Showing posts tagged backpacking

One of the reasons why I love photography is because it allows you to go back in time. It allows you to go back to a moment and sit with it. To be able to reconnect with an experience  and remember the story behind that moment, …where I was, who I was with, what I felt …this captured moment is like being in the middle of a bigger story with so many little stories tied to it

I look at this photo I took long ago at pretty much what was the start of my nomadic journey and I am overwhelmed by the rush of emotions that comes not only from the pureness of these little girls but also the time that has passed and what has happened since. I wonder how the two girls are……….
Northern Laos , 2010

Upside Down
Al Fujairah- United Arab Emirates

Children and Chicken
Al Fujairah- United Arab Emirates

Outdoor Living
Mass of laborers from poorer developing countries,live in old broken down homes 10 people to a room in the UAE.
The scene of the couch outside was so common in this neighborhood , as if to get out of the suffocating indoors to the hot outdoors to breathe a bit.

Al Fujairah- United Arab Emirates

It was all once just sand, camels and starry nights. I visited an old part of town where people still lived in old homes with traditional doors and not in highrise glass buildings which is the standard here in the U.A.E. What blew me away was the texture on the tree trunk and the placement of the couch which was perfect to enjoy life passing by.
Al Fujairah- United Arab Emirates

In a country ,where everyone owns at least one car this old fashioned bicycle shop was a breath of fresh air. Of course only the poor expats use them and yes the poor do exist here.
Al Fujairah- United Arab Emirates



(source : Tumblr on We Heart It.

The Yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I’m a failure… I’m lonely… I’m a failure… I’m lonely…) and we become monuments to them. To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating mantras.

I once read that silence is only frightening to those who are compulsively verbalizing. I was one of those people. Following up on my previous post on being still, I would like to share another amazing experience I had at the Buddhist retreat. I was in silence for a month.  I was allowed to read, write, ask my teacher questions if need be and there was also a one hour group discussion session with my retreat classmates but other than this all of us were asked to maintain silence.  Being an extremely communicative person I thought this would be very hard but strangely when I was in retreat the last thing I wanted to do was talk. Maybe it was the space I was in, the teachings I was getting but being granted the gift of silence seemed like such a luxury that I held on to tightly. And when I stopped talking, all my other senses also got to relax and this created such a big space inside of me to be able to listen to whatever was happening in me. It was wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. I had never been silent for so long in my life!

 Only after being in silence for a month I realized how much our senses are completely bombarded by noise of all kinds. Our whole lives are spent being surrounded by internal and external noises. And not only that but this constant need to express oneself at all times. Don’t get me wrong communication is very important but is most of it even necessary I started to ask myself.

When you are in silence you actually listen. Not the kind of listening where you are mentally trying to come up with your own responses and feel compelled to talk. No, but just to listen and be completely present.

In silence it was amazing because I reflected much more on what my reactions would have been to a certain situation or what someone had said to me if I was allowed to talk. I had much time to reflect on my reactive nature and to understand myself much better. I feel that without silence, contemplation of one’s true nature is rather difficult.

I also started to notice things around me and in me that I had never paid attention to me before. How my breath sounded, how my stomach sounded when I ate and of course the sounds of nature from raindrops to monkeys- I was open to all the sounds around me without trying to form an opinion about them.

In silence somehow a space was created to enjoy where I was and also I felt like I had time to do so many other things since I was not talking. Constant verbalizing makes it very difficult to silence the mind and thus even harder to practice stillness so I was grateful for this opportunity. Coming out from the retreat and back into the world of words was not so difficult to adjust to but I realized I was being so much more mindful of the actions of my body, speech and mind.


(photo taken in Melaka, Malaysia, 2010- at my guest house)

Have you ever tried to sit still for more than five minutes? Have you ever tried to just be where you are without peeking and prodding into thoughts of the past or the future? To just, still the mind and not create any stories out of your thoughts and emotions? Have you ever tried to just be?I have and I can tell you it is one of the hardest things I have had to do.
I had been toying with meditation ever since I left NYC in 2009 but this year I actually sat myself down to meditate every day for hours and hours for over 2 months and boy was it tough.

I had gone to a Vipassana course in India and found it too austere for me, so this time I decided to go into a Buddhist retreat and it was just what I was looking for. I remember my first encounter with a Buddhist retreat was in Vietnam in the middle of nowhere when I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I love those moments. I was sightseeing in central Vietnam and happened to chance upon a beautiful Buddhist temple near a lake.  While hanging around there I started a conversation with a monk and we spoke about mediation, India and the Buddha. He then asked me why I didn’t consider staying at the nunnery for a bit and practice. And it happened just like that: the same day I checked out of my guest house and checked into the nunnery. It turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Fast forward three years later and I happened to have the Dalai Lama as my neighbor (well not literally but we were in the same town) and a beautiful Buddhist meditation center right at my doorstep. I would go for a morning meditation class every day and then head to volunteer at the local school (see post below).   I was happy because I had found a practice that revolved around love and compassion and this somehow went down better with my system. But this is not to say that my practice was all bliss. Oh no! Actually nowhere even close to it. The mind started its tricks again- when I asked it to stay calm it quickly wanted to do just the opposite.  It just went over and over the same shit about the past or the same shit about the future. I had what we could call the monkey-mind swinging from one thing to the other and on and on just jumping all over the place. I just saw my mind so clearly going round and round in circles and I would get so frustrated with myself. It was exhausting. Till one day it just happened. Voila! I just sat there being the awareness watching my mind and realized that, I am not my thoughts or anything that the mind was putting out there. After all the books I had read, the teachings I had sat through and everything else added on top of that- I had finally been able to put into practice the theory “You are not your mind.” So if I was none of it then there was no point in getting attached to it or pushing them away. But instead just watching them rise and then ebb away just like the tide.  You are aware they exist and then you see them go away till the next thing arises.

What did this actually mean to me?
You see I started to understand that I feel my feelings, or the emotions I am going through but that I was not my feelings. I will try to break it down further. I was the person feeling them but not them. So if I am angry, I feel angry but I am not angry- if that makes any sense.  In theory it might sound like a whole lot of gibberish but when you sit with it over and over again it helps to understand it practically. In Buddhism it is a huge difficult topic called “Emptiness” and I was wading in the shallow side of it but had realized something important: that at the end of the day the mind is clear like a glass of water. And then you mix some dirt into it which is a metaphor for all the thoughts, feeling etc .but then if you just let it sit the dirt settles and the mind goes back to being clear.

Even though I am nowhere close to where I want to be in this quest to finding my balance I am definitely sitting and watching my mind more often than before.


So here I was. In the midst of all the chaos that was around me or more so in my mind- an oasis of peace. I found a home in this little village way up in the mountains, away from the maddening crowds, with a local family that just happened to have a vacant guest room. They were not a guesthouse just a family house that were happy for me to have their room at such a nominal amount. I felt so blessed. In a week, the mother of the house became my mother, the father became my father, the sister became a sister- you get the gist. I was sucked into the village and became part of it all so easily like it was meant to be. I haven’t even told you that my backyard was a massive forest that came fitted with its own waterfall and fresh water spring. Oh thank you Universe.
The village consisted of a cluster of about 12 homes and everyone was related to each other. There were grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, cows, donkeys, goat : everything you needed for harmonious living not to forget the organic farms where these families grew wheat and vegetables. The house was a well made old style wooden plus concrete structure with an amazing porch. It was situated on a hill above all the other houses and in the midst of this lush forest.  All the rooms were on the lower level and the top level which was wooden was the main kitchen and living room. There was fresh milk everyday from the family cow along with fresh vegetables from the farm. I tried to milk the cow several times but was a huge failure and the cow was not pleased at all. Farming and getting my hands dirty was more my thing. I also started volunteering at the local primary school (post link) which most of the kids from the village attended.
There were weddings and birthday parties to attend, local Indian style baby showers. I was thrilled that the village had embraced this crazy me with open arms and made me part of the madness. I felt right at home and not an outsider.

In and around my little village Rakkad where I lived. BEAUTIFUL MAGICAL. 

A place where I was able to regain my stillness and calm away from the madness and diversions of modern society. It is so easy to get lost in the sea of information and data that we are bombarded with day in and day out.  The speed in which the modern world moves and we try to keep up with it is absolutely dizzying. But on my travels I am able to get away from all of that and give my self so much space in both mind and living. Seclusion doesn’t mean that I am shutting people out of my life but it just means that I try to find space to breathe and tread a bit more slowly in this life that is just seems to whizzing me by.

Rakkad, Dharamsala Himachal Pradesh

My 4th grade angels…not ALWAYS!

While living up in the Himalayas I decided to volunteered at the local school in the area I was living. I taught English to this bunch of  sweet 4th graders. Its a small government run school that runs only till the 5th grade and has 2 teachers and 2 helpers.  Kids from around the village come to study here and its amazing how most of these kids not only go to school but also work with their families on the farms or do a ton of housework at home. To teach them was not easy as most of them had real problems with English but it was such a fantastic experience in patience and compassion.

They normally were taught to study by rote - a method I detest, so I had to try and teach them to understand what they were reading and saying. Not an easy task- most of them could read well but didn’t have a clue what the words meant. It took some undoing of past study habits to get them to start learning from scratch. I used art, music, dance and play to help them learn in a different way. Sometimes it worked but most of them they just wanted to draw and not learn- I had to rethink how to keep it fun yet get them to finish their lessons.

There were days we all were frustrated with each other. Day when there were tears and days when there was so much laughter. I loved them and I wanted to do the best for them because they were so eager to learn.
I wanted to be their friend but it was hard to cross the line from being their teacher to a friend- most of them were so scared of the other teachers as they got punished and yelled at so often.

I am so proud of each one of my students and how hard they worked at trying to learn English a language so foreign.

All the incredible creatures around my home in the mountains.
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

A little slice of heaven

For the past three years I have spent the months of March & April working at a rafting camp 20kms north of Rishikesh, Uttrakhand India. It is such a love – hate relationship with this job. But come to think of it more Love than Hate. Being the first rafting company of India, we have the best piece of beach on the Ganga, a strong experienced team of guides and a real love for the nature and outdoors. It is shocking, how over the past few years the rafting industry around the Ganga has grown. With every little piece of land along the river being turned into a camp and any Tom, Dick and Harry getting a rafting license, the adventure sport has been turned into a joke. The number of adventure companies in Rishikesh which send people down the river with absolutely no professional expertise, adherence to safety rules and respect for Mother Nature as well results in several deaths on the river each year. It is very saddening but I am lucky that I work for a company that has a strict set of guidelines, trained and experienced guides and a respect for the nature.

It is hard job to work in the outdoors and also live there 24/7. It is hard to cater to difficult clients mainly the ones who come expecting a luxury adventure experience- “What we have to paddle as well, I though the guides would do that!” The bizarre experiences are countless and what really irks me is when people are so upset that they don’t have phone signal and electricity! Why come all this way if you don’t want to enjoy all that the outdoors has to offer you. We don’t have electricity at camp but do run solar panels to charge staff walkie-talkies and phones. But I love that I am in the nature among birds and trees and so cut off from the electronic world. This is probably the best part of working at camp. And also the fact that because there is so much physical work to do all the time that I eat like a pig without thinking twice and sleep like a log at night. Physical work is so great not only for the body but the mind because you don’t have time to think about anything else but the task on and when you have time to think you are too darn tired. Perfect when you want to get away from the complexities of the mind and take a step back to just being and living.

Our cinema in Agonda Goa!
All you need is :*Bamboo  *Canvas  *Some rope * Decent Projector *Generator *A beach as your living room
(Photo courtesy the amazing swedes- The Poznic family!)

Our cinema in Agonda Goa!

All you need is :
*Bamboo  *Canvas  *Some rope * Decent Projector *Generator *A beach as your living room

(Photo courtesy the amazing swedes- The Poznic family!)