Goa

Goa is incredible. India is such a vast country in every way. Goa offers breathtaking beaches, crazy busy beaches, turtles, spice plantations, conservation areas, elephants, colorful markets, rockin’ night clubs and very friendly chatty people. The waters are blue and warm but not too warm, sandy beaches and a place to sit and enjoy the best food I have had in India and a cold cocktail everywhere. My favorite place was Brittos, one of the original restaurants on the beach and came highly recommended, which I know why, it was fabulous~

The absolutely lovely bungalow I stayed in was on Baga Beach which is like the tropical beach on steroids. I arrived and it was full peak crazy, boats zooming around dragging people on tubs, parasails everywhere, nets being thrown out by people fishing, tables and umbrellas out with young men trying to encourage you to have a seat at one and enjoy a drink or maybe some food? The beach was lined with these restaurants and available lounge chairs. I walked a ways and found a quiet strip of beach that became my place to be and swim.

I met so many young men who felt obliged I guess to walk along with me and learned so much about the ways of India for these young men. I hadn’t met people who were so open and talkative until Goa. They all commented on how quiet they thought I was, which of course I thought was funny. I enjoyed their stories.

After dark the lounge chairs disappear to be replaced with clothed tables, chairs and candlelight for evening cocktails and dining. I enjoyed this, sitting so close to the waves that they lapped my bare feet while enjoying a nightcap and watching fireworks….

Anjuna market was a BLAST. It is known to be a touristy market but I had to experience it for how famous it is. The largest market I have seen and right above the beach. After dark it switches to amazing music. I listened to an incredible sitar band, and on the other side a young woman in complete “hippy” attire rocked out to Janis Joplin songs. I met people from all over India and Europe.

I visited the Arya Cashew Factory where we saw the whole process of the cashew from harvest, roasting, shelling, scraping the skin, many quality control sorting and the final nut ready to eat. Each step done by the individual nut by the hands of women.

The next day was the organic Sahakari Spice Plantation and Elephants. This blew me away. Not only have I learned an incredible amount regarding the local spices, I was able to hear the extraordinaire stories behind the three elephants who reside there. The Elephants migrate and at times will be separated from their herd. There are people who monitor this as best they can to prevent poaching. They bring the elephants to the place they are migrating to and work for five years each to reintroduce them to a herd. If they are rejected, then they are brought to Southern India to the temples where they are treated like gods and hand fed by the women who tend the temples. They will remain the god of these temples or be able to roam conservation areas like this spice plantation. The conservation areas will not take more elephants then the land can maintain. The elephants work a few days a week giving short rides and get washed by us, and then give us a bath, which is a complete riot. I have always dreamt of being this close to an elephant so I was beside myself with excitement and joy…..

I Loved Goa!!

Sounds of Mumbai

Which hour of the day do I start to describe the sounds of Mumbai when Mumbai never sleeps?
The dogs barking wildly (which even on the 24th floor, they miraculously sound as if they are right outside the window) and the rooster usually wake me around 3 am and I then hear the horns and rickshaw motors. At 6am the first Islamic call to prayer of the day can be heard…..then at about daybreak the pounding will begin, constant pounding and the horns start in at a decibel that if you cannot tune it out, it will drive you mad. The dog barking is now replaced with the roar of traffic, rickshaws, horns and pounding that is continuous throughout the day. If you are inside, add random ringing of the various doorbells and dragging of chairs across marble floors. When you hit the streets for a walk, the horns and pounding are magnified. So much so that you may not hear the Islamic call to prayer that continue throughout they day. I usually hear the one at about 6pm…..

The traffic, horns and rickshaw motors go thru the night, at 9:30 last night the pounding was still going. This also sounds as if right outside the door. I can hear chairs being dragged across the marble floors in the other apartments since I know we are all in bed…..The dogs may start at midnight or 3am, depending on what is going on in their dog world. I am not using my earplugs to sleep any longer which means I will sleep like the dead when I return home. I tend to wake up frequently, with the shades drawn it doesn’t seem dark unless you go out for a walk, then it seems very much so.

I have heard that people from Mumbai feel lonely if they leave the city. The quiet leaves them empty. My first day, after just a couple hour walk I had to draw the shades and lay on the bed in the dark room, my head hurt so bad. I spoke to some expats who didn’t even leave their apartment the first month they were so overwhelmed. A few times the first few days I felt the rise of anxiety with the noise and just tried to keep calm and grounded. Jen said and I agree, how important meditation and yoga is to a place like this. To help remain centered in all the chaos. There is a free yoga class at 6am each morning that I am attending. It is fun, the people are very kind and helpful if I hesitate to watch some of the stretches since I do not know Hindi. I am having a great time here in India. It challenges and conjures so many emotions each day. I embrace being in a place that has such an impact.

Laughter Meditation

“There is a story, in Japan, of the laughing Buddha, Hotei. His whole teaching was just laughter. He would move from one place to another, from one marketplace to another marketplace. He would stand in the middle of the market and start laughing…that was his sermon.

His laughter was catching, infectious; a REAL laughter, his whole belly pulsating with the laughter, shaking with laughter. He would roll on the ground with laughter. People who would collect together, they would start laughing, and then the laughter would spread, and tidal waves of laughter, and the whole village would be overwhelmed with laughter.

People used to wait for Hotei to come to their village because he brought such joy, such blessings. He never uttered a single word, never. You asked about Buddha and he would laugh; you asked about enlightenment and he would laugh; you asked about truth and he would laugh. Laughter was his only message.”

I had read this in Osho’s book of meditation before joining the much awaited laughter meditation. I thought of how wonderful this would be….of course, now if I attempted to just start laughing in a marketplace with no words, I would be dragged off to the funny farm….now that would be the laugh….

I am in love love love with laughter meditation. It is perfect. Just laughing. This session at Osho was 20 minutes of laughter and then 15 minutes silent meditation (still filled with random giggles which I was guilty of) and then, of course, more dancing. I had read about laughter meditation years ago and was curious and wondered if it would be a room of people straining to laugh. It was incredible, I wanted MORE. Not only was it not difficult to keep laughing, I really couldn’t stop, with tears streaming down my face. We were to keep our eyes closed, for the laughter to be OUR laughter, not us laughing at anyone else. But I have to say, at a “dry” moment, I peeked and to see everyone else with their head thrown back in full laughter and some rolling on the floor, this made me so happy, I couldn’t stop laughing once again. There is something phenomenal about being in a huge auditorium of people splitting their sides in laughter. For the first time, I had faith in complete strangers.

Year of the Dragon

The year of the Dragon is considered the luckiest year in the Chinese Zodiac. 2012 is the Water Dragon, water calms the Dragon’s fire which can be a good thing. In just this one week, this year of the Dragon has been more than spectacular. I indeed feel lucky, I hope it continues for myself and every one of you.

I ventured out on the streets of Mumbai on foot again today. I am feeling more confident in exploring every nook which you need to do here, it is the nooks that hold some of the most interesting shops and people. You wouldn’t EVER think something like that would be there but once you walk down a small crack of an ally, it opens into a whole world of colorful things. The incredibly intense gawking I attract doesn’t even bother me anymore. I must be getting somewhat accustomed to the heat also, it seemed as if I wasn’t sweating as much, which is really noticeable when you see everyone bundled up with scarves, long sleeves and sweaters and here I am soaked…..

Today I explored foodie things, more spices, teas, Indian bakeries and stainless steel cookware. The pans used here are fun and much different than I have seen so I wanted to check them out. My sister does not live in a touristy area so the prices are incredible and the shop keeper gave me a discount when I told him I was the one who would be using the pans. They loved that, wanted to know where I was staying, my name, brought me savory lassi and when I said I was okay and didn’t need anything to drink, they insisted and said I was their guest! Shopping here is an extraordinaire experience. The kindness is amazing.

I didn’t recognize a thing at the bakery so the man offered me samples of everything, again, amazing….all these chewy almond, pistachio, date, fig fudge~y treats that he packed into an adorable little box.

I found the “expat” store that I had read about. I wanted to purchase chocolate chips to bake some cookies for Maks and Jen. They are the tiniest chocolate chips in the tiniest package, one ounce. The man said he had them at his other store and if I could wait 5 minutes, he would have them here, no problem. The store was Indian as well as western so I was more than happy checking everything else out until the chocolate chips arrived.

I saw the restaurant named Royal Challenge which of course cracks me up. Vladimir said it was a good place to eat so I will have to try it….

Swathed in vibrant cloth euphoria

My amazing sister Jen and her wonderful friend Nandi took me sari shopping yesterday. I am typically not a “shopper” sort of person but this was a joyful and extraordinaire experience. Nandi knew the best shop and it truly was a blast. The service in India is incredible, the impossibly small shop is full of the three of us and twice as many people there to take your bag, make you tea, bring bottled water and lay out an abundant array of the most amazing colored cloth in all combinations of cotton, silk and synthetic fabric, you barely get a glimpse and another is piled on top, if you didn’t realize already, your mind is now boggled with the endless choices you have. Then there is the “trying on” which consists of you standing there with your arms up, a curtain has been drawn to cover the entrance and you are wrapped up, of course not before feeling a bit exposed, in this luxurious fabric. They have the perfect match of top and petticoat, stress how important the folds are and how to manage it. It all goes so quickly and then the mirror, yep, I LOVED it. I have the perfect sari and feel lavishly wrapped in the color that brings utter joy.

Photos soon to follow…..

Osho Meditation Resort

Traveling thru the bustle and traffic of Pune, India, you cannot imagine where this described tranquil meditation center could be, then there is a left turn and the street turns quiet and cool, shaded from the blazing sun with huge trees.

From what I understand, this center had changed it’s status from ashram to meditation resort, due to it’s western style compared to other ashrams thru out India. I LOVED this life altering place, so much so, I have meet with the staff about the live in residency stay for the future…..

I don’t think mere words can give this experience justice so I may not even attempt it but to share that I threw myself into it for the full experience, participating in the first meditation that began at 6am each morning and filled the day with every offered event until the last meditation that ended at 10:30pm. I slept only a mere five hours (due to some of the playful after hours music, dancing after the meditation and of course played LED poi in the Buddha Grove….) yet awoke feeling refreshed, alive and centered. I dreamt of being in magical places here in India….

This style of meditation is not like any other I have tried or read about. At first, I thought everyone was nutters but the results are life altering…..I look forward to sharing these incredible meditations when I return home. This is no mere sitting and meditating style, there is MUCH movement, Osho shares that our minds are not busy in movement. So the day is filled with dancing and then a sitting meditation after you have exhausted yourself with movement, which was PERFECT for me since sitting all day would have driven me mad. Instead I hobbled about, almost crippled from all the wild dancing barefoot on marble floors…..and ooohh, the marble in the two main meditation auditoriums…..absolutely stunning.

I met people from India and all over the world here. Osho Meditation Resort is a luxurious place full of beauty. The whole campus as well as it’s many gardens and park are kept in immaculate condition.

As I said goodbye to the lovely people I met on my five day stay that my sister so generously gifted me, one friend mentioned that I looked absolutely radiant, I definitely felt this way, I had just finished two amazing meditation sessions of laughter meditation and the No Dimensions Sufi whirling meditation……I am in utter bliss~

The Markets of South Mumbai

I will attempt to play catch up here….as if it is at all possible to describe the last week or so….
The market tour blew me away. We first went to the Crawford Market, one known for it’s food. Rosemarie, the lovely woman I met during the Village tour told me to find the Spice King, so that was my first stop. This was incredible, he had his presentation all set for his eager audience, pouring out each brilliantly colored spice into little stainless steel bowls for us to smell and taste. I purchased way too much but I told myself, I can justify it…..birds of all sizes and colors at this market as well as any fruit or vegetable you can imagine.

Then off to Mangaldas, the textile market. This was my wonderland. After walking a few steps inside this market, I felt transfixed. Color does something to me, it is hard to describe, when surrounded with the vibrancy of such richness, it is like it fills my heart with the same. I feel giddy and drunk with it and want to be wrapped up in the brilliance of it all. The joyful irony here is that with sari, I literally can be….

So I just stood there beaming like a crazy woman and couldn’t even attempt to narrow it down to make a purchase, not this time….way too overstimulated. So I just staggered thru, trying to breath it all in and etch this dazzling vision into my memory.

We breezed thru Zaveri, the jewelry market, this was a high end jewelry market of gold and diamonds, out of range….

It is the wedding season here in Mumbai so the Bheleghwar Pool, flower market, was bustling with activity. Here is where they are making garland and complete walls, curtains and drapes of pure flowers and flower petals. Here you can breath deep and forget you are in Mumbai. The colors and detail of this work blew me away, some of them were working one single rose petal at a time.

We visited a few temples learning the ritual offerings and passed by many vendors all along the way. I stopped to replenish my bindi collection and tried to keep up and take in all the surroundings at the same time. The streets were packed with throngs of people walking, pushing carts, carrying their parcels upon their heads…..I cannot wait to visit south Mumbai again…..

The Dark Side

The poverty and population of Mumbai is staggering. It is considered the richest city in India as well, which is not the statistic that comes to mind when walking the streets. It is all thrown together here, the spectacular, heartbreaking, chaos, peaceful temples…everything. The population of Mumbai is over 20.5 million and growing. 10~15 people die each day on the public transportation system. Mostly from people hanging on from the outside or sitting on the top of trains, the wires above that the trains pass under are 220 watts, this is the reason for the highest mortality in this horrifying statistic. So many people, even with trains leaving every 5 minutes, it is not enough to accommodate the demand. Once on the trains, it is often impossible to make it in time to the door to get off at your stop. There are no maps on the train and no one announcing the stop.

The signs and the smell of poverty that you witness no matter where you are here is something you cannot even conceive. Due to a corrupt government, things happen here even if illegal. Gut wrenching barbarity like child prostitution. I can only imagine how a place like this must dull your senses after a long period of time. I hear that people who have grown up here have a hard time leaving, they feel lonely, that it is too quiet elsewhere…..

Tamarind Jungle

Reality India is a tour group that is beyond any tours I have ever imagined. They are fabulous. Only three in our group each time and 80 percent of the money goes to the place you are visiting and Dharavi. My amazing sister with her extensive research found them, they came highly recommended and I certainly know why. Yesterday I attended the Village Tour. The translated name of the village is Tamarind Jungle. I left the apartment at 6:30am and returned after 9pm speechless with the whole spectacular adventure. We all met up at the Gateway of India in South Mumbai. I hadn’t been there yet and at 7:30am, it was just starting to take a morning stretch. Marine Drive was full of people taking walks, stretching, doing yoga, some in what we see as workout clothes but most in traditional clothing of India, women walking in sari with sneakers.

On this tour were two other women, Rosemary and her daughter, Sonja, both from Germany. Rosemary has been living in Mumbai for three years. We were instructed to board the ferry and our guide (one of the founders of Reality India) would meet us on the other side.

We met up with Krishna and hopped on the bus. I had the adventure of hopping on as it was traveling down the road, determined NOT to be separated from the rest of the group. Before catching the rickshaw, we stepped into a cafe for some late breakfast, tea and discuss what we would be doing for the day. The food here was amazing. Everything I have had out has been made from rice, even the unleavened breads. Then I discovered what an Indian toilet is like. Here, there are no seats. You squat over a hole. Some places have a spigot and pail to fill and “flush” or rinse the hole. It smelled as if I was the only one who did the rinsing step. We then clammered into a rickshaw for a long dusty trip. We stopped to pick up as many school kids as we could fit on our way to the school. The school had a handful of small classrooms that had to hold 60 students, many sitting on the floor since there were not enough seats and desks. It was an exam day so after much commotion of us being there and them wanting us to take their photos (Krishna downloaded our pictures so he could make copies for everyone) they settled in. With much giggling, the girls shared with me that my name in Hindi means cat. The feathers in my hair has been drawing much attention everywhere I have been going. I pulled some out and pinned them in their hair. Much excitement.

Then off to the village. About 200 villagers had left that morning on a pilgrimage to a holy place three day’s trek away, so it was very quiet. It was peaceful anyway, no automobiles just bull driven carts. It was like being on another planet after Mumbai. I loved it here. The land was covered with rice fields, some trees and a small cluster of brightly painted homes. Each home had an elaborate alter to the Basil Tree with a Basil tree growing on top. Everyone came out to great us, we were invited to lunch with many homes. We did have an arrangement to have lunch with one family. The two young girls of this family joined us for the whole walk, gathering tamarind, fruit and berries for us to try along the way. The village had one shop that was half of the shop owner’s home. The owner was also a musician so with his wife’s prompting, he pulled out chairs and his piano accordion to play and sing for us. Most of the remaining village gathered as well. It was fantastic.

We walked to the rice fields to see families threshing the rice. It is the time of the winds so men were sifting rice as the wind blew to remove the chaff. We were invited to join them for lunch also.

There is a tribal village above this one. The tribal residents make temporary dwellings of straw here in this village and are the brick makers. Bricks are all made by hand, sun dried and then kiln dried. We visited the tribal village briefly before heading back.

Lunch was incredible and served in traditional style. We sat on a mat on the floor and ate together without silverware. This is what I had been preparing for back in Maine. I had given up using silverware and switched from coffee to tea a week before the start of my trip.

The ferry ride back to Mumbai was festive and lively. Not just us but everyone on the boat was rejuvenated. We were on the roof of the ferry, the boat was packed due to the next one being canceled. Music was playing, people were dancing and laughing. A man was selling potato chips he was kettle frying up fresh before boarding the boat. One of the young men bought a huge bag and the whole ride the young men were feeding the seagulls from their hands. The seagulls wildly followed the ferry all the way on our one and a half hour journey to Mumbai.

Mumbai is breathtaking at night. The lit up skyline is magnificent and from this view coming in from the harbor, it did not seem chaotic at all. Even after getting off the ferry and walking thru the throngs of people selling balloons, cotton candy, bubbles, tea, trying to take my picture and hail me a cab…. as I stood on the street deafened by the horns, cracking up over the gawdily flower decorated and neon lit horse drawn silver carriages, I found all the craziness of Mumbai somehow alluring after dark. Mumbai is growing on me…..

Slumdog Millionaire

There is so much here in Mumbai to take in that is so foreign to anything I have ever seen. By the end of the day I am utterly exhausted beyond imagination. It is like my brain is learning something new and incredibly difficult each day just by witnessing these things. I don’t even think I can attempt to recount the events. Jen described it wonderfully, it is like trying to describe a taste of something to someone who had never eaten that before, like a strawberry. After today, I am now thinking it is like describing a strawberry to someone who cannot taste at all.

I went on a tour of the largest slum in India, Dharavi. I felt torn about this, that it would just break my heart and seem a disrespect and violation of the resident’s privacy. Jen explained that the money went to the community and we read the debate that the folks, Reality India, gave about how it was to educate people about what was actually happening in this community and what the industry was there and the work that was being done….the tour was fascinating. The guides for the tour were young men from Dharavi and the community center that the Reality India tours created and funded taught Dharavi residents the computer and language skills to continue to college and help with job placement.

Dharavi was incredibly intense. The feeling I am left with is the remarkable pride of these people, they work hard and everywhere I went I was greeted warmly. The “tour” is kept small, there were three of us. I could go on and on about the fraction of this amazing place that I saw. One million people in Dharavi which covers just over one half a mile. Most of what we saw was the recycling of plastics. What the companies make and the pittance of what the workers are paid and the conditions they work under is a crime. The industry makes 650 million after taxes a year and pays out 150 rupee a day to the workers which is $3. The residents who stay do not want to leave Dharavi due to the close sense of community. Most of the residents work outside of Dharavi. It is mostly migrant laborers from other villages in India that do the industry work inside Dharavi.

The ride to and from Dharavi was in itself an epic adventure. The four lane highway is just a guideline at best. Most times there were six or more cars careening around and down the highway. Anyone who has ever had me as a passenger in their vehicle knows how challenging that can be. I decided to NOT look at the road at all ahead of me if I didn’t want my heart to explode and to focus instead upon the other mind boggling scenes we zoomed past. It was the best call I could make.