Ah, what a trip! While India is a country full of bucket list travel/tourist destinations, time spent in the sparsely populated mountain villages north of Delhi had a huge impact on me. Our guide and wonderful friend Mukesh took us to places in and around the Chopta Valley that are not found on any tour bus itinerary, and I am so grateful for the experience. Everywhere we went we were greeted with smiles from kind souls. Eight days in the mountains without WI-fi was a mental reset that I welcomed, as well as a lesson in living mindfully. Meeting villagers and farmers who live happily without smart phones, TV and all of the things we depend on for entertainment and happiness was eye-opening. While some travelers might feel sorry for people who live without the these luxury items, I often found myself jealous. Everyone we met had what they needed for a happy life- safe shelter, clean drinking water and good food. Somewhere along the lines we as a society were sold the idea that we needed much more than this to be happy. But are we happy? Being stressed out and distracted seems more common than true contentment lately.
When I guide students through a yoga class I encourage a mindful practice, where the focus is on here and the now. What I found on this trip was that village life is a mindful life. Although we visited some homes with electricity and some without, most villagers still owned cell phones, real cell PHONES- not mini pocket sized computers. This meant they could keep in touch with anyone or call for help in an emergency, but phones were not their number one priority. What were the priorities? Hands on work (hard work!) that needed daily upkeep. Plowing wheat and barley fields and gathering the harvest, milking the family buffalo to make buttermilk and butter and cooking meals from scratch (sometimes on an open fire). Some children hiked long distances to get to school. Everything they did had purpose, and to me it was a beautiful life. It made me wonder if everything we have in our lives to make it easier actually detracts from our happiness levels.
Watching the villagers made me reflect on the pace of life at home. Technology has developed at a whirlwind pace in my lifetime. It has added an insane amount of value and I LOVE being able to look up a recipe, fact or person within seconds. However, if left unchecked, we can easily live our lives in a mode of constant distraction, missing the simple beautiful moments that take place everyday. We check our phones within minutes of waking, we bring them into the bathroom to keep ourselves entertained (admit it, you've done it). We take ourselves out of the present moment in order to capture it for our social media feeds. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said before - nor do I suggest that we throw away our access to Internet/technology. What we need to do is be intentional with our use of it so that it doesn't consume us. How? See below for some ideas inspired by my recent culture trip.
Roughly four years ago, I was lying on a bed in a small air conditioned hotel room in Mumbai. The Food Network was playing on television, and I refused to go anywhere or leave the room. I was off work, thousands of kilometers away from home, in one of the coolest cities in the world, and all I wanted to do was watch TV. India can have that effect. Mumbai was the last stop of a three month trip that reached from the northern tea fields of Darjeeling all the way down to the palm treed, sandy beached paradise of Southern Kerala. The woman who would not venture out of that Mumbai hotel room had had enough. Enough of the noise, pollution, staring men and personal energy it took to explore the city, even for a few hours. She was tired of traveling and tired of India. She swore she would never return.
Yet here I am today, flight booked, bags almost packed. In three days I will be returning to the very same country I had never, ever wanted to go back to. It's almost as if India is daring me to return, and I can't help but go and get even deeper. It's the kind of place that no matter how many pictures you see or how many articles you read, nothing can truly prepare you for the culture shock that lies in store. My husband and I generally pride ourselves on not returning and repeating destinations in our travels. This is just a personal preference, with so many amazing places in the world, why go back to the same one more than once? Well, that's just what India does. It makes you question yourself and everything you think you know. Going back I will have an open mind and an open heart, ready to learn any lessons that are meant to be. There is a certain charm of India, it can be infuriating one moment and incredibly beautiful and captivating the next. I've heard it described as a roller coaster ride, where you scream and go crazy during the ups and downs, but once it's over look back and think "hey that was fun, let's do it again!"
This trip was planned around an eight day trek into the Himalayan hillsides with a wonderful Rishikesh native we met in 2013. Mukesh Joshi loves his hometown dearly and is the most professional, kind and talented business owner we came into contact with throughout all of India. He runs Paddle India and Nanda Outdoor Retreats, two adventure outfitters that offer exceptional experiences with well trained, passionate and amazing staff. His companies are locally run and ensure adventures are safe and professionally managed. This will be a cool new experience, meeting up with someone from a past trip. It will be incredibly fun to return and see him after a few years! Being on a trek for that long will also be a much needed escape from technology (there's no WiFi on trails in the Himalayas is there?!) At home my phone stays on 24/7 for emergency calls from work, unplugging completely will be a recharge on my system on many levels.
This return trip is exactly four years after the first, and I am excited to delve into the country as the woman I am today. I wonder if having experienced the initial culture shock last time around, I will be more present and able to retain more. World travel has opened my eyes to be more empathetic, compassionate and interested in the world outside of what I have known growing up in Canada. I want to see more deeply into Indian culture, and I am excited to have another go at meditating and practicing yoga in its birthplace. I will use my daily practice as support, to stay in the present moment and not get overwhelmed in, well, the numerous overwhelming moments surely to come. I would like to think this trip holds the promise of being a spiritual journey. Even writing this I don't know exactly what that means, but I am leaving some space between myself and my expectations to just let it unfold and see what the country has in store this time around. India, are you ready for me again?