We make it to my hotel, Shanti Home. I settle in, the horns finally stop around 10pm, yet I wake up at 5am to the sounds of fireworks celebrating a Hindu holiday called Karwa Chauth. A holiday were women fast to celebrate their husbands. I decide to get up and watch the fireworks while eating breakfast on the outdoor patio of the hotel. The horns start again at 6am.
Today I take a day trip to one of the treasures of the world, the Taj Mahal: Memorial of Love. More honking, more dust, five hours later we reach the city of Agra. My driver tells me I will have a tour guide to take me into the Taj. We pull into a narrow alley way and my guide jumps in the car. He introduces himself as Navid.
|Esther Friedman aka Frugal Buddha with Navid|
At the compound you can only take pictures of the outside grounds.
When inside the tomb, Navid tells me to listen for the echo of my name. He yells my name aloud and it echos through out the building, everyone looks up, including me, completely embarrassed. Navid tells me if I can hear the echo it means I’ll be back. I was like move it along Navid, move it along.
I am given the presentation. I was not up for the sell but here I was taking a tour of marble in a dim lit basement. The marble man was wondering why I was not marveling over the marble with the detailed embroidered flowers that takes them one day to make and they pay a worker $4.50 a day which I betcha that was him inflating the rate that he paid the worker. The worker may actually get $4.50 a week or less. I didn’t know how to explain the whole thing was not my aesthetic back home. I'm a minimalist. I wasn’t feeling it. I purchased a marble magnet with an elephant for 100 rupees equivalent to $10. Frugal Buddha pays and sprints out of there.
Navid tells me he wants me to see the jewelry store. I tell him him I’m not feeling jewelry. He tells me to only look. We drive to another location down another alley way into a rickety old shack. Once we pass the first front doors a door man escorts me into a room of jewelry that looks like stuff out of JC Penny or Target. I’m bummed because now I’ve got to sit through another presentation. I am offered another drink. I figure hang out and get what I want, a diet coke up in this joint. They bring me a pepsi.
I go through the loose stones and shown the stone of Agra. This stone can only be found in Agra. When held to the light it has a six point star. I tell Agra stone man that I’m not feeling the stones anymore. He tells me he is just doing his job, that I don’t’ have to buy his stones. He is right but I let that go over my head. I seek out the smallest stone to wrap up, pay for and get the hell out of there.
Across the street Navid escorts me to a gift shop, I walk out with teas, saffron spices and key chains. Frugal Buddha was not being frugal. I told Navid lets stop this shopping. I didn’t come here to shop for all this stuff I don't want. I'm hungry.
I realized I had seen so many people in India yet did not talk to anyone until I met these vendors in private rooms behind closed doors. I made them the face and voice of India, giving them my money. I would have preferred to give all those people I was seeing in the streets my money. I’m purchasing marbles, stones? It was a semi expensive lesson to learn no means no in any language. So when they ask me if i want to buy anything for the rest of this trip, I'm going to say NO!
I don't have a whole lot of money yet up in these parts I'm a very rich woman. I give when I give, when I can. Somewhere along this part of the journey I also learned to have no shame or guilt for having money, as it seemed these people that were begging have no shame or guilt for asking. There seems to be major acceptance all around. "It is what it is", over here.
I encountered this one little boy that kept tapping my thigh, signaling me to feed him. From where he stands that is what he does day in and day out and he has to. I played with that kid who could have easily been 4 years old, for probably only 5 minutes. He seemed to enjoy the break up of the monotony of his day of asking for food and money all day long. This kid kept taping me so I turned it into a game of tag. Under the circumstances this young boy seemed to be happy and playful. He also had a sense of dignity that was so profoundly ingrained in him naturally, that it didn't matter that he did not have pants on. This 4 year old kid gave me more within that experience then I could ever give him in rupees.
The next day my driver Raja picks me up and asks me where I want to go. I tell him I don’t want a pashmina, jewelry or any other touristy thing. I only want to see record stores. As we drive I tell Raja the story of how my family owned record stores and as a kid my dad would bring home children songs for me to listen too. I fell in love with an album of Indian children songs that was amongst the stack. I would dance for hours in total bliss. I'm only seeking Indian children songs today I tell Raja.
I arrive in Hardiwar train station. I needed to find a taxi to take me up the mountain before 9pm before the road is closed. No one speaks English not even the information desk. I start praying, "God please help me find my way."
I find a man standing next to a car and I ask him if he can take me to Rishikesh. He says No. He asks his friends, they say No. In broken English and sign language I ask where an internet café is, a taxi and a phone. He said I could use his phone.
I call the Ashram Parmath Kiketan where I am staying and tell them I’m having trouble finding a taxi to bring me up the mountain. They tell me what street to start walking along. I ask how much is a fair price to pay to get there. They say 900 rupees. I thank the man that let me use his phone and started walking along the road. A man approached me and asked if I needed a taxi. I asked if he could take me to Rishikesh, he said 900 rupees I said you are on. Meet Itvar who lovingly said to me “Welcome to India!” as I got in the car.
I checked into the Ashram and was informed we would have 3 Ayurvedic meals per day. I made it a priority to figure out what time I had to be ready to be the first to get to the dining hall. There were over 600 people at this 11/11/11 celebration event. At the dining hall I meet like minded folks who like their food. We learned our names and what countries we came from.
At my first Kundalini yoga class at the retreat, I faced the waters of the famous Ganga River. Water from the Ganges is used to cleanse any place or object for ritual purposes. Bathing in the river is believed to wash away one's sins. To bathe in the Ganga is a lifelong ambition for Hindus. I am not a Hindu nor keep up with all the deities...
It was really important for me to pace myself between classes so I had enough time to get to the dining hall at the designated eating times. Priorities people.
After the ceremony Swamiji invites people to sit with him and ask questions in his home. I got to go. I got to listen to Sadhvi Bhagavati speak about forgiveness. The voice recorder would not upload. someday I'll figure it out.
Some days I would take a walk through town. It was really bizarre walking amongst the people. A very ancient land.
Where did this inner peace come from? I couldn't tell if it came from within the people or the people were within the bubble. Another observation was the lack of neurosis, obsession and compulsion within the society as a whole. I enjoyed myself without phones, emails, TV, movies, glossy magazines, refined sugar, alcohol nor any kind of branding so much so I too lost all my own neurosis, obsessions and compulsions. Something to revel in and enjoy to the fullest. When I left that was the thing I cried about. I didn't want to leave that feeling.
How long could I hold the camera when all I wanted to do is dance.
There was also a yoga aide were money was raised after each yoga class. $45,000 was raised for six orphanages in India. Group photo of all the folks that raised money.
Below children from the Ramana Gardens Orphanage perform.
Wishing continuous peace and serenity, excellent health, and abundance for my family, friends and even enemies because my enemies are also great teachers as well.