Listed in: Ashram
Stayed at the Ashram from 18th to 31st March 2011
travelling is a dangerous business. The moment you set your foot on the road, anything can happen, and when you return, you will have changed. The way you perceive the life you live, your home, your habits, your sorrows and joys, will have changed.
Actually this is true for any kind of travelling to any destination whatsoever, no matter if you just take the train to the next town or an airplane to another continent, as long as you have made a decision before leaving: the decision to arrive at all the new places that await you with an open mind and an open heart.
There are, however, some places that will change your way of seeing the world in a more profound way than you could possibly have imagined before. India is such a place, and anyone who says otherwise can't have been there yet.
When I climbed onto the airbus that was about to take me to Delhi on March 12th, I had decided not to try and prepare myself for the oh so feared culture shock people always warn you about when you tell them you're going to go to India. I was pretty sure that it simply wasn't possible to be prepared, and I was right and wrong at the same time.
Yes, India is totally different from anything I've seen and experienced in Europe. But no, this wasn't nearly as scary or terrifying as people had predicted it to be. My first impression was this: India reminded me a bit of Mexico. Don't take me wrong here: I don't mean to say that India is like Mexico, that'd be a narrow minded and superficial perception. But the life in the streets, all the tiny stalls with people selling fruit, sugar cane, chai, all sorts of things, the well functioning chaos of traffic, the sight of whole families going on one motorbike, all this reminded me of what I had seen in Mexico D.F., and so I felt at home instantly, the way I had felt at home there ... a stranger, accepted in a strange place with a cordiality and curiosity so generously shown by people who don't know you that you can't prevent feeling astonished and surprised, more so if you are from Germany, where you could easily bleed to death in a crowded shopping mall without anyone even realizing.
After a few days in crowded, big, roaring Delhi I moved on to Vrindavan, a totally different world in itself. The moment I arrived at Shree Bindu Sewa Sansthan Ashram, I felt at home and at ease there, and I felt, well, loads of bright pink powder covering my hair. happy Holi! In fact I had arrived at the first official day of the Holi Festival, with hundreds of people walking along Parikrama Marg celebrating and throwing colour powder, a gorgeous sight that really changes you, as I pointed out before, mostly because it permanently adds new shades of colour to the shirt you wear and to your hair. It all ended in an explosion of colour on March 20th, my toenails are still as pink as Miss Piggy's tail, and thinking about all those laughing and yelling people from Pandora running through the Ashram's garden still puts a big smile on my face.
I stayed in Vrindavan for the rest of my time in India, and those two weeks were easily the most exciting and at the same time relaxing weeks of my life.
The Ashram with all its inhabitants was a sanctuary of peace and calmness. It was family, in a quite literary sense, as I had been invited by Swami Ji Balendu, my cousin Ramona - his wife - and the rest of the family to stay there, and in a totally new sense, for there are so many people living there that aren't family in a narrow sense of the word, but definitely family in all other possible senses. Each and everyone living there contributes in one way or another to the shared goal of living a life dedicated to love, respect and compassion, and that is something remarkable and wonderful in itself.
Daily life in the Ashram is following a beautiful rhythm. The day starts with a cup of chai that warms you through and through, followed by the daily yoga class in the garden, in which everyone can join the 150 or so school children doing their 30 minutes workout. Then the day continues in its peaceful way, punctuated by lunch, dinner and walks in the garden with whoever wants to join. Nice, interesting, inspiring and sometimes even heated discussions evolve there all by themselves, and there's always someone coming or going. The days pass in nice and easy way, and although there doesn't seem to happen that much if you reconsider it, the hours are always filled with laughter and fun, or with calmness and reflection, if you choose to retreat to the cave to meditate or decide to get an ayurvedic massage.
For all of you who might be afraid that going to India means that you necessarily get problems with your belly: I can definitely calm you down here. The ayurvedic food in the Ashram is a wonderful experience. The way the vegetables are prepared there brings out their natural taste, enhanced by the most fragrant spices, and you will find out that you can eat to your heart's (and stomach's) content without feeling overfull in a way that you nearly always feel when eating Western food. And: of course India is paradise on earth for vegetarians, but I guess I didn't have to point that out, did I?
As I said before I had the chance to join the school children in their yoga class and to see with my own eyes what Swami ji and his family, friends and supporters are doing for them, for education is a way to enable those children to change their own and their families' lives for the better. No one will ever be able to take from them what they get there, the sense of dignity that arises from knowing your own strengths, abilities and talents. And there are so many people in India who are in need of such opportunities. When I wrote about one's own view of the world changing on a journey, I had one thing in mind, above all: the fact that when you travel to India, you realize what poverty means. I used to regard myself not as a poor person, but as a person not really having much money. In the German context I really am quite ‘poor', as a humble bookseller living in Munich, Germany's most expensive town, I am located significantly below the average income. But still I am immeasurably rich. I didn't have to pay for my education, I even went to university, I live in a my own nice little flat, the rent doesn't kill me, either. I am rich. We all are rich. And this means one thing: responsibility for others who aren't as blessed as we are. I will never forget that henceforth.
Okay, if you ask me to try and put the ‘India experience' in a nut shell, I would put it like that: India is ALIVE, 100%, 24/7. There always is sound: music, chanting via PA from many of the thousands of temples in Vrindavan, noise, laughter, shouting, the sound of the horns of dozens and hundreds of cars, auto rikshas, motorbikes, the cries of vendors trying to sell their goods. The air is filled with scents of all sorts all the time, everywhere, wonderful and enchanting ones, disgusting ones as well. India is colourful to an extent that sometimes confuses or even hurts the eyes. There are monkeys and cows everywhere, at least in the Vrindavan, the former considering and committing mischief at any given moment, the latter stoic, peaceful and relaxed even in the midst of the worst traffic jam.
When I think of my time in India, images appear before my mind's eye: the bearded elderly Sadhu on the big Hero Honda weaving through Loi Bazar's midday traffic with a dignified look on his face. The children opposite of K.G. Gupta's drugstore trying to convince us that their little leader was a magician - one that can make your money vanish from your pockets, I suppose. The moment when everyone was so covered in colour at Holi that you couldn't tell people apart anymore. The setting sun reflecting in the Yamuna river, with flowers and candles floating between the colourful boats at Kheshi Gat. Thirty or fourty school girls shaking our hands at the Taj mahal as if we were monarchs on an official visit. The cow that gently brushed against my back on my last day before leaving for the airport.
I could go on like that forever and ever. I won't, though ... I have to get going and start learning, for I'd really love to have a decent discussion about the riksha price from the Ashram to Loi Bazar in Hindi when I return to India!