Where bodies burn, the Buddha was born, and the top of the world exists.

 

Where bodies burn, the Buddha was born, and the top of the world exists.

Varanasi, Lumbini, and The Himalayas

I took a 27 hour train ride (it was delayed so technically longer) to get from Mumbai to Varanasi. All I knew of this city is that it was a holy city to Hindu’s. It is a place in their religion where being cremated is of sacred importance and value. It had this Middle Eastern feel in some ways. It was beating hot, and the concrete felt faded by sun. There wasn’t much nature life around, and it was very busy with traffic and people. In its own unique way it reminded me of Jerusalem as historic, desert climate, and religious significance.

Life and death I suppose is my caption of this city. Where death is open and revealed. Perhaps too, the lessons? I wondered that while I was in Varanasi. I was so mystified by it all. What would I see? What would I feel? Filling myself with imagination while on the rooftop patio of my hostel. I was going that night to go to where the ceremonies take place. Before that I was reflecting while watching the everyday life on the street below of cricket being played by children. The innocence and moment felt so fragile. Death is an invisible picture, which we confront when dying is close. Here I’m a complete stranger, in a very new place 12 time zones from home. I wondered, is here where I will see the inescapability of black and white, and of how we use story to understand death and passing.

The smells of burning flesh are repulsive, naturally. Pungent odour. Snake charmers and mystic Indians asking for change surround the area. The walk to the ceremony space felt really theatrical, like Hollywood designed this entrance of the ceremony. It was concrete, and very dark. I imagine an Athens atmosphere, these gigantic steps right to the water, and stone architecture everywhere. I was really turned off when there was this dark ring of drug dealers surrounding the ceremony spaces, trying to sell to tourists. What a place to trip…The ceremony’s all took place close to the water.

There are some shamans in this area, extreme Shamans. I’ve heard they get high on weed and eat human flesh. I hope I discover that this was all a story, but I recall some Indians telling me they do exist.

I really didn’t enjoy watching the bodies’ burn. To the family it was a private mourning moment, and to tourists it was a public spectacle. It felt too, disingenuous. I appreciated knowing the families found meaning and reassurance in their act, but found myself disconnected from that. I felt like I was just watching something I had never seen before, like chasing a new experience. It humbled me to not want to go back. To realize less is more here. I have respect for the ceremonies and those that wish to watch, however I felt like an uninvited guest. A passenger intertwining my objectivity with someone elses real emotional heartbreak and struggle. I let the wind fall from my sails and within a few days was gone from the city. I began on my next journey, up to Nepal. Here my goal was to do a trek in the Himalayas. During India I didn’t even know this was possible. We ran into one person who told me about it and it inspired me to do the same. The train was scheduled for around midnight but shown up at almost 4am. Expect the unexpected.

 

It’s a sleeper train and we arrive in a town of the border of India to Nepal. Tourists are swarmed to try to take a cab or taxi. Many people fighting for a few. The border crossing feels very unofficial compared to North American or European standards. Almost like an entrance to an amusement park, accept with passport stamps and high admission prices. I arrived in Nepal, to traffic and chaos. I learned shortly after that the Buddha was born near the border town. I decided to check it out, hence begins my story in the town of Lumbini.

The town is packed with tourist things. Hotels, restaurants, knick knacks for sale. I find a one bedroom, I believe for maybe 10$. What a treat. The palace that once birthed Buddha is now rubble, with parts of it standing. It was a busy place; there were plenty of people, and temples surrounding his.

A journal I wrote while there:

Buddha to me doesn’t represent religion, but instead for me is a symbol of a man who leaves his palace, renounces his wealth, and dedicates his life to discovering the meaning of life and suffering. He, instead of spending his remaining existence living off the taxes of the people, changes his life to make everyone else’s better. His temple today looks very lifeless and ruined. Yet thousands of years later he is all over the world. It would be hard to imagine these fallen stones long ago were a palace. I’ve seen these same stones in Europe and Israel, the story is the only change. This disintegrating palace was a container of dreams, people, lovers, death, passions, arguments, parties, friendships. But all I see is stones. The museum (I think it’s appropriate to call it that) has tons of educational details about Buddha’s upbringing and life. Apparently he was destined for two paths before he was even born. To either be the biggest conqueror ever, or an enlightened individual. His father wanted him to have the biggest empire, so he sheltered him from the outside world. He gave him luxuries, lovers, anything he wanted, to try to get him to follow that path. There is plenty to be read about how Buddha became who he was, and it is a fascinating tale.  We know how history went, and now people pilgrimage to his birthplace as a thank you, as a symbol of unity. A ripple so big it touched every pond. A very old grandma came to the monument with her son. She struggled with much effort to go to the rock he was probably birthed on. Clearly a sacred and dedicated love and fire within her brought her here.

Lumbini fed my curiousity of the Buddha for a night, and then I was on my way to Pokhara, a lake town in Nepal where one assembles before heading to the Himalayas. It was a 10 hour brutal nightmarish bus ride of bumps and twisty turns.

 

Pokhara was very fun town to be a backpacker in. Western food at great prices, beautiful lake to walk, drinking and great weather. Highly recommend this city to anyone ever in the area. I spent a week here just relaxing and getting the necessary gear to do the trip with. It was very exciting to imagine climbing parts of the Himalayas. The treks are made up of small villages, each one where you can get a meal, have a tea, or sleep for the night. The daily costs are relatively low, so it was a great experience to trek without all the camping equipment. The town was packed with people also with a similar agenda. Trekking here is a hugely popular mecca. The trek I did was called the ABC – Annapurna Base Camp. The Base camp is the last settlement before you climb the mountain without services. The lodge is 4,130 Meters above sea level.

I made a few friends at the permit office (anyone wanting to do the trek needs a permit), and we decided to do half the trek together. They were going to a different end destination, but part of the way we shared the same path. The first day was a lot of elevation gain, climbing stairs, and walking along villages. It was so beautiful in so many ways. Idyllic nature, the freedom of a week spent with one goal, get to the end point, and between that enjoy the walk, enjoy the conversations, and the people. Old buildings, cows walking the streets, it was all very scenic. I have had a history of back pain and carrying the bag with me daily was starting to trigger it, I believe even from day one. I was very committed to trying to continue the hike, and tried to go slow, with my trekking poles, to get it done. I took my leisurely time, doing it in maybe a week to get to the top. To give perspective I believe I met someone who said they were trying to get to the top within 48 hours. So you can do it quick if you wish. One day I was borderline about to give up because of my back pain. I thought I’d give it one more day, and that day I got to the 80% point. I knew once I made it that far that I was in. Reaching the top, the snowed lodge, was incredibly invigorating. The story of my back pain amplified the emotions, it made everything relatively more challenging, so to finish despite that was a big win for me. It was a feeling of glory, accomplishment, a clear goal and a clear finish. I enjoyed that moment tremendously.

The walk down was drawn out in a way. Felt long, but there was a hot spring along the way. A nice recovery which all the hikers bathed in to calm the muscles and soreness of the long trek. I think in total I did 10 days on this hike. Something in that range. It was incredible some little details of it all. I remember weed was growing everywhere there, locals trying to sell you fresh grown Himalaya weed. Death of animals was a big theme there. One of the villages I stayed in told me they had a “Puja”, which I believe translates to prayer or ceremony. The Village had a successful year so they sacrificed chickens for a feast. There was this white temple with blood on the walls and in puddles from all the chickens slaughtered. Felt weird, to intertwine celebration with that visual. To think ones celebration is another’s devastation. In the same town I saw goats which were recently slaughtered. They were cleaning the meat, and it felt extremely local, yet tough to watch. The reality of it all was very intense here. This was as local as things get, yet even that was hard to watch, hard to feel at peace with. If I can’t feel easy about that, then what can I feel easy about? Maybe the chickens were old, who knows. I just feel it’s an emotion that’s tough to sit with head on. It’s only confronted as a by-product. I ‘happened’ to see this, rather then chose. Yet it stirred me and left a memory. All I was seeing was what happens behind closed doors here. Hard to think, incomprehendable the scale.

Pokhara was a nice leisure experience when I got back from my ten day trek. I just relaxed a few days, made some friends and tried to enjoy the relaxing lifestyle there. Afterword I made my way to Katmandu by bus. My flight was from Katmandu to India, where I would then head back to Europe. The bus rides are terrible. Utterly an awful experience. The roads are bumpy as can be, there are no washrooms on board, so you have to adapt to the rhythm of the crowd. And the food is so spicy and foreign so you don’t want to eat too much incase you get sick. Stomach sickness mixed with road sickness is not unexpected. I managed by not eating much and just watching the road the entire time, but it is a challenge rather than a trip.

Katmandu has this industrial theme to it that is such a polarity to the nature of Nepal. The country people are so friendly and smiling, and I found the city to be a bit of a money first mentality. People begging to drive you, sell you, wanting you to eat at their restaurant. Tourists were chased there. It felt uncomfortable. I did a small hike here with a Nepali friend I made in Pokhara and that was lovely. Going with a local to an off the beaten track place felt great. I felt really relaxed and happy to have a companion who knew the culture and language. We got along great and had an awesome time. In Nepal I must have done 4 small overnight hikes, and they were all very lovely and scenic. It reminded me of that Vancouver lifestyle, the outdoors and the nature revolving around our experiences.

It was a headache to go back to India. You can’t just fly into India, that would be crazy. No, you have to buy a visa just to fly to India, even if you have a flight out in a few days. I’m exadurating abit, it just was unexpected to me, that’s all, and took a few days to get the visa. I eventually got back to India with one day left. I met up with a friend there who also was flying out the next day. We went for dinner and talked and enjoyed our last day in India. All the memories there with my dad, in Goa, Taj Mahal, in Delhi, and Dharmashala, which is where the Dali Lama resides. It was all an epic 3 months. It was the first real taste of culture shock. Europe was people living my life in different ways. We’d generally eat the same, like the same music, pursuing same jobs, and didn’t have much difference in some ways. India was a new level of exploration. And Nepal, just the gorgeous nature was so achievable to be witnessed. I loved that. I hope to come back one day, to trek again in Nepal, and enjoy the wild craziness that is India. All the colours, foods, scents. It was all so decorative and creative. A funny note, in an Indian restaurant there are endless choices, yet in Nepal there is usually a traditional dish that all the people eat. It’s called Dal Bhat – a vegetarian mix of rice, lentils, some salad, and maybe little curry. It was eaten perhaps twice a day by nearly every Nepali person I met, every single day. It was unbelievable the consistency of that habit for them. Truly local and truly self-sustaining. Good for them. Thank you India and Nepal, and my dad for beginning the entire experience. Many good memories and many dreams of returning.

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Paris

I visit Paris twice on my trip, for 2 days and then for 2 weeks. On my 2 days there I made a friend and we stayed together for the 2 days. We explored, walked the city, viewed statues and monuments, and spent lots of time together. I was en route to Spain after those 2 days, where I volunteered for my month and a half. As well, after Spain I visited Morocco for a week. I flew back to Paris to spend 2 weeks with the friend I made. We walked the Paris streets, going to cafes, having croissants and baguettes, buying wine and cheeses, visiting galleries, vintage shops, and admiring the buildings and old heroes of Paris. I reflect back on the time as romantic in that sense. Very typical European time. As well we visited The Catacombs, an under the city gravesite of 1000’s of skeletons, arranged architecturally for storage and design. It was a startling experience and hard to really comprehend all that truly was in that moment. Will I one day be a skeleton piece on a wall under the city 500 years from now?

Paris is known as a city of love, yet had a sort of surprising energy in the people. I feel like it was hard to understand at times, living in the land of history and accomplishment, yet feeling like the times today are troubled, somber, unpassionate, and challenging. The poverty, the well-off people, tourists, it was a melting pot, but still finding its balance. Visiting the amazing churches was an extraordinary experience. Getting to see the life of people hundreds of years ago, it felt so huge and massive for the times. I was staying in Montparnasse which was frequented during the early 1900’s by the famous writers of the times. The dynamics of WW1 finishing led to a surge of life energy in some people of that time. It was great to walk into the old cafes and old neighborhoods of these creatives. It felt really romantic to be writing journals while being in these same places. It was amazing the fact that so many of these places were busy purely because there was historical events there many years ago, so a great source of business today.

I was in Paris for two weeks and then moved on to India to travel abit with my dad. It was a surreal time to find out I was going to India. It was a total unexpected moment in my trip, and filled me with a lot of wonder. I recall thinking I will have much more of an appreciation for the culture, the food, and the people after spending time learning about them in India. I was really looking forward to that.

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Lan Jaron – A small town in South of Spain

I was in Spain for around a month and a half. I landed in Barcelona from Paris by bus after a fun weekend in Paris. I stayed at a friends in Barcelona for a few nights, enjoying the architecture, beach, and warm weather. It was an exciting city with a hustle and bustle. I was on my way to volunteer with a family in Andalucia in the South of Spain. I was with this family for one week and it was my only real plan up to that point. The family knew of a friend in a nearby town called Lan Jaron, which sits on the edge of Sierra Nevada. This takes place there.

I went and volunteered for a month in Lan Jaron. I got there just before Christmas, and was looking for people to share the holidays with. The property had olives, oranges, limes, cactus, and many bnb rooms. It was freezing by night and hot by day in the middle of winter. Among volunteers were Europeans. There was one other German girl around my age, and the rest were in their 40’s and 50’s. One was named Vulker. He was a German, who had done a lot of life exploration to that point. He listed the psychedelics he’s done, and the astonishing things he plans to do. For example, there is a place in Europe where you can go into a pitch black room for weeks and be alone just with your thoughts, which I believe he has done now.

The mountains and nature were gorgeous here. I was just in freezing Paris, and now I’m hiking every day after my volunteering, which finishes around 2. I would climb the mountain areas, or go into the small town of Lan Jaron. To Spain, Lan Jaron is known as the town of water. It has a constant flow of glacial water pouring in from Sierra Nevada above. The property I was on was always having this fresh moving water moving through there. The Spanish culture here at times was not so romantic. Dogs were left outside on properties, usually hungry and mistreated to breed more ferociousness into them. I don’t think animal rights people would find those southern towns very peaceful. I remember the next door neighbour bringing in a rifle to shoot some of his chickens. He just started shooting them right in the chicken coup. Was sad to hear the panics…

This small town was my home base for a month. I got to write a lot and see some surrounding villages. There was a hippie town next door, which was sort of like a small festival constantly. It was great hiking to there and beautiful seeing new parts of the world.

I reflect on my journal written at that time, and I find myself so introspective. Always planning the next trip. The Europe trip in general was always a step ahead, rarely a moment of presence long endured. The fomo was very intense, and everywhere around me was new cities, new places. All different manifestations of that same romantic feeling.

It was nice to have somewhere to spend Christmas and New Years. I got to spend so much time reflecting and appreciating the gorgeous view from the property, looking out to the giant mountain cliff across the horizon. I began to think of the mountains and all the symbolism they embody. I tried to write down some notes I reflected on that day below:

  • Nature doesn’t have New Years, it’s a human concept. Sure the mountain has gone around the Sun one more time, but its meaningless to it. That made that New Year’s feel less important to me. Ill celebrate the warmth of the day, every plant can relate to that feeling. This mountain may have been around for so long, it’s incomprehensible.  A year in my life is a day to a mountain. Such a titan of strength and endurance, so profound to truly imagine.
  • It takes focus to climb a mountain. It takes everyday having the same goal. It takes many days to climb, and one moment to quit. Consistency is so essential. I wondered if this mountain was an overnight success. Was it a flat piece of land and one earth quake shifted it all. Or has it slowly been on the rise, day by day, for hundreds of thousands of years. And nature is such a brilliant architect. It made the gorgeous, long lasting mountain of beauty on its own. Even if humans were never here to witness it, it would be here. Amazing to think the eye of the creator and the eye of man both find the same things beautiful.
  • A mountain is a symbol of solidarity. It can’t change or be in denial that it is a mountain. It can’t be grass, coffee, a mug, a human, cotton, or shoe laces – it’s simply a mountain. Diversity is boundaries. This is a mountain, and that’s its destiny. This timeless, and as still as a monk, piece of nature is so different from up close then from far. From far it is a beautiful symbol of growth, of the climb and work needed to go from the bottom to the mountain top. From close, it’s a home for plants, habitats, and a rough and misshapen terrain. Colourful, alive, what you see in the mountain depends on where you view it from. It’s a completely different experience a meter a way or a kilometer. If mankind falls in a future this mountain wont, it will be safe. The moment I was thinking and writing these things I also thought about respect. Learn from what you respect. Not what forces you to learn, guilt’s you to learn, or what orders you around. Follow what you respect, and you’ll open your heart.
  • Truths can contradict. Snow and fire both exist, and both are right. Under certain circumstances, truths change. Water is a liquid in certain environments, and a different state in others. To know ones truth you must know ones circumstances. Water is a product of its environment. It doesn’t choose to be frozen or liquid, its environment dictates it.

Although I really enjoyed my time volunteering on this farm, I had some inner conflict. I didn’t come to Europe to be on a farm. I could have done that back home. It was nice to be healthy, save money, but I also felt I wasn’t honestly following through with the reason to come all these 1000’s of miles. It didn’t feel like Europe. I came for a dream, and this started to feel too close to everyday life. Dreams of cobblestone streets, cafes, small towns, wine, cheese, bread, history. Chasing these sorts of dreams felt liberating, and I was divided when I wasn’t doing so.

More on this perhaps another time…

 

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Berlin Syndrome.

After traveling Australia I heard so much about Berlin. This hyper cool, progressive, cheap, fun, young central European city. Since coming back from Australia over 5 years ago, I wanted to go desperately. I tried to make my life here in Vancouver work but always felt this sort of force pushing me to a more aligned dream.  It took me many years to finally get the courage to leave and go to Europe. I knew I could go for a few weeks if I wished, but felt a real opportunity to do something larger, and to go for a long time. I remember wanting to get a year working visa for Germany. I had already booked my ticket to Europe and had maybe 3 weeks before takeoff to apply. I was surprised to learn that the Visa for Germany takes around a month to approve, and must be done before leaving. I was sad that because of this a year in Germany for me was not going to happen. I got a Visa for The Netherlands instead since their rules were easier. I knew I wouldn’t stay in Berlin now long term because I couldn’t work, but at least ill experience Europe long term. I landed in Europe in mid October, in Geneva, and within 3 or 4 days was in Berlin. My emotional expectations of the city were very high, after all I’ve heard. When I got there, it was dark, with this heavy industrial feeling. Like getting dropped off on the outskirts of a city. Not the read carpet fireworks my mind imagined. I had a base to go to (a friend of a friend), and began settling in. The emphasis I gave on this city was so strong, and it took me a bit of reprogramming to see it for what it truly is, rather then what I want it to be. In many ways it was a great city. There was so much space, so many buildings, so much young culture, and a more liberal environment. There was an abandoned airport that was now a giant place for people to bike and exercise, as well as just meet. You could smoke and drink in many bars, and beers on the street were totally fine. Not to mention good beers were only a dollar. On the outside it was such a perfect match, yet I don’t know what it was that left me, unenhanced. It hurts to imagine some things that sound too good to be true maybe are. I didn’t stay here long; I think I was in the city for a week. Which is great to see the buildings, but not to actually do all the things it offers. After this point began a nine month journey through Europe, as well as 3 months split between India and Nepal. It was a big lesson for me on over expectations. Of putting too much value on something that maybe isn’t quite capable to fulfill them. Later in my trip I lived in a small town called The Hague in the Netherlands for 3 months. That to me was romantic, and much more individualistic. In Berlin I’m among plenty of other people from all over the world. In The Hague I felt much more special. A Canadian, in a Dutch city other than Amsterdam. I worked at a beach restaurant, and was the only non-Dutch speaker there. I felt cherished for that, rather than a part of the crowd. The irony of this entire experience is I wouldn’t have been confident to choose this experience beforehand. I was open to The Hague because I had to be, it was my only choice after many things weren’t working out. Yet, it turned out really special, and a secret so hidden from my sight months before. It’s so novel that system life uses. Sometimes where you end up can be very unique, and where you thought you wanted to go doesn’t fulfill you like you expected. It’s amazing the unpredictable nature of life. And to think we all go to the Berlins and Vancouver’s, and haven’t ventured off to the plenty of other inviting and embracing places as well. The big cities get so many spotlights. I look at this to myself as “Berlin Syndrome”. Where I dream and set huge expectations for something which isn’t based on my experience, but on others. Who knows, I could go back tomorrow and love it. It’s just ironic the way the cards played in that moment. I like analogies of poker. Sometimes the best hand going in loses in the end. And life is strange for that, but it’s always a possibility.

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Leaving Netherlands [From the archives] Post 1 of 12

On September 11 2017 I left Holland. It was after a 4 months experience in that country, where I had a work visa, a job, and a settled feeling. I first volunteered in a hostel there, and then worked for a beach restaurant on the busy tourist beach Netherlands West Coast, in a town called Scheveningen. It was an exciting, relaxing, more grounded part of my 9 months in Europe. On September 11th I decided to fly to Poland and do some traveling through Eastern Europe. This decision came after working for months in Den Haag (The town I lived in), and ready to continue what I started – seeing the continent. Below is an excerpt that I wrote, that I contemplated. At this point I had 3 weeks left on my trip, and was at this point nearly one year away from Canada, away from home. I feel it gives inspiration to the thoughts going through my mind, the heritage and roots that so many in the world have in Europe, and just the questions I asked in that moment. As well this is my first post among 12 over the next 3 months of delving into my writings and seeing what I find. Enjoy!

“When I was in the plane looking down on Europe I imagined how man has tried to have dominion over this land for millennia. People killing others in the name of tribes. Name of god. Name of peace. Before some of us came to Canada, some of us were from here. Where for me, my roots must be. Perhaps in Poland or Russia. Maybe Sweden. Or somewhere in the Mediterranean.  There’s a certain home about this place. An ancestral home generations and generations ago. Untraceable maybe now. Unfathomable how long back the cord of ancestry goes. Like a past life, a blood line, of all our past lives. Real birth and endless human cycles gave birth to me. I wonder if my ancestors in Europe imagined this. 500-1000-1500-2000-5000 years ago. The newest generation, living on a new continent. Flying. Vacations and long term travel. Inexistent at the times. Maybe my ancestors were simple working class, never leaving their cities, or more accurate their village. And here I am, never staying in a city for long – the irony. How one, on a long enough time line and after enough generations, gave birth to me, and to these times. 7 billion other people all born within the past say 100 years, so much re-creation. So many eyes and varieties get to experience this thing called life. And in our separateness, we are combined, with living in this century with these abilities and these obstacles. We all have cheap travel, and we all have global warming. What seems disconnected is a fight and celebration we all participate in together. What seem like clouds and dark greenish bluish land from this planes eye view, is really are cobblestone villages, medieval towns, modern universities, a detailed-ness hidden from a height so high. The detail is in the cities, is in being on the same level as what you are witnessing. “

 

This was a small excerpt but is mostly about getting the ball rolling on my project.

Reflecting back on this trip today, 2 years later in the summer of 2019, I felt really astounded by the life I was living. Nearly every part of my life was a contradiction from the times long before. Transportation, food, clothing, mixed cultures, credit cards and cell phones. We have evolved so far, it was great to contemplate and see that. Europe to me was a glossy cover. Beautiful landmarks, food, way of life, but Europe had its fair share of dark sides. Its slavery, wars, tortures, inequality, diseases, and poverty made me really aware of the yin and yang of those times, and life in general. We too have our past, each and every one of us. The beautiful things all arose from a world where this existed too. It was really conflicting. How the creation for some of these amazing monuments and wonders were funded by the conquering and killings and various exploitation. I did not go to Europe to learn that but I came back realizing it. That reality made the picture less romantic. I struggled to imagine living in those times. The crusades. The wars between countries, plagues killing millions. I went to see the buildings, meet new people, and learn stories. Incredible that one couldn’t be separated from the other. That its history is intertwined to its losses.

 

 

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