Tag Archives: India

The Two-Minute Dalai Lama Smile

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#FrozenToHim #UpCloseWithHisHoliness #TheSimpleMan

Yes, he was my because in why Dharamsala. One word, compassion.

At the TCV for the Dalai Lama lecture

At the TCV for the Dalai Lama lecture

Hate is not part of their vocabulary. I had the chance to speak to some Tibetans about their story. How cruel the world had been. Not noticing that they, among other nations were suffering in the hands of their invaders for more than 50 years. But never did one of them say terrible words. Especially their leader, the 14th Dalai Lama of TIbet.

I have been following the lectures and engagements of HH. Those interfaith conferences were my personal favorite. So there I was, chasing the man who, despite of old age, was very busy traveling around the world to share words of encouragement and hope. The journey was not easy. I got declined through email (ended up attending a public prayer he led and it was amazing) and missed an event for 5 minutes. Every day I would walk around Mcleod and to his residence with so much conviction but to no avail.But patience rewarded me with something after almost 15 days of hoping. His annual discourse at the Tibetan Children’s Village. Little miracle.

HH from afar Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin (Tibetan monk friend)

HH from afar
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin (Tibetan monk friend)

It was a three-day event and the slots were limited. Some of the people I met discouraged me because it was not really for international audience. He was going to speak in native tongue. So what? Meeting some students in the guesthouse, we planned our route to the venue. Ended up with nothing, all because I woke up late! My friends went ahead, but nothing could stop me. Managed to grab a seat at the back with the monks. Somehow, my eyes were better that day. For I could see his smiling face clearly. I did not understand most of the lecture, but my attention never took a dive. He spoke a few English phrases which I noted:

  • “Tibetan culture is peace and compassion.”
  • “Sense of oneness of 7 billion beings.”
  • words like:¬† forgiveness, sacrifice, karma and global warming
The crowd Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

The mixed crowd from all over the world. Philippines, represent!
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

He spoke for almost two hours, or maybe three always with enthusiasm and big smile. People around me were laughing. Those listening to the translator in their radios did too. I was a mere audience enjoying the calmness of the crowded open space. By the time he ended, it was almost lunch. While seated, trying to get myself together, others went flocking to where I was. Darn, HH car was parked in front of me. And I was clueless. By the time my senses came back, He was almost there. I took Ceedi out (GoPro H3 cam) and prepared to capture the moment. I was about to start shooting, when, there, the man whose words were my inspiration, stood 3 meters away waving his hands, facing me with a huge smile. Myself died. Minutes later, finally, my fingers moved to film. Or should I say, tried to film.

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet  during his lecture at the TCV, May 2015. Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

The 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet during his lecture at the TCV, May 2015.
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

Five months had passed since that day but the overwhelming emotion embraces me recalling it. Teary eyed with full of gratefulness. No decent pictures to share though, only in my heart. Life, I could not ask for more.

Special thanks to my friends from Loseling Monastic Guesthouse who showed me the map to TCV. Credits to my friend Tenzin Tenzin for all the pictures. And to VK for accompanying me to the event.And everyone else who assisted me. Love and compassion to all beings ūüôā

Ceedi trying to capture the moment Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment
Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Ceedi trying to capture the moment
Shot using: Go Pro Hero3 Silver Ed

Watch out for my 8-Hour New Delhi Layover story soon…

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Lost up North

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#TibetIsThisYou #NineteendaysAtTwoKHigh #MyBikiniKindaLife

Welcome to AlmostTibet

Welcome to AlmostTibet

I’d lie if I didn’t dream of one day making it to Tibet. May be I used to be from there. I don’t know why I have been fascinated by this little country up above. I have been planning my journey to experience it but I think I won’t. Nepal – Tibet border was too expensive for a frugal tripper. $1500USD for a week. NO WAY! Beijing-Lhasa train connection, only allowed to Chinese passport holders. All foreigners are required to join a tour. Who needs to go to Lhasa when I’m in Tibet! I mean, India with Tibetans.

With all due respect to historians and et al, I would like to point out that for me, Tibet is not a Chinese territory. It is country invaded by the latter for more than fifty years now. With its own culture, people, and bloody history. And by far, the Tibetans are the most calm and peaceful people I have ever met. Even after the Chinese brutality that led to the Tibetans leaving their own country, fleeing to seek refuge from their neighbors, the serenity of their culture is such a gift to Northern India. There I was, excited and scared inside the bus enjoying the picturesque sight of the Indian Himalayan Ranges greeting me with a cold snowy chills slowly letting go of gravity. Off to Dharamsala, the center of the Tibetan government in exile with an elevation of 1400 meters above sea level. No plans, not hostel, not so much information in the middle of a misty night under the mercy of faith. The bus dropped us (mostly tourists) in the main station. Far from my expected stop. No worries, we, the tourists had the same goal and destination, to experience Tibet and meet His Holiness, the 16th Dalai Lama. So can you imagine my excitement, when I heard one group talking about their unexpected encounter with HH while walking along the streets of Dharamsala.

Mcleod Ganj

The upper Dharamsala, with an elevation of 2000meters and houses most of the cheap accommodation and the Dalai Lama Temple. And this was my/our home for the next 19 days. We did not have pre booked place to stay, so we ended hiking along Tipa Road in search of a cheap and clean accommodation with our backpacks! We were so lucky to find the only available room in a monastic guesthouse run by Tibetan monks. For 300 rupees we had our clean beds with toilet and fan. Not to mention our lovely neighbors! Best accommodation ever! According to their manager and the tenants, the place was usually packed with students (monks) and pilgrims.

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

The neighborhood at Mcleod Ganj

We decided to stick to Mcleod Ganj while exploring the nearby villages. After arrival, we hurriedly walked to the Dalai Lama house along the temple road. We were so lucky that we arrived five minutes after the Dalai Lama had finished his talk. Hai! It felt so bad. But hey, it’s not the end, VK met a monk who introduced us to the secretary of the Dalai Lama. He was kind enough to inform us that HH was having a three day retreat and will not be participating in any event. But maybe after three days, we can meet him but we need to send a formal request. Also our housemates told us that His Holiness usually visits the Tibetan Village nearby during his free time. We might just end up bumping into him. And that gave me hope.

Mcleod Ganj Main Square Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

Mcleod Ganj Main Square
Photo by: Tenzin Tenzin

So what to do? hahaha walk walk walk! Surprisingly, the energy was different. The daily walks I had were peaceful. I mean, not so much touts only the honking cars of the local tourists. Goodness, was I in India? We enjoyed the Tibetan experience eating in local restaurants and talking to these wonderful Tibetans. History would portray these people that they have been in so much pain, crossing Tibet to India. But never did I see any anger in all of them. We made friends with the guys from the computer shop, Shangri-la Restaurant, Coffee shops, sellers and shop owners. They were so accommodating and always smiling.

One of our fave breakfast place

One of our fave breakfast place and one of my fave breakfast buddy (next to myself and familia)

Our early days in Mcleod were physically hard. VK got terribly sick and we suspected it was either altitude sickness or mosquito related disease (he was meditating outdoor before arriving in Dharamsala). He had to stay indoor and was closely monitored. And everyone in the guesthouse was helping us. They even cooked for him. Never asked for any additional fee. It was just pure kindness and my heart melted. Also the people in the street when we were asking for directions and forex rates. No hard selling. Not so India lol!.

Then there was the manager of the guesthouse who always asked me which tv channel would I want to watch every time I hangout at the lobby. Or gave me the English newspaper. One morning I sat and spoke to him. He told me about his story. He crossed the Tibet-Nepal border through the Himalayas at an early age to escape Tibet. He hasn’t seen his family for more than 20 years now and he just learned the death of his mother through a phone call. Now he has his refugee card that would allow him to go back home but if he comes back, he needed to get a Chinese passport. My tears came rushing. Maybe hundreds of thousands have the same story as his. But never did I hear him curse China. The staff (some monks) even took our laundry when it rained. Lent us utensils and provided us inside information from the Dalai Lama’s schedule.

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At the Tibet Museum located inside the Dalai Lama Temple.

Some days were just too lazy to walk and stayed in the guesthouse doing yoga, reading and VK started sketching. Or meditating. Often though we would walk around, watch people and went to the temple for the hope of meeting the Dalai Lama. But for a week we were just not lucky. Anyhow, life must go on for us. So we decided to stroll beyond Mcleod and we never regret that decision

His Sketch while in Mcleod

His Sketch while in Mcleod

  • Dharamkot

A smaller village home to the more hippie culture located few kilometers north of MCleod Ganj. First, we took the long route following the Dharamkot Road sign. Uphill trek for an hour and ended up at the tea house near the Vipassana Center. We loved the forest. I mean, Ville loved it. We even found a spot for our meditation. And discovered¬†the path to the infamous TRIUND TREK! As we decided to go back to Mcleod, we uncovered¬†a shorter way! wohooo! But we had to be careful with the monkeys or them to us! If only I can share the best and worst of Dharamkot…no maybe not at this point.

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

Off to the forest of Dharamkot

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

The sunset view at our spot in the middle of the forest

So near yet so far...Himalayas

So near yet so far…Himalayas

  • Bhagsu

Another cold breezy waters of the Himalayas. The road to this village is on the opposite of Dharamkot. No one can get lost since most of the honking cars were going to this direction. Goodness, if not for the waterfall, won’t even dare to go. The traffic was bad and the noise was so unlimited that we had to go up farther¬†awayl to find our own space. It was also an uphill long walk and a stressful one.¬†But as I took¬†the same path again and again, I have gotten used to the noise and the dust from the tourists. Funny though, most of the people I saw walking or walked with us were either monks or foreigners. Ha, yeah backpackers love walking. We also found our new friend, Indian young artist Sakshi!!! Sorry but I can’t share her story as of the moment. But, our meeting opened a new perspective of their culture.

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On the way to the waterfall

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Dipping in Bhagsu

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#bikiniKindaLife

We met her in Bhagsu Photo by: Sakshi

We met her in Bhagsu
Photo by: Sakshi

Okay the waterfalls scene was a bit awkward for me. I’ve been wearing bikini for a loooong time but this was the first time I felt scared from all those unlikely stares. I forgot, I’m still in India. It didn’t matter though because I just didn’t care at all. I felt safe and belonged. It was like re-living a former life familiar to me. I could walk, eat and shop by myself with a huge smile. Constantly going from one shop to another without buying anything, contented of just looking, admiring. Just like how my heartbeat to my almost Tibet life.

our secret spot in Bhagsu

our secret spot in Bhagsu

Notes:

  • nearest major train station is Amritstar in Punjab
  • there are tourist buses that leaves Delhi and Rishikesh every day costs 700-1200 rupees each
  • Kangra Valley is a nearby tourist attraction
  • take a tuktuk from the train station to the bus stand around 50-70 rupees for the trip
  • Mcleod Ganj can be reached from lower Dharamsala by shared jeep, taxi, tuktuk and local bus.fee depends on your choice and negotiation skills. For share taxi, we paid 200 for the one way trip, shared jeep and local 20 rupees per person.
  • food is cheap even eating in a restaurant. rice + veggies = 100 rupees shared for 2 people
  • overcrowded during Indian holidays and summer season.

watch out for my Dalai Lama experience and Triund Adventure

Holy Waters of Ganga

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#ThePilgrimageWithVK #ChasingWaterFools #MyBikiniKindaLifeInIndia

What is India without one of the world’s largest and most polluted body of water? Okay, enough with polluted. The sacred river to the Hindus. This holy river starts from the Himalayas and crosses to the Indian soil until Bangladesh and associated with relevant Hindu ceremonies. Honestly, before heading to see the Ganga and experience its holiness, I had so much hesitation. I have heard stories of traveler dipping and getting sick. But as soon as we got out from the bus and landed in Varanasi, my energy changed. It went bad. The stingy, noisy and over crowded holy city just took away my sense of ME.

The Devil face excited to experience Ganga

The Devil face excited to experience Ganga

Strolling around Varanasi Photo by:VK

Strolling around Varanasi
Photo by:VK

From the bus/train station, we decided to stay¬†near¬†the Ghats to witness the Pujas. We took a rickshaw and paid about 60 rupees for both of us. The interesting streets of Varanasi teeming with people and things being sold greeted us.And yet again, got scammed by an Indian man who said he owns a hotel and near Vishwanath temple with clean ac rooms, wifi and cheap. I knew he wasn’t telling the truth. But hey, I was not alone.Yes just upon arrival in the “hotel”, it was clear that, he was not connected with the hotel and asked money from us because he “helped” us. Oh my Indiaaaaa! Whatever. The room was so so, AC room with toilet at 750 rupees. Non AC with squat toilet 300 rupees. Took the AC, it was just too much for me…I mean the place.

One of the Ghats in Varanasi

One of the Ghats in Varanasi

Too much exhaustion, I ended up snoozing to dreamland while VK had to get us food in the dark alleys of Varanasi. Yeah, at least I got to be a patient for awhile.

The next day, I gave it a try, a stroll and hopefully a dip in the holy river. Not until I got to experience the hottest event of my life. Forty three degree Celsius even before lunch! It was just crazy! So we ended up hanging out somewhere that served a very special and authentic drink.

This where the late afternoon puja happens

This where the late afternoon puja happens

The Bhang Lassi experience. A yogurt milk drink with weed! Okay no, not for me. VK tried it. Not a fan of weed, I mean, I don’t do weed. Not my thing. So I was there to witness and document it. Plus, I wasn’t ready to take too much Indian bacteria. I was dealing with tummy problem already. It wasn’t that bad according to VK. Things went slow. The Cannabis side effect.

That greenish drink is the legendary bang lassi

That greenish drink is the legendary bang lassi

Ganga and the Hindu Pujas are synonymous. So we wanted to see it across the river. For a fee of 50 rupees each we can paddle to the other side, take dip and then watch a puja. Was I ready? BIG NO. I was dealing with tummy issues and the hotness of the place. So I skipped it, but he went. Or so I thought. He ended up hanging out with a bunch of locals selling weed, which was according to him overpriced and smelled like horse shit. Wow, now that was new!

Missed the Puja, but not totally. The view from our AC hotel room

Missed the Puja, but not totally. The view from our AC hotel room

So nothing happened in Ganga. But I was eager to feel the energy of the Ganga river. Yeah, the safest way to do it, was where all the pollutants do not exist. Up in the mountains. But the Himalayas were yet far from my sight. Rishikesh, another sacred city.

RISHIKESH, INDIA

Located at the foot of the Himalayas. This town is also known as the YOGA center of North India. Two birds in one trip. Or so I thought. Yes, it was my spiritual decision to reach this town based on recos and purpose. If I didn’t make it in Varanasi, maybe I can do the Ganga holy dip here. And I just didn’t do the dip. It was splendor.

Way better to enjoy the spiritual river

Way better to enjoy the spiritual river

We went by train to the pilgrimage town of Haridwar but I didnt really bother to stop by. My goal was the hippie town. From Haridwar train station, the bus stand was just across, maybe a two or three blocks walk. We paid 600rupees each for a train sleeper seat. It was a grueling and grilling 18hour train ride. Believe me, the journey was worth it. We arrived early in the morning and was greeted by a beautiful and cold sunrise. Sorry not in the mood to take pictures. I was just reveling the moment. We were seated in the local bus on the way to Rishikesh with our new friend, the Aussie Timmy. It was literally following the waters of Ganga.

Small town but confusing for someone who was tired and no concrete plan. We were three now. We want to stay in an ashram but there were too many. We didn’t have the energy to go around asking. So we ended up getting a place from where the rickshaw dropped¬†us. Yeah we still had to take the rickshaw from the Rishikesh bus station to the backpackers area. It was because of my idea that maybe, the further we go, the cleaner the water. India to me: Seriously?. We stayed near Laxman Jhula, a popular yoga and backpackers hub. We got a room from the main road for 500rupees per night for three people with toilet. No wifi. Who needs it when there were so much to do.

The Ganga spirit

The Ganga spirit

Food was amazing but not too cheap unless we eat raw. Like eating veggies straight from the market. Or meeting a bunch of hippies who live in the forest for like a lifetime. And I am not describing the Indian Babas. I’m talking about foreigners roaming around and telling stories about how they found meaning in life while visiting India. And yes. decided to stay in India, for good. Couldn’t blame them. I, too was falling. There was something pulling me towards the freezing waters. The fast current didn’t stop me to take a plunge and whispered my little prayer. Was it my imagination? I was totally enjoying the cold water. I was rejuvenated. Enchanted Ganga.

Yeah, India, here comes my bikini!

Yeah, India, here comes my bikini!

Everyday Ganga day! despite the freezing water

Everyday Ganga day! despite the freezing water

So what happened to the yoga certificate? Gone. I was too busy meditating and meeting people while hanging out at the river.SOLO. Yeah me time. A lot of it. My company? Timmy was busy walking to the other side. While VK finally met his guru. Indian Baba. He was busy hanging out with him. I wasn’t into it. I met my meditation teacher in Bohdgaya. Not interested in someone who doesn’t share the same values as mine. But I was happy he found what he was looking. Guess that’s love. Happy for someone else.

View from The German Bakery. overlooking the Ghats and ashrams of the other side

View from The German Bakery. overlooking the Ghats and ashrams of the other side

Solewandering. Walk to the otherside

Solewandering. Walk to the otherside

A little bit of yoga

A little bit of yoga

This could have been my paradise. But something happened. India, you never failed to scare me. I was doing my usual afternoon Ganga immersion when there were others. An local¬†guy and a foreigner woman. Well, we started friendly. Conversation about life, relationships and labels (background). Until out of nowhere one baba came by and joined us talking about marriage. He was telling us, he fell in love with the other woman. And here came this guy, asking me to marry him. Goodness! This wasn’t my first time to be asked but it was scary and weird. We, women walked out. That was it. I needed to move. There was no way I’m hanging out here for long. I made my decision.But I couldn’t find my teammates. I knew somehow he was with his teacher maybe meditating in the cave. So I decided to speak with Timmy, and voila, we were going to the same destination, Dharamshala. To meet the Dalai Lama!

VK's teacher and yes, a French man who has been visiting India since God knows when Photo by:VK

VK’s teacher and yes, a French man who has been visiting India since God knows when
Photo by:VK

Goodness, India, it was not about the destination, nor the journey anymore. Not even the experience. Not just the people but most especially, their stories. The woman from Ukraine who have been living in the jungles of India for the past three years. Relying on friends’ help and the ashrams. Or the unlimited babas who were trying to convince me to go with them. Arggghhh. But the one that touched me was the story of the Russian woman who fell in love with India. She has been staying in India for twenty years and renews her visa every year. The only way to get a residence visa is to marry a local. Well, she has been asked so many times. She told me, her favorite reply was, “don’t bullshit me.” Why? Because most if not all of these men wanted to take her to bed. SEX. According to her, most Indian men see tourist women as porn stars or easy. She was speaking in a subtle and calm. While I was secretly hating that idea. The stares, eagerness to ask for facebook contact and the unwanted conversations. Oh dear India.

It was an honor :-)

It was an honor ūüôā

Notes:

Varanasi

  • train and bus station are just facing each other
  • The Pujas are held every afternoon around 6pm
  • AC double room ranges from 750-900 rupees per night
  • rickshaw from stations to the Ghats cost 50-80 rupees per trip
  • Street food is recommended from 40rupee dal to expensive meals
  • 2-3 days stay should be fine

Rishikesh

  • Haridwar is the nearest railway station
  • bus to Rishikesh leaves every 30mins
  • tuktuk from Rishikesh station to Laxman Chula cost 200 IDR per trip
  • have a prebooked ashram, hostels etc
  • Food 100IDR per decent meal
  • water rafting adventure is¬†available priced at 800rupees per person

A Mosey with Buddha’s Life and Love

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#ThePilgrimageWithVK #FromBirthToDeath #PrinceSiddharta

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”

The first time I came across Buddha was during my pre-school activity visiting a Taoist temple in Bacolod City. The golden statue where some people bow to. For me, it was a religious rite. Never have I imagined that after 21 years, I’d be given a chance to know him. The man who lived, understood and shared a life that encompasses ¬†lifetimes.

Let the Pilgrimage begin!

Let the Pilgrimage begin!

According to the Vipassana Meditation retreat I attended, there are four important places to visit to complete the The Buddhist Pilgrimage. Lumbini, Nepal as his birthplace. Kushinagar,India his deathplace. Sarnath, India where he first taught Dhamma. Bohdgaya,India where he attained nirvana. Yes, most pf these sites are located in India, a perfect place to be in a spiritual adventure!

Lumbini, Nepal

Coming from a week of holidaying in Pokhara (pls see previous post), Lumbini can be reached through either a local or tourist bus ranging from 1000-1200 Nepal rupees. From Kathmandu, ticket ranges from 650-1200 rupees with travel time 8-10 hours. We came from Kathmandu to pick up our passports from the Indian Embassy. The journey was interesting and total test of faith. Half way through the bus ride, we discovered that our laptop was missing! For the first time, we lost something in Nepal. The bus driver was kind enough to close the bus and brought everyone to the police station for the investigation. It turned out that there was another passenger who lost his brand new HP netbook! Everyone tried to look for the missing gadgets and one woman told the policemen that there was someone who went inside the bus while we were having lunch. He was not a passenger of our bus but she didn’t mind. Sh@t happens once in awhile.

Lumbini is a small town so everything can be reached through foot or bicycle. Since the bus dropped us near the entrance of the main site, we just walked a few meters to the backpackers area. It was off season, there were enough rooms that can cater to the different budget of travelers. The temples can also accommodate backpackers with a reasonable fee. We decided to stay in a good hostel for $6 a night for 2-3 persons.

Accommodation: Temples inside the main site costs $4-5 per person with 2 meals. Guesthouses $4-8 double fan room

Food: $1.5 per meal

Bike Rental: $1 whole day

Entry fee to the birth site: $2 for two days.

It was meant to be a couple of days stay but ended up leaving a day before our Nepali visa expired. A meditative stopover before heading to India that became a very interesting encounter with some unlikely personas. The French and Yemeni couples we always met at the same restaurant. The French woman Maya who was very vocal about her dislike with Vipassana that ended us almost sleeping outside our hostels. And the hippie Stefan, who shared a spiritual journey from his out of body experience.

Cycling around Lumbini

Cycling around Lumbini

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The Ashoka  Pillar

The birth site with other pilgrims

The birth site with other pilgrims

Days of cycling, watching the sunset and the unending “I am leaving you,” drama. It was a birthplace of both spiritual and personal meditation that started my experience with love. The wheel of unconditional love, just as how Prince Siddhartha once taught.

sunset in lumbini

sunset in lumbini

post meditation discussion

post meditation discussion

Kushinagar, India

Buddha’s ¬†death place and the nearby site from the Indian-Nepal border. Crossing the border in Sunauli, we took a local three hour bus ride to Gorakphur and paid¬†100 Indian Rupees each. From Gorakphur, we took another bus to Kushinagar and paid 50 rupees (each) for an hour ride. The area was surrounded by different temples and limited hostels. We tried to stay in a cheap hostel but it was fully booked. Thank God! We ended up in Burmese temple with some pilgrims and monks. The temple accepts¬†pilgrims coming from different areas of the world. They didn’t¬†impose fee but it is highly recommended to give dana (donation) for the maintenance of the temple. It was actually just beside the “holy cremation site” of Siddhartha’s body. The room they provided was basic. We had our own bathroom. With so much kindness, they also provided us with food along with the pilgrims from Myanmar. This was our first exposure to India. And it was okay for a couple of nights and days of trying to understand and misunderstanding each other.Yeah, somehow I had a thought of leaving again. Haiiiiii, it was not my fear of India that stopped me. Not even conscience. It was something else that I couldn’t fathom.

The only picture I had in this place

The only picture I had in this holy place

Sarnath, India

Kushinagar, India

VK

VK in Kushinagar

Here I met some Thai pilgrims and a Vietnamese monk who were also completing the pilgrimage. They stayed in the Thai temple. We meditated for a few minutes and shared our experience. I have learned that the Thai woman is connected to the Suan Mokkh Meditation Retreat Center who knew the Abbot of my first meditation experience in Koh Samui. Small world.She was with two monks (one Thai and one Vietnamese) and a girl friend. We had so much fun talking that I ended up forgetting I was with someone. Who actually befriended a bus driver that agreed to take us to Bohdgaya for free the following day as long as we can manage to wake up early. Too bad, we woke up few minutes before he left us. So we were meant to take a plunge to the real India!

Sarnath (Varanasi), India

Okay, if this was not part of the pilgrimage, I would skip this place. Oh myyyyy gosh. This is the REAL INDIA. Anyhow, somehow I have managed to survive the 8 hour ass flying bus ride from Kushinagar to Gorakhpur to Varanasi loosing only my patience and comforter (blanket). So here came incredible India outsmarting us. We asked a bus personnel if there was a train to Varanasi from Gorakphur. And HE SAID NO TRAIN TODAY! So we believed him and went to the bus station to take a ride to our destination. Only to find out from some fellow passengers that there were 2 trains to Varanasi. Cheaper and shorter, just around 150 rupees for 6hour ride as compared to the 180 rupee trip we took. From the central bus and train station, we took another local bus that brought us 2km away from Sarnath. Then a tuktuk to the site.

sarnath india Photo by theberntraveler

sarnath india
Photo by theberntraveler

At this point we knew that we can stay in one of the temples near the holy ground. There were alot to choose from. We first went to the Burmese temple but it was closed. Then Mahabodhi ¬†Society temple with minimum charge of 300 rupee for a basic but not so clean room. And then finally, the Tibetan temple! wohooooo! Clean, spacious room and we were surrounded with monks for 300 rupees per night. Plus a nearby meditation hall. We settled in and walked around. There I knew about the Dalai Lama’s schedule. Whew! And a surprise from mother nature, a tremble from underneath the core of the earth. I thought I was just hungry, but no, it was too strong that I froze in my bed blankly waiting for mercy. As I looked outside, the monks with calm smiles on their faces assured me, it was going to be okay. We felt the same earthquake that hit Nepal.

Keep Calm

Keep Calm

Just like the rest of India, despite being a holy Buddhist site where Buddha first taught Dhamma after attaining enlightenment, the place was surrounded by poverty. Beggars everywhere. Children asking for money or food. Parents bringing babies to beg. It was such a pain to watch. At some point, I didn’t like to walk around anymore. Not until I met, a fellow Filipino! Wohoooo! We were at one of those temples when I saw someone whom I can tell was ASEAN by ethnicity. I told VK (who was talking to an old man) that I think I found another ASEAN and I was guessing either Indonesian or Malaysian. But the moment we spoke to each other, I knew he was a Filipino. A researcher by profession, B became my tour guide and my temporary company. Yeah another argument came up about hiring that old man as a tour guide. ¬†Thank you universe for sending me B! An afternoon of well deserved break from VK that started a friendship beyond India. We decided to hangout until he left to see the ceremony in the Ganga River. It was my first time to speak my thoughts about our trip in India. About how we manage things. Being a team.

Team Sarnath Photo by: TheBernTraveler

Team Sarnath
Photo by: TheBernTraveler

Bohdgaya, India

Prince Siddhartha attained nirvana while meditating under the Bodhi tree with the moon as his witness. I was hoping for the same. And hope was all I did.

Just behind the Mahabodhi Temple (we dont have pictures of the main temple because of the 100rupee fee we want to save,lol) Photo by:VK

Just behind the Mahabodhi Temple (we dont have pictures of the main temple because of the 100rupee fee we want to save,lol)
Photo by:VK

Coming from Varanasi, we took a train to Gaya station for about 90 rupees with no sure seats for a four hour journey. I thought it wasn’t too bad. First train ride. The sight of crowded and filthy train station lured my imagination. Well, it was not far from reality. Only that, there was someone who helped us buy our ticket and find our train. Even gave us sleeper seats that we can use for our entire ride. I had my first stranger touch experience. I almost erupted with disgust and rage, but I calmed down fearing that I would be thrown out of the train if I said or reacted to what transpired. I came by but with caution and the thought of KARMA.

the Indian neighborhood

the Indian neighborhood

Upon arrival in Gaya station, the touts were just argggghhhh craziest. Every person just informed us that there was no bus or shared tuktuk going to Bohdgaya. I knew this was another scam that we need to pass through. And we failed. Too much discussion of being a team. Ended up paying 180 rupees for 25km journey. And another scam came right after we got out of the tuktuk. We were suppose to pay entry fee of the tuktuk which would make our total bill of 200 rupees. Atleast this time, he said NO. And yet another scam. Two guys approached us telling us that Thai temples can’t accommodate us because we are not Thais. No way. So we got inside the first Thai temple we saw located at the back of Mahabodhi Temple beside the Bangladesh temple. The people were accommodating but unfortunately, the temple was fully booked because of the influx of Thai pilgrims coming for the Full moon celebration. So we were planning to check out other temples like the Bangladesh, Tibetan, Japanese, Bhutanese and Burmese but somehow those two Indian guys convinced him to check out their “cheap hostel with wifi.” I was not in the mood to do so. I was protesting. I knew it was a scam. Gosh India, please stop. In the middle of our walk, I stopped. And they stopped. He yelled at me, “let’s just see this.” And I said, I’m leaving you. Our next exchanges ended up with me loosing. Which also meant us staying in the guesthouse for 400 rupee fan room with toilet and no decent wifi. For a week. Days followed with my protest. I even packed my bag and planned to run away. There were some days that I spent by myself. Or him going somewhere alone. Until another scam came in. Argh! With the same guys. They offered us a tour, they said it was free. Until yeah the real deal came in. Overpriced weed and Buddha tour which included three sites visited by Buddha during His wandering in Gaya. It was too much already, I had to say NO. But again he insisted and offered to pay 70% because they were his friends. And I was not part of the team. BS.

The Gaya Desert, on the way to one of the caves where Buddha meditated

The 1000rupee tour package: The Gaya Desert, on the way to one of the caves where Buddha meditated

The Banyan Tree

The 1000rupee tour package: The Banyan Tree

The 1000rupee tour package: One of the oldest tree in Bohdgaya

The 1000rupee tour package: One of the oldest tree in Bohdgaya

The only good thing that happened was the main temple made up for all the shitty scams. There was a sense of belonging. Security. A voice telling me that everything was going to be okay. It was such a relief. Maybe it was still worth another chance. To be there. Accept things as they were, objectively.

After a week of silent protest, finally, we have decided to move to a temple. And yes things were starting to fall just right.We met people who helped us in our journey to understanding our experience in meditation. A deeper grasp of how it can free us from suffering. It was at this time I had my chance to walk around the temple by myself. Saw places alone. Meditated alone. And this was made possible by the Thai temple Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya (for a small dana, the room came with a free breakfast rite with the monks and volunteers). How I missed my own company.

Celebrating Buddha day!

Celebrating Buddha day!

Yes, the pilgrimage was almost complete. We also celebrated and meditated during the Buddha day. We had the chance to share the experience with our new found friends and my teacher. We were ready to move to our next destination when something happened. He wanted to stay longer. And I don’t. I won’t. He was telling me he liked the place and blah blah so I said, okay. My next destination was the holy town of Rishikesh. Maybe it was time for us to part. It was not going to work. He found his place, I was still completing my adventure. He was not interested in getting train tickets and I was so eager to move. Even had the guts to tell me to get it on my own since it was my plan. It was Indian holiday and train tickets were sold out. But I needed to get one. I made a plan. I’ll get him one ticket ¬†with a different travel date and escape. I was so ready to do it. I was telling the travel agent about this. But I was just too weak to do this scam. I just can’t. The fear was eating me and told the agent book me two slots to Rishikesh.

With my teachers and VK at the Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya Temple

With my teachers and VK at the Wat Pa Bhuddha Gaya Temple

These four equally important places in Buddha’s life, showed me how I deal with my own existence. Running away. I was always trying to avoid complications, arguments and issues. Either I leave or allowed people to leave me. And I didn’t even care. EGO. Buddha and the universe was teaching me to face my very existence and the root of my suffering. MYSELF.MY EGO.And somehow, in all its weirdness, I woke up embracing the idea, that I could not run away from Love anymore.

At the temple's cafe hanging out. discussing our personal experiences with meditation

At the temple’s cafe hanging out. discussing our personal experiences with meditation

Note: I am no Buddhist nor an expert in Buddhism. This is based on my experience and personal understanding. Please do not use this as reference.