Monthly Archives: June 2012

Namaskar India


Hurray! ……. flight to Delhi in an hour, completing the last leg of a two month journey …. family Sunday!!! …… still, a part of me will yearn for India, always ….. a country that fascinates and intrigues … steeped in thousands of years of spiritual history, with so many layers, tiers …. just when I think I am saturated with all things Indian, the memory of the energy created every single night at Parmarth during the evening prayers at Ganga Aarti surfaces and I know in my heart that I will return.

A next visit will surely include a volunteer posting of some sort, having discovered the innumerable charitable opportunities here. I have been slowly meandering through the information in Swamiji Chidanand Sarawasti’s book, “Drops of Nectar” …. it covers a host of possibilities for ‘seva’ .. selfless service/volunteering, from the lofty goal of spreading peace and harmony globally, to drafting up a ‘clean action plan’ for the Ganga River, to building and helping out at schools and homes for orphaned children …. The Swami is involved and invested in making life better for millions of people. The more I read, the more I understand why he is held to such high esteem at the ashram …. he is very loved …. another good person, doing good in the world.

While many of my contemporaries are very content to navigate to the desert communities in Arizona, California, Texas to escape our brutal Canadian winters, to live out their senior lives playing golf, tennis, bridge …… I continue to research other options …. probably because I am a lousy golfer and even worse at cards πŸ™‚ In all fairness to life in warmer climates, I have zero complaints about a month or two in La Quinta, especially with family and friends around …. but a serious case of wanderlust just refuses to fade into the sunset …… while others tire of travel with all it’s baggage, I look forward to the next adventure …. perhaps I am infected with a virus, ‘world studies’ or some variety of ‘travel ADD’ !! …. probably incurable πŸ™‚

Yesterday, the yoga instructor at Ananda, spoke a bit before class about Indian and Hindu philosophy in particular …. for a Hindu, there are basically four stages to life ….. only a handful of devout spiritual sorts, mostly the monks, sadhus, swamis etc., are able to fast forward from the first to the last stage …. each is broken very roughly into 25 year segments …

1. Brahmacharya ashrama ….. referred to as the celibate student stage of life

2. Grihastha ashrama ….. marriage, children, establishment of independent lives from that of their parents, acquiring a material life to sustain family, the only stage where acquiring material possessions, indulging in sexual pleasures etc. is encouraged

3. Vanaprastha ashrama ….. moving along to the hermit stage, slowly detaching from one’s children, allowing them the freedom from parental influence and freeing the older generation to explore their own spiritual lives, with no boundaries, a time to employ inclusive love, not exclusive attachment, a time to renounce most physical, material and sexual needs (hmmmm, a bit hard for a Western sort to swallow)

4. Sannyasa ashrama…. a time of total detachment from earthly goods, a wandering recluse, virtually merged with God …. this would accurately describe the 104 year old sadhu we met at the Parmarth! A rather spaced out character indeed!

Detachment is a big deal in Hinduism apparently. Ananda has a philosopher on staff who hosts an open discussion group nightly on the ancient philosophy of Vedanta … enjoyed the opportunities to learn about spiritual issues from a philosophical perspective …… as if the Ayurvedic treatments weren’t enough to entice a return to Ananda, the opportunity to participate in these discussions surely would …… hosted by Roan, an Irish student and devotee of A. Parthasarathy, author of the Vedanta Treatise. Roan is a former lawyer who came to India eight years ago and never left … visits his mum and brothers in Ireland occasionally …. another drop out from ‘normal’ life …… something in the air in India πŸ™‚ …. Certainly an interesting country for spiritual and religious study.

Posting a couple of my favorite moments from the last month including the ecstatic faces of some of our yoga group after our last class … we were all hot and sweaty but glad we stuck it out …. pared down to small numbers by then …. As I took the pictures, I told them it was their graduation photo, hence the big smiles πŸ™‚ ….. Our whole class pooled resources and bought a beautiful ‘sadhu orange’ pashmina scarf for Indu in appreciation for managing to get us all to complete millions of sun salutation asanas!! One random thought here … why do we call a pose, downward dog, instead of ‘strong mountain’ or just ‘mountain’ as they call it in India, where yoga originates??? So poetic, instead of the gross implication of the Western term …. I think everyone should illuminate their yoga

teachers about that πŸ™‚

Om santi santi santi


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This is slightly out of sequence as it did not post earlier, so redoing it:

Shortly after our Satsang with Pujya Swami Chidanand Sarawatiji, during our last ashram communal dinner together in the dining hall, an old sadhu who usually sits near the Swamiji during Aarti, starts chatting in English about yoga and that he once taught yoga at the ashram … he suddenly pulls up his orange robes displaying his concave stomach, and hmmm, his skivvies and the skinniest body I have ever seen …. (Rob O., you have competition although I hear you are hitting the gym these days and may lose your status) ….. to what end, we were not sure, although most likely, he is rather proud of his skinny self ….. he proceeds to turn himself into a pretzel, wrapping his foot around his neck (Rob, seems to me this is also your specialty …. perhaps you have a touch of old sadhu in you!) ….. this man, this sadhu is apparently 104!!!

He tells us he will give us a yoga class in the morning …. of course we are intrigued, and venture out at 6 am, despite a heavy monsoonish downpour that had just subsided ….. the marble on the ghats was slippery, still wet and ashram alley, a mud bath (well, mostly mud I hope) ….. but what we got was the old sadhu’s rather short discourse on longevity … (eat ten almonds a day, drink warm milk, practice yoga, pray, do Aarti everyday and be good people!!) yup, very concise, very short indeed …. he did introduce us to an interesting yoga master, who chatted about his own accomplishments and accolades in yoga instruction and the yoga organization he heads ….. humble he was not …… we caught him finishing his morning dip in the Ganga ….. but alas, no class … an entertaining morning regardless …. not a bad way to end my stay at the ashram! Madeline, Oleg, Aman and her husband Savi and I continued on to our favorite hang out, Green Cafe, to enjoy our last breakfast together before we all scattered … Posting picture of above as well as some of my favourite sadhus on ashram alley. Hari Om, Hari Om …..















Ananda …. The enchantment of awareness


I booked a stay at Ananda months ago, not knowing much about it … love surprises. Had I researched high and low, I could not have found a more appropriate spot in all of India to assimilate and reflect on my experiences of the past two months ….. to breathe them in …. and ah yes, work in some great spa treatments while doing so!! …. super way to move into this new decade. The owner of Ananda has worked hard to create a place where there is a sense of synergy with the environment …. it is an oasis of calm, as understated a spa resort as I have ever been to …. and the Ayurvedic treatments are outstanding …. they all start with a beautiful prayer, feet are washed in a copper bucket laden with smooth stones and warm aromatic water …. there is such wholeness to every treatment …

My ‘wake up call’ at Ananda is a steaming pot of their signature tea …. lemon/ginger/honey, delivered just before yoga stretches …. this is the Webb family tea formula when we have colds or flu but I am starting to appreciate it at Ananda as a healthy alternative to morning coffee ….. Madeline, who had a cold last week, drank it exclusively with our meals. As I walk for breakfast later in the mornings, a couple of peacocks are always near the door to the restaurant, peeking in and I watch and wait sometimes for five minutes before they flitter away ….. Certainly not your usual sight at any spa I have been to πŸ™‚ Ananda …. translates as bliss …. appropriate.













June 25, 1982 …. Sarah Liisa Webb was born at 2:23 p.m.


The month before Sarah’s birth I had turned 30 and remember having a silly thought that when she turns 30 I will be exactly double her age and that day has arrived, June 25, 2012! Nothing much, regardless of all the books, prenatal classes etc. one reads or takes, prepares you for the moment your first child is in your arms …. It is a moment of pure magic. A wave of tenderness and love takes residence in every fiber of your being ….. It is so extraordinary, given the pain you had just experienced during labor to deliver this little being ….. like a light switch, the pain disappears, replaced by a state of grace ….. my journey into parental love was launched. I honor Sarah Liisa Webb Overmann today on her 30th birthday …. a beautiful, kind and loving young woman, my daughter, now an amazing mother herself to Aliana Eeva. As I watched Sarah growing up, I was constantly amazed at what a good person she is …. when she was in her late teens, I remember telling her, that if she wasn’t my daughter, I would have wanted her as my best friend …. I have never in all her years, heard her gossip rudely or say anything mean about anyone ever …. Once when Sarah was around seven, she asked me why some kids are mean …… schooly exposes one to the ways of the world and to the cruel ways in which girls in particular, can sometimes behave … the cliques and exclusivity that starts early unfortunately … I remember having talks that started then, about how some people are just not happy in their hearts and they make themselves feel better by trying to make someone else feel unhappy, twisted as that is ….. we had many talks over the years about such issues but even today, neither of us still totally gets how someone can be unkind. As a mother, despite Sarah’s many many incredible accomplishments in every area of life, her kindness is still what I value the most … I honor the loveliest daughter anyone could ever hope for. I love you ‘my little girl’ ……

I am going to share my mantra for the year once again …. for Sarah’s birthday!

See for yourself
Go places
Seek out the good
Tread lightly
Worry less
Take chances
Face your fears
Do what you love
Give back
Make a difference
Laugh a lot
Breathe deeply
Know Peace
Enjoy the journey
Live while you live!






Om sahana – vavatu, sahanau bhunaktu


Missing the mantras and prayers …. Started my yoga stretches this morning with the above prayer playing through my brain ….. I know I am probably one of only three of our yoga class that actually enjoyed the prayers and chants and I miss it very much …. Prayers are essentially an expression from the heart and they sound so mesmerizingly melodious in Vedic verse …. the intonations can be a bit tough, so am glad I purchased the CD from Indu and can practice them at home!

Left Madeline at Parmarth ….. she stayed on for another day, before flying home Sunday night …… I had the Ananda Spa, higher up in the foothills of the Himalayas, booked for my last week, a 60th birthday gift … consists of several dozen acres of jungly terrains … the air so pristine, smells heavenly ….. the grounds, immaculate … I think the staff pick up the slightest piece of rubbish before it settles on the ground …. amazing, considering what the rest of India does with their garbage πŸ™‚ Perhaps the staff could train the country!!!

The spa reception and library area was once the palace and home of the Maharaja of Tehri Garhwal but think it was also used by the British Viceroy Mountbatten ….. Ananda in Sanskrit translates as ‘bliss’ …… very appropriate ….. I ventured on my morning walk and never once had to look down! I was able to thoroughly enjoy my surroundings!! …… nothing to dodge …. no cow pies, motor bikes, stampeding bulls, line ups of fake sadhus, piles of garbage, or people, people, and more people …… I ran into one other guest and a staff member!! ….. half an hour …. and only two people, numerous birds, bugs, a peacock, heard the frogs, but didn’t see any ….. Incredible …. this is definitely a first for me in India! Pictures tell the story ….. so will let them do their job ….. the first two pictures were taken out my taxi windows, two minutes from Parmarth, stuck and wedged in a jam between a cow, tractor and two cars, all before we had a chance to get into second gear!! Took us 15 minutes of maneuvering for everyone before we could move!

Some pictures are views outside my balcony, and various views from my exploratory walk through the grounds …… if you can spot another person in them, it would be a miracle …. three different times of day yet!! There is an actual nine hole golf course, with clubs available for guests …. (one hole right outside my window …. thought of Tim, who would love the location) Om santih, santih, santih


















Yoga ….. Union of the Self to the Divine


Two days ago, if someone had told me that an Indian guru’s mere presence could move me to tears, a skeptical smile would have been my response ……. I should know better, that just when I start feeling like I know so much and that nothing can surprise me totally, a curve ball will find its way, leaving me in a state of humble gratitude …. Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, or known as just plain Swamiji around the Parmarth Ashram, did just that last night. He did indeed keep his earlier promise and met with our yoga group right after Ganga Aarti on Friday ….. By then, we had shrunk to six, as many left earlier in the day to either drive or fly home. Shortly after every Aarti ceremony, Swamiji meets with various groups, often politically involved sorts, for satsang, a sitting together for a dialogue based in truth …. always figure that is a tough call for politicians πŸ™‚ Our turn finally came … Indu had requested this for us even though he is one busy guru but he somehow manages to fit everyone in …

There were about twenty or so other people allowed in the room in addition to our group of six. His American female right hand lady seems to field and answer most of the questions …. they appear to work as a very efficient team on more formulaic questions. After she addressed issues from these various people, the Swamiji took the microphone and graciously welcomed our yoga group into his circle, asking if we had any questions for him (he is well educated and speaks many languages fluently) ….. after far too long a delay, I realized incredibly, that no one from our group had a question for him or were too shy to ask! … I had two seconds to think of something, not wanting such an opportunity to pass us by and quickly asked him if he was ever overwhelmed with such a demand on his time, for appearances all over the world and where and when did he have quiet time for himself? Nothing in my life could have prepared me for my reaction to this rather simple question …. He has the most intense eyes I have ever ever ever seen ….. they were like warm beams of light shining through and piercing into the softest, most vulnerable parts of me. I felt totally exposed, with no where to hide. He held my gaze completely and would not allow wavering. I do not know for how long, as I totally lost track of time ……. his eyes, his whole demeanour were so full of kindness and love as he spoke …. tears gently started falling ….. somehow I held the gaze, despite these happy tears ….. he softy spoke about the silence that is inside him always and in all of us and that it is just a matter of accessing it, regardless of our outer circumstances, noise or congestion … the rest of his words are a blur ……. It was like truth was staring deep into my soul and words became unnecessary and cumbersome …. the kindest, most loving kind of truth …… I tear up even as I type, remembering …….. words always seem inadequate when it comes to matters of the heart, of love, of purity, of truth.

I came to India to learn about yoga and so I did. Yoga is really all about becoming good kind people ….. I just had no idea that perhaps the most important part of the lesson would come from the gaze and grace of an Indian guru, Pujya Saraswatiji, a small humble man, draped in sadhu orange and saffron robes, Rudraksha beads around his neck ……










Because we shared two weeks of rather intense time together pretty much all day, everyday, (I referred to it more than once, as a yoga boot camp!!!) one goes through a few stages in the development of friendships in rather quick order ……. Initially we all ‘like’ each other in that well mannered superficial way people do, dictated by an ancient code of civilized social behavior …. but sometimes, like a precious gift from heaven, we click with someone instantly …….. and with others, once the early stage has passed, we become aware and sometimes annoyed by each other’s quirks and personality issues, and we all have those quirks, whether we acknowledge them or not …… eventually for most, not all, an acceptance of each other sets in, with more authenticity and honesty, facilitating a more meaningful and deeper level exchange. I have learned over many decades to be patient and wait for that stage to occur …. it is lovely when it does ….

We flew and drove from all over Northern India and various other countries, from different backgrounds, cultures, traditions, all with differing agendas but somehow, like a good family should, we learned to move in the flow of life at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. I feel honored to have lived with this group of ‘trainee yogis :)’ these past few weeks. We have shared and learned much under the tutelage of Indu ….. She is a lovely human being, married to a beautiful gentle soul, Somesh Sharma. Indu’s Mataji (mother) is just as lovely a woman, with a soothing, beautiful voice. Indu shared a little of her life story with us one day after class …… she refers to her mother as her guru, which intrigued me, so I asked about it …. She was adopted as a young child by Sadhi Abha Saraswati, (Mataji) and raised in this very spiritual environment of the ashram, where every day rituals of celebration and gratefulness are preformed via chants, prayers, singing. Sadhi is a highly revered senior member of the ashram, often singing the prayers and chants during the nightly Aarti ceremony ….. I doubt I have ever been in the presence of anyone who shines with so much kind gentle energy ….. I wish I had taken a picture to share but alas, she left Rishikesh recently and will not be back before I leave 😦

There have been many moments of humor as we navigated our way through asanas, yogic breathing techniques, chanting prayers in Vedic verse and just life in general, both within the walls and outside of the ashram …. Daily treks out to the street that parallels the mighty Ganga (never referred to as the Ganges as we Westerners call it and the pronunciation is NOT ‘gang ah’ but guhngah using a hard ‘G’.) produce even more humor at times such as yesterday when Madeline and I walked to Laxman Jhula for lunch …. Busy chatting away, I turned back to Madeline as we walked along the narrow road … almost always single file, given we are constantly dodging people, motor bikes, vegetable carts, cows, and looking down frequently to avoid stepping in the pies or other undesirable refuse …… well, I walked smack dab, with a fair amount of impact, into a cow, most definitely surprising the cow ….. Madeline was hysterical with laughter … Thank God for small blessings it was the cow’s head I butted not the other end, about to lay a dump πŸ™‚ … or worse, a bull! Madeline feels sorry for the cows and feeds them some veggies later in the day πŸ™‚

On a more serious note, we heard recently that a veterinarian who is researching the eating habits of cows in India, has preformed surgery opening the stomachs of various cows and discovered pounds of garbage in their intestines, including several plastic bottles!!! At the risk of sounding repetitive, India must address the garbage problem in their country …. It is beyond abysmal.

Managed to meet the Swamiji tonight, albeit very briefly ….. apparently he is a somewhat famous spiritual leader in India and heads many charities, hence his busy travel schedule and of course head dude at the Parmarth Niketan … our group was supposed to have an audience but unfortunately a handful of politicians trumped us, dropping in unexpectedly and ‘took our spot’ so we are booked for tomorrow night after the Aarti instead …. Aman’s husband managed a quick photo before we were ushered out ….. see below …. will see if he keeps his promises tomorrow …. there must be an equivalent term in India to ‘maΓ±ana, bukra Inshallah, or a Greek shrug, with regards to keeping promises ….




















Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Meditation Center


Have not been to many places in the world where I receive a warning such as this …… “do not go to the old yogi center at night, as tigers often wander through in the late evening and sometimes, wild elephants” ….. Hmm, yes, we decided on an early morning walkabout and we did indeed see some elephant scat as we walked inside the dilapidated, rather sad looking abandoned ‘Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Meditation Center’ a ten minute walk from our ashram …..

Once a thriving meditation center that could hold 1300 …. virtually a small town, complete with the Maharishi’s own rather large, once luxurious home, now in shambles. A large red post box was still standing, various meditation halls, individual meditation domes, kitchen buildings, accommodation blocks, all beautifully laid out on several acres of lush jungly forest, where yes, one could easily imagine a tiger stalking through the thicket! …. Rishikesh, and the Yogi Centre is where the Beatles once came to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the late 1960’s. It was here that Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote most of the songs and music for both the “White Album” and Abbey Road.

Ironically, both Madeline and I have at one point in our lives, studied at a Maharishi Meditation Center in Alberta, Madeline in 1971 and me in the late 80’s …. For meditation, I still sometimes use the mantra I was given after completion of the course ….. so it was kind of cool for us to walk through the grounds, given our history with the Yogi.

The Yogi, often referred to as the ‘Giggling Guru’ by journalists because he, well, giggled a lot during interviews, left India sometime in the seventies, moved to Holland, and continued traveling the world, setting up meditation centers everywhere he could, and the Rishikesh center was eventually abandoned. In that timeframe, the 40 year lease the Maharishi had on the land expired and because it sits right in the middle of a National Park, it is unlikely to ever be restored ….. the costs would be prohibitive as can be seen from the pictures below ….. must have been a great joint in the 60’s!

Madeline and I introduced Little Buddha Cafe to our yoga troop last night …. Nice change from the predictable utilitarian ashram food and we had really been craving to go back … It was fellow Canadian, Nicole’s 29th birthday, so a good enough reason to go out and celebrate …. No candles or sparklers available but we did find incense sticks for the cake!! …… Kind of a match for the place :).



















My precious grandchild, Aliana Eeva …..


FaceTime is great, yes, but as wonderful as it is, I am often left in tears, the waves of homesickness invade for hours …. when little Aliana touches the screen, probably thinking she will somehow touch my actual face, it breaks my heart and I yearn to hold her in my arms …. Two months is just too too long to be away from my ten month old grandchild!! A revision for my future travel plans is in order, certainly for the next few years! … Aah well, less than two weeks and I will be hugging and kissing the little munchkin πŸ™‚

I love this picture of her that Sarah posted on her baby blog …. I like to think Aliana is “wondering if my grandma will soon be flying home over that big ocean”? :).


The Sounds of Silence …. No classes for the weekend!


A weekend silence blew in like a welcome warm summer breeze, allowing for many quiet, reflective moments ….. starting with sleeping in! …… meditating on a ghat along the Ganga River, dangling my feet in it’s cool holy waters, a walk along the forested road behind the ashrams, and savoring, rather than rushing through a morning coffee ……

As I walk the streets absorbing the scenes that are such a big part of life here and similar in many ways to the various places I have traveled to throughout India …….. there is a steady stream from early morning to late evening, of bathers at the River Ganga, the men with sarongs and towels, the women plunge in with full sari, an age-old ritual of washing away sins …..wonder if dipping my feet counts …. maybe a few sins will be absolved, surely πŸ™‚ ….. there are the roadside food stalls, where the sight and scent of various battered food such as deep fried pakora, or onion bhajis cooking, fills the air, the varied fruit and vegetable carts, where ‘always in season mangoes’ rule! (heaven is surely Alphonso mangoes year round!) ……. or the least enjoyable …. the stench of the ubiquitous cowpies!! …… or the noisy motorbikes squeezing everything out of their way, horns blaring, always blaring, the sight of saffron robed sadhus lined up, holding out their tin begging pails, pushy people all trying to make their way throughout the busy day, the many street sellers and their transport carts, cows trumping everything and everyone ….. they are the symbol of Hinduism, the bull is seen as the vehicle of Lord Shiva, the cow, referred to often as the ‘mother’ ….. ‘as a mother feeds her young from her breast, so does a cow provide it’s valued milk to humans’ …. In my humble opinion, they belong in fields not tiny ashram streets or the ghats, where they pick their way through garbage along with various fruit and leftovers fed to them and then pooping anywhere and everywhere, but I remind myself I am not in Canada and not of the Hindu faith, but am in India where one has to learn to live with cows if not love them ….. I enjoy learning about other cultures complete with traditions, rituals, and such but I certainly have no need or desire to embrace everything πŸ™‚ ……. particularly delightful are the smiley friendly children and their parents, so eager to become friends with us, the foreigners ….. the shop keepers selling their wares … water bottles, toilet paper, wet wipes, dettol, now wave with familiarity as I walk by, calling out, asking if I need supplies today …. the contrasts are so pervasive in India! …… the rubbish strewn streets and countryside …… garbage carelessly thrown out car windows, or dropped wherever, even when a receptacle is nearby …. amazes me, given these highly environmentally sensitive times we live in (education followed by strict fines would be of benefit but then, that is a western sentiment … must remember, this is India :)) …… such is the mishmash scene of my everyday reality here …… a mixture of good, not so good, creating the ambiance that is this ashram Mecca of spirituality in Rishikesh …

The Parmarth Niketan, it seems, is rather a commercial ashram … this week alone, PN was host to a convention of religious chanters, (I fell asleep one evening as they chanted for hours right under my window … woke up to the chant still resounding in my head πŸ™‚ ….. Not altogether unpleasant!!), an American student group here on a study program, a political party convention, numerous large family reunions and of course our mini United Nations group of yoga students πŸ™‚ three Canadians, Madeline, Nicole and I, Kate an American, Oleg from Latvia, Shamy from Mexico, Mirjam from Holland and Atul, Neera, Anchit, Jagat, Aman, Jitendra, Aysha all from Delhi and area, or Punjab …. Jagat, from a small town nearby ….. Madeline and I are the old sages of the group …. most are in their twenties, thirties and early forties…. oldest but not necessarily the wisest πŸ™‚ Oftentimes, it is the youngest who provides the simple words of wisdom (similar to those that pop out of my son Tim regularly …. we called them Tim’s tidbits when he was a toddler) ….. In this case, 23 year old Shamy from Mexico, a sweet, kind young lady, wiser than her years …… with a very adventurous spirit. Mirjam leaves Friday to join up with a girlfriend in Delhi … they had their BMW motorbikes shipped there and will ride home to Holland through India, into Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, with plans to arrive home in two months …. a harrowing journey, if I have ever heard of one …. another brave young woman!! The unusual is the norm here at ashram alley.

The late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once remarked:

“If you wish to know something about India, you must empty your mind of all preconceived notions. Why be imprisoned by the limited visions of the prejudice? Don’t try to compare. India is different and exasperating as it may seem, would like to remain so ….. it is a vast mix of races, languages, customs, traditions, where two diametrically opposing views could be perfectly true! This is the secret of India, the acceptance of life in all it’s fullness, the good and the evil.”
















Yoga, Prayers, Mantras and Monkey Business


A mental lapse about the food rule cost me a bag of market cucumbers to one of the ashram monkeys! I felt a sharp pull on my arm and the bag was gone before I could blink … the monkey hugging it like a kid caught with a forbidden bag of candy … the little rascal quickly jumped over the fence and commenced munching away on my afternoon treat for Madeline and I! As I snapped a picture, a nearby ashram security guard warned I may want to put the camera away as the monkey usually follows his thievery with a second act ….. stealing the camera πŸ™‚

Adjustment to ashram lifestyle, has been smooth sailing, but it is unlikely I would ever consider living in one for any longer than a few weeks, a month tops, peaceful, serene and spiritual as it may be. I have heard rumors here that some Westerners come and never leave …. although I made every attempt to come here with few, if any expectations, I did presume this would be a silent retreat, having always wished to experience one ….. but, not to be, as this is a very social ashram and one cannot walk far without chatting with other tourists, particularly the local ones … Indians are a gracious people, very giving and friendly and they love having us in their pictures :)!! There are also some very chatty women within the yoga group …. so, silence …. hmmmm, not so much. It is culturally very different from my treasured life in Canada, where family defines what I value most. Still, despite yearnings for the comforts of home and the love of my family …. I will always enjoy experiencing other countries. At heart, I am a nomad, a gypsy …. It is no surprise I have ended up in India. Sometime during the 17th century, tribal gypsies from parts of India migrated to Europe and are now scattered throughout the continent. It was in Finland, where as a three year old child, I became fascinated with the gypsies that frequented the summer open air markets of Joensuu …. If mother let go of my hand even for a moment, she would always find me in the midst of the gypsies, marveling, totally enthralled with their colorful, trinket laden clothing and tinkly jewelry, and the gypsies, in turn, marveling at the happy little golden haired toddler …. It is a well worn and much loved story from my childhood.

It is inevitable that something new is learned while traveling to different countries ….. over these past few years, I have come to know parts of this vast wonderful world on a much deeper level than I could ever have hoped for. Volunteering has played a big role in that …… helping out has also been instrumental in my own personal awakening. I am learning that the study of yoga goes hand in hand with helping those in need …… It is a beautiful field of study in India, where yoga is not merely an exercise geared to buff and keep the body flexible, as it is in North America, although that is certainly a welcome side benefit πŸ™‚ …. but it is the spiritual component that has me sold. Yoga in India is about having a deep spiritual connection to God, ourselves and extending it to the world around us. The practice of yoga is, at it’s core, meant to transform us into kinder more compassionate people ……… inner and outer lives intermingled, merged, not apart …. walking strong with gentle loving steps …..

Indu teaches that precisely because of the concentration and effort required to perform the various poses/asanas, they are really a means, a tool, to focus our attention to our inner lives, our core, our spirit, our soul essence …… as I observe Indu, or her husband and mother-in-law, (both taught a class recently), yoga is like a state of grace …… as Indu teaches and moves into the various asanas, she becomes poetry in slow motion. Her voice during the prayers and chants is other-worldly, hauntingly mesmerizing …. In India, meditation, Vedic chants, mantras are integral to yoga …. it is totally foreign to an Indian, that one would have a yoga class without the spiritual element. It may have been a rather peculiar, circuitous way I ended up here in Rishikesh, but I know I have come to the right place to learn about this beautiful way of living …. It is called Yoga.

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose”. Mahatma Gandhi

A sample of a prayer we chant every morning before asanas, in its Vedic verse:

” om sahana-vavatu, sahanau bhunaktu
tejasvina-vadhi-tamastu ma vidvisavahai
om santih santih santih


May He protect both of us. May He indeed nourish us. May we perform wonderful feats in our endeavor. May our brains be sharpened. May we have no disharmony and conflict. Om Peace! Peace! Peace!20120615-155649.jpg20120615-155635.jpg20120615-155616.jpg

Yoga and Vedic Chanting


A quiet, somewhat religious reverence permeates, as we walk to the yoga center in the early mornings …. very peaceful here and even my body has become quietly and slowly receptive to the rigors of yoga asanas …. had no idea how stiff my body had become over these last five years … I felt like, well, an old lady at first ….. as I am still in slight denial about that recent birthday …. the big 60 …… I somehow thought I would swim through effortlessly right from the start … Needless to say, I felt every decade, and then some, last night πŸ™‚ …. but the sun did rise again this morning in Rishikesh …. and strangely enough, I do believe I managed a centimeter extra depth during stretches and held poses a few seconds longer …. things are looking up! Yoga is so much more than postures … there is a mystery to this practice that is slowly revealing itself. Indu, our teacher is an intriguing young woman. I am looking forward to getting to know her over the weeks to come.

It is a full day we put in …. up at the crack of dawn, on the mats by 6:00 am with prayers and Vedic chanting before the postures … topped off with a meditation ….. and all this before 7:30!! A silent breakfast break follows but we generally break that rule …. women are just like that …. a half hour cool down in our air conditioned rooms and back at it for 10:00 am …. more Vedic chanting, asanas, and then, the big surprise ……. Shrama daana ……. Loosely translates as community service and in our case, ‘cleaning the floors’!! … Sweeping, washing and mopping using the garden keeper’s outdoor hose! Yup I came here to clean house ….. actually with fourteen of us working, it is jolly good fun, surprisingly, or rather, not that surprising! We got carried away in our clean zeal and washed all the yoga center mats and then started on our feet, rather dirty from the floor before we washed it! …. we were just having silly fun at that point … Hilarious … yes, we were on a roll, that first day!!

What was even more amusing was watching the four Indian men chip in …. Believe me, they looked as astonished as we did when our teacher, Indu, told us what we would be doing from 11:30 – 12:30 …. very comical … the men took turns taking pictures of each other to share, presumably with their wives who will probably drop dead from the shock … men in India do not do ‘women’s work’ as it was referred to during the dinosaur age …. it is an old fashioned society here to a large degree …. all in all, I was secretly thrilled about cleaning out the yoga room and I almost looked forward to it today …. what a freak I am!!!

Afternoons are a quiet time for lunch and a welcome rest ……. then back to more asana practice followed by a long guided meditation, in turn followed by a mandatory presence at the Aarti until 7:30!! …… Shortly after, we all stumble into the dining hall for our plate of rice surprise, coupled with a potato vegetable surprise or dal, washed down with water …… tea is only served during the breakfast meal, which is, surprise surprise, a rice surprise!! …….. not quite a bread and water diet but close πŸ™‚

Madeline and I decided to break from routine today and walked to a little cafe on our ‘ashram street’, as I call it .. not many streets here in Rishikesh ….. and devoured or rather, inhaled a mushroom curry …. a delightful change for our taste buds …. it was ‘to die for good’ and I see us heading back there again tomorrow if not tonight πŸ™‚ With our new restaurant discovery, Madeline is convinced we will be the only people to come back heavier from an ashram stay in India …..

More about our group of 14 beginner yoga students in the next few days, once I learn everyone’s names …. we are almost a mini United Nations ….. Totally loving the cultural variety!! Yesterday, a small group (20) of American university students and their profs arrived to add to our mix of Westerners here at Parmarth Niketan Ashram …….. They are here on a credit course on Comparative Religious Studies ……. friendly nice kids …. good youthful energy floating at the Parmarth.

A few pictures of our day and surroundings below, room at the dorm and gardens …… the monkeys are everywhere once late afternoon sets in, jumping on cars, grabbing food from people … or sometimes cameras, so one must be vigilant as they can be extremely aggressive especially with food …. bites and scratches are not uncommon …… I carry nothing but a water bottle for sustenance when I walk around the ashram to avoid just such an encounter ….. in the early morning, a zillion of them enjoy an early morning game of tag on the plastic roof over the open air corridors of our dorm ….. on my first morning here, I woke thinking it was a drumming group summoned to rouse all the pilgrims πŸ™‚






















A walk into town ….. Rishikesh


As it turned out, yoga and meditation classes start Monday, not Saturday as we had thought, leaving us a weekend to explore and orient to our surroundings … domestic duties done, rooms freshly scrubbed and smelling rather medicinal ….. still trying to air my room out after dropping a glass bottle of dettol all over the marble floor … stinky but you could preform surgery on it, as Madeline noted!) …. we set off to see what the world looked like behind the walls of the ashram.

‘Downtown’ Rishikesh, is a pleasant half hour stroll away …. I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to be away from the crowds of Delhi! … I think perhaps the total population of the Rishikesh area is slightly under twenty thousand …. A veritable village here in India! It is primarily a pilgrimage spot for Indians with the Ganga so accessible here but there are a good handful of European and North American spiritual seekers and the backpack trekkers thrown into the mix but we are a definite minority ….. the only time crowds are rather heavy, is during the evening ganga aarti musical celebration ceremony, when it appears everyone in Rishikesh shows up ….. it is a serene, happy, peaceful, friendly crowd …… a beautiful spiritual vibe permeates the air.

Madeline was digging through her Lonely Planet to locate ‘Little Buddha’, a breakfast stop for us, when a young man stopped us with a “oh ladies, throw that book away … the best spots are never found in guide books” ……. We made our first new friend! ….. Eric introduced himself, a Swede married to a Thai, living in Thailand and on a spiritual quest of sorts here in India. We walked along together looking for a breakfast cafe …. not much looked as promising as Little Buddha, so despite Eric’s hesitancy, that is where we went. His American travel mate, Mark joined us …… the food, coffees, fresh mango smoothies, ambiance (roof top overlooking the Ganga) were superb, contrary to his intro comment πŸ™‚ I snapped a picture of Eric researching a few things in Madeline’s Lonely Planet later in the morning …. too funny …. Madeline is going to mail him the book after she gets home :). Nice to make new friends on our first day …. such a great morning sharing travel and life stories with lots of laughter and good cheer all around. The guys were off on a ten day trek to various temples, high in the Himalayas, ending at one special temple that sits at 12,000 feet …. a spiritual trek of sorts for both of them …… we wished them well on their journey and continued our exploration of the town.

We both picked up a few supplies (wet wipes, tissues and water!) …… checked out the various trinkets available and slowly meandered back to the ashram, stopping once again at the Buddha cafe for an early dinner! ….. it may yet turn into our favorite dining spot in Rishikesh! …. walking back involved dodging cows and their stinky pies, motor bikes, taxis, loads of backpackers, pilgrims, dozens of sadhus begging along the way …. some may actually be on genuine spiritual journeys, but the orange robes have apparently been used as a disguise by fugitives from the law since medieval times …. still, every now and again we make a little donation, hoping we gave to an honest sadhu …. but it really doesn’t matter if they are or not to me ….. just kind of cool to share ….. who knows the true circumstances of anyone’s lives ….. I am not here to judge …… and so ends another great day in India!











On the road to Rishikesh


It was a rather pleasant, half hour flight to our destination for the next two weeks, the yoga/meditation capital of India, Rishikesh! …. The taxi ride from Dehra Dun Airport to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram took slightly longer ….. a pleasant drive on a winding road through rolling forested hillsides, skirting the Rajaji National Park, home to 400 plus wild elephants, 30 tigers and a few hundred leopards and numerous species of deer, was a delight after the pollution and hectic pace of Delhi and Agra. There were many signs along the road, warning of wild elephant attacks on vehicles, complete with pictures of an actual attack (see below) … we were kind of hoping but hardly expecting to actually see an elephant … but right along the roadside, halfway to the Ashram, an elephant appears ….. our driver did not want to stop. I snapped a picture as we drove by, Japanese tourist style πŸ™‚

Check-in was a slow process, or possibly we were just slightly impatient … not yet settled into the groove of the slower paced, meditative ashram life style …… thousands of forms, signatures, stamps and the like … okay, well maybe not thousands, maybe it was just two πŸ™‚ … we made our way to our air conditioned rooms (horray!! …. something we were sure hoping for but not counting on getting) …… despite the AC, not exactly the Ritz here at the Parmarth but appropriate for the somewhat reverent spiritual atmosphere and nothing a bit of wiping and washing things down with disinfectant couldn’t fix …… what else to expect from two ladies of German and Finnish ethnicity πŸ™‚

Temple bells rang, not long after settling in, heralding the nightly ‘ganga aarti’ …. a religious ceremony on the banks of that holy Indian ‘shrine’ ….. the River Ganga! …… certainly a reverent intro to this mecca for spiritual seekers ….. I rather enjoyed the drumming, singing, chanting, the lighting and passing around of candles. People watching was cool as well … lots of folk filling water jugs, dipping their feet, or washing hands in the cool waters of the fast flowing river ….. I saw an older lady drinking from the river …. Hmmm, not common and think I may pass on that! The river is very sacred to Hindus and is a place to wash away a lifetime of sins. A large statue of Vishnu stands on a platform style bridge over the river, overseeing the rituals of the aarti. There are so many Hindu deities, making this religion darn hard to figure out. The explanations from Indians themselves can often be confusing, so although the rituals are lovely to watch, I remain clueless to the significance of many of them. Although this is my second visit to India, and second time at a Ganga Aarti (first was in Varanasi), the number of people around all the time, still manages to astonish me …. I always think there must be a special holiday or something going on to attract such large crowds, but no, the crowds are there all day, every day! It is India after all, home to a few billion souls.

A communal vegetarian meal followed ….. I have been told meat dishes are not common anywhere in Rishikesh ….. no hardship for me! Madeline and I were both exhausted from the day and it’s infusion of sights, sounds, crowds, and oh yes, definitely smells, and crashed shortly after dinner, ready for our first sleep in a real live ashram πŸ™‚














Agra and the Taj


Arrived at the Emblem yesterday to find Madeline looking cheerful and well rested, after a long flight from Victoria, followed by a city tour of Delhi, including that rather noisy chaotic Chandni Chowk region of old town! To boot, she was released from hospital barely a week ago, having endured a painful bout with a kidney stone issue … I marvel at her stamina …. What a trooper!! Our friendship dates back almost forty years, albeit, most of it from a distance … Madeline et al have lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for the better part of the last few decades … So it is just awesome to be here in India together … A first “girls’ trip” for us, after all these years …..

After a rather early and ungodly wake-up knock of 5:00 am from Madeline, we hit the road to Agra to explore that mighty tomb and ode to love, Shah Jahan’s Taj Mahal …. We also worked the rather impressive Mughals Red Fort into the day … ready to crash early and catch our flight tomorrow for Rishikesh and our silent yoga meditation retreat ….. Ooommmmm
















New Delhi


There have been many days where I have missed family so very much …. it produces an ache so deep, where relief seems impossible … I breathe my way through the loneliness …. this is the contradiction, the paradox of my life … wanderlust, intermingled with a deep love for family and a desire to have them near …

I recently finished a book a friend recommended …. she found many similarities with my choice of travel and the author’s and thought I may enjoy the read …. I do and I did πŸ™‚ “Tales of a Female Nomad” …. living at large in the world” by Rita Golden Gelman. She is an author of many children’s books and this is her first for adults. I cried, recognizing a place of strong connection, as I read some of Rita’s words … a few quotes from her book …

“My spirit gets nourished in faraway places. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a biological flaw that compels me to seek the excitement and challenge that comes of being in a place where nobody knows me”

“I think my compulsion to settle into communities that are different from the ones I know, is related to my passion for experiential learning. I learn best and most happily by doing, teaching, sharing, tasting. When I am somewhere new, learning goes on all day, every day.”
















Hillsides of Gangtok, Sikkim


Until I actually checked where in the world I am here in India, did not realize that Sikkim borders Bhutan, Nepal, China … Tibet actually, and Bangladesh! I had been experiencing an aching kind of loneliness for family and feeling rather isolated from everything familiar to me … little wonder, as I am in as remote a part of the world as I have yet been in, and that includes my visit to Mongolia in 2010! These hill stations of West Bengal and now Sikkim, are hours drive from familiarity and no airports nearby that I have discovered …. not easy to land even a helicopter on these hillsides of the Himalayas!

Sikkim is a tiny state, wiggled into this north east corner of India, with extraordinary ethnic diversity … A city that literally appears to spill down a ridge. Lepchas, the original inhabitants, live alongside Tibetans, Bhutians, Nepalis and Indians from the plains of this vast country. Gangtok has often been referred to as ‘Shangrila’ ….. The scenery certainly qualifies … It is just so beautiful here …..I say it so often, that I may be starting to annoy Sanjay!

Until 1975 Sikkim was a kingdom, an Indian protectorate, ruled by Chogyals who were Buddhists of Tibetan origin, a dynasty with beginnings in the 17th century. In 1975 the state voted to join the Indian Republic ending the rule of Sikkim’s last king, Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal!

I have been staying in the former guest house of the royal family here in Gangtok πŸ™‚ … Yes, Palden Namgyal lived here a brief time before 1975 with his second wife, American Hope Cooke and their two children … Now a converted 25 room heritage hotel, reminiscent of the posadas of Portugal, The Nor-Khill (translated as Mansion of Jewels although none were in evidence during my stay) … Can’t say I never slept where royalty once did πŸ™‚

Walked the hillsides to the Museum of Tibetology as well as the famous Rumtek Monastery, both rich in Tibetan Buddhist iconographic treasures smuggled in before China could get a hold of them … was allowed to view a prayer session for the student monks inside the monastery with Sanjay … No pictures allowed inside of course πŸ™‚ …. Tourists, we are so silly about trying to photograph our journeys instead of living them πŸ™‚ as Sanjay said …. It was very peaceful and meditative for us and we stood quietly on the side chanting along as well …. Lovely moments in these remote parts of India …. Helps ease somewhat, the lonely aches I feel for family and particularly my darling Aliana who I can hardly wait to hold close in a month’s time.



















On the road to Sikkim


Have not been able to access WordPress for days so this post is a bit old now, but will post anyway!

Shortly after sunrise, I left my room to walk through the peaceful terrace garden area of the hotel, to find the Baba, his entourage of what appeared to be family, body guards and this morning, an addition of Darjeeling soldiers, rifles slung over their shoulders, were already milling around, heading for the breakfast room. I had managed a photo when they arrived last evening, but if I even pulled out my camera case this morning, someone was tapping me on the shoulder …. I was to learn later that morning, Baba Ramrahim, a wealthy Sikh from the Punjab, is quite an extraordinary soul. His Indian dress of the night before, white kurti, had been shed this morning in favor of bright red addidas sweatpants, red tshirt and runners!! He smiled, bowed his head in a rather polite silent hello of greeting to me, as he walked in … yes, I was again the only other early bird other than Baba et al, in the restaurant …. I had an early check out and long drive to Gangtok ahead of me, hence the hour!

Sanjay shared some of the Baba’s story with me as we left Darjeeling. The Baba has purchased a large piece of hillside land ……. (Sanjay pointed out the several acres of already cleared land as we drove along) to build a residence and school for the women and young girls he and his organization have rescued from the slave trade prostitution rings of Northern India … these young girls were often sold by their own families ….. or were often orphans living on the streets, picked up by the traders. This sadly, is reality in far too many countries … poverty almost always the root cause. It is also very likely the fate that awaits the orphaned children of St. Nicholas in Birlad, Romania once they reach 18 and must leave the care of nurses and volunteers in the placement centers. Adoptions are non existent for them once they are no longer infants.

Baba has had many attempts on his life, hence the high security around him today …… not only is he rescuing the girls and giving them a lifeline, he is purposely targeting the kingpins of the rings involved!! This was hardly the story I was expecting on this rainy morning in Darjeeling. My heart is full … there are good people in the world, doing good …. my only regret, had I known this before leaving the Windamere, despite the security around this man, I would have made more more of an attempt to meet with him, thank him for being such a beacon of light to those most in need of it and on a future journey, perhaps volunteer to help out at his center when it is completed …. only a few goggles away to accomplish this … there are miracles around every corner …. decent good people, making a difference.

Found out that the road to Darjeeling was indeed a secondary road! The main road has been damaged and closed for almost two years … earthquakes, mud slides due to the monsoons, resultant erosion and aging infrastructure, all factors in the closure … the only choice was to reopen a former road hugging the mountains and yes, probably used by horse and cart in the past! Thankfully, the road to Gangtok was wider and in better repair or am I getting used to the conditions? πŸ™‚ We humans are an adaptable species.

Drove along the stunning scenery …. Darjeeling sits at 6,900 feet above sea level high in the foothills of the Himalayas allowing for the most spectacular of views. Sanjay gave me the correct pronunciation of the mountains …. with accent on second syllable phoenetically it is …. Hee mah’ lee yawns …. so much more charming that our English pronunciation! ……. Pine and tropical forests, orchid fields, magnolia trees in bloom, oak trees, dozens of tree varieties I did not recognize at all, terraced tea plantations, or gardens as Sanjay calls them πŸ™‚ are everywhere … It was the British who originally brought the plants here from China … they flourished and thrived in this humid climate, the rich soil, the high elevations ….. created perfect growing conditions for tea apparently …. all varieties. Always a cloudy haze in the air, making it hard for my camera to capture the vistas …. it is certainly an edgy journey to get here, but if you have even a touch of adventure in your blood … well worth it, for the views alone, never mind the trekking, or the gentle Buddhist culture that is a big part of both West Bengal and Sikkim.