From the book: The book: Our Journey to India by author Sue Mead, 2009
Embarking on India
Reading a book written by a woman who ventured to India a few years ago. The book was borrowed from one of the gals, one of 17 of us, now booked for India next month.
She packed big rolls of toilet paper in her luggage, took the ferry over to Vancouver for her flight in a January day. Her plan was to go for a month, and take as little in her luggage as she could manage. Insect repellant, laundry powder, instant coffee, clothing, a sleeping bag and travel towel were a few items she had packed and checked through to New Delhi airport. They had a stop at London Heathrow and a previously arranged family meeting so they could go out for a good meal. Nice idea! Then they requested an upgrade and got it! Business class! Wow!
They indeed popped malaria tablets as prescribed, with some wine and a meal. Oooops, luggage did not arrive as scheduled. They were greeted with pollution, traffic and honking as they rode into town. Not angry honks, just simple communication between vehicles.
Then children start to swarm their cab. Oh dear … Those faces. Those fingers reaching in the open window. Garbage strewn about and animals foraged. Dogs, cows and goats. Even monkeys!
Temporary shelters from scraps of cloth and cardboard seem to be homes for local families. Millions of people in unimaginable poverty live in India. Nothing prepares us for this sight.
(“observe, not judge” would be my new motto to strive for on my upcoming trip. Observe and report to the blog. Shine a light on what I experience. Show up, strong and open. Feel the feelings and try to let them move through. See it, feel it and be changed by it.) Pamela
Negotiating with a rickshaw before getting in. Know the fare and stick to it. A scarf pulled up over the mouth to reduce the taste of traffic.
A leg-less beggar man with leprosy grabs at her leg, looking for money. Oh my! She is in tears. Deep breath. A young emaciated girl pushes her baby in their way, looking for a handout. “Young and old, aggressive and meek, leprous and maimed, all seemed to be here, working the crowd. To be found on every corner were vegetable stands, fortune tellers, sweet sellers, chai stalls, ear cleaners, pick pockets and holy cows.”
Remember to bring a plug for the sink! For a wash …. And have a shower when you get a chance … Otherwise maybe do without? And “wash up” from a bucket. Argh ….
(This book and the writing style, describing almost unbelievable experiences leave emotions raw … Very sad and then laugh out loud!) Pamela
For two dollars an hour they hire a driver and car to take them around. The price for foreigners and locals is different, $.25 locals, $2.50 foreigners. Keep he difference and your privilege in mind! Foreigners are fortunate enough to pay even that higher sum.
Trying to find clothes that fit the North American woman body shape seems more of a challenge, for the gal who lost her luggage in flight. Seems some locals wear jeans! I wonder where they purchase them?
Eating, dining, always with the right hand and sitting on the left to keep it out of the way and not tempted to use left as a utensil! And the trick is to learn to not have sauce half way up the arm.
How does one enjoy a vacation alongside the poverty, injustice and oppression? It seems the caste system is alive and visible to all that visit this country. Are there no social programs? And what do people get outraged about, if not human suffering in their midst? Humility and privilege … To find balance.
One of the personal growth qualities to work on when planning a trip to India is patience. Develop and practice patience.
INDIA (excerpts from ALONG the Path (book) free pdf)
India is India, because it is not like home!
“Most people never travel. They simply transport the mad loop of their brain’s thoughts from place to place. To truly travel is to stand on the fields of yourself where you have never stood before. “ – Speed Levitch
“India will bend your mind, assault your body, flood your senses, and shred your nerves, from the moment you step off the plane into its smoky unforgettable perfume of burning cow dung, diesel fumes, and a few thousand years of accumulated human sweat. And ultimately, if you’re lucky, your old identity will break down like one of the decrepit, smog-belching auto-rickshaws that clog the Indian streets—and you’ll have to walk on without it, through the twisting alleys of an unknown city, with cows eating empty juice cartons from street-side garbage dumps and ash-daubed mystics chanting mantras in the gutters. It’s this breakdown and the attendant possibilities for transformation—more than a specific teacher or spiritual site—that’s the real blessing India has to offer. “ – Ann Cushman & Jerry Jones, From Here to Nirvana
You don’t need to go to India to look inside. But those who do inevitably come back transformed. Sometimes the changes are radical. Other times, their inner journey manifests itself in subtle details: a glint in their eyes, a silent presence, a fluidity in their stride, or a special glow (even if a few pounds lighter). They may be shaken by the poverty and suffering they have seen, and have vowed never to complain again about their petty problems. They may notice details that escaped them before, or see the magic in simple conveniences like a hot shower or tap water that can be drunk without worry.
Travel has a way of extracting us from our daily grind and making us look at our habits and ways of life. We re-evaluate everything that makes up our life back home—relationships, work, time—and decide we need to make some changes. Or, if we’re lucky, the changes may just happen on their own.
Travel, however, can be especially moving when it is taken as a pilgrimage (yatra), not only through the outer world, but more so in discovering the inner world and the dark mazes of the mind. It seems to be in the nature of a pilgrimage to test our limits. But if we surrender to the journey, without looking for the final goal, we can find peace and joy in the present moment.
This book is meant to travel to India with you, to accompany you on bumpy bus rides and when you’re waiting three hours for a delayed train. It’s also meant to provide inspiration along the way, to support your meditation, and to be a reminder of why you came to India in the first place: to have equanimity with all obstacles India may throw at you.
The danger of guidebooks, however, is that every single place mentioned seems so alluring that many people fall into the trap of wanting to ‘see it all.’ Although a vague plan is sometimes helpful, be prepared to chuck it if you find a place you like and want to stay longer.
“At no time are we ever in such complete possession of a journey, down to its last nook and cranny, as when we are busy with preparations for it. After that, there remains only the journey itself, which is nothing but the process through which we lose our ownership of it.” Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask
Winter (Hemanta): mid-November to early February. Indian winters can get quite chilly in northern cities like Delhi and Jaipur. During the day you can wear long sleeves without sweating; at night, you will need a sweater, a shawl, or both. In the south, it is pleasantly warm, without being too hot. The cool season is pleasantly mild—not too hot, not too cold. You start shedding the thicker layers, and before you know it, you’re wearing a T-shirt.
There are different kinds of travellers. Some people love to temple-hop and visit every single World Heritage Site in a 1 000-km radius, whereas others prefer to get to know the locals: how they live, how they eat, etc. Whatever your temperament, be warned that travel in India is slow, even when it is ‘deluxe’ or ‘super-fast.’
You will never see a crow within a flock of parrots, or vice versa. In the same way, friends travelling together tend to share common goals and interests.
If you’re planning a trip with friends, everyone should have a say in the preparations, so that nobody is held responsible when things don’t work out precisely according to plan.
Be sensitive to your travelling companion’s budget. If you are travelling for a long stretch together, it’s true that “Good accounts make good friends.” But a “what- goes-around-comes-around” attitude is handy for short partnerships; you may treat someone to a 40-rupee rickshaw ride, and the next day, someone else may treat you to a meal.
The popular saying “In India, anything is possible,” not only applies to the bank clerk hinting for a bribe, but to the daily miracles of bumping into a long-lost friend on a Himālayan mountain pass, or a car offering you a ride to exactly where you want to go after your rickshaw breaks down on a rural road in the dead of night. But the only way for these miracles to happen is with an unwavering trust that everything will be okay. The naïve traveller goes for the impossible by attempting to impose order on what is chaotic. The illusion of control, as you pack your bags, design a travel itinerary, buy your plane ticket and make reservations, is bound to be shattered within the first few days, as the simplest task becomes a day-long operation involving several bureaucratic layers.
India is a gastronomic paradise for vegetarians. Who knew that you could produce so much variety with grains and legumes? We suggest that even non-vegetarians stick to a veggie diet in India because bad meat is a prime cause of food poison- ing: who knows what conditions the animal was brought up in, how the meat was stored, and how it was cooked? Even without meat, there is so much diversity from which to choose. To be safe, we try to go for ‘Pure Veg’ restaurants if we have the choice, which means that they don’t use eggs or onions, and that the food has not come in contact with any meat.
Khadi means hand-spun and hand-woven natural textiles (cotton, silk and wool), where the entire process, from picking the cotton or shaving the sheep, to dying the fabric, is performed in a non-violent way. Khadi-makers also say that because of their unique weaving technique, khadi is the coolest and most comfortable fabric (although it may initially be quite rough, after a few vigorous washings it will become as soft as baby clothes).
Gandhi started the khadi movement as a way of boycotting British textiles and making India self-sufficient. He encouraged every Indian to spin cotton a couple of hours every day as a form of protest as well as a meditation. Gandhi considered wearing khadi a moral duty, and even that it had beneficial psychological and spiritual effects on the person who wore it.
You can find khadi shops in almost every town, although the big cities usually have a much wider selection. In Mumbai and Delhi, the khadi bhavans have ready- made clothes as well as uncut fabrics, and fabulous shawls. (If you buy fabric and want to have it stitched, make sure you find a reliable tailor, because once you’ve spent the money on expensive raw silk, it’s a shame to have it ruined by a bad cut or sloppy job.)
In most khadi shops you can also find village industry products, which are all produced in a non-violent way. You will find honey, jams, pickles and chutneys, woven baskets, handmade paper, pottery, oils, shampoo, incense, soap and leather products made from animals that have died natural deaths.
In a country where the mechanized industries have put thousands of people out of work, encouraging the local artisans has a concrete effect.
The North: Delhi
India’s bustling capital is usually a source of severe culture shock for travellers arriving in the subcontinent for the first (or tenth!) time. The city’s manifold extremes expose your senses to a myriad of contrasting realities: modern high rises hovering over makeshift slums and hutments, spired sandstone temples and domed marble mosques; streets crowded with continually honking cars fender-to-tail against cows meandering amidst the frenetic traffic of rickshaws, motorbikes, pedestrians and vendors. You’ll find McDonald’s restaurants just steps away from street stalls selling samosa, pakoras, fresh fruits and mysterious unknown edibles; the delicious aromas of curried vegetables and sandalwood perfumes blending with the awful stench of urine, cigarette smoke and diesel fumes. Sellers and eager touts add a chorus of calls to the sensory confusion, singing “Cheap tickets,” and “Come see my shop,” while gleeful children play street cricket and well-dressed business- men talk on their mobile phones, all sharing sidewalk space with aged holy men wearing dhotis, chanting mantras and asking for alms along streets where ATM machines spit out rupees a mere stone’s throw away from shrines for religious deities offering salvation to both the financially and spiritually poor.
This exceptional city is divided into two sections: Delhi (or Old Delhi) and New Delhi, though the greater capital area now includes a growing suburban sprawl and several satellite cities. Old Delhi, or Shahjahanbad, was the intermittent capital of the Mughal Empire between the 12th and 17th centuries, and today remains the primary Muslim sector, with its innumerable mosques and tombs, halal restaurants and butcher shops, markets and forts. Majnu Ka Tila, the relaxed Tibetan refugee and foreign tourist centre, is also to be found in Old Delhi. New Delhi was originally designed as the British capital after the imperial government shifted its head- quarters from Kolkata, and the city continues to be India’s capital. Today, this part of Delhi is a fairly open green space, with wide avenues, tourist ghettos, exclusive gated communities, government buildings and foreign embassies.
Shopping, Activities, Services & Sites
Delhi is a great place to satisfy most of your travel needs or buy souvenirs to bring back home. Pahar Ganj, Delhi’s ubiquitous travellers’ ghetto, is crammed with shops selling all sorts of stuff, though shoppers will have to look hard to find quality products here. Nestled between the Red Fort, Jami Masjid, and Fatehpuri Masjid in Old Delhi is Chandni Chowk, a congested yet colourful bazaar where you can get good deals on household items, art, jewellery, carpets and perfumes.
Connaught Place in central Delhi is made up of uniformly concentric ring roads lined with boutique shops, street stalls, restaurants, and hotels. The 3-storied Khadi Bhavan in Connaught Place is one of India’s best retailers for khadi, or home- spun cloth. Around the corner in the Regal Building, The Shop has excellent, high quality clothing, linen, furniture, ceramics, incense and essential oils; and People Tree, an artisan’s collective boutique, carries a unique assortment of printed t- shirts, clothing, decorative items and books. Fab India and Soma are also popular Connaught Place choices for ethical clothing, handicrafts and furniture.”
Book lovers will become infatuated with Connaught Place’s numerous bookshops and pavement stalls, whose books are much cheaper than in the West.
On Janpath, just off Connaught Place, you’ll find the Central Cottage Industries Emporium, which has, primarily, high-quality goods from around the country; convenient for shoppers but more expensive than elsewhere in India, as with most shops in the city. Around the corner on Baba Kharak Singh Marg are state emporiums selling handicrafts from their particular states.
If you’re really keen on shopping, trek out to the N-Block and M-Block of the Greater Kailash suburb where you’ll find excellent high-end stores such as Fab India selling clothes, furniture, kitchenware, bedding, art, handicrafts, jewellery, carpets and more. Fab India also has a smaller boutique clothing stores in Connaught Place (28 B-Block) and Khan Market, a high-end shopping enclave in central Delhi.
For moving about Delhi, taxis and their less expensive counterparts, rickshaws make life easier, although drivers usually refuse to use the meters or show you the fare conversion cards. Tourists are big business, and you should expect the initial asking rate to be anywhere from double to five times the price accepted by locals. Be aware of the distance you’ll be travelling, and ask hotel or restaurant staff what you should expect to pay at a fair price—then don’t be afraid to haggle with drivers and wave them off if they refuse to deal straight with you. This is true everywhere in India, but especially in the cities.
Depending on where you’re going, the metro can be the cheapest and quickest way to get around the city. Delhi’s expanding metro system connects several major areas, and will soon provide service to the airport. There are two stations in Pahar Ganj (one at the Railway Station, and one at the end of the main bazaar opposite the Rama Krishna Mission), as well as a station in Connaught Place called Rajiv Chowk. Tickets are cheap, and one- to three-day tourist cards are available for unlimited short distance travel. See http://www.delhimetrorail.com for routes, schedules and developments.
Intra-city buses in the Delhis are more complicated than in Mumbai. Some are private, some are public, and they both travel similar but slightly different routes. Although generally inexpensive, prices vary between the companies. If you want to travel by bus, ask locals which ones to take and where to get on board. During crowded rush hours, beware of pickpockets and gropers. Be cautious from whom you accept information, as scam-artists may try to mislead you.
One of the best ways to combat jet lag is to adapt, as quickly as possible, to the local time schedule when you arrive. Whether you try this method or head for sleep as soon as you hit your hotel, plan for a day or two of rest and slow introduction before striking out to experience India’s capital in all its confounding fullness.
Kerala is India’s south-western most state, and a world unto its own. Distinguished by a long coast and meandering backwaters that define much of the geography, Kerala is a place of unique natural beauty. The fertile tropical climate is complemented by a relaxed culture coloured with rich colonial history and renowned for some of the most progressive social politics in the country.
Beginning in 1957, Kerala brought to power the first freely-elected communist government in the world, initiating a system that continues to effectively govern the state according to democratic-socialist principles. Nuanced communist parties abound, and people are apt to complain about local politics, but Kerala has some of the best education, health and social services in the country, and the highest literacy rate anywhere in the developing world. For many travellers, the friendly, laid-back atmosphere of Kerala offers a welcome respite from the sensory-over- load so common elsewhere in India.
Unlike most other regions, Kerala isn’t dominated by its larger cities; the state is a destination in its own right. Trivandrum (Malayalam: Thiruvananthapuram), the capital city, serves as the gateway to Kerala’s southern reaches, but Cochin (Malayalam: Kochi), the largest and central-most city, is the main transport hub for travellers. Cochin consists of two main areas, hectic mainland Ernakulam and the charming island town of Fort Cochin, where we recommend you spend at least a night or two. Other great locales include Alleppey (Malayalam: Alappuzha), which offers access to Kerala’s magical back- waters; Varkala, a lovely beachside vacation town, and Munnar, a rural hill station.
Dhamma Ketana, Kerala Vipassana Centre
Dhamma Ketana is situated on a tranquil 5.2-acre former homestead in Cheriyanad, a rural village near Chengannur town, south-east of Cochin. The centre is located among coconut groves in a very peaceful and rural environment with relatively little disturbance, and in spite of its apparent remoteness, the site is well connected by road and rail.
Dhamma Ketana (‘Sign of Dhamma’) was established in 2006, and the current facilities are rustic and rather spartan. Much of the centre operates out of an old converted Keralan country house on the property, but construction on new accommodation has expanded the course capacity to 50 students. Although Dhamma Ketana has few amenities to offer, the spirited community of local meditators is striving to develop a truly international centre. All courses are conducted in English and Malayalam. Foreign students are truly welcome, and foreign servers are always needed.
Dhamma Ketana suffers from the tropical heat of South India, and sitting courses in this climate can be arduous. Foreign students are advised to attend only during the cool season (October to March) when temperatures are usually quite reasonable. Expect warm afternoons, and dress accordingly. Mosquito nets are provided for all beds at the centre.
The centre is easily accessible.
The city’s islands are famous for their eclectic blend of Indian, European and Chinese cultural landscapes. Cochin’s charm is found in its ancient temples, palaces, churches, mosques, synagogues, Kathakali performances and laid-back atmosphere. Go to Arul Jyoti or Jaya Café in the mid-range Woodland’s Hotel for vegetarian fare.
BLOG POST Curled up in Quilts / I share my birthday
I have been making quilts for years now. A really good friend of mine is a master quilter and I would admire her fabric tops carefully sewn to make art. One day she invited me into her world of fabric addiction and cotton fluff. That was more than one hundred home made quilts ago ….
I am sitting here on my small condo sized sectional couch. My feet are cold. My feet are always cold. I reach over and pull the red, blue, white and green flannel plaid quilt over to my size nine thin feet that can’t seem to hold in the heat, and gently carefully wrap the soft warn quilt around my toes.
This quilt belonged to my father. I made it for him as a bit of a personal rebellion. I remember as a young child that he liked bright coloured plaid and was not always able to purchase or wear such colours. Ok. He could wear his favourite soft old plaid shirts when hanging out at home and doing chores, but not when society (and my mom) wanted him to look more put together. He had plaid cotton shirts. I wanted him to know this gift was for him.
I learned to cut plaids and place them carefully. I machine pieced this work of art and love and then machine quilted it with a lovely thick cotton batting. Bound in more red flannel and his name written on fabric and hand sewn lovingly by my mother for his last days were spent in a hospital care ward. He slept with his quilt each night. He died with it on his bed as well.
Oh how I wept that day, my birthday was the same day he let go of life. I found myself wanting to hug that magic red flannel as if it still contained the essence of the wonderful man that he was to me.
Tonight I feel him here with me, enjoying that I treasure the quilt and make the choice to have it wrap my own self up in the love that was for him not so very long ago.
Good night dad,
With love and happy memories
Pamela and the quilt
BLOG POST Inspiration travels with me!
On my iPad, iPhone or an ebook, through the chapters and words .. I can hear the voices of those writers and speakers who offer inspiration. Themselves having been inspired by other souls on their journey.
Inspiration is never linear. We are inspired which inspires us to inspire others …. And around it goes.
I feel that Inspiration is one of the words of my lifetime. Sometimes I try to select a work for the day, or the week, month or even year. Time after time “inspiration” reveals itself, repeats and revisits. It stays with me, appears in my speeches and is articulated in my travel articles. Inspiration travels on my trips around the world and lives each day as if in my back pack or pocket.
Some might call it creativity. I am a sociologist by training and mostly I think about life through the lens of sociology. We are continually reminded of where we once were and where we are heading, all in the name of what has happened to us in our lives and who we want to become. The influences of our family of origin, our heroes and mentors, the environmental factors that shaped our personalities.
Inspiration embodies all of that… All that and then some.
My invitation for 2016 is to play more with inspiration. I want to take time to be seduced by inspiration. To let it find me, keep me company and hopefully we will spend many hours playing together.
Oh, at least, a half hour of my same 24 hours that makes up every human day. Not too much to ask, do able and yet also enough for daily striving and enjoyment. I can give myself this time, carve it out for myself and see what this self nurturing grows.
I can write morning pages, love notes, and entries in my travel blog. I can post what I write or keep it as scrap notes for another day to explore its meaning. I can listen to Audible readings from my favourite authors and world explorers. I can create a vision board from old magazine pages and travel booklets, pasted on maps and hung on the wall of my home office for my dreaming pleasure.
I plan and participate in Women’s Travel Club outings, meet and greet events as well as full blown across the world globe trotting excursions and cruises, bus and land tours and major cultural explorations. I write about the people I am with, those that I meet and include my inspirations from along the way in my life.
I chose to believe that I am living my dream. That this is a life of my own design that enriches my soul and contributes to world peace and love. I can create positive messages and lovely visions for my own enjoyment and if by some fluke of fate they are read or shared by others, in some small way I hope to inspire other people to live their dream.
I remember that when I shine my light, not everyone needs to see it, however, it might be true that some one will see it and will be enriched and inspired as an outcome.
Inspiration is my lighthouse for 2016 and I will be the beacon of inspiration daily in return.
Please share with me .. Come be a guest blogger on my site, or better yet, come travel the world and we will embody inspiration together!
Starting by starting
Time to write. Not sure if a story is about to bloom or simply a practice session with my ideas and iPad. Either way, here it comes.
Home from a day in the travel business, I am tired and thoughtful. Thinking about my last trip and the next trip and thinking about trips I have booked for others and stories of journeys already taken. Imagining a move to a less stressful part of the country to steer my life in a different direction. Looking over my travel boards and vision statements, and I reach out and select a book from the shelf.
Longing to be read since 2005, the receipt just tucked inside the front cover. I feel the texture of the paper cover, some raised bumps. I decide this was more than a bargain book. A favourite author and mentor leaves hints of what is still to be written…. An invitation to honour the craft.
Feeling the urge to eat something sweet, I resist the old yearning and decide it is time to draft a few lines. An adventure may unfold and then perhaps just the rambling mind wanting to find a river to follow. I take the step.
What are my discoveries today? My “ah-hah” moments? What am I grateful for? Questions, not answers fill the lines.
This is, after all, a conversation. Every writer knows it.
What is my story and how is it woven ever so gently into yours? If you don’t find yourself in my journal, then it is a monologue with limited value.
However, if the rich descriptions of my carefully selected dialogue touch a memory for you, and send a vibration to your brain, and your senses wake up to the view, then I have written a fair piece and I am pleased.
I feel already like my energy has been well spent in the movement of joining our two hearts today as one even for this very brief moment. My journey joins with yours, we are one in the river.
Writing is surely about story telling. A shared experience that takes us both to a similar place, at a different moment in time. I love travel, through time and to foreign lands. I love to drive across the country and imagine how it must have been so many years ago as people found their way walking and hauling all their life’s belongings with a horse and cart.
Today, I want to offer a sense of being together, whatever the story. Wherever you are at in your life and where it joins with my journal … Let’s sit just for a moment, together and apart.