Taiwan: An Experience Of Zen

Green rolling hills, beautiful country views with a Buddhist temple perched austerely on a hilltop. Holistic accommodation, serene vibes, friendly people and easy vegetarian food. This is the image of Taiwan that a Canadian friend of mine had shared with me many years ago. It was the first time I ever really thought of exploring Taiwan! And when the plans to visit this island country happened a few months back, I was totally over excited.

😀 A whole month in Taiwan!

So following my cycling adventure in Australia and tryst with some very cold temperatures, I was really happy to jump fly off to Taiwan which was at pleasant 30C! 🙂

When I landed here however, I had a pretty crazy day, but I kept picking up these amazing small touches in this country that were so thoughtful. I had not seen such thoughtful user design anywhere else in Europe nor Australia. And over time I found myself telling people to visit Taiwan to experience some Zen. And it was completely unexpected.

Here is an attempt at capturing this feeling and sharing it with you,Continue reading

Traveling 2016: Year End Review

Year: 2016
On the road: Just about 4 months
Countries: Australia, India, Taiwan

It is hard to write this 2016 review post because I am in a bit of a daze. Since September to mid-December my life has been on one intensely awesome ride that I find hard to grasp. So much in life has changed in a great way and I feel that if I wrote it down I might lose it. Maybe things will ‘come back to normal’ which is not desired at all. But as with everything the moment even a thread of fear enters my heart, I must face it. So here goes,

Anyway in life I have no interest in wasting time on stuff that is transient. So let me try and articulate about the 3 and half months traveling.

Firstly this was my longest continuous trip so far. This was just my second solo international trip – the first being cycling in Europe. And I was carrying my bicycle from India to everywhere and back. There were two completely new countries – Australia and Taiwan.

Australia culture-wise was fairly normal – western. But the land, the flora & fauna were a new experience. The weather was also a new experience – I have never spent so much time in such cold and that too camping many days. After my trip to Europe it was awesome to find that there was hardly any language barrier. So long conversations with people started happening. Eventually I made some really good friends.Continue reading

TriMandir – Adalaj, Ahmedabad

Trimandir in Twilight
Trimandir backview from the ashram side

Trimandir on the outskirts of Ahmedabad has three major deities – Simandhar swami, Shiva and Vishnu. Yes, Simandhar swami is from the Jain religion. Along with him there are a number of other Jain idols too – Mahavira, Parshavanath, Rushabh, Ajitnath and Padmaprabhu. Not sure how these Jinas from the Jain 24 + 20 tirthankars have been chosen. Traditionally in Jain temples the idols are chosen on basis of some astrological calculations done by Pujaris, as far as I know. Not sure if same method has been used here. Continue reading

Kali Temple of Kolkata, Shakti Peeth

Spent a relaxed 5 days in Kolkata last month. I have been to this city earlier but always with family as my close relatives stay here including my grand mom 🙂 This time I planned to spend time with family AND explore the intriguing Kolkata!

One of the first places that I wanted to take a look at was the Kali temple, as Kolkata is a city that intrigues with all sorts of dark stuffs. No, if that caught your interest – I didn’t majorly explore any “dark stuff”. But I did dig into some of the oldest temples in Kolkata. My interest in temples fundamentally lies in really old temples where I can sit and meditate for a while. I also like to understand the older traditions, rituals, culture, architecture and so on.

Kali Temple, Kalighat

Kali – Calcuttawali, this a saying I have often heard but never thought much of it until I started researching what to explore in Kolkata and realized that the entire region predominantly worships the Devi and there are some fairly significant Kali temples. This one at Kalighat is within Kolkata while another popular one is the Kali Temple @ Dakshineshwar near the Belur Math.Continue reading

Jagannath Puri Rath Yatra – Behind The Scenes Story

It so happened that I planned my Jagannath Puri trip a week before the Rath Yatra which brings millions of devotees to this sleepy, coastal town in Orissa. If I had planned a week later, I would have really struggled with booking and high costs. To attend a festival like the Rath Yatra – which I would love to at some point – I would probably need to prepare earlier with regards accommodation.

I was able to see the preparations behind the Rath Yatra, and understand the Puri religious eco-system a bit better. It was exciting to visit the three Raths (chariots) being made on the wide public road outside the Jagannath Temple and note the daily progress in the work. Continue reading

Kumbh Mela: Ujjain Simhasth, May 2016, Photos

Quick trip to Ujjain for the Simhasth Kumbh Mela happened in early May. I had traveled to Nashik for my first Kumbh Mela experience in 2015 and I deliberately went on the non-Shahi snan days. I was concerned about the crowds and overall facilities.

This time for Ujjain I went impromptu on the 7-8th May weekend. I left on Friday 6th May by an overnight Volvo – a company called Ashok travels. Surprisingly it actually started on time and was quite decent. I reached Ujjain the next day, before noon. Continue reading

Social Implications of Solo Travel, India

When I started solo traveling in 2009, it all happened a bit impromptu. I had a basic plan in place, Mumbai – Goa – Bangalore (transit) – Mysore – Coimbatore (yoga ashram). I provided all accommodation details with contact numbers to my parents and that was pretty much it.

As I started doing this more often, the question arose about what to tell people – specifically relatives. Where do I keep disappearing sometimes for a whole month!? This was a time when solo traveling, especially women solo traveling hadn’t become the buzz word it is now. Many people close to me suggested that I tell people I am traveling with another girl friend, no one would really know the truth and it would look so much more normal.Continue reading

Delving deeper into Varanasi

Lately my heart is turning to Varanasi – that crazy, crazy city! I am cooking up plans to visit it again, just to have my thoughts clash about all the various trips I plan to make. It is a common dilemma I think, of travelers who aren’t on the road indefinitely. Don’t get me wrong I am not sad or feeling tied up, I am just very passionate about work as well. And I am really enjoying my work currently.

Varanasi was a city that really shocked the daylights out of me. I wish I could say it was the spiritual power (maybe it was subconsciously), but it was all the other madness that drove me nuts – tiny alleys, dirt and litter, injured animals, heat, mangled beggars, dirt, non-veg on ghats, long lines, crowd, did I say dirt? …… you get the point.

So what is the charm? Why do I want to go back and explore more? What’s intriguing me?

Culture. 

Yes, just one word – Culture. The layers and layers of ancient culture.

Temples: I am fascinated by the sheer range of temples you can find there. Right in the chowk outside Dashashwamedh ghat you have a Brihaspati (Jupiter) temple for example. There are temples of every god, goddess and their associates in Varanasi. This includes all 7 planets, Surya dev, 8 forms of Kaal Bhairava, different ethnic temples like Nepali Shiva temple and what not. I really want to explore different temples. Then the rituals within the temples, some can really creep the hell out of me – really, I have researched and I don’t want to write about it right now.

I want to follow many temple trails: Like explore the 8 kaal bhairava idols which are scattered across the city. Did you know that kaal bhairava is the guardian deity of Kashi? This is the deity the Kashi police worship. And there are 8 main police offices. While they don’t correspond to each of the 8 Kaal Bhairava idols but there are some intriguing associations between the Kaal Bhairava setup and the police setup. And both are guardians of the city on different levels. If you want to know more about my Kaal Bhairava research and where you can find the 8 idols – you will have to email me. I won’t be writing a public blog post on the same.

Varanasi
The Nepali Temple at Lalit Ghat. It was practically a treasure hunt we went on to find this temple. Enroute to lalit ghat we came across snake charmers and some random stall selling porn CDs. One local guy even made lude passes at us in an abandoned tunnel. It was a bit bizarre. The Ganga level was high hence the Ghats were not interconnected. We had to go from the lesser used pathways. Usually when the river is low enough one can walk to all the various ghats by the river itself. This was an interesting temple with intricate carvings. Since not a tourist attraction, it had a lovely ambiance and quiet around it. Nice place to meditate.

Music: From a Varanasi local I have understood that a common layperson in Varanasi has deep music knowledge. He can identify all the various Hindustani Classical taals. He can immediately make out when some taal is out of place and so on. Many temples in Varanasi are a place for musicians to get into intense jugalbandi with very adept commoners who enjoy the duel.

History: There are ruins of deities people still worship. So you may randomly walk by a ruined pillar type structure but if you know the stories of the place, then you will realize that people come and worship that pillar because it is actually part of a long lost idol. There are lot of such stories rife in Varanasi. People stories, Temple stories, History… lots of history.

Varanasi
What is going on here? Depending on the time of year, there is always some or the other traditional ritual going on in Kashi.

Common People: From being musical maestros to knowing the most obscure global language – the Varanasi commoner will astound you. Being a tourist hub, here the common person may be a champ in languages like Japanese and Hebrew as it makes for a lucrative career. They are so comfortable that they can just have long conversations in that language.

Varanasi
The Ganga aarti that is really sought after can be a lovely experience but it is not ancient. It is in fact quite recent and from what I understand, it is a tourist attraction than anything else.

There are layers and layers of history, culture, stories that create a surreal ambiance in Varanasi. It is really the only place that gave me the feeling that in my 3 days there I had not even scratched the surface of things to explore in the city. This is a rare experience for me.