit or vegetables..

Here only one week, we have had the opportunity to take holy Ganga bath, explore the Beatle's Ashram, and taste some of the (admittedly strange) culinary offerings of this place. Alas, timing is everything. Cristina has been accepted into a study program in Peru (in her chosen field of Archaeology) and has decided to return home so she can both rest and prepare properly for her departure next month. I am sorry to see her go, but I know that her adventures are only just beginning and that the planets will align to bring us together again. It's just a matter of time.

Her presence here has brought back a lot of memories for me, including my first travel (to Mexico, 23 years of age) and my own difficulties there. I didn't speak Spanish at the time, so instead I just slept. Then I remembered my first trip to India (Tamil Nadu, 25 years of age), where I spent the first month in a state of deep confusion and self doubt. It takes time to adjust to and appreciate this vast and vastly different culture. Often I advise would-be India travellers to give six months to the venture. One year is better.

We have arranged for her to return to Delhi on 10 June, accompanied by the latest kindred spirit sent to me by my ever-vigilant pack of guardian angels, Jo. I met Jo four years ago in Montreal and God has reunited us here in Rishikesh. Jo is a remarkable woman, well-travelled and hilarious. She has me excited again about working in Tunisia and we spend a lot of time together laughing and dreaming up all the ways we can partner together in the future. I am grateful to have another strong woman like her in my life.

As for me, I will proceed with my original plan to walk to the origin of Mother Ganga in the mountains. We will leave tomorrow morning and I would be lying if I said I wasn't scared. But I have excellent company and I know I will be safe and protected. I expect the trek will take up to two weeks.

As I sit here now, overwhelmed by the chaos in my room as I attempt to pack up, I am anxious about resuming gypsy life for the next three months. I am sad to say goodbye, both to my brave (if overly ambitious) cousin Cristina and to my comfortable home of the last months.. It seems clear that I am in for yet another difficult summer, but I am comforted to know that I will return to my Rishikesh - and my room - when the madness has subsided in September.

So that's it, the update as simply as I can manage one. There is much more to share, as always, but for now I must stop procrastinating and get packing!

with greatest affection as always,
om shantih om,