Tag Archives: India

108 Sun Salutations

Every three months, the seasons change. The weather begins to shift, and a new kind of energy moves into the world. Society, at large, has lost a lot of touch with these transitions simply because of how we tend to interact with nature. That is, we don’t tend to interact very much. Many pagan religions mark the coming of a new season with rituals, and indigenous tribes do the same. However, for the ‘modern’ world, many of the changes go unnoticed, as central air and electricity mean that we can get the ideal heat whenever we want, and the setting sun becomes secondary when it comes to illuminating our pastimes.
This strikes me as unfortunate, and possibly unhealthy. One of the ways that we, as humans, keep in touch with the reality that everything is a cycle, and everything changes, is by observing that very dynamic in the way nature moves. Without this, I think there is a tendency to lose sight of the death—and rebirth—inherent in every single moment. Life is death is life.
For the Spring Equinox, I decided to partake in a ritual practiced by thousands of yoga practitioners all over the world: 108 sun salutations.
The number is significant on multiple levels, across several cultures.
In Hindu mythology, it is said that Lord Shiva—the creator of Yoga—lived 108 lives before being reincarnated as a god. The number 1 represents the Divinity that is in all of us, 0 represents nothingness and also the eternal cycle of life, while 8 represents eternity. There are 108 beads on a male, 108 Upanishads (ancient sacred Hindu texts), 108 sacred sites in India, and 108 sacred points on the human body. Buddhist texts enumerate 108 temptations one must overcome in order to reach enlightenment. The number 108 is reached by multiplying the six senses (taste, touch, smell, feeling, sight, and consciousness) by the three types (painful, pleasant, or neutral) by their origin (internal or external) by time (past, present, or future). Thus, 6 x 3 x 2 x 3 = 108. There are references in literature, in Japanese mythology, even in sports and card games. (Uno has 108 cards.)

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If you’re familiar with yoga asana practice, you know that 108 sun salutations are no laughing matter. What better way, then, to ring in the new season than with a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge. Because a sun salutation is not just an exercise, it is a prayer.
To keep track of my salutations, I turned to my daily practice of reciting the 12 names of Surya Bhagavan, the Sun God. I repeated the cycle 9 times, keeping track with my chakra stones, as well as a lovely wire flower a street jeweller made me in Cusco and a stone heart given to me by someone near and dear to my own heart.

12 Names Of Surya Bhagavan (Om…namah essentially means ‘I bow to you’)
Om Mitraya namah (The friend of all)
Om Ravaye namah (Praised by all)
Om Suryaya namah (The guide of all)
Om Bhanave namah (The bestower of beauty)
Om Khagaya namah (Stimulator of the senses)
Om Pushne namah (The nourisher of all)
Om Hiranyagarbhaya namah (The creator)
Om Marichaye namah (Destroyer of disease)
Om Adityaya namah (The inspirer)
Om Savitre namah (The purifier)
Om Arkaya namah (The radiant)
Om Bhaskaraya namah (The illuminator)

I set up my mat, Nestled My Lord Shiva murti next to my Lord Ganesha murti, said a prayer asking for guidance and illumination in the coming season, and got to work. The whole process took about two hours, including a couple short breaks and a nice, yummy savasana. In the beginning, I told myself that if I needed to stop, or needed to modify at any point I would. This wasn’t a means of torturing myself, but a way to push me beyond what my preconceived notions of my own limitations.

before and after

 

It worked. I surprised myself. I didn’t give up. I didn’t modify. I grew tired, but at the same time, I felt myself move into a space of body prayer, where every movement was a humbling of myself to something far greater than I could ever imagine. My bedroom became a temple, my music became songs of worship, and my body became a voice lifted to God.
It’s so clear to me when I look at the pictures I took of myself before and after, that a true change occurred. There’s a softness and a light there, that don’t appear in the before picture. To me, it seems like a little bit more of that Divinity that lives in me—that lives in all of us—is able to shine through.
When I woke up two days later, I couldn’t touch my toes. As close as I get to God, I am still living this human experience. Which means my hamstrings still get sore! Still, a small price to pay. I’ll be going back to this practice for the Summer solstice. I hope you feel inspired to try it out, too, or to mark the change with some ritual of your own.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor. If you’re interested in reading about Sarah’s time in India you can check out her time in Arambol here, or read her comparisons of Christmas in India alone, and Peru with a boyfriend here!

 

How to do a sun salutation
How to do a sun salutation
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Staring At The Ceiling: Navigating Depression On The Road

My first couple weeks in India, I spent an inordinate amount of time in bed, door locked. Sometimes I had power, sometimes the fan would slowly revolve to a stop and the heat of the day would wrap itself around me like a thick, stifling blanket. I slept a lot. Went out only long enough to get food. Ignored well-meaning people knocking on my door.
When I got to Peru, a similar thing happened.
The same thing happened when I lived in Washington.
It wasn’t the travel that assaulted me, though being in a new place, with strange customs and a painful distance from friends and family, did contribute to my feelings. What is unchanged in all of these scenarios is me. Sometimes, the only viable option is to stay in bed, shades drawn, quietly pretending like I don’t exist. Not even to myself. Because the reality of existence weighs too much, and I’m not always strong.

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It reminds me of physical exercise, in a way. Some days I work out hard, really pushing myself, for a few days stretch. By day four or five my arms are shaking, my legs feel like bruised rubber, and the thought of a push-up is enough to start the waterworks. Emotions are like that, too. Carry around that heavy stuff for too long, and fatigue sets in.
Except, it’s harder to put down emotions than a free weight, and, when travelling, taking that day (or three) to sit in the dark and recharge doesn’t seem like an option. There are places to go! Food to eat! Adventures to be had!
All of which can be loosely translated as: If I’m not out there DOING, I’m wasting my time, wasting my opportunities.
It’s a hard balance to strike. I knew I didn’t want to go home and say, yeah, I spent all my time looking at the ceiling. However, I knew that pushing myself too hard would just whip around and smack me in the face. So I figured out some things that helped, even a little, and started from there. Maybe they can help you, too. Whether you’re darting around SE Asia, or studying at university, or moving through daily life in your hometown, taking care of yourself is always a priority.

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Music
The single most important factor in feeling okay with the world has been music. When I was in Rishikesh, I could not stand walking through the bustling streets with all the people and the noise and the vendors shouting at me. I told myself I had to do it that way, or else I wasn’t really experiencing the city. Which, I had a point, but it was making it so I didn’t go out at all. Then, I plugged in my headphones. Instantly, the world became a whole lot easier to tackle. Find something that feeds your positive emotions. As tempting as a good Bright Eyes marathon might be, see if you can resonate with an artist who sings about beauty, truth, and love. Not just heartache.

Movement
Yoga has served as a major sustaining practice in my life. Through a divorce, being fired for the first time, losing one of my cats, and on and on, yoga has been a place I can turn to when the noise of the world gets too loud. It is a home that I can take everywhere with me. Developing some kind of mindful movement practice can help you settle more deeply into your body, and in this present moment. I’ve found that when I am truly focused on right now, the fact that I am alive and breathing and in no imminent danger, helps to make those clamouring sirens of oh-my-god-I-can’t-do-this fade away a bit.collagefriends (1).png

 

Asking For Help
I’ve never been great at making friends, and keeping them has been challenging, too. At least, that’s what I’ve told myself. My first night in Delhi, I had a meltdown. When I took to Facebook and posted a plea for help, I was surprised at the response I got. Not my boyfriend, not my family, not the friends I thought I’d grown close to before I left. Almost immediately I received a message from a guy I’d met at a festival, weeks earlier. He became my lifeline that night, and many more times in the following months. Reach out. Keep reaching out, especially when it hurts. Love comes from directions you may never expect.

Take excellent care of yourselves. Be kind. Be soft. Be love.

 

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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No- Name Hostel

India opened its arms to me as if I were a lost child. I arrived an interesting mix of wide-eyed and broken, yearning for answers to questions I didn’t even know how to ask. The months leading up to my trip rocked my world, changing what I thought I knew about art and community and perception. I sought courage in my decision to flee to the complete opposite side of the planet as an emotional refugee, a blank canvas, and an eager explorer without a plan.

The weeks went on and I slowly recovered my sense of self with just enough missing pieces to be filled in with the love of others. I longed for the tribal support that fuels the first chakra and roots the soul, and that longing was what opened up my heart. By living with an open heart you attract the right people into your life and that couldn’t have been demonstrated more beautifully than it was by the people of No Name Free Hostel in Goa.

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It began the night of the cancelled jam session. I was walking the Arambol beach with my tap shoes in hand, searching for a place to feed my belly with food and my soul with music. Each spot was blasting trance, but I persisted, determined to find the right destination. It wasn’t until I reached the end of the beach at the last little bar that I could rest.

The music coming out of Seahorse was quirky, to say the least, but it was live. That was all that mattered to me. I sat there eating my chana masala and watched the crowd dance like whizzing electrons as the guitar/drummer duo sang about nonsensical things. They made me laugh, and they energised something deep in me, shouting, “DANCE, dance!”

I inhaled my food and stormed the dance floor equipped with my instrument of choice — my feet. It was love at first jam! The crew had never played with a tap dancer and I was beyond thrilled to fill another pocket of my soul with this tribal oneness.

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At the end of the gig, the guitarist, a tall Danish guy with circular glasses, made the announcement about No Name Free Hostel. I learned that the whole crew that night were from this same tribe. They built this place together in Keri, a quiet piece of paradise on the sea, located just north of Arambol. I knew right then and there that I would be joining the circle in some capacity when the timing was right.

The following week brought the end of my stay in Mandrem. Heartfelt goodbyes and soft tears accompanied me as I packed my belongings and fueled my scooty. With the sun waking up in the Goan sky, I dropped my shades, turned the key, and drove north. I knew my destination but the dull scratching of nerves and anxiety persisted in my guts. Would this group remember me, embrace me, welcome me, love me? Would I feel the same oneness I felt at Seahorse? Am I fun, cool, worthy, happy? All of the things that had bothered me in my past had still been there. All of the questions and fears and shortcomings that had always tortured me have never gone away. But this time, for the first time, I didn’t let my fears influence my decision to live and to be loved. I kept my shaking hand on the gas.

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My arrival was a flood of warmth and instant comfort. I was greeted by a tall, skinny Indian man who I’d met at the bar. He had wild, young dreadlocks and all the qualities of an old friend. The next two faces were that of a beautifully ethereal French woman who co-founded the hostel, and a spritely girl from Italy with a buzzing smile.

The little pixie gave me a tour of the grounds with heart-warming pride and enthusiasm. She walked me through what would soon be the cafe, a means of potential income for the hostel  which would allow it to remain free for drifters like myself. We talked about the vision of the hostel, about how they want to create a space for people from every corner of the world to come together and express, share, create, learn, and build. The small, eclectic group of founders are pioneers of this new type of hostel and they are currently relying on crowd-funding and generous donations to stay afloat. As we walked through the rest of the land (and they have a large chunk of it) I was greeted by volunteers fixing bunk beds for the shared bedroom, an adorable gang of kittens who sleep in their garden, and artists decorating the walls with colourful depictions of their imagination. The whole place seemed to be alive and everyone could feel it. From that moment on, I knew I belonged.

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The rest of my time at No Name is a blur of music, food, and art, complemented by its diverse crew. Some I would see again at the end of my trip only to be greeted as if I had never left, a privilege reserved for the best of friends. Faces come and go and love may blossom in this community by default, but the remarkable thing about them is their ability to embrace each person who walks through the door. When you step on this land you do not feel like a guest in someone else’s home, you feel like family. The knot in your stomach loosens its grip and you feel safe. You feel love.

 

Written by Allie Pizzo, and edited by Sarah Hirsch.

If you are interested in No-name Hostel, please watch this video to find out more about what they do. They also run a crowdfunding page, if you would like to donate.  If Allie’s story about Arambol has inspired you, you can also check out one of Sarah Hirsch’s articles on the town, or about her Christmas spent there.

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Christmas solo, Christmas coupled

 

When you travel alone, you travel light. The only expectations you have to worry about are your own. The only plans and desires you must navigate are your own. The only arms wrapped around you when you lie down to sleep at night are your own. (For the most part, hey?)

When you travel as a couple, things get both more and less complicated. You have someone to split cab fare and hotel rooms with. You have someone to engage with in conversations about everything and nothing. If you’re lucky (like I am), you’re travelling with someone who has all the earmarks of a best friend.

Last year I undertook my first big, solo, overseas trip to India. I spent five months there, more or less on my own. I made friends during my travels, of course, and spent time on the road with them. But at the end of the day where I spent the night, where I went next, were my choices—and mine alone—to make.

I ended up in Arambol Beach, Goa, for Christmas. It was the perfect place to be, I think, for so many reasons. Being a Portuguese settlement, the catholic influence there is relatively strong. That fact didn’t quite sink in until I turned down an alley one day and found myself stumbling upon a huge, glittering nativity scene built by children out of found objects (what some people might call trash).

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On Christmas Eve I was invited to a live show with a few bands I’d never heard of, at a sweet venue called Twice in Nature. If you’re ever in Arambol, search it out. Great food, perfect ambience. I wasn’t into the first act that night, so I took off for a while in search of food, letting the streets of Arambol guide me, as I had so many times before. I finally landed sat my favorite egg sandwich place and found myself having some of the most delicious (and spiciest!) fish, cooked up by the owner for a couple of his friends for the occasion.

After dinner, I went back to Twice just in time to see Anna RF start their set. When I decided to go to the show, I had no idea I would leave that night with a new favourite set of musicians. I went right up to the stage while they played, dancing my heart out. Several power outages and turns of events later, I found myself onstage, in the dark, surrounded by the band, going absolutely mad with my body. When the power finally came back on, I was breathless and elated and drunk on magic.

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This Christmas was a radically different experience. First, I am in Peru, which is NOT India. Second, I am traveling with my partner, which shifts dynamics dramatically.

We spent Christmas Eve in the beautiful, white stone city of Arequipa. A forty foot tall Christmas tree graced the Plaza de Armas, off to one side of the enormous cathedral that dominated the square. Nearly every store—including pharmacies and gas stations—sold panettone, a sort of fruitcake like baked good oddly popular in Peru. Advertisements saying one thing or another about Navidad dotted the city.

Feliz Navidad

After wandering through the city and indulging in a really good dinner at a Mexican restaurant, we headed back to the hotel in order to watch Nightmare Before Christmas. It has been my tradition, for well over a decade, to watch this movie every Christmas Eve. When we discovered our stolen copy was in German, we abandoned the idea. For a second, I wondered why I wasn’t struck with the loss of it. Then I remembered—2015 broke my tradition, and I hadn’t even noticed until a whole year later.

I can’t remember what movie we settled on, but I do remember falling asleep pretty fast. Then, at midnight, loud booms interrupted my sleep. I came awake with that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas morning: all of the sudden awake, and anticipatory. Steven moved next to me, and together we came up on our knees to peer out the window above our bed.

Fireworks. Everywhere. From the farthest edges of the city to the street behind our house, people were setting off fireworks. Not just bottle rockets and sparklers, though, These were full-on, probably illegal in the United States, light up the sky fireworks. While we could only see a small slice of thecity from our window, it was still magic.christmashatsperu

I guess that’s what it comes down to, for me. My Christmas in India was about as different from my Christmas in Peru as it could have been. Solo versus coupled. (Largely) Hindu versus Catholic. Beach town versus desert city. Raucous versus chill. The thing they have in common, though, is magic. In India, I was free to make whatever choices I wanted, whenever I wanted. I was not free, however, to take the hand of someone I love and enjoy those choices together.

I’m not saying one is better, or worse. I tend not to believe in distinctions like that, especially when it comes to personal experiences. They both had beauty, in their ways, and pain, in their ways.

They both had magic.

Written by Sarah Hirsch

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Why I travel a Psychic Journey

There are countless reasons to travel. Each person has their own set. From exploring other cultures to discovering new foods, exposure to new fashions and languages, a desire to not feel settled or tied down. Whatever your reason for travelling, it’s a good one.  

I have plenty of my own, but there’s one I didn’t realise was important to me until after I started travelling: the feeling of coming home.
It’s that strange sense, when you encounter a place or a person for the first time, of having known them before. Deja vu, we sometimes call it, though I think that’s not quite right. A glitch in the matrix, perhaps. The explanation that resonates most, for me, is that whoever this person is, wherever this landscape is, I have experienced it in a life lived sometime far back. Before I was born into this body, in Colorado, I lived countless lives with countless people in countless places. And every once in awhile I get lucky enough to brush up against them.

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Of course, this sensation happened before I ever set foot on an aeroplane. Pieces of those past lives are, I believe, naturally drawn to us. I’ve met people who felt instantly like family, or who rubbed all my fur backwards for some reason I couldn’t elucidate. I felt the connection in Charleston, South Carolina, where I travelled on an ill-fated adventure to meet up with a boy. While the station I found myself in was ten shades of crazy, the city itself broke open my heart and stole a piece of it away forever.It’s a heady feeling, and hard to describe. There’s a comfort to it, like being wrapped in my mother’s arms. A familiarity, as if I’d seen this place a hundred thousand times before. A sense of belonging that defies all rational explanation. It’s a feeling I adore, and I want to experience in my life as much as possible.

I think one of the most striking episodes for me was visiting the elephant stables in Hampi, Karnataka, India. Hampi was built in the Vijayanagara empire when rulers of that area commanded a huge amount of money and power. There are thousands of ruins around the city of Hampi, giant temples and elaborate halls built for the king and queen. The stables are located near the Zenana Enclosure, a secluded area created specifically for royal women. Within the enclosure, you can visit the Lotus Mahal, see the remains of the Queen’s Palace, and the Treasury building where it’s said the queen’s eunuch guards lived. The stables themselves are one long line of stone enclosures, eleven in all, with vaulted ceilings and domed roofs. They are one of the few structures in the area that remained untouched by Deccan Muslim invaders in the 16th century.

Zenena Enclosure

As I walked over the large swath of emerald grass between the edge of the enclosure and the stables, I was struck with a feeling that I’d been there before, many times. I felt wholly and completely at home in my own skin, and in that place. I stood in the huge rooms, pressed my hands against ancient brick, and could almost smell the elephants there beside me. I could almost feel the hay beneath my feet. I closed my eyes and heard the soft rustles of the rope that wound about the elephant’s ankle, tied to the metal hook on the wall.


The barriers between our lives are thinner than we give them credit for, I think. We have these memories, distant and fuzzy and obscured by time and space that sift up through our hearts from time to time. I don’t know if they make much of a difference for this life, but I love the subtle reminder that there is more to my experience than this life’s experience alone.

So, I travel. I search. And every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to find.

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Written by Sarah Hirsch

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At the Intersection of Poverty and Grace

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination with reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

There’s something about traveling that makes my eyes open wider. When I’m continually confronted with scenes, people, and approaches vastly different from my own, I can’t help but to see myself more clearly. I can’t help but to see the whole world more clearly. There’s no single factor where I’ve found this more true, than when I look at my concept and understanding of poverty.

It’s not a very popular subject, poverty. We don’t like thinking of children starving, men and women forced to beg for a few scraps of food, or people lying in the streets because it’s the only place they have to rest. I freely admit that when I first arrived in India I had to close my eyes. The pain I saw on the faces of old women and toddlers alike broke my heart.

But my eyes could not remain closed if I hoped to grow.

When I started looking, really looking, I saw far more than desperation. I saw hope. I saw love. And, most surprising of all, I saw unending generosity.

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Growing up in the United States I learned to be very careful with my money. I know that not everyone receives and buys into these particular messages, but for me the idea that I had to keep what I earned, and only spend it on myself, was pretty strong. There was a brief time in my life when I wholly depended on the kindness of strangers, but other factors got in the way and instead of letting their generosity sink in and change me, I pulled back and hardened myself.

I may have been able to keep that barrier between me and the people I met in India, but it was already crumbling by the time I boarded my outgoing flight. After my initial culture shock wore off and I was able to walk around Rishikesh without my sunglasses on and headphones plugged in, I started watching. My shell kept on cracking.

Blogs and news articles warn people of the dangers of Indian hucksters. The games they play are notorious, and I’m not about to tell you any of that is wrong. However, it’s not the whole picture. What they don’t tell you is that the same man who tries to sell you a necklace for five times what it’s worth is the same man who will give you a ride on his scooty if you’re stuck on the side of the road. The woman who asks 100 rupees for a single banana will ask you back to her family’s home for dinner if you have no money of your own.

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The Aram Bowl Effect

There’s a certain strange kind of magic in Arambol, one of the northernmost beaches in Goa, India. The first time I set foot on its sands I couldn’t wait to get away. This was the first place I’d been after spending nearly two months in the holy city of Rishikesh, studying yoga and philosophy and bathing in the Ganges river.

Arambol is not Rishikesh.

When I walked along the beach that first night with my travel mates, taking in the clash of music from the cafes and the lounge chairs strewn across the sand, it was hard not to just turn around and hole up in our shack for the night. Which, to be fair, we eventually did anyway. The next morning we beat a fast retreat, heading for the sleepy beaches of Gokarna, and I swore I’d never go back.

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Fast forward a couple months and many emails between friends later. It was early morning as I stepped off a local bus and trundled to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee and some internet. I had a contact from Rishikesh looking forward to my arrival. A place to stay, a person in the know, and a promise of a week or two, max, of Arambol before undoubtedly heading elsewhere.

Except, Arambol is a place that doesn’t let go easily. That first night, I think I escaped by the skin of my teeth. My second venture would not be so short lived.

My friend took me back to the room we’d be sharing so I could get settled. Like many rooms in India it consisted of a thinly mattressed bed, tile floors and little else. Just my style. I grabbed a shower while he cleaned, sweeping the floor from a squatting position with a thatch brush. It was a vision of him that stuck in my mind, this young Himalayan mountain boy in Goa for his first time, the voice of his mother still loud and clear in his ears, making sure he keeps things tidy. So far, I thought, Arambol is okay.

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That night, when the techno music started in the bar across the street, then the cafe down the street, then the Israeli party pad catty corner to our building, I realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but it was too late. I was hooked.

I spent part of that night on the rooftop overlooking one of the main drags, very close to the beach entrance. Directly below my perch point was the Om Ganesh grocery store, a perfect spot to grab booze, smokes and snacks at any time, day or night. I cannot think of a better place to people watch. Russian women dolled up in heels and bustiers, vacationing Indians with a little too much to drink, hippy kids with dirty feet and straw hats they made themselves, they all made an appearance. The streets of Arambol are rarely quiet, and never boring.

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For those who want big parties, Vagator Beach is a better bet. However, I wasn’t into great crowds of kids hopped up on Molly. What intrigued me was what I could find in Arambol itself. It’s a very small town, when you get right down to it. Everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who knows you. And everyone’s got an opinion about everything. Sure, the option exists to stay insular if you’re traveling with a group, but I find no joy in that. Rather, I wanted to get out, experience, explore.

I attended my first sweat lodge in Arambol. It wasn’t life changing, by any means, and my more recent experiences with this type of medicine have been a lot more edifying. But where else can you find a white guy from Arizona, his Goan fire tender, and a group of people from all over the world gathering together in the backyard of a cafe to sweat and sing and pray?

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Arambol introduced me to the philosophies and followers of Osho, an Indian mystic with a rather controversial approach to spirituality. One of the cafes hosts a series of Awareness Understanding Meditations (AUM). Essentially, there are about a dozen steps to this meditation. In each stage you fully embody a particular emotion/state of being. Sadness, anger, forgiveness, sensuality. Part of that embodiment is expression; participants roam the room, and when they make eye contact with another participant that expression is engaged. Anger: you scream at one another. Forgiveness: hold each other’s hands, apologize, hug. Sensuality: a solo or partnered dance steeped in your sexiest output. It’s extreme, draining, often uncomfortable. And for days after I had people telling me I looked years younger. Yet I could never quite bring myself to go back, it was so intense.

On Christmas Eve I danced onstage with Anna RF during a blackout at one of the biggest cafes in Arambol. It was just me up there, until the band moved their instruments from the larger stage to my smaller stage, and we rocked out until the lights came back.

I fell in love. I fell out of love. I had my heart and my ego bruised, and I’m pretty sure I did some bruising of my own. And every day, every single day, I woke up thinking This is the day I leave Arambol.

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Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor

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The Dog Days of Delhi

I arrived in Delhi road worn and exhausted. The same way everyone arrives in Delhi. It doesn’t seem fair, subjecting oneself to a city like this in anything but the best of conditions, but when travelling from Seattle halfway across the world, I didn’t get much of a choice. I remember taxiing the runway and looking out through my safe little window at cracked asphalt and a decaying tower on the tarmac. What kind of place, I wondered, lets their airport get so rundown, so chipped and broken? This was my first time outside North America. I had no true concept of poverty, of sickness. No true idea just how coddled and privileged I was.

 

I’d been told, shortly before leaving, that coming into India is like hitting a wall of humidity, then hitting a wall of humanity. Instead, the airport was relatively quiet, the air similar to what I’d experienced living in South Carolina. What stood out was the trio of guards milling around the terminal exit, each equipped with ostentatious semi-automatic rifles. It seemed unnecessary, and particularly strange given that there were so few of them. Three only, for the whole arrival area. I bought a sim card at the airport, a process which involved making multiple phone calls to my Couchsurfing host, getting vouchsafed by this man I’d never met. It’s a funny thing: to get an Indian phone number, you have to first have an Indian phone number.

I never once made a phone call, the entire five months I was there.

 

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Finally, I got into my taxi and headed toward the Freedom Fighter Enclave in Saket, New Delhi, roughly a half hour drive. I was slated to stay ten nights in an apartment there, but as we rolled through the streets I could feel tension and sadness blossoming between my shoulder blades and deep in my gut. The landscape was cracked concrete and gasoline fumes, barefoot starving women and beautiful doomed children, buildings that looked as if they’d been abandoned mid-build, and others abandoned mid-demolition. Advertisements for Coca-Cola featured shiny, whitewashed Indian women while the people taking shade under the plastic probably hadn’t had clean drinking water that day–or that week.

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Everywhere I looked, my heart broke a little more. By the same time the following day I’d paid at least four times what it should have cost to hire a driver to get me out of Delhi and on to my next destination, Rishikesh, UK.

Since that time, I have met a handful of people who swear Delhi is an amazing city. I’ve met just as many, if not more, who can only shake their head when the city is mentioned. On my way out of India I gave it another chance. I went into the streets with my heart open, ready to let the city give me a piece of the beauty I’d heard stories about.

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In many ways, she delivered. I strolled through the dark, deserted byways with a man from Nepal who may or may not have had very dubious intentions. An adventure, to be sure, which ended with the police insisting we hire a tuk-tuk back to my hotel. I was gifted with an armful of henna from a street artist who by all accounts should have overcharged this flush American girl. I ate thali in a Dhaba surrounded by working class men and bought three of the tastiest samosas I’ve ever had for a little over three cents apiece.

Delhi. The anger of her people bubbles over the streets. The hopelessness, the daily tragedies, and the desperation casts a shadow over her concrete and tarps. When a squeaky clean high-rise hotel sits nestles against a slum full of aching children and grieving mothers it’s hard, very hard, not to be appalled.

 

But, like all of India I encountered, there are gems amongst the rubble. Genuine sparks of generosity, curiosity and intrigue that help take the darker edge, even if only a very little bit. The city intrigues me, like a moody ex-boyfriend. I want to know what lies behind her scowling face, to taste more of the treasures she hides in her pockets. For now I have a scarf, which used to belong to the mother of a Nepalese boy named Truth. A reminder that one day I will return.

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Sarah and Satya, (Truth))

 

Written by Sarah Hirsh, edited by Bethany Naylor

To read another article about India, read The Aram Bowl Effect

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