Sometimes it is the least picture perfect moments that end up being the most picturesque. Varanasi is definitely one of those places I can never really begin to unravel. I have pieces of writings in my journal, an attempt to re-write in my iphone notes, a few drafts on the blog, but it’s almost impossible to put into words something that intense and mind-altering. We left the beautiful Tibetan town of Dharamsala filled with artsy cafes, prayer flags, immense mountain beauty and English conversations with backpackers for one of the oldest cities in the world: Varanasi. We found ourselves outside of our comfort zone all over again, and an all too familiar feeling.
Mark Twain once said: “Varanasi” is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together”
The ancient streets were just wide enough for two people to walk by or one cow. We were here during the end of May, and the heat was almost too much to bare. The smell of dung (dog, cow, and people) simmered on concrete as you step over piles of rubble. There is no road signs or road names and I felt as if these alleyways were winding in every direction beneath my feet. You faced all shades of life and death and every facet of holy sadhus. Here you see Hinduism practiced fully all day, it’s a sacred experience and it’s easy to understand how this is the holiest city. As you pass by open windows, many are inside their homes praying to their alters. Crowds push by you as they rush to a ceremony or head to the Ganges. The Ganges display a visual that will have you feeling everything at once. To see people bathing in the same place that ashes of the dead float on is hard to grasp. Varanasi made me realize just how powerful these uncomfortable situations are, and the lessons behind the strangeness of life. It reminded me of how sheltered I am, how little I know, and how there are infinite truths I am still left to question.
India has some incredible buildings, temples, mosques, and ashrams. Above are snippets of India’s well known Taj Mahal, also known for it’s symbol of love. Incredible inspiration found on all four walls, down enchanting hallways, and immaculate ceilings that are even more incredible than any photos could convey.
I write this from an ashram in a small village of Ropa nestled in a valley of the Himalayans. I’m two weeks into my ashram life of schedule and discipline, a world most foreign to me than any place I have ever visited. A journey in itself, but one I knew I needed. I’m so used to lots of reflection time, self guided discovery, and choosing to spend every minute of my day exactly how I want, working on projects that inspire me, clients whom I adore, and waking up when I want, eating however much, whenever I want. I knew my biggest struggle would be a rigorous schedule in harmony with a community of women.
My ashram life starts each day before sunrise to a meeting in our mediation room for a sating (“to be in company of truth”) in other words to gather with others who are also on their journey of truth. We focus on raising the vibrations of the room with singing and yes dancing =) followed by a guided meditation. The rest of the day is a whirlwind consisting of yoga, teaching postures, spiritual and anatomical studies of the mind, body, and soul. Next thing I know it is lights out, as me and my 3 other roommates fall asleep with our headlamps on reading our yoga manuals.
I have never felt so connected and disconnected at the same time. Wifi is many villages away, this is the first time I have felt “far enough away” to be homesick. I never realized how something as simple as hearing a familiar voice can bring you back home, until I couldn’t.
The struggle also comes with so much growth. Everyday I work on my intention of non-attachment. My disconnection with the internet has brought me more connection with the life that surrounds me. There is so much existence and stillness. The cows that I pass along the way who’s milk calms my stomach overnight, the mountain spring that fills my water bottle with an ice cold flow of life energy. The village children who run up for hugs or give you flowers with their contagious smiles =) I have realized that just because I can’t physically tell someone I love them, doesn’t mean I can’t send them my love. So from my small little village life.. I send you my love <3
Every place we’ve been, we’ve made it our intention to listen locals perform their music. My ears fluttered to Cambodia’s music as I listened to an incredible songbird belt out traditional Khmer tunes. Danced to a reggae version of Thai music from a band in Chiang Mai, and their band name was “ChiangMaica” hahah get it? =P Now we’re in India, where their music has such a spiritual soul and traditional beats and I’m gravitated into this beautiful vortex of music and it has become the soundtrack of life lately. Hope you enjoy <3
*Photo above is a Thai man and his didgeridoo
India is a huge country with so much diversity. So many religions with “over 8 million” gods, according to a friendly local. When he asked me how long I’ll be in India for, I said, “Almost 2 months… too short for India, right?”. He replied straight-faced, “Of course, why not. A lifetime is too short to see India.”
With so many places to see, where do you begin? Charmie is stationed in the Himalayas and although I love the mountains, there’s something about desert regions that I always seem to gravitate towards. I decided to spend the next month exploring Rajasthan, a desert region in Western India that is home to the Rajputs. Rajputs are a warrior clan within the Indian caste system that claims to originate from the sun, and by looking in their eyes you would almost believe it. Almost everyone I’ve talked to and photographed so far all seem to have this mysterious haze of bloodshot. I’m not sure if it’s from the constant dust storms or the prevalent opium culture. Whatever it is I’m intrigued. I feel so incredibly grateful to be here right now. Tomorrow I head off into the desert, spending the next 3 days exploring the land by camel! : )
Discovered this beautifully and ornately decorated Dropka tribe on Before They Pass Away blog. They dwell in the the villages between India and Pakistan in the Valley of Ladakh, also known as “The Land of High Passes.” Though I will be in the Himalayans, I wish I had more time to explore India. The colors of the people in the cities, in the rural countrysides, and the tribes tucked away in their mountain villages. Their indigenous style is playful and very expressive. From the floral headpieces to the intricate jewelry, just stunning!
“There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds. It was as if all my life I had been seeing the world in black and white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”
― Keith Bellows
As we were above the clouds flying over Sri Lanka, I couldn’t help but wake up to the brightness flowing through the window. I was a bit delirious from the long transit, and admittedly hung over from celebrating Songkran Festival in Thailand just hours before we had to board our flight early that morning. Only now was it really sinking in that we were about to be in a whole new rabbit hole. This quote has become a daily mantra for me in moments of homesickness, or nostalgia. Because only with an open mind can we achieve an open heart. Being porous during moments can be a vulnerable feeling, often times scary, yet, it is these moments that will teach you how to fly.