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Around the World in 210 Days

Far from Om

NEPAL | Monday, 11 February 2008 | Views [1292] | Comments [2]

So we have busted out of the ashram, and er...well India too, but that is for a later blog. 

Before travelling to Rishikesh, we spent about 24 hours in Delhi.  We had to pick up our tickets for travelling to Kathmandu in person at the office in Delhi, and we had to sample the McDonalds we saw nearby.  By sample, we mean we had lunch and dinner there, and Andrew was forced to order at least one of everything on the 20 Rupee menu at least once.  In fact after a two course meal: we had a Maharaja Mac, and a Veggie Pizza McPuff, and a strawberry shake, and a large fry, and two veggie burgers, and three chicken sandwiches (This is not an exaggeration), we decided we should go to an internet cafe.  On the way back from the internet cafe, Andrews foot was run over by an over eager driver, well not really his whole foot, but the part that spills over his shoe, and if you know Andrew, you know it wasn't really the drivers fault, he has duck's feet. Anyway, after that experience, and a rather dodgy cup of tea at a hole in the wall (really...a hole in the wall), we decided we needed some more McDonald's to calm us down. We had booked a luxury bus earlier in the day and we had the day free from 2 until 8 at which point we were supposed to catch the bus.  We decided to hang out at the McDonald's and play cards for a few hours (intermingled with additional orders of fries or shakes, or whatever).  Imagine our chagrin when only an hour and a half into the card playing, and after only two sets of food orderings, the brilliantly mustachioed doorman / securitied guard told us that we would have to leave.  We were able to keep playing after another order of Veggie Pizza McPuff and a large drink.  Anyhow we ambled down the road to the place we were to pick up the luxury bus, (we ambled, b/c after eating that much food we couldn't have walked faster if we tried), we were appalled to hear that all the buses to Rishikesh had been cancelled and now at 8:00 we would have to go find a hotel and take a train the next day.  We lifted our heavy bags, and went outside to catch a Rickshaw.  A grumpy pair we were.  The next day we took the Deredun Express and sat in the Chair Car...it was awesome!!!  We were given tea twice, a meal, and biscuits, and water and newspapers AND there were plugs in the walls, so we were able to turn on the laptop!


Anyhow, we arrived in the town of Haridwar, a holy town.  The town we needed to go to was 30 km away, so we fought our way through the general littany of taxi and rickshaw drivers until we found the local bus.  We happily jumped on it (after being directed towards the right one by the enquiry booth) and paid our 18 Rupee fee and rode to the town of Rishikesh.  That afternoon after being happily ensconsed in a hotel with a hot shower we reviewed several ashrams in the area and decided that we would stay in the ashram Yoga Niketan.  It was a tough choice.  The rules to the ashram were posted on the guard shack at the top of a very steep hill that we walked.  They included:

The inmates must be in the ashram no later than 10 o'clock, when the gates will be locked.

The inmates must not use intoxicants, including tobacco or alcohol, or the consumption of garlic or onion. 

The inmates must attend all meditation sessions (the first of which was at 5:30 am.)

No electronics may be used at the ashram.


Anyhow, we met with the manager and were told to come the next day at 8:00 in the morning, which was a Sunday.  We went back to our cozy hotel and wondered whether we were crazy to join the ashram and give up our freedom, our good food, and our electrical appliances.  The schedule to ashram was:

5:00          Morning Bell

5:30 - 6:30 Morning Meditation

7:00 - 8:00 Yoga

8:15 Breakfast

9:00 - 11:00 Library (where one was to concentrate on books about meditation, yoga)

12:00 Lunch

2:30 - 4:00 Library

3:15 - 4:00 Lecture

4:00  Tea Time

4:30 - 5:30  Yoga

6:00 - 7:00 Meditation

8:15 Dinner


The next morning, we decided to risk it. What was 10 days? Rishikesh is also a holy town and the Ganges River runs through it.  On one side of the Ganges, rickshaws and cabs are generally not allowed.  The area where we were was next to a large suspension bridge that the rickshaws were not allowed to cross.  The motorbikes and cows were though unfortunately which made for a noisy unpleasant crossing at times.  People feed fish in the Ganges from the suspension bridge, (they are huge fish), they also wash from the water, collect the water in jugs, and Brahman people perform puja, which is a ceremony where they wrap thread around your write, while blowing in a conch shell, throwing flowers into the water, and muttering a littany of words which you repeat.  We think this is supposed to bring you spiritual cleansing.  Unfortunately, the only time we were engaged, the fellow asked about ten times and Andrew continually said no.  Finally Alex broke down and said ok.  After the Puja was performed and the fellow asked for a tip (usually 100 Rupees he said), Andrew was slightly less than sad to tell him that we only had 10 Rupees.  When he said that wasn't enough, Andrew just shrugged and said that's why we said no thanks.  Alex wondered whether her discount blessing was going to be taken away. 

Back to the ashram...with our blessing secure and our 17 kilogram packs on our backs, we trudged up the 100 or so stairs to the ashram.  We had forgotten to take our malaria pills the night before so we took them that morning on an empty stomach.  These two things combined to make us feel queasy by the time we sat down to breakfast with our fellow ashram-inmates.  The breakfast of chickpeas didn't improve the situation.  After breakfast, we decided to skip the library and head into town as we needed an atm and the internet (spiritual inmates need money to pay the ashram after all). For lunch, we had a dal vegetable, salty lentil soup (which was missing the lentils), four chapati (a flat bread), and rice (two cups or more), and some kind of chopped salad.  We were given a metal plate (with four compartments), a metal cup, and a metal bowl.  The ashram workers would come by with a bucket of food and ask whether you wanted it, and later if you wanted it refilled.  After everyone was served, but before anyone ate, we all chanted a mantra which was showing our thanks for the food, and the teachings.  After each meal, we lined up outside of four sinks and washed our prison-style dishes.  Breakfast soon became our favorite meal.  The food alternated, but the lunch and dinner was essentially the same.  Every three mornings or so though, we had oatmeal for breakfast, which we consumed as quickly as possible to get more of a refill (same with the chai which was served every morning). 

Sunday turned out to be a good day to start at the ashram ,b/c there were no classes.  Instead we got acquainted with the food and moved into our sparse but nice accommodations.  The next morning we woke up and stumbled to meditation.  Meditation was held in a dark room.  There were stacks of pillows in the corner.  As soon as meditation starts and after chanting three Oms, everyone is completely still for the duration of the class.  (Not an ideal start for a beginner).   An hour later we stumbled out into the cold morning, Alex's legs had gone to sleep about 13 minutes in and she thought about them for the next 47 minutes.  Andrew, who had read about concentrating on a candle in the meditation booklet we were given when we checked in, had attempted to imagine a candle, when the candle became a pink striped birthday candle on top of a confetti colored cupcake.  He decided that was cheating to decorate your candle and quickly removed the stripes.  His meditation did not get better.  We grumpily went back to our rooms and jumped under the covers for the next twenty minutes before we raced to the yoga class.  The yoga classes were led alternately by two yoga instructors.  One should have been in the military...he was was a bully.  For ease of refernce we will call him Barky.  The other was a very sweet soul, we will call him...Yogi (after the nice bear).  Well Barky started us off with trying to bend backwards until we were at a right angle standing up.  After he demonstrated, he would walk around the class, looking disgusted with the people who were bent at obtuse angles.  He would waive his hands in unhelpful fashions and huffily say things like: Bend!  or Try!  He would also try to push people into positions their bodies rejected and grunt in annoyance when they fell over.  We had the unfortunate position of being in the front of the class, so we were the object of much derision.  Yogi on the other hand was a breath of fresh air.  He was always very calm and smiling.  His English was delightfully developed.  Rather than saying Raise both of your arms, he would say Lift up your both arms, and he often confused toes and fingers, which led to very complicated pictures in your mind.  He would end the practice with the usual three Oms (a divine sound), and three Shantis (peace).  He would follow that with the following mantra:  Peace, Peace, Peace.  Everywhere, everytime, every place, peace.  Peace for you. Peace for the world, Peace for Everyone.  (there was something else here, but we can't remember it).  Then we would rub our palms briskly place them over our eyes, bow and practice would be over.  Before he left the room, he would thank everyone and say..."Keep Smiling, Keep Shining. (While smiling and tilting his head sideways).  The first week we were in the ashram, he was the afternoon teacher and Barky was the morning teacher.  The second week they switched, which made waking up early much easier. 

Monday we went to the 3:15 lecture which was led by a Swami who looked to be about 85.  He moved very slowly and couldn't seem to hear.  The lecture was to be a time where you asked questions, and the lecturer would help you learn how to meditate better.  Andrew thought this was awesome, when it was his turn to ask a question (there were only five of us in there which should have been a warning) he burst out with every question he had come up with in his first hour of meditation.  In response, the Swami began to explain the meaning of the universe.  When he checked the time and discovered he had ten minutes left, he decided it was time to teach us how to achieve perfection...he managed to do this in five minutes.  By the end, we regretted not spending our time in the library and were no closer to expandng our minds than before.  It did provide for an entertaining tea break though.  There we met Marie, Luisa, and Alex.  They turned out to be a breath of fresh air and gave us lots of good tips on how to meditate.  We attended the afternoon meditation session which went pretty well.  By Tuesday afternoon though, Andrew was begining to think that achieving Nirvana was not worth attending two hours of meditation a day, Alex agreed.  We decided to stage a meditation in our room, we opted for a thirty minute session as opposed to an hour.    It worked better for us, but by Wednesday we had abandoned all hope (well not really, we decided to hold off for a while though.)  Anyhow the girls were really great.  Luisa is a yoga teacher from London. Her fiance is studying languages in the mountains and she is hanging out in India for the next six months.  She is an easy laugh and always game to get tea or a meal.  Marie is a Swede and a fount of information about everything from Vipassana to Ayurveda.  She was the quietest of the group, but the most free spirited.  She also fed the cat her tea cookies (yes, we were jealous).  (There were monkeys all around the ashram, they would often grab trashcans out of your hand and when there are that many monkeys, you essentially just give it to them.)  Alex is also a Swede.  She lived and worked in Delhi for six months and was spending a little over six weeks at the ashram.  She is one of those people that you meet and you can tell that they have something in them that makes them more empathetic and insightful than the average person.  (She was also a great card and dice player).  The five of us had many a meal and laugh wherein we discussed the downsides of the ashram, particularly Barky and the upsides of card games, ayurveda, and any other topic that peaked our interest.


One of the things we laughed about was the frustration of chanting Om in the yoga classes. There was one woman who was tone deaf and her OM sounds like a dying cat.  The worst one was the long Om-er.  This guy seemed to store enough air for two Oms and would continue droaning long after everyone else stopped.  It got so bad that the instructor began interrupting the Om with instructions to take another breath in preparation for the next OM.  All of us theorized on the idetnity of the Om'er but it was never entirely clear. Our time in the ashram passed all too quickly, and we discovered that the rules were far more flexible than they appeared (we even dared enough to turn on our ipod inside our bedroom!).

As our time of incarceration came to an end, we decided that we needed to buy a ticket to get to Delhi.  We went online and bought it.  We were scheduled to go to Delhi on the 8th at 6pm.  After ten days at the ashram, we turned in our dishes and checked out.  We went back to our hotel, the Raj Palace and settled in for some relaxation.  The entire time we were in Rishikesh, we frequented a restaurant called Topiwala cafe.  They had cheap good food.  Alex quit eating at the ashram after about day three, the monotony of having the same food made her skip lunch and dinner, but thankfully she had an entire jar of peanut butter left, and the cookies in India turned out to be almost as good as the cookies in Turkey, and only 5 Rupees to boot.  After we moved to the Raj Palace, we started taking classes there with a lovely instructor who told us one time in response to our compliments of his class, that it is people that have good on the inside that find good on the outside.  (We shudder to think what we have on our inside after our continual mocking of Barky).  During the evenings we played card games with Lu and Alex.  Alex taught us an awesome game called Signs.  It involves the J, Q, K, A, and one Joker.  It is really cool, like spoons with secret hand signals and codes. 

The day before we were to leave Rishikesh, we scheduled some Ayurvedic massages.  An hour long massage was only about $7.50.  Andrew has never had a massage, and Alex has had plenty but has never liked them...these were no different.  There's just something odd about being rubbed by a stranger.  Particularly when you have very few clothes on, and you are in a curtained off room and there is an electric heater sitting nearby and there is a jar of oil and a matress and you....it's just weird.  So feeling a little off balanced, and overly oily, we made our way back to the hotel for our last yoga class in Rishikesh. Doing the handstand was a little unnerving as we were still covered in oil, but somehow we managed.  We said our last Hari Om, and went downstairs to  have dinner with the girls who had come over to wish us good luck. 

The next morning, in her ritualized check of tickets, an hour before we were to check out of our hotel, Alex discovered that to her chagrin the train tickets we had bought were for 6:00 am, and not the 6:00 pm we had anticipated. In fact, about the time we discovered this error, our train was pulling into the station in Delhi.  It was a silly mistake that fortunately wasn't too expensive sense we were in India.  It only cost us twenty USD to get new tickets.  We weren't happy about it though.  Nevertheless it gave us one last day in Rishikesh to enjoy the cows, the rickshaws, the Topiwala cafe, etc...etc...  So now we are in Kathmandu.  We spend the night Friday in Haridwar at a hotel that had TV with HBO, we were quite delighted to see that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was showing.  We spent yesterday in Delhi at a coffee shop recommended by Lu and Alex, a park, and of course....Mc Donalds.  We even splurged and got a hotel room with TV.  We watched Hitch, played a few card games and ate some Chinese room service.  One of the utensils that came with our food was a plastic fork from Delta airlines, that we are almost positive was one we left there some two weeks ago. 

So now you are probably wondering what we have learned while in India.  Far too much too put in this post, but we promise to update you  as soon as we can. That may be a while, though, as tomorrow at 5 am, we are embarking on our 22 day trek to the Mt. Everest Base Camp. Should we find an internet cafe along the way, or if nothing else survive the 22 days, we will definitely have some blogs up. In a way we are sorry about going on another blogging hiatus, but then we think about all the times we have been nagged to post something, and we just smile as we lace up our hiking boots.

 Until next time, keep smiling, keep shining.


Tags: Relaxation




This sounds like some goofy Monty Python learns to meditate skit.

Reading of you guys traveling with all your cracker jack attention to detail regarding times and tickets etc. I feel better about my own awareness and intellectual skills so I guess your yoga worked for me.
I think I understand Barky's frustrations.

You two are SOOOOOOOO going to fit in with the people in Austin now.
Anyway, get done with all this and get OM as soon as possible.

Peace peace peace

  Richard Feb 12, 2008 3:12 AM


it is so nice to know that some things never change. shannon misread her ticket from italy to london and missed her plane and had to rebook. poor annie was waiting in london for her. at least this time all that was waiting is a big hill. so i guess we will not hear from you two for quite a while huh? so i guess you won't know if the parents get together to fulfill the demands of your email or not. so i guess it will come down to if we are there to pick you up or not, but i guess it really depends on it you get to the airport on time or not. oh well at least we have instructions for food and drink although you did leave out to pick up the diet pepsi. here is wishing you well and hope like heck you do not obtain the no air sickness. do hope you are taking the pills to prevent it but if not you will not remember after a while anyway. do hope you took my advice and got the tatoos with your names and phone numbers. have to tell you andrew i met your dads twin at a mcdonalds, so am wondering if you got switched in the hospital? will show you pictures when you get back. richard i will tell you some how i am going to get the two of you together, his wife is a teller at wells fargo bank. you and sandy will freak. have you had dreams of a twin stolen at birth? and do you ever envision yourself as a muscian? so totally strange. hope you two are safe and warm. love you so much and am so happy you are coming back kinda soon. love mom

  mardi Feb 20, 2008 4:53 PM

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