A few days ago I got back from 3 weeks in beloved India, one of my favorite places in the entire world (I wrote a bunch of blogs before, and also posted over there. Will get back to blog comments again though!).
It was one of the my greatest journeys of all time, in many ways. Firstly, I got to pilgrimmage to many of the sacred places of my guru, Paramahansa Yogananda and the lineage of Kriya yoga parem-gurus, mentioned in Autobiography of a Yogi and other sacred writings. Taking this trip and getting to see these places has been a long dream of mine, and I have not been able to make it back to India in over 8 years. The sacred temples, meditation spots, caves and ashram grounds, where I spent the majority of the journey and was the primary purpose of the journey, can not be pictured here, but I wanted to share some of the pictures of daily life in India, and you’ll see some amazing places (where it’s okay to take pictures), like the Mahabodhi Temple, where Buddha reached Enlightenment. Secondly… my boyfriend and I also got engaged along the way! He carried the ring in his jacket for over 2 weeks before the moment. So it is a trip to remember.
Well let’s start the journey! I’ll let the pictures mostly speak for themselves, with some brief explanations.
First destination: Kolkata (Calcutta). This is not a city for the faint of heart. Pretty shocking, as you’ll see some of the most extreme things you may ever see in your life. We stayed at an ashram in the Dakshineswar district. You could get around to nearby things with bicycle rickshaw, or simply walking down the dirt roads.
Life in Kolkata. On the streets millions of people intersect in the most hectic mish-mosh of cows, autorickshaws, walkers, cars, bicycle rickshaws, stray dogs and goats (sans traffic lights), but somehow it all works. I see the beauty there.(Permission to show) Temple of the Levitating Saint Nagendra Nath Bhaduri.
Childhood house of Guruji, Paramanhansa Yogananda.
You always have to take your shoes off before entering temples, and leave them for long periods (sometimes in the “right” spots, or sometimes just in piles near the entrances!). It’s always a leap of faith they’ll be there when you get back…but they always are.
I think I ate 108,000 bananas on the trip. Oh, and oranges also! (More on the wonderful Indian food I ate, below)
Ahh! Getting a breather near the river, away from the craziness of Kolkata (since we were visiting all the sacred places throughout Kolkata and Serempore, we couldn’t just meditate in the ashram all day, as tempting as that was sometimes).
Next stop: Bodhgaya. This is the most important pilgrimmage place in the world for all Buddhists, as it is here that Buddha reached Enlightenment. You’ll find this imposing 80-foot Buddha…
And all around the Bodhi tree is a big temple and stupas across the grounds, where pilgrims stay all day and meditate and perform their pujas.
Here it is! The sacred banyan tree beneath which, a few thousand years ago, Prince Siddhartha renounced his princely throne and all material goods to sit and meditate…for 7 years. At the end, he was Enlightened and became Buddha.
This whole experience is too intense to adequately explain. I was prepared for beautiful temples and carvings and statues, but I was not prepared for the human element: the thousands of pilgrims circling the tree, the Buddhist chants filling the air, the incense, the extreme peaceful vibrations. It was so incredibly beautiful and powerful.
From sunup to sundown (the temple is open 4 am -9 pm) Buddhists come and perform their pujas, where they slide out in prostration over wooden boards in prayer, then slide back up, over and over again. There were monks and Buddhists from Thailand, Laos, Tibet and the now Tibetan-inhabited regions of northern India (where I visited last time), and all around the world.
Through the gates of the barrier, we took this picture. That is the actual “Diamond Throne” as it is referred to now, where the Buddha reached Enlightenment, and the principles of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path were laid out.
Here is the front view of the temple. The sacred tree is the left of that big, main stupa.
This is a local guide we hired to take us around the temple and tell us about the history. The temple grounds are huge, and it took half a day to do so. But as we were settled beneath the holy tree meditating, a few of these leaves – from the tree that Buddha reached Enlightenment under!!- fell down near us. What amazing momentos. We are framing them of course!
After going to the most sacred Buddhist city in the world, we went to one of the most sacred Hindu cities: Varanasi, along the holy river Ganges.
Here’s where you’ll see all kinds of extreme things in the wonderful chaos, including cows going anywhere they like, including in the middle of busy roads!
The old city, where we stayed, is a mysterious maze of alleys. No cars, no autorickshaws, just people…and more cows of course!
Life along the holy river, lined with ghats (steps leading down to the river). We walked along the river morning and evening, and there are infinite interesting things going on to look at!
The river is holy to Hindus. Bathing in, performing pujas (prayers/ceremonies) are part of daily life. Dying in Varanasi and getting cremated there is considered very auspicious. Last time I was in Varanasi it was summer, so you saw many more people going in the river. Still, there were many…the hard-core people!
Another of the four holy Buddhist sites is located an hour outside Varanasi, called Sarnath. It is where Buddha delivered his first sermon, and hence the whole religion of Buddhism sprung. Below is a solid stupa erected in the place where his first sermon took place.
Cow crossing- in front of a saint’s house. House of Lahiri Mahayasa.
Taking a boat ride on the river around 6 is amazing…to light the flower lamps for blessings to put into the river, and watch the sunrise.
Outdoor temples every few steps. Getting a chance to sniff some fresh turmeric.
It’s important to realize that in Hinduism, there is a belief in one God, but aspects of God are represented in different forms. I don’t consider myself any one religion, but I am deeply spiritual and have my Kriya yoga practices. I respect all true religions, and bow down to the one God that I believe is present behind all forms of spirituality and religion. Kriya yoga has nothing to do with asanas (poses), but is all pranayama (breathing exercises) and meditation-based. I didn’t practice any asanas while I was in India. I just meditated.
Here’s the sweet little guy I would get my flower lamps from every day. He sold them early in the morning and evening, when he wasn’t in school. His English improves by the day!
I didn’t realize how many wild monkeys there were in India. Not just in the cities, but all throughout the Himalayas, when we journeyed up there later in the trip. Hoards of them running through fields and jumping from tree to tree! This is outside our hotel window.
Every night in Varanasi, for the 5 nights we were there, we attended the Shiva Puja, on the main Mandir Ghat, near our hotel. It is like the leadup to the most exciting Broadway show you’ve ever been to. Hundreds of locals gather, coming in by foot or boat. The ceremony itself consists of smoke and fire, singing and bells. It lasts over an hour…and at the end you felt every cell in your body recharged.
One special night, we got called to sit up right at the very front. And I got asked to help with the flower ceremony! It was a great honor.
It was on a moonlit night, walking near the river after the ceremony the last night in Varanasi, that we got engaged. :)
After Varanasi we headed into the Himalayas. It was a long journey to get to the ashram up there. It involved long train and car rides. But we made it…and we completed seeing what was going to be the most difficult place to get to: Babaji’s cave. It was the one place I was not sure we could make it to, as this time of year there is snow sometimes and it gets really dangerous. But we were able to complete the trek there.
Sunset in the Himalayas.
Delhi…after the mountains. We went sightseeing the Red Fort, Hamayun’s Tomb, etc.
You may be wondering what I ate the whole time. Well let me tell you, I feasted! I did not have GGS or salads of course, which were completely unavailable. I stuck to proper Beauty Food Pairing rules and strictly avoided any type of dairy, including ghee (butter). I also ate really low fat, asking them not to make things with a lot of oil, or simply avoiding ashram food dishes that looked oily, or that I suspected had some kind of dairy.
I ate piles of rice and daal, potatoes, and some other vegetables, and even some exotic fruits! I did eat gluten as well- naan bread- though I’m not sure if their wheat is as hybridized as the US’s. I took lots of digestive enzymes…and felt amazing!! Both my fiance and I lost weight and felt completely energized the whole time. As I always say, you can’t be too rigid and you have to appreciate and feel grateful for any food you eat.
I also felt much better and had greater energy on low-fat cooked food then high-fat food, even if it 100% raw, like eating a nut meat burger with flaxseed bread! Or too much coconut and avocado in one day. Too much fat is so heavy and dense, and congestive. So it’s not about cooked vs. raw. Balance is the key to all.
We slept in a mosquito net sometimes, because even though it was cold around Delhi, there were lots of mosquitos! I chose not to take malaria pills (after being on them in Africa, I vowed to never take them again unless I was in an extremely high risk area).
Ashram life is not comfortable per se. There is hot water only one hour of the day (5-6 am), it is absolutely freezing this time of year as there is no heat, and the beds are basically wooden planks with a thin pad over them. At the ashram in the Himalayas, there was no shower, but only a bucket and a waist-high faucet you could wash yourself with- with freezing cold water that is. The flip side is getting to live amongst the monks and entrenched in the spiritual environment. I would not trade our ashram stays for any 5-star hotel.
On the way home, we stopped in Dubai for 2 days, to see it.
That shiny building behind me is the tallest building in the world.
Tallest building, biggest mall (most air conditioning consumption too!)…it was interesting to see once. It was a very sharp contrast to what I had seen in India.
First time touching the Arabian/Persian Gulf!
Hope you have enjoyed the journey!!
I feel very inspired and renewed by the trip to the Motherland.
Shanti, peace, blessings and love to all.