I’ve been quite surprised at how easily and at ease I feel with letting each day unfold here in India. Perhaps it is easier to feel this when we have some space and freedom.
It seems to me that in the West it’s easy to create a structured life that conforms to our culture’s requirements and expectations and if left unchecked spontaneity is suffocated, excitement extinguished, surprises stifled and mysteries muffled. Our lives can slip into a monologue of routine, repetition and rigidity. The standard of living that we strive for is killing not only our planet but our souls too.
For many years I have tried to simplify my life, create more space and to shed burdens that I have unwittingly been collecting in the name of success and happiness. A good friend recently sent me this quote:
You do not have to stay
where you were planted
if you are withering in places
that you have the potential to bloom.
You owe it to yourself to uproot.
So it might seem a little drastic to uproot my life in the UK to head into unknown territories but for me this felt like what I was being called to do and all other options just didn’t seem to be working.
However it’s only four weeks since I set off from the UK to the Utsava Maa festival here at Shri Jasnath Asan (ashram) in Rajasthan. In that time I’ve been swept up in festival activities for eleven days, exploring Jodhpur for six days and in the last week or so adjusting to ashram life, which has included taking the daily yoga class (that’s been a hoot – more about it in another blog). I’ve made many new friends, women of all ages, backgrounds and race, each with their own story and all with that same desire for freedom of expression and to come together in a community of like minded people, to serve this world and its inhabitants in whatever way the Universe calls them to do.
However, I’m sure there will be moments of fear, of sadness, of loneliness, of wondering what on earth I’m doing here – such is life, but for now life feels mostly relaxed and peaceful and I’m enjoying experiencing the unfolding surprise of each moment.
Going with the flow has manifested for me in a number of interesting ways: 1) Not having a paper diary or using an electronic one for the first time in over 35 years. 2) Waking up knowing that there are various activities I can engage in such as festival events, visiting tourist attractions or exploring the local area or practical tasks like responding to emails, researching a fundraising idea, sorting my laundry or cleaning my room. Realising though that whatever I choose to do will be what I’m meant to be doing and that it will be enough. Knowing also that at any time something else might turn up. Not necessarily more urgent but maybe more fun or an opportunity for greater connection to others. 3) Taking the opportunity to stop to talk to someone or to do something totally different to what I was just about to do rather than rushing to the next thing on a todo list. 4) Acknowledging Indian time. You book a taxi at 7am to the airport it arrives at 8am. You book a taxi an hour earlier than you need it, it turns up on time or maybe earlier. You send an email and when it hasn’t been answered after 5 days you call and are advised that your email will be answered at some point. 🤣
By just going with the flow I’ve found out more about people and the environment I’m living in and I’ve experienced new things. For example as I was on my way to go somewhere else I was randomly invited to see the small farmholding on the ashram and take tea with Guruji’s family who live there.
Even just today after thinking that I would be at the ashram for the weekend, and having planned a live FB meditation on Saturday and a visit to some nearby sand dunes on Sunday, Shreejan asked if I’d like to accompany her and Guruji to the ashram’s tree plantation near Jodhpur over the weekend. It sounds quite an adventure, sleeping amongst 32 acres of trees in a hut with no facilities so of course I said yes! The FB live session can be done any time and I’m sure there will be plenty of sand dunes to see on my travels in Rajasthan. Having spent most of my life in organising mode, which of course does have it’s uses and at times is essential (I wouldn’t be here without a lot of planning), for now I’m very content for the plan to be no plan and to stay open to whatever the Universe has in store for me. So let that river flow, I’m happy to be carried by it and open to it’s surprises.
After several failed attempts at getting an Indian Sim card locally and not wishing to continue paying hefty daily charges on my UK Sim card my next option was to head to the city of Jodhpur. I took the opportunity to share a taxi with a couple of people who were heading to the airport, booked myself into a nice hotel that Silvia, a lady who had been at the festival, was staying at and off I went. The plan was to stay three nights and then head back to the Shri Jasnath ashram where I’d been staying since I arrived in India. I wondered if three nights might be too long as to be honest I’m not a city girl, it’s just too noisy, too fast paced, too dirty and too crowded. I’m a country bumpkin through and through, loving the wide open spaces and tranquillity, but to my surprise I loved Jodhpur and especailly the company I was in and so I ended up extending my stay by two nights.
The hotel I was booked into was just behind the clocktower and at one point there was so much traffic in that area that the taxi driver was going to drop me off in all the mayhem and I had a moment of dread thinking how on earth was I going to find my way to the hotel on my own. For whatever reason, maybe he sensed my fear, he changed his mind and painstakingly manoeuvred his way through the traffic madness and narrow streets.
I arrived to be warmly welcomed by the very attentive hotel owner Manish and a member of staff called Vikram or Vicki for short. Manish explained that they didn’t actually have a room for me at the Jhankar Haveli that evening but there was a room available at one of the other five places that he owned.
I met up with Silvia and we had a lovely lunch at the Jhankar, the food was good and plentiful. Manish asked us if we would like to do a tour of the Bishnois community that afternoon and since we’d watched a documentary during the festival we thought it would be great to actual visit and see it first-hand.
The drive there and back seemed to take a long time, the traffic in the city is quieter in a morning until around 10am and then it gradually intensifies as the day passes reaching a crazy crescendo between 6 and 7pm. Those of you that have visited India will know all about the craziness of the traffic but if not try to imagine rutted roads full of people (even in the middle of dual carriageways) bikes, tuk tuks, cars, trucks many jam packed with people and/or goods all nose to tail, weaving their way through the congestion and honking their horns. The noise and the fumes are an assault on the senses and ear plugs and face masks come highly recommended! If there are any road rules in India the road users are either not aware or blatantly ignore them and other than the occasional traffic policeman at large busy junctions no one really gives a damn. At first it can be a little frightening and it’s not an experience for the faint hearted. You would be forgiven for a constant feeling of dicing with death but after a while it just seems like a dance and there is some protocol going on whereby everyone swerves or stops last minute to avoid crashing into each other. The tuk tuks can be good fun when you get used to them and it sometimes felt like I was on the waltzers at the fairground.
The tour was interesting albeit we were effectively taken to four places where we were being enticed to part with our money, but not in an overt pushy way. Despite being very resolute at the start of the tour that I would not be buying anything given that my backpack is already full I fell in love with a beautiful hand woven rug that is currently winging its way back to the UK (or I hope it is having parted with £200!). See photo of Roo the man who made it together with his wife. Roo was a lovely man and is apparently a very important figure in the Bishnois community due to his good command of English which enables him to manage a co-operative supporting women in the community to make and sell craft items such as rugs, wall hangings, table clothes and bedding. We saw their work at a large warehouse and I made a mental note to return one day to source some home furnishings.
As well as the rug making and craft warehouse we also visited a potter who made three amazing items on a stone wheel that he manually set off running with a stick. We then went onto another place where we had a turban making demonstration followed by being shown opium resin and the equipment that is used to make an opium drink. Opium addiction has been a big problem in the region in the past but my understanding is that this is being addressed through education, support and providing working opportunities through initiatives such as the craft co-operatives.
Later back at the hotel I used Silvia’s room to freshen up and change and we headed out to a recommended roof top restaurant called Indique. It had great views of the city and especially the brightly lit clocktower but the thali that we ordered to share was slightly disappointing and quite expensive.
The alternative hotel room turned out to be small, basic and situated at the top of Manish’s family home and I noticed feeling a degree of discomfort whilst being driven to the place by a couple of young men as we reached what seemed to be a dirty and deserted part of town. Despite my reservations I managed to get a good night’s sleep and in the morning packed up my bag and with relief headed down to reception to check out ready for a little more comfort at the Jhankar Haveli. I was wondering how I was going to get back to the Jhankar but Manish was waiting for me and kindly offered me some masala chai and paratha that his wife had just made and both were delicious. I haven’t drunk sweet tea since I was 14 but now I usually have at least one cup a day, it’s just what you drink here.
After meeting up with Silvia again we went for breakfast at the Café Royale, near the clocktower, run by a lovely Indian couple who have done a bit of travelling themselves. The food is freshly prepared, made with love and care and I had a wonderful bowl of porridge with honey and banana.
While Silvia went off to do some last minute shopping and finish packing before her trip home to Colorado I headed off to get a Sim card. I knew that this wasn’t a simple process but didn’t expect it to take over two hours! I had read that it is difficult if not impossible as a foreigner to get an Indian sim card and that you need an Indian sponsor who lives in the country to help you but I’d also met a few people who were travelling in India that had managed to get one. Fortunately, the man that was trying to register my details for the sim card was patient and persistent and for this I tipped him 500 rupees for which he seemed both very surprised and pleased to receive – believe me I was just very pleased to finally have a sim card. The sim card cost 1500 rupees (£16) for three months with more than enough daily data for my needs and to recharge another three months will be 600 rupees, the cost of one day to use my UK sim card!
By the time all of this was sorted Silvia had had to leave for the airport and so we did a quick WhatsApp video goodbye. Back at the hotel I was shown my room which as you can see from the photos above was very nice and when I came down for some lunch Donna and Colleen had arrived from the ashram so we sat and ate a rather large and late lunch together.
I’d arranged whilst in the city to meet up with a young Indian lady living and working here. We had paired up in the Liz Gilbert workshop and had immediately bonded. She took me to the Stepwell café situated adjacent to and overlooking the Stepwell which is a natural source of fresh water going down to a depth of 200ft. It’s stunning as you can see from the photos and there are fish swimming around and a few days later we saw some young boys jumping from great heights into it.
She very thoughtfully gave me a present of some lovely green and orange bangles and we sat initially on the rooftop to relax and have a drink. I had my first beer since arriving, and then we moved down to the next level as the temperature dropped to have some food. We talked of living life as a single woman in India and how studying and work, together with less strict parents, meant that at 30 my Indian friend had managed so far to avoid an arranged marriage. That didn’t stop her parents looking for a suitable husband though but at least they were in agreement that it should only be with someone she also chose to spend her life with.
At the conference there had been a workshop led by Nanda Huneman, the author of “Widows don’t fall in love” (which I’m currently reading), where Western and Indian women came together to discuss marriage and relationships in the different cultures. In India 99% of women are married and most of these are arranged. During the workshop we talked about the difficulties that Indian women faced in either arranged marriages, choosing to stay single, getting divorced or finding themselves widowed. It’s a vast topic to cover in this blog so I can recommend Nanda’s book to get a feel for what women have to deal with if they find themselves in the less than 1% of women without a husband.
The next four days I spent with Donna from London, Sarah from Berne and Shaleen from Maui and we explored the city together as well as shopping and of course sampling lots of different cafes and restaurants. I can recommend taking a walking city tour which took us into the old part where the houses are painted blue to keep them cool in the summer months. We meandered through streets admiring the intricate sandstone architecture whilst being careful to avoid stepping into animal excrement! Cows and dogs are aplenty and mingle with humans and vehicles in the hustle and bustle of the city streets. A lot of the time streets are kept swept and clear of litter and are washed to clear the excrement too but it’s also not difficult to find piles of litter waiting to be collected or maybe just left there rotting together with signs of visiting animals.
Our guide, Metta led us up to the fort walls where we could see the old and new parts of the city stretching out to all sides. Apparently the city has a radius of 20km and is much larger than I had imagined but I have since found out that it is the second largest city in Rajasthan, Jaipur being the largest.
On our walking tour we stopped to eat freshly prepared Kachori (deep fried moong dal and spices wrapped in flaky pastry), have a cup of masala chai, visit a temple and sample some interesting Indian sweets, I had Gulab Jamu a small ball made with flour, ghee, khoya (milk solids or powder), deep fried in ghee and soaked in rose flavoured, cardamon sugar syrup – not a calorie in sight, honest!
A must visit in Jodhpur is Mehrangarh Fort an impressive 15th century fort and gardens overlooking the city. It’s one of the largest in India and boasts intricate carvings, expansive courtyards, an interesting museum and beautiful tranquil gardens. We spent a whole day there exploring inside the fort, the boundary walls and strolling around the gardens topped off with a compulsory masala chai cuppa at the delightful outdoor garden café.
We had an interesting 20 minutes or so with security whilst there as Donna left her phone in one of the toilets and fortunately, it had been very quickly handed in. Donna was so relieved that her phone had been found that she very patiently answered the myriad of questions that were asked of her to establish that she was the rightful owner. Meanwhile Sarah and I looked on with incredulity that turned to hilarity at the security spectacle that unfolded – talk about ego trips and job’s worth, we thought we were going to be in there for the rest of the day!
Other adventures included a 12km round trip in a tuk tuk to go to a full moon meditation class that one of the festival ladies had posted on our WhatsApp group. Bang on rush hour we arrived in great need of some peace and quiet only to find that it was taking place outside under a large shelter lying on a concrete floor and I hadn’t brought any socks let alone an extra blanket. Anyway by some miracle, despite the cold, Donna and I managed to fall asleep and woke up to find everyone else sat up ready to head back. The noise and fumes on the way back were as equally deafening and suffocating as on the way there and it was a welcome respite to relax on the rooftop of Namaste café which was our new home for a couple of nights.
Other experiences to mention include breakfast at the art café near the stepwell, dinner at the Indigo restaurant and shopping. I made a few purchases whilst in Jodhpur consisting of a pair of trousers, four shirts, one scarf, one wrap, one coat/wrap and 2 pairs of shoes – all great quality and all for £60!!
Sunday arrived, five nights after arriving in Jodhpur, and Donna and I were now ready to return to the ashram. Donna was heading back to the UK on Tuesday and I was looking forward to relaxing in a more peaceful environment. We left late afternoon after taking a trip to visit the Mandore Gardens which to be honest other than some very impressive temples were very disappointing and in much need of some TLC.
Afterwards Sarah and I had lunch at a family rooftop café and enjoyed a thali that was freshly prepared together with a fresh orange and carrot juice all very reasonably priced. Whilst we waited for the food we talked with the owner’s grand-daughters and they taught us how to write our names in Hindi. Talking of which I’ve not really made a lot of progress on the language front. All I have learnt so far is Namaste or Ram Ram as a greeting, thank you which is dhanyavaad and heat which is garmee. The latter I’ve learnt so that I can request help with heating up some Ayurvedic ghee that I am taking each morning.
I’m writing this some four days later after being back at the ashram but more on ashram life in the next post.
If you’ve read this far thank you, it’s wonderful to have your company on my journey. Feel free to stay in touch with any comments below and any questions you may have……
So this is now my tenth day in India and I’m only just getting round to writing this blog. It’s been a whirlwind so far that began with Utsava Maa (celebration of the Great Mother), a seven day festival at Shri Jasnath Asan (Ashram), that brought women together from around the world to create a community exploring how to improve equal rights and environmental preservation. The three key themes were creativity, ecology and divinity.
A packed programme was offered that included screening of films and documentaries, made by women, raising awareness of the destruction of our planet and the impact on indigenous people and the oppression of women especially in India. The work of Disha Arora was both eye opening and shocking and I can highly recommend that you look out for her documentaries on ‘Women and Religion in India’ (https://youtu.be/h1ou29YBp5M) and also ‘Women and Caste in India’.
There were many talks and performances all serving to inspire and embolden women to take environmental and social action within their local and global communities, no matter what their background, age, or story.
I met so many inspiring women dedicating their lives to alleviate the suffering of others and one lady in particular stood out for me. Her name is Urmi Basu and with parents that were both activists it’s not surprising that she has spent her entire life actively supporting other women in her home city of Kolkata. 20 years ago she set up New Light, (http://www.newlightindia.org) a non profit organisation that provides the children of sex workers in Kolkata a safe haven, particularly in the evening hours when streets are the most dangerous and the mothers are working. I was fortunate to spend some time with Urmi and Laura who is volunteering at New Light and to share the practice of TRE with them. They kindly invited me to visit them in Kolkata and run some TRE workshops, so I’ll be heading there in the next few months.
It’s been a perfect start to my travels being amongst a community of like minded, inspirational women and staying in an eco friendly and spiritual environment that takes loving care of the earth and its inhabitants. It feels like I’ve slipped into a warm loving cocoon of support, vibrant energy, encouragement and adventure that has held me when feeling ill and when the tears have flowed. So I plan to stay here until either I meet up with friends early February to do a tour of Rajasthan or I get itchy feet. For now it’s a beautiful base to let things settle and from which to explore the locality. Talking of which I’m off to explore Jodhpur tomorrow for a few days, meeting up up with some Utsava Maa buddies and visiting a school for less abled children run by a lady called Sneh Gupta (http://indiability.org/).
So much more to tell but it’ll have to wait but before I head off the title of this blog is the strapline for the ashram which I love and am doing my best to embody! So wishing you much laughter and playfulness in your life and don’t forget to keep taking the meditation 😀.
Sending much love and all good wishes for the new decade – go well lovely people ❤
A very warm welcome and huge thanks for joining me at the start of my travel adventures. I’m new to blogging and my reason for being here is to capture my experiences through photos and writing as a record for myself and also in response to requests from family and friends to share.
Another reason though is to follow a desire that has been bubbling for many years to write more frequently and to be brave enough to share my personal experiences more openly. I find Mary Oliver’s work inspirational and her beautiful words above unfold from a place of deep presence, that arises through stillness, listening, observing and sensing. Soaking up the world around her and paying attention, this is my intention too as I make my way to India on Thursday 26th December to the festival Utsava Maa in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Why ‘Journey to Joy’? I’m very aware that life is not always joyful and in fact it can be downright miserable and for some at times unbearable. In the words of Rumi;
“Being a candle is not easy: in order to give light, one must first burn.”
I believe that we are here to experience all aspects of this being human and to do so with as much kindness, gratitude and joy as we can muster.
Science tells us that we are wired with a negativity bias and we have to work at finding the good and the joy in ourselves, in others and in our world. I’ve become much more aware of my own negativity tendencies and how they can be fuelled when we don’t give ourselves space to see them and to cultivate a more joyful approach to life. So here I am giving myself the gift of space and simplicity so that I can learn to find some joy even when life feels tough.
If you’ve stumbled across this blog and have no idea who I am then in short I’m a woman in her fifties who is finally realising her passion for travelling. I’m also realising a yearning to live life with greater simplicity and am setting off with a backpack, that is currently too full and too heavy! Still some more shedding to do before I fly…….
I was interested to read a young lady’s travel blog that described ‘flashpacking’ vs ‘backpacking’ – a way of travelling that allows for a little more luxury, so think ensuite instead of hostel – mind you the latter is still an option apparently if you are feeling like being more sociable. So I’ll gratefully accept that to travel in my fifties rather than my twenties allows me to do so with perhaps a little more ease and comfort should I chose to 😊.
I have spent much of my life planning and organising and this can be an invaluable skill when used wisely but left unchecked it can also become stifling and lifeless. So I’m now willing to experience letting life unfold and seeing what the Universe offers. I’ll be holding these words from Jon O’Donohue close to my heart…
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of it’s own unfolding
– Jon O’Donohue
Mary Oliver invites us to “Be Astonished”. If I become busy organising and thinking of the next place to visit or things to do then I may easily miss the wonder and awesomeness of what is here right now. So whilst I have a whole list of places I would love to explore my plan is that there is no plan. Staying open and attentive to what life has in store for me can feel scary but oh so wild and exciting too.
To be honest I’ve always loved variety and change but usually I’ve engineered it and worked hard to make things happen. I do feel there is an intrinsic desire as human beings for certainty which is fascinating since nothing in life is certain except that one day we will move on from this world to some place else…
So whilst I’m here I’ll do my best to live this life as Mary Oliver instructs by paying attention, being astonished and telling about it.
I’d love to hear from you with any travel suggestions, experiences that you’d like to share or any general observations on life and how to live it with kindness, gratitude and joy…..