Note: This is part one of a series that highlights my time in India. I travelled there solo in the summer of 2010. Things have changed a lot, as have I, but here we go… 

Rishikesh, located on the Gagnes River, is one of the Holy Cities of India. In the morning people bathe in the Gagnes, which is no simple feat. The river flows at a rapid, crushing pace. Yet somehow the old, the spindly, the delicate, manage to walk down slick marble and brick steps and into the grey water of the rushing river.

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Ashrams are everywhere. I am staying at the Sri Ved Niketan Ashram, which is just fantastic. It’s spartan in terms of room, intense in terms of yoga classes, and the food is spicy but simple.

 

At the Sri Ved Niketan Ashram, I’ve realised I’m no good at meditation. We chanted for an hour the other day and I kept telling myself not to get distracted.

“We are light beings,” said the man at front. Focus. Focus.

I’m better at yoga, although even that I’m doing a bit of a flop job with. Literally. We’ve been practicing headstands. I have the upper body strength of a five-year-old girl.

“Now stand on your hands, and bend your back. Release the neck. Push the buttock inside. Release the neck.” The pose looked like an inverted C against the wall when the teacher did it.Mine was more of an L. On the floor. “Focus?” I offered.

This is my life in the Holy City of Rishikesh. It’s a bit different from Cambridge.

 

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Note: This is part one of a series that highlights my time in India. I travelled there solo in the summer of 2010. Things have changed a lot, as have I, but here we go… 

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“Do you like to play dance?” Asked the police officer next to me, before nudging me forward, forward, and then forward again.

“Dance! Dance!” Agreed the smiling faces of men and women. It was warm, joyful. Energetic.

Not knowing what else to do, I danced, flinging my arms and skipping my feet. It was all part of the six day party leading up to Lord Krishna’s birthday.

On Saturday, I made my way to Shimla, a hillside town known as the summer capital of India. I just happened to stumble upon a massive parade and festival celebrating Krishna’s birthday. School children and marching bands paraded through Shimla’s lower streets, winding around in no specific order, circling back and forth, up and down, making every inch one big party.

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The festival had every sort of entertainment. Singing troops of older men and women would edge forward, carrying what looked like a gramophone taped on a rusted bicycle. Men stood on each others shoulders, balancing and reaching to break a clay pot dangling from above, showering milk down their chests. Girls waved gold bands. Lights flashed. Neon machines blared past. Drummers drums and horns blared and red powder was flung through the air, right alongside rose petals.

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Vendors shoved food into my hands as I walked by: a sweet pancake, rice and dahl, apples, wafer cookies. It was like trick-or-treat on Halloween except everyone was playing. One old woman circled back around to get herself another pancake.

“I’ve seen you already!” Scolded the food-giver.

I kept trying to escape the crowd but never really succeeded. Every now and then someone would ask to take a picture with me.

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The festival was hectic and fascinating. I can’t wait for September 2nd, which is Krishna’s actual birthday. Now in Rishikesh, known as the ‘yoga capital of the world,’ the birthday promises to be interesting.

Note: This is part one of a series that highlights my time in India. I travelled there solo in the summer of 2010. Things have changed a lot, as have I, but here we go… 

I’ve been at Menri Monastery for several weeks now, and it turns out the serene life is not for me. I need to do something. Anything. I have just polished off books four, five and six of Harry Potter. Any more and I will be running around by broomstick.

I need to go.

Enter Shimla, and Tattapani. Shimla, a hillside town known for its quaint British ways, is somewhere up on the map. I am leaving for Shimla at 10 (or 11. The bus never really comes at a certain time) tomorrow.

“It has monkeys. Very big, large monkeys,” warned a Russian model who is visiting Menri when I told her of my plans.

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Monkeys at the gate of the monkey temple

I have been advised to carry a stick and treats. I knew I should have gotten that rabies shot.

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After Shimla, I’m off to Tattapani, a city known for its hot springs. ((Writer’s note: reading back through these, I can say the hot springs were a total waste of time and effort. There was a long bus ride followed by a lack of natural springs. I found a bath in a small hotel, but it definitely wasn’t worth the hefty journey. Things might be different now.))

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to get to these places… not quite sure where I’ll stay, or what I’ll do when I get there. I just know I’m going.

 

Note: This is part one of a series that highlights my time in India. I travelled there solo in the summer of 2010. Things have changed a lot, as have I, but here we go… 

I made it to Menri Monastery. Nine hours from Delhi, one from Solan, Menri is perched in the middle of green mountains that spread out and down in all directions. The nearest town is an hour away. Within Menri there are around 800 people, including monks, nuns, children, staff, and others.

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Two Menri monks in Geshe training, plus the motorcycle-riding librarian 

I wake to the sound of cows down in the valley, the monastery’s cows. They use the milk to make fresh chai tea and to give to the children. Breakfast is bread and jam. Lunch, a more lavish affair, involves vegetables, soup and rice. Dinner doesn’t exist, not really. It’s usually broth and steamed Tibetan bread.

My shower is a bucket. My bed is covered by a mosquito net, which is alright because at night I can look through it, out the window and up at the stars. There are unlimited stars here.

In the bathroom, there’s just a faucet, and a toilet, and sometimes a cup.

The monks are amazing. I had my first class yesterday, where we worked on introductions and pronunciations. It was in a room with wooden desks, wooden chairs, and curtains of burgundy.

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“Should we call you Madam?” Teased one of my ‘students,’ laughing because that’s what children call their school teachers. Now when they see me, it’s always ‘hello, madam. Hello! Cool!’

I met His Holiness the other day, the man who is the head Geshe of Bon faith. I gave him a white scarf and a book from Cambridge. He draped the scarf back around my neck. “This is our welcome. It means you’re welcome here,” he said.

So that is my life at the monastery. It is peaceful and quiet. I am reading a lot and running just as often. I’ve started doing yoga again twice a day.

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As soon as I make it to the postman’s house (as there is no post office in Dolanji) I will send out letters to some of you. I have been writing, but like me, these letters just keep traveling along.

Suffice to say I miss people. The monkeys are pretty, but really not very good company. Actually, they’re awful company. They attack dogs and things with sparkle.

I’m off now to go have tea with sugar and to sit on the balcony overlooking the mountains. Hopefully this will post before the internet kills over.

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Note: This is part one of a series that highlights my time in India. I travelled there solo in the summer of 2010. Things have changed a lot, as have I, but here we go… 

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“Denny. Denny is easy to say. It’s the name of a Bollywood star. But Danae?” The monk sitting behind me shakes his head, smiling and tsking a bit. “Different.”

We’re riding along one of Delhi’s rushed roads, where cars and bikes, rickshaws and three-wheelers, jostle one another for minimal space. Horns blare – as they should, considering the number of “Horns, Please!” signs on the back of bumpers. A couple lorries roll past, stacked with bags of grain and casually reclining dark skinned men.

In the car with me are two men, Geshes (a high level Bon monk) at the Menri Monastery where I’ll be heading tomorrow. They wear orange shirts and plum red skirts, shaved heads, smiles.

“Deeeeny.” Muses the quieter Geshe, Soonum, with a wrinkle of his brow. “Dennny?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s a weird name even in English.”

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The Menri monks at study

So began my trip to Delhi. I’m staying with the Geshes at the Majnu Ka Tille Tibetan refugee center, perched in the northern edge of the city amid flies and old buildings.

My  room has air conditioning, provided by a noisy box blowing cold air through the window (“Good for keeping away mosquitos,” Geshe Samdup told me, prompting my non-Malaria-vaccinated self to deliberately freeze the entire night); and a shower consisting of a bucket. It works.

Leaving early this morning, I braved Delhi by traveling down to the Red Fort. The Red Fort, unfortunately, was closed. So I did the next best thing: I got lost.

This involved wandering through the city, past markets and street vendors. The flies are everywhere. Small booths offer crushed limes with ice, others dates, others still bits of meat covered in thin sheets of plastic and black flickering bugs. Every step brings a new smell: cumin, spice, sweet, dirt, garbage, rot. The heat pushes down oppressively, and bodies bumble past, always framed by the loud chaos of honking horns.

A young boy sprinted by on my left. Running beside him, about equal height, was a goat. He reached out and patted the goat’s neck as they hurried forward, quickly lost in the crowd. Then there are chickens in cages, their wings like bits of straw; and baby chicks, fluffy and yellow. Food, sounds, noise. Chaos.

“Hello, ma’am. Good day ma’am.” Mixing in with the sounds of horns and bartering were the charming calls of would-be suitors.

“Namaste, ma’am.”

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My accommodation in Delhi, at a Tibetan refugee colony, before heading to Menri Monastery.

Now, after barely a few hours, I have returned to the much quieter corner of Delhi that is the Tibetan refugee center. I will drink tea and probably eat dinner again with the Geshes (who help me pick from plates with foreign names, ordering steamed bread and spicy dishes of noodles and sauce).

Tomorrow we make the eight hour drive up to Menri. There is flooding in the Northern part of India right now, but hopefully all will go well.

Until then, I’m going to go enjoy the chaos of this big city – or at least the chai tea it has to offer.

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