India: What I lost… What I found in a whole new world

Adelaide in India
Magic Carpet Ride has Landed- where did it go?

Feeling both destroyed and re-created, I am present with the perfect emotional dichotomy to match the intense spectrum of India. To describe my journey at this point is sort of like explaining what food will taste like before your done cooking an experimental dish. Yet, writing is a part of my process of processing, and offers a form of release through sharing my experiences, despite the unexpected loss of my images, and video that guided my way.

It’s no wonder why Ganesha is such a popular Indian god, India is full of obstacles! Even getting there had its own twists and turns. 3 weeks before my trip, I had a skype call that brought my fear into a reality. As I sat and listened to the person who I was supposed to travel and teach acrobatics with tell me that he could no longer meet me my heart sank, and the thought of being in a foreign country alone made me uneasy. After many expired options I decided I was not going to go, and a sigh of unexpected relief came over me as I painted. Later that evening, plans changed once again as I read an email from a girlfriend in India who offered to stay and travel with me. My insides weren’t sure what to think about this flip flop, but I went with it. I went with it all the way across the sea… To a new reality.

India IS a “whole new world,” an over whelming feast for the eyes, ears, and nose. As I traveled by train and bus I was impressed by the variety of smells that can happen within a one block radius! But of course all of that gets over ridden as soon as the toilet door gets opened, and I wonder if I will ever be able to wash that smell off my clothes. Yes India is not for the faint of nose, nor for the faint of heart. Luckily I didn’t got to India looking for a vacation. Why did I go to India? I believe it had something to do with spiritual transformation…and taking a break from my life as I knew it. I will be the first to admit that I was totally consumed with myself, to the point where everything seemed like a big deal. Though traveling did offer a break from my familiar life, I quickly realized that there are no breaks from being with yourself. I began to observe my subconscious addictions in the form of reoccurring thoughts and feelings, overlapped with the logistics of adapting to constantly changing environments. In 3 weeks I experienced the South, Goa the West, Jaisalmer and North, Rishikesh….so adaptability was key!

Despite my original fear of traveling India alone, I spend most of the trip on my own journey. This began when I first split up from my girl friends in Goa to meet with a Sufi singer I connected with on facebook. In our first interaction he sang songs while I danced in the living room. He proceeded to tell me the translation of the lyrics which I embodied 2 days later, performing with him and a rad Indian jazz fusion band from New York. Considering I took a small costume and some props without any expectations of performing. I certainly got good use of them! Within the first week I performed at one of Goa’s biggest night clubs, at a small healing center and at a super high scale Indian wedding where filthy rich people danced to cheesy Bollywood music until the sun came up. Traveling with hoops always seems to open up doors in fun ways…had I not walked in the hotel lobby with the hoops, then I would not have been a performer. The last day of Goa we spent at a beach hut in Aranbol, a chill spot that seemed similar to just about any beach town anywhere in the world. Though I love coconuts, and this was enjoyable, I knew that I was getting a soft introduction into India. And I was right!

Riding the Pendulum Swing- To hold on or Let go?

I avoided my first 20 hour train ride by taking a flight to Delhi, where I planned to catch a bus to Rishikesh. Once again plans rearranged when I got the opportunity to meet up with the Queen. Queen Harish that is… a world renowned Cross Dressing Classical Indian/ Bollywood performer and true gypsy. As he wisely said, gypsies must stick together!….I couldn’t argue with that and ended up on my first 18 hour train ride to Jaisalmer Rajasthan, the original home of the Gypsy people. As we entered the train the Queen said, “you never know who your neighbors are going to be”. They were all Indian men who were luckily super friendly and had a lot to talk about.. though I never understood a word. I went 18 hours without speaking or understanding what was being said…one of the quickest ways to enter being with yourself. As I watched the landscape change from Delhi city to roofs made of garbage, I began to see the spectrum of India. I took video while writing down lyrics and creating a music video in my head until all the color went to black. I awoke on a top bunk above 2 other beds in a whole new dessert landscape. The princess had arrived.

Indeed I was a princess, the Queen made sure of it! Everyone in the small town of Jaisalmer respects the queen and the queen respects me. We wasted no time in getting to my priorities. With a 3rd eye bindi and makeup on, deep into the dessert we ventured and came to a small gypsy village. Queen Harish gives all his old costumes to his gypsy sister there so we were welcomed with smiles and the children stopped begging once they saw I was a gypsy sister as well! This was my set, and I was a disoriented specimen directing small children to do things in a language that only I understood. Luckily I speak music and once there was a buzzing flute player, a tambourine boy and 2 singing young girls, I realized there was nothing for me to direct. We shot video in the heat of the day while kids circled around me holding hands as I rapped about Thinking Globally. We gave the village gypsies a thank you and they were all joyful after watching my hoop dance. Like me, this was a day they will never forget. Still, it wasn’t over, we had another terrain to tackle. On the sand dunes we marched with a helping hand, trusting that musicians would find us once again.

The true dance began before the musicians and I united. Queen Harish assured me that if we did a sexy photo shoot that we would draw in the musicians. They were spotted playing for some tourists when they quickly noticed my curvy photo poses. They looked confused, tourist or gypsy? They couldn’t tell and neither could the tourists… and neither could I for that matter but sure enough this dance worked, we joined forces to create a scene, much like the one I saw in my mind’s eye, camels and all. After, they invited me to a hafla where food was being served and traditional performances were taking place. I did my last performance for the night before wiping off my makeup in a white Bedouin tent. Later I met up with a small camel trek group and slept under mama moonlight. In the morning I blew into the dune hills and drew mandalas around my body meant to be wiped away. I went back to the hotel by camel, the most touristy yet enjoyable thing to do in the area. It was a new day and time for some princess shopping.

I didn’t get too far, only making it to 2 shops that were actually people’s homes. We were of course offered chai, which is the custom everywhere… hotel lobbies, street stands, buses, you name it. I bought some silver jewelry then made it to one fabric shop to be convinced into creating a costume tailored performance bra as the sales man ripped the seams to show me how easy it was to change the patterning. Little did I know this excursion would lead into the night. The only tailor willing to work the night before Holy festival was a small man who lived in a room just big enough to fit his sewing machine table. Under a small light he worked as we (shop owner and I) waited outside, receiving bewildered stares from the villagers. I was invited into a small house and offered everything from food (which I was previously advised not to eat) to babies to hold. It was totally awkward and fascinating, as we sat there completely unable to communicate. I left the rock wall village with a special experience and a new handmade costume top, to meet back with the Queen and start “the Holy”.

Every block lit a huge fire, and after watching it burn they got started with some unexpected color smears, just a small prep for the madness of the next day. All the kids were especially delighted to hear that I was planning on “playing” at the Holy Festival. I found out quickly the next day that this is because they had the opportunity to wipe colored powder all over my face and pour buckets of dyed water on me, while getting me to say certain words that would initiate wild clapping, song and dance. It’s sort of like some kind of strange hazing process that gets mistaken for a celebration, completely bizarre like most of India. When I showed up at the Queen’s family home I was rushed inside to became my most literal translation of a canvas, being “painted” by experimental abstract splatter artists. A belly dance was requested and I began to shimmy to a big drum while being cascaded with pink water, kids grabbing my hands and complete chaos. Some say when your falling down a hill the best thing to do is soften your body. Taking that advice I decide to just let go. I danced from by heart soaking wet and cold and ready for whatever! I lost my powder/ability to get people back and just embraced the cultural SHOCK I was in the middle of! After becoming a belly dancing smurf we jumped on a motor bike and went around town like mischievous little boys. We ended at a party on the streets full of loud cheesy party music, water balloons falling from hotel roofs and a bunch of funky dance moves on a slippery floor. People were getting out of hand mixing colored powder with beer and using the spiritual holiday of Holy as an excuse to inappropriately touch women. Sadly, India has a lot of work to do in this area. Despite my independent nature I stuck with a tight group while celebrating on a day where I finally blended in. Everyone was ALL colors!

No amount of scrubbing would wash the dye from my skin. So I boarded the train back to Delhi with a red face receiving smiles from locals. As nice as smiles are, this train ride was solo, and interacting was to be avoided. I went on the lowest costing train ride, which I didn’t’ fully realize, also means that I am riding with the lowest income Indian locals. I pretty much snuggled with my bag that night and pretended to have headphones on even when the battery died. I was in my own little world in the whole new world of unfamiliar surroundings. Though I wish I could be more trusting, I liked the feeling of not knowing and not wanting to know anyone. Being in this state helped me recognize my ego, as I peeled off a layer of wanting to be accepted and liked. After 20 hours to myself, I made it through the train trek with some sneaky ninja photos of large Indian men sleeping, crammed into beds in a moving modern chicken coop. Though I avoided train rides at first these became a great way to see the land and a memory that is mixed with immense feeling. From the Delhi train stop I crossed over to a bus… this time I was really going to Rishikesh.

Entering the foothills of the Himalayas after a day and a half of travel, confusion and determination, I was beyond ready to keep my increasingly heavy bag somewhere for longer than a night or 2. I began looking for a good cheap place to stay for the remaining of my trip. It was a priority, that is until my sandal broke. I limped around with one sandal and a large pack on in desperate hope for some shoes. India will really show you what your priorities are by stripping you of things you have! I realized how dirty India really is, dodging cow poop was not an easy endeavor yet a certainly a goal… I don’t care how sacred it is. Needless to say, I found some new shoes and settled into a simple home-stay run by 2 teenagers right next to the Ganges river. Well, settle isn’t exactly the word I would use. The next day after taking a yoga class (which is everywhere there) and eating some raw veggies (oops!) I was invited to this private Resort property up in the hills. Somehow it was just hard to escape the distraction, and the enjoyment of luxury! The dichotomy of India persisted. Laying in a cozy bed I began to feel relaxation set in, only to wake up with enough steps to get me to the toilet and vomit violently. In one night I lost just about all my water weight, instantly feeling like a twig in the wind. I couldn’t keep food in for almost a week after that, and the spicy food that once made my mouth water became a scary after thought. I stayed one more day/night in our private paradise getting buried in healing mud from the bottom of the clean Ganges river. The silver in the sand is a sparkle that shines in my soul now and forever! The night turned into some weird party where the other visitors decided that loud electronic music was more entertaining than the sounds of the river and fire. India strikes again, I was living on cloud 9 with chatter and human energy that seemed to be the complete antithesis. Looking up, the stars created constellations I had never discovered before, looking down, empty liquor bottles paved the path to human ignorance. Even stranger, in Rishikesh alcohol, and meat for that matter, is against the law. Even as sick and skinny as I was, I knew I needed to get back to the town and once again do my own thing.

As usual, I was overly ambitious, and imagined that I could do yoga, cooking, hiking singing and everything under the sun. I ditched the idea of doing an ayahuasca journey, as I had enough purging for one adventure, and river rafting just didn’t seem as fun anymore. I made my first step and called a voice teacher, which ended up being the only step I needed to take! After seeing her once, she realized that I would have to commit to seeing her every day for at least 4 hours until the end of my trip if I expected to learned an entire classical Indian song. That I did! Every morning I woke up and made it over to the other side of the river, by foot, boat or my favorite, jumping on the back of someone’s scooter to get me partially there. I would arrive at my teachers home and go over the Indian scale on the Harmonium, which I learned to play while singing. Like everything in India, my teacher taught me patients, having me continue to sing one note as she left the room, chatted with her sister and brought in a baby and so on. I sang thru my stubbornness, thru my frustration, and thru my roller coaster of thoughts and emotions in general. I sang like I didn’t care until I sang with heart…it just felt so good to let “it” out! I was a strange vessel with very little inside, like an accordion with air compressing and releasing in ways that took all I had in me.

During our mid-day breaks I would find fun things to do. One day I went to this old abandoned ashram where The Beatles stayed and left tons of art work on the walls. I had a young Indian local and an old ‘baba’ help me shoot a rap video, using lyrics I luckily memorized and still plan to share. The babas were my favorite to photograph, dreaded thin hippie gangstas with so much story in their faces. Strangely, they have dedicated their life to having no belongings, yet sit on the street to have people gift them with food and things. They are funky respected spiritual bums entangled in their very own hierarchal web. I met some of the highest guru-type babas, who I must say truly do share a heart-full of love through their smiles and stories! Every night Arte Ceremony is celebrated, where lit candles and flowers are given as an offering to the gods as they float down stream, which ironically is the start to what becomes a very polluted river downstream (but I will leave that there). I was invited to a small Arte ritual gathering the night I had a fever, and was offered some ash, the symbol of what has been burned down and can be recreated, to eat as medicine. We sang songs of worship around a gorgeous alter, while the “gangsta babas” took pauses to answer cell phone rings. This makes me giggle….Oh India!

Another day I used my ‘lunch break,’ to seek out more children for my upcoming video project called Think Globally. I found an amazing Orphanage, where the children wore the most adorable school outfits and spoke the best English I had come across. They were just the crew I was looking for. One especially tall young lady became the camera hand while another was director, the rest played on the playground swinging back and forth while I stood in the center raping about connecting lands and taking stands. When I finished the rap they would say, “again again!” I repaid them with a hoop performance and was happy to learn that the community there had the only organic farm in the area! I ate greens that were not going to make me sick(er) for the first time in weeks, while watching the kids play (and fight over) with my hoops! This was a great Lunch break!

In Rishikesh, I could have easily spent all day at a cafe smoking rolled cigarettes and doodling in my notebook. Though I certainly did pass much valued time that way, I was happy to be in motion, realizing that I may never return to this land of surprises. I was getting so entangled in this new world of non calendars and such that I nearly missed my flight home. I was literally a day off, I fortunately realized the night before my flight. I packed everything in a hurry, did my last voice lesson and got on my last bus ride back to my icky transport pad, Delhi. The word still leaves a sour taste in my mouth! While I was there in the beginning of my adventure I got hit by water balloons filled with sand, but what happened on the last day hit me even harder!

Here I am – Full circle

So here is the part of the story that I don’t want to repeat again. After much debate about the “best” way to get to the airport from bus station, I jumped in a rickshaw, a small 3 wheeled vehicle with no doors. After stopping to pick up another traveler, I told the driver that he needed to take me to airport first. He said “yes, yes, ” which I had repeatedly learned is what everyone says when they don’t speak English and want to be polite…. or shut you up. We ended up in a dense part of Delhi, and as I began to feel I was certainly off track. We dropped off the other traveler and continued up the street. I kept thinking why am I here? Do things really happen for a reason? OR does a reason happen for everything? Just then I saw a shop with cool pillow cases, the only item I had not checked off my shopping list. hmmm ‘maybe things do happen for a reason’ I thought and took the opportunity to get one. We stopped in front of the store and I picked one out while noticing the driver get out of the rickshaw. Seconds later I joined him in the vehicle and to my disbelieve my bag was gone. My bag, my computer, my i-pod, my phone, my sd cards, my external hard drive, my notebook, my poems, my art sketches, my camera, my video, my pics, my….my…my heart sank! We drove away after expiring many options and stirring up a search crew on the street. I sat in the rickshaw like a dry desert landscape then realized that I did not have my SD cards, which I had kept in my side pouch with my passport the entire trip. I put them in my bag 10 minutes prior to walking into the store, my heart dropped further. I went back and forth 3 times to the spot where the incident happened, like I was repeating a bad dream. I filed a police report and did all I could before I really did have to go catch a flight!

The journey home was probably the most intense part of my process of processing. I had 25 hours of travel with no music, no tools, no socks, no warmth and no one who knew or really cared about me. I was a shell with the sea inside. After completing the familiar airport procedure, I tried to burry my head and cry but no tears would come, for 25 hours no tears would come. Before boarding, I purchased a notebook and a book on Meditation. I desperately tried to remember and write down the Hindi song and all my poems, sketches and Lyrics yet it only made me sad. I tried to forget it and it made me sadder. Every time I feel asleep I dreamed about having my camera and footage back, I was subconsciously torturing myself for hours upon hours in a loop that made time feel longer. About 20 hours into the trip I finally opened the book, despite the fact the title, Meditate…Now or Never was strangely pissing me off inside. I suppose I was just resisting the change that I was about to open within me.

The book explained meditation in a way that really made sense to me. It explained meditation not as a way to relax, or as a technique used to make your life better, but simply as a way to be with reality and notice what you are feeling without judgment! Instead of trying not to think about what happened, which seemed impossible at the time, I just sat on the plane listening to whatever surrounded me as I let reality just be. I ran through what happened and that was okay. By honestly and objectively observing myself I realized that I was either running on reverse through my past, rewriting pretend stories that started with, “if I had only…..” I was indeed wishing it hadn’t happened. OR I would jump to the other end of the spectrum, repeating to myself…”I believe in miracles” and visualizing my camera case on me once again. But neither of these compulsive “strategies” allowed me to be where I was, and neither of them gave me true power. When I just sat in the reality of the moment I accepted what happened without disappointment nor the desire to change it. I just accepted, not to say my things were gone forever, but to say that they were gone from me, and this was true. This was truth. Truth is always there and the sooner we see and be the truth the sooner we are living in reality.

I certainly am not the one to tell you if things happen for a reason, though it feels nice to think that. I can certainly be one to make up a reason for just about anything, yet the only thing I can believe full-heartedly is that things happen! The only thing we lose or gain is based on how we interpret what happens…. what happened stays the same. Since these realizations, and breaking a repetitive subconscious cycle, I have not tried too hard to figure out why this happened, but instead I am open to what can happen as a result. I, like the medicine of ash, am re-building in a way that shall help me burn brighter. Confused and clear I walk forward with the reminisce of the experiences that are alive in me…. and regardless of how great of a trip I had or how much of a struggle it was, THIS moment in time will always be all we ever really have.

In this moment I choose to write and share and hear myself reflect about my adventure. India had always been some strange alluring abstraction in my mind, and now I sit listening to some of the music I brought home with a way to relate to it and the abstractness that is now integrated in my life in so many ways. I was a humming bird flying with fast wings so close to a beautiful garden. I pulled away and felt so many colors from afar, I smelt so many flavors, and I had an amazing lens to capture the magic and filter it into my heart! I felt alone but at home riding a swinging pendulum until I was in 2 places at once. I danced with a veil and then lifted it up. I was touched by the untouchables. I arrived reading a book that claimed the key to making your dreams a reality is desire, I returned with surrender. I traveled guided by my own will and independence, I returned with greater appreciation for my friends and family. I suppose India has shown me a thing or 2. The one thing I know for sure is ‘No Matter where I go, there I am’. This is the main phrase to my train song (link below). So…Here I am tasting the medicine of Shiva, feeling both destroyed and re-created. Noticing that although I did not see an elephant, which was all I said I wanted to do in India, Ganesha was in the room the whole time. I am starting to see now as I write, my process of processing.

3 Responses to India: What I lost… What I found in a whole new world

  1. Teddy May 14, 2013 at 1:19 am #

    Amazing story. Sounds like you learned a lot. Glad you got to share these words, despite the lack of media to go with it. Just think, 10 years ago you wouldn’t have had the technology to even record anything. Its all good yo. 🙂

  2. Ronni Rancich May 14, 2013 at 2:55 am #

    I have found myself left speechless and with so many emotions after reading this. You have always been an amazing artist, dancer and more, and now it can be said that you are an amazing author as well. You depicted your trip so well through your words and emotions.. I saw the photos, without seeing them, saw the children dancing, the faces of the people on the train, tasted the food and even smelled the strange smells.. but most of all I felt you. I felt you in your words.. I felt your excitement, your fear, delight, curiousness and despair. You took me, and I am sure many others, on this journey with you. Perhaps even better than any photo could do, or perhaps in a different, unique way. I was filled with tears throughout reading your times of extreme delight and despair. I have to say, I am so proud of you in all that you do and are. I know this journey was a stepping stone to the adventures that await you, it is also a stone that helps form who you are and will be. We do not know why things happen.. but things happen, like you said. I feel, and can almost say I know, this was some kind of a divine plan to make you who you are now… which is an inspiration to many. An inspiration, above many more things. I love you so much. Thank you, thank you for sharing this journey with us and letting us be a part of it with you.
    Love,
    Ronni

  3. SooZen Lee May 14, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Firstly, thank you for sharing your story. As I sat here reading, I was transported from my place in time to another dimension…a place of transformation, regeneration, pathos and drama. Fear arose, then quelled as I rode along with you. I already knew what the end of this story was (I had already heard what had happened to you) and again, knew that it would be a pathway to your emergence from a cocoon spun from love, i.e. family and friends. Letting go is a hard lesson, trusting that all will be as it should, even more difficult but it seems to me that you got the greatest gift of all…insight into you, your own self, and that is worth more than any “thing” you brought back or didn’t. Namaste.

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